FEATURE: It’s Time to Get Animated! As The Simpsons Nears Thirty: The Music Inside the Humour

FEATURE:

 

It’s Time to Get Animated!

IN THIS PHOTO: U.S. Pop artist Katy Perry (with Mr. Burns) appeared on an episode of The Simpsons, The Fight Before Christmas, in 2010/PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Wilder/FOX

As The Simpsons Nears Thirty: The Music Inside the Humour

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ONE can hardly believe that any T.V. show...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Gaga (she appeared in the episode, Lisa Goes Gaga, in the show’s twenty-third season)/PHOTO CREDIT: Collier Schorr

could run for nearly seven-hundred episodes. The Simpsons first aired on 17th December, 1989 and its debut episode, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, is full of charm and a rare mixture that would define the show’s glory days. That opening episode saw The Simpsons find their loveable pooch, Santa’s Little Helper – a treasured Christmas gift that came about when Bart and Homer (Simpson) went to the local dog track and, having bet on a loser (Santa’s Little Helper), instantly fall for him. Look at the show now – its thirtieth season, I believe! – and the animation is so much more advanced; the ambitious larger and the feel a lot different. It is almost thirty years since the record-breaking show (the show became the longest-running prime-time scripted series (beating out Gunsmoke) when it passed six-hundred-and-thirty-six episodes back in April (2018)…and there are debates whether the quality is high enough. The reason I wanted to talk about the show before its thirtieth anniversary is because of the way it blends musical guests and original numbers. In many ways, The Simpsons is as synonymous with its great tunes and musical feel as it is the laughs and memorable characters. Many feel that the show was at its peak between the third and tenth seasons (1991-1999): that 1990s’ gold-run that brought the sharpest scripts, best musical numbers and classic moments. Maybe things have changed because Homer has: sharpest and crueller as opposed his more bumbling and loveable days.

It is hard to say but, throughout its long run, The Simpsons has delivered some wonderful musical moments. Even though they are removing one guest (Michael Jackson) from syndicated episodes, look back from the start and there have been guests from all corners of the musical numbers. The top image features Katy Perry: The Simpsons gave her a role during their Christmas special: a rare excursion into live-action that parodied A Christmas Carol. It was quite a raunchy episode in places – for an animated comedy, at least! – but it was great to see a larger-than-life figure transposed and transported into this legendary comedy. One of my favourite music-related episode of The Simpsons is when Home ran for Sanitation Commissioner of Springfield (Trash of the Titans was the show’s two-hundredth episode) after seeing trash build up on the street. Steve Martin appeared as his rival – the current job-holder who was a nice guy but replaced after Homer promised crazy thing that won over the idiotic town – and, before long, Homer descended into crime and illicit ways when it came to hiding the mountain rubbish. U2 appeared in places: we saw them at a concert and, when Homer tries to come on stage to deliver a message, he is pummelled down: another moment sees them at Moe’s Bar, singing a song with their arses hanging out.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sonic Youth appeared on The Simpsons in the 1990s in the musician-heavy fest, Homerpalooza)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The show has not only been confined to mainstream stars when it comes to guests. I love the fact that they have included The White Stripes and The Rolling Stones; The Who and Britney Spears in some pretty memorable episodes. There are lists that celebrate the best musical moments and, to me, the artist-filled episodes such as Homerpalooza stand out. There, the acting was not up to much but we got to see big acts of the 1990s such as Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth feature and interact in a rare way – in the episode, Homer gets a gig on the music circuit after discovering he can take a cannonball to the gut! Whether it is Linda Ronstadt going into business to rival Homer’s snow-plow endeavour (Mr. Plow) or Homer going to a Rock Camp and meeting the likes of Tom Petty, Mick Jagger; Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz and Elvis Costello (How I Spent My Strummer Vacation); we have seen these wonderful episodes that combine the worlds of music and comedy. I love the latter episode because we see these iconic musicians brought together and little rivalries form – Lenny Kravitz is mocked for putting a song down his pants; Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are crunching the numbers rather than rocking-out. Some of the appearances have been crow-barred and a bit fake but some of them, including Lady Gaga appearing in Lisa Goes Gaga (season twenty-three), used a big star to portray a powerful message: Gaga comes to Lisa, who is very depressed, and teaches her the meaning of happiness in the Tim Long-penned episode.

It is wonderful when this influential artist comes into a big T.V. show like The Simpsons and is not nearly there to boost ratings! Perhaps packed episodes like Homerpalooza were not full of great acting moments but when stars get a bigger role, like Lady Gaga, it shows them in a new light. I think some of the best appearances and scenes from The Simpsons have involved musicians. Most of these are during that golden run during the 1990s but Katy Perry’s yuletide raciness is definitely a highlight! Look at when Johnny Cash voiced a coyote – a hallucination Homer had after eating a super-psychedelic chili pepper at a cook-off – and how he added to the show. The late icon brought his authoritative and deep voice to this role and, whilst Cash did not sing, it was a classic moment seeing Cash voice this character. Look back even further when the classic episode, Flaming Moe’s featured, among others, Aerosmith. There, Homer discovered this drink by accidentally mixing cigarette ash, cough syrup (its secret ingredient!) and other assorted liquids when the family ran out of booze after Marge’s sisters, Patty and Selma, were showing holiday slides - much to the ire of the bored family. He confided in Moe and, when the bartender realised this drink would put him on the map, his tavern brought in big musical artists like Aerosmith – everything was ruined when an incensed Homer revealed the secret ingredient just as a businessman was about to lure Moe with a multi-million-dollar contract!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Green Day appeared in The Simpsons Movie in 2007/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It is hard to say which moment tops them all but, if I had to select two standout episodes, it would be Krusty Gets Kancelled (the season-four episode united big musicians like Bette Midler and Red Hot Chili Peppers during a special show to get Krusty the Clown back on the air after his kids’ show is cancelled). Another one that leaps to mind is when Spinal Tap played a special gig in Springfield – which was fraught with disasters and delays – during The Otto Show in the third season. The show keeps bringing in stars – Green Day appeared in The Simpsons Movie (2007) - and there is a whole list you think should be included. I wonder who else is left to come because, through its near-thirty-year run, The Simpsons has featured everyone from Beyoncé (not a voiceover appearance but her music has featured) and David Byrne to George Harrison. There are many more years left in this iconic show but I look back at all the music appearances and, although it is a brief turn, when Paul McCartney appeared in Lisa the Vegetarian, the show hit its peak. The seventh season episode revolved around Lisa becoming a vegetarian and questioning why she eats meat. She is ostracised and ignored by her family and, when running away from home, she goes to Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart and there, on the roof, is Paul and Linda McCartney. They do not sing – although they tease that a new song is about to arrive – but it is a great use of a famous musician to give the show an extra twist and moment of heart.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Linda Eastman (1941-1998) talks to Paul McCartney at the press launch of The Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, on 19th May 1967. Linda and Paul appeared in The Simpsons episode, Lisa the Vegetarian, in 1995/PHOTO CREDIT: John Pratt/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Whether you love the moment the Ramones are threatened with death by Mr. Burns after performing a raw version of Happy Birthday; you idolise the time Cypress Hill appeared stoned and accidentally hired the London Symphony Orchestra (Homerpalooza) – there are so many wonderful occasions when artists have appeared on The Simpsons. Not only is the animated comedy great when it comes to assimilating musicians into their world but, rare for a comedy, they are nifty when it comes to penning originals. I think about some of the best Simpson-esque songs and I look at when Marge appeared in a local version (with serious flaws) of A Streetcar Named Desire and there was a song called New Orleans - a number dedicated to all the trash and corruption in the city. How about when Homer joined the secretive sect, The Stonecutters (like The Freemasons but less shady!), and there was this hugely catchy song, We Do (The Stonecutters Song) - where members admit that, among other things, they have aliens under wraps and keep the metric system down! The wonderful composing and razor-sharp words make these musical numbers almost as standout as the funniest scenes. Of course, The Simpsonstheme-song (composed by Danny Elfman) is legendary and, love it or not, we can all whistle it! Even if it is a little ditty (Homer singing about the time he was seventeen, got a fake I.D. and sat up listening to Queen whilst drinking beer; an episode, Duffless, where he gave up drink) or it is a more ornate number like we saw in Homer’s Barbershop Quartet.

This was the episode where George Harrison appeared at the end – the story of Homer forming a band followed the arc of The Beatles; when Homer’s band started to fall apart, the show parodied The Beatles’ fraught recording of Let It Be – and the original songs were great. The standout was Baby on Board, a Doo-Wop-like 1950s-inspired number inspired by Marge buying a baby on board sticker to stop other motorists intentionally ramming their car off the road! How about Linda Ronstadt giving Homer’s Mr. Plow jingle a special touch?! Who can forget the rapturous slander, Señor Burns, when Latin-Jazz musician Tito Puente is a suspect in the attempted murder of Mr. Burns. When questioned by the police, Puente admits to hating Burns but denies shooting him. Puente says he prefers an act of musical revenge to violence.

If you had to pin me down to the occasions when The Simpsons got all the ingredients right in a musical number than I would choose Dr. Zaius (A Fish Called Selma) and The Monorail Song (Marge vs. The Monorail). Both songs are performed by the late Phil Hartman. The former is during a production of Planet of the Apes; him revitalising his broken career after a scandal comes out – he marries Selma and gets all these big offers when people realise he is a family man (rumours of him having sex with fish dogged his reputation!). The song is a spoor of Rock Me Amadeus (Falco) and a brilliantly goofy and misplaced song in a very strange theatre production.

The latter song is Hartman playing this shady man trying to sell Springfield a monorail after he learns they have come into some money. He persuades them to buy his dodgy plan after starting this great song. All the townspeople join and add lines; a real musical extravaganza with its catchy melody and superb construction. Maybe that is the best musical number but, when it comes to The Simpsons, we are spoiled for choice! This article has a different view when it comes to the number-one musical number: Why Springfield, Why Not? during season twenty-six’s Walking Big & Tall:

The new Springfield anthem was created and performed by the town’s children after residents realize the original song was mass-produced for multiple cities. As luck would have it, when Hans Moleman was mayor, he bought the original song from a traveling salesman, as did half the cities in America.

After the town exiles Moleman, Bart and Lisa set to writing and come up with a song that perfectly describes what Springfield is all about.

Sure, our cops are easily bought,
And our dentists are all self-taught
but, Hooray for Springfield.
Give two cheers,
Smallpox free for seven years.
Why Springfield, why not?

Other comedy shows have used music and original songs – including Flight of the Conchords (who actually appeared on the show) – but The Simpsons has this edge and unique charm. Maybe it the fact it is an animated show and they can bring so many big artists into crazy episodes. Perhaps a guest is there to make the episode stand out or, when done right, they are an integral part of the soul.

The Simpsons turns thirty at the end of the year and it is scary to think that I remember watching the first episode as a six-year-old back in 1989! Nobody thought the show would last past the first season, let alone thirty! There are many reasons why the show has survived and has no end in sight but, to me, one important component is the music. I love every celebrity appearance but get an extra burst of excitement when I see someone big from the world of music inhabit The Simpsons’. I do love the way the show can have these original songs that take episodes in a new direction. I have only mentioned a few but I think about all those earworms from episodes-past that you sing along to and know word-for-word! I watch the classic episodes and I love those times when you hear this big and brash number when characters of Springfield all come together and perform this bold and often-ridiculous song!

From Paul McCartney being instrumental regarding Lisa forgiving Homer for judging her and, similarly, for her being harsh to Homer, right through to Homer having his Rock & Roll dreams fulfilled by heroic musicians, The Simpsons has provided us with countless moments filled with music stars and instantly memorable numbers. Whether you are a bigger fan of the original numbers or prefer the times when well-known artists have made their way into the show, one cannot deny that, at the beating heart of The Simpsons, is this love of music in all forms. I have not even mentioned the late Bleeding Gums Murphy: a fictional late, great Jazz musician who is Lisa’s hero and gives him her saxophone! There are so, so many and I will get all nostalgic and teary-eyed listing them all off! When The Simpsons hits thirty later in the year, there will be multiple celebrations and events around the world. For me, as a music journalist, I am going to mark fondly a show that, through its run, has mixed the worlds of animated comedy and music in...

 IMAGE CREDIT: FOX/Matt Groening

EXTRAORDINARY ways.

FEATURE: Mardy Bum: Is Genuine Joy Escaping from Music?

FEATURE:

 

Mardy Bum

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IN THIS PHOTO: Tom Walker/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Is Genuine Joy Escaping from Music?

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THIS is something I have raised before...

and it seems that, with every passing month, there is no real improvement. I am thankful we have artists like Lizzo around right now: someone who brings a festival to music and can definitely make you smile. She is not the only one who brings funk and sass to the table. There are others in the mainstream who, rather than mopping or opening their bleeding hearts are genuinely trying to say something positive. I understand it is important being pure and honest and, in fact, two albums I have recently written about, Like a Prayer and The Velvet Rope, had positive and upbeat moments but there were a lot of deeper moments. From domestic abuse to AIDS, they are not exactly light albums. I love both of them and I always approve of artists who put their all into albums and can stray away from the obvious themes of love and heartbreak. Big musicians like Janelle Monáe certainly have a lot of drive and there are plenty of bands out there who can put us in a better mood. A few articles caught my eye over the last few days that seems to suggest that, largely, artists are becoming a bit downbeat and defeatist. I have reviewed some great mainstream albums this year and loved what they were about.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz (her album, Grey AREA, is one of the top-rated of the year)/PHOTO CREDIT: Vicky Grout for TRENCH

From Julia Jacklin’s Crushing through to Little Simz’s GREY Area, these records are terrific and pack a huge punch. The reason these albums resonate is because the artists are discussing their lives and not shying away from its harshness and realities. There are breezier moments in both albums but, largely, it is a more confessional and stirring listen. One must distinguish between music that is down and slightly negative across the board – in terms of lyrics and music/vocals – and those tracks that have slightly heartbroken lyrics but can build up a real storm with the composition. Many artists are still using love and its sting as their major stock so, invariably, we are seeing a lot of songs that are slower, more repetitive and have that haunting sound. It seems that, especially with male solo artists, there is this rather rigid and predictable sound. Most of them are white and heterosexual; they are quite cosy and, in these troubled times, providing music that is pretty safe but, when you listen to it, somewhat dour. The vibe is not especially captivating and, led by artists such as Ed Sheeran and Tom Walker, we have these samey and identikit men who are willing to talk about their lives with real honesty but you never feel joyed or happier hearing them. This illuminating article from The Guardian talked about this new trend and how a rather boring and unspectacular brand of artist is storming the charts:

In this moment of international pop utopianism, Britain, naturally, has gone the other way. Our current pop stock-in-trade is a school of male singer-songwriters with exceptional voices and wilfully unexceptional images that entrench an impression of authenticity. They are all white, despite their soulful vocals, which sing of safely secular salvation (they’ll provide it), epic loves (they’ve had and lost them) and struggle (broadly defined). These ordinary boys bolster their yearning with a sound that homogenises sturdy rock heft, EDM dynamism and delicate electronica, with occasional intimations of hip-hop. And hats...

IN THIS PHOTO: Ed Sheeran/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

That direct appeal to men has also fostered an environment where these artists can connect by discussing mental health. “There’s an idea in society that men have to be really masculine, tough and unemotional and put on a hard exterior,” says Grennan, who started playing guitar as part of his recovery from a violent attack and the depression that ensued. “I’m sometimes spoken about as being a ‘geezer’, which is weird to me as I’m just a product of my environment – a working-class lad from Bedford. But if that helps other ‘geezers’ talk openly and drop the bravado, then great”.

Look across most genres now and is there one that stands out regarding happiness and something more positive? We used to have a great House and Dance scene that was all about joyfulness; a British Pop movement that, if you see it as crap or not, was definitely determined to make people come together – there has been a massive shift in terms of subject matter and mood in music. I look at the Pop mainstream and even when one looks at some of the biggest artists like Dua Lipa and Ariana Grande; their music might be quite poppy and bouncing but their words, for the most part, are about heartbreak or challenges in life. It is important to have your audience identity with you but I fear, at a time when we need a more positive wave in music, artists are going in the wrong direction.

Look at Country and Folk and, yes, there are happier times to be had but not a huge difference. I listen to a lot of Country and do appreciate that one can definitely find greater energy and excitement when it comes to the compositions at least. Big artists like Kacey Musgraves can get one kicking but, look closely at what is being sung, and there is still an element of being trampled or having to overcome difficulty. I am not suggesting we have this sad-free culture that urges people to come together but I wonder where the chink of light will come from. Another article from The Guardian investigated how a more confessional and revealing style of Hip-Hop is coming about. The genre has always been pretty strong regarding tougher subjects and talking about stuff like suppression, depression and violence in the streets. Now, with so many performers suffering from poor mental-health, this is coming into music a lot more:

The data – amassed from lyrics in songs featured in the end-of-year charts from 1958 to 2017, using a computer program called TextBlob – reveals that the most popular music genre in the US may also be its most depressed. A rise in rappers discussing mental health has led to a significant spike in the number of tracks mentioning suicide, depression, anxiety and prescription drugs.

The study, run by marketing agency Take 5, found that 24 of the 100 singles overall across rock, pop and hip hop in 1958 mentioned mental health, compared with 71 in 2017. The data also backs the huge popularity of what has been dubbed SoundCloud rap, an offshoot described by the New York Times in 2017 as “the most vital and disruptive new movement in hip hop”...

From the very beginnings of hip-hop, rappers have reflected on difficult lives; in 1982 Grandmaster Flash delivered one of the most seminal verses in pop history with The Message. The lyrics – “Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head/ It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under” – are just one example, says Dr Carson, that show hip-hop has always been about more than the cliches around gangsta rap

I have advocated, for a long time, for artists to be more honest with regarding mental illness to ensure that we raise awareness. I have also been keen for political matters to be tackled and, largely, artists have done this – not that I had anything to do with any of it! I appreciate that music is this platform where artists can discuss important and life-threatening issues but is there too much reliance on seriousness and drilling the point home? It would not distil the cocktail and take away from the gravity of subjects like mental-health concerns and drugs if there was some humour and light. So many artists – from be-hatted British mainstream artists to Rap and Hip-Hop stars – are unable to find anything positive and fun to talk about. There is a school of thought that suggests we are beholden to the music we grew up around and modern music is a bit rubbish.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @brucemars/Unsplash

I grew up on artists who would talk about heartbreak and splits and was not immune to the pains they were going through. That said, whether it was The Beatles or Oasis, there was always something upbeat to be found. Whether it was a hands-in-the-air chorus or a beautifully-crafted Pop song, I always had that sense that things would be okay. I do not think I would be invested in music and where I am now were it not for all the sunshine and energy I found growing up. Have we, now, had to settle for a compromise regarding mood? Are we happy enough if a song has a spirited aesthetic and sound even if the lyrics are melancholic. I have hope that a lot of the more promising Pop artists, such as Sigrid and Robyn, are going to keep injecting energy and bangers into the mix. In fact, Robyn was the focus of a recent Pitchfork article. She is unique in this age and has a lot of passionate fans. So many modern artists, such as Carly Rae Jepsen, adore her because of her passion and how her songs make you feel. Even if the lyrics cover something quite sad and heartbroken, Robyn sort of combats that with the sense that things will be okay; that there is light and hope to be found. Jepsen is definitely a convert regarding Robyn’s objectives:

When I ask Jepsen which of her own songs feels most indebted to Robyn, she picks the airy and yearning “Love Again,” a bonus track on E•MO•TION. “It has that same sad-but-hopeful message, that idea that you get back up and keep going even when it feels like you’re heartbroken,” she muses. Jepsen’s lovestruck, wondering songs on E•MO•TION are full of imprecations to take her to the feeling. That feeling, in her songs, seems closely related to the tropical-house vibe that shimmers out of Robyn’s songs like bodysuit spangles. This is, in many ways, the Robyn Feeling: sad, exultant, vanquished, triumphant. Human romantic longing as epic unstoppable tide, something that might start from within but quickly engulfs from without”.

I do love Robyn’s music and suggest you seek it out if you want to hear pure Pop made by a singular artist. What is it about Robyn’s music that gets to people, though?

Robyn’s music prioritizes seamlessness and unity. Her tracks feel like Robyn’s moods, her internal weather made manifest. When she sings, “Don’t go messing with love, it’ll hurt you for real/Don’t you know that love kills,” she sounds determined, grim, and defensive, and so does the track. When she walks you through the process of breaking up with your girlfriend so you can be with her instead on “Call Your Girlfriend,” she sounds sly and winsome and flirtatious and empathetic, and so does the track. You can wrap the whole thing around yourself, live inside of it, and still dance to it.

Dance music has a long history of unleashing exultant energies, but Robyn brings an element to that cresting wave that is less common: melancholy. Melancholy, historically, is largely an emotion that makes you drop your arms, hang your head, feel like a coat hanger holding up your own body. But in Robyn’s world, melancholy is blown up, glittering, transfigured. Her music acknowledges the weight of melancholy and pulls against it with apposite weight. The feeling Robyn’s songs want you to have is hard-earned glory: Glory within your own body, however gawky or awkward or weird you believe it to be; glory in your life, however lonely or sad you feel”.

There does seem to be this split between artists who always project something boring, moody or routine – I refer to the British male solo artists who seem incapable of finding light anywhere. Maybe I am being harsh but there is a trend here towards something a bit sunken, confessional and samey. Look at modern Pop and Hip-Hop and, whilst we have some thrilling artists to be found, there is a greater weight regarding the introspective, confessional and quite unhappy. We do not have the same explosive Dance scene we once had and even Hip-Hop is producing fewer of these kaleidoscopic and colourful acts that could bring some wit and humour to the party – I do miss the glory days of De La Soul! Even a treasured artist like Robyn, as we all know, can get people dancing with her tunes and, whilst her messages project hope, there is still that base of something more melancholic. I understand how vital it is for artists to understand what we all go through and write something relatable. We all need to know that artists go through the same s*it and we will all come together. That is great but I do worry, as I have theorised before, music has lost its smile, sense of joy and colour. Surely, as we are more torn and broken, a new wave of House and European invention – that brought us the likes of Deee-Lite, among others -; some innovative and joyous Hip-Hop or Pop that has no agenda and genuinely has a positive outlook in all respects...this is what we need more than ever. The reason I listen to more older music and stuff I grew up around is not because of nostalgia at all but, rather, that I know I can get a hit of fun and positivity with no sour core. We all need something delirious, inspiring and positive to get us through but does that mean, more often than not, we need to...

STEP back in time?

INTERVIEW: Reeps One

INTERVIEW:

Reeps One

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HUGE appreciation to Harry Yeff (Reeps One)...

for talking about his involvement with the docuseries, We Speak Music, and its concept; working alongside Nokia Bell Labs’ Experiments in Art and Technology and what it is all about – he also recommends an artist that is worth watching out for.

I ask him about his beatboxing career and how he got started in music; what he has planned coming next and, indeed, whether it is easy to get into beatboxing – Reeps One selects a precious memory from his time in music.

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Hi, Reeps One. How are you? How has your week been?

Good. I was in N.Y. at the start of the week and now I’ve just arrived in Seoul Korea – it’s beautiful here.

How are you enjoying the weather right now? Does the warmer climate inspire you, creatively?

I love the cold. That truth tends to confuse people but my mind and body just work better in a cold climate. You don't have time to be anxious and lazy in the cold: you zone in and hyper-focus on your goals. That’s as true for myself as it is in nature: the cold inspires survival and precision. I like that.

For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?

My artist name is Reeps One. I'm a multi-disciplinary based in London - most of my work centers around the human voice and the lateral technologies surrounding it. The last two years my job has been to do two things: push my voice as far as it can possibly go and explore how the human voice is evolving on a global level. Last year, I completed my third Harvard Uni residency and have since become and E.A.T. artist with Nokia Bell Labs and a Culture Leader with The World Economic Forum.

But, the short answer is I make music and art.

We Speak Music is a docuseries you are involved with? What is the concept behind it?

The strange thing is the human voice is that it’s as old as humanity itself; you would think it would have been explored inside and out by now but that’s simply not the case. In the last ten years, there has been an explosion in voice culture. New techniques and peak physical capabilities are emerging and that has the artistic academic worlds scratching its head. I wanted to champion why this evolution actually impacts people’s lives. You can’t talk about the human voice without connecting it to communication, sense of self; sense of place and expression.

It’s how we connect with ourselves and each other.

What was it like working with Nokia Bell Labs’ Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.)?

Incredible to be a part of their history. I would be here all day If I were to list all of the technologies they invented - but the E.A.T. program was an innovation in culture and the arts which was very rare coming from a tech-based institution in the ’60s. In 1968, Bell Labs paired artists like Robert Rauschenberg with top engineers for an event called The 9 Evening.

It was miles ahead if its time. Being the newest E.A.T. artist, I was asked to create a piece that fuses voice and emerging tech and I'm very proud to say that’s how the documentary ends. I created an A.I. second voice that I can collaborate with and I couldn't have predicted the results.

Is there an episode or part of the docuseries that stands as a favourite? Were there standout moments that took you by surprise?

Episode four. I had the pleasure of visiting Lavelle School for the blind in N.Y. There they are using the practicality of beatboxing to teach a class of young people to learn how to better control their voices. The kids are all on the spectrum in different ways and vocal experimentation is the first group activity the school has found that they can all take part in. The results are astonishing: some kids have gone from hardly articulating to being able to speak with flow for the first time. Beatboxing is teaching young people to speak. Who would have guessed?

Do you think the human voice is undervalued? Have we experienced all it has to offer or are there new spaces and places it can reach?

It’s not undervalued because we indirectly gain so much value from it. But, with more direct awareness we can gain even more; we can improve our quality of life by simply being mindful of our voices. They are the gateway from our subconscious to the physical would. It would be a shame to not use them to their full potential. My job is to make people think about that.

It seems, as technology takes over and we are all addicted to our phones, we use our voices less. Is there a worry many young people are less connected with the voice and communication and favouring electronics?!

It’s simple - we need a healthy communication diet. The efficiency of information-transfer in the digital is undeniable, but can’t have that as the sacrifice of fundamental human connection. Our ideas are sown by the contexts we share within and we are at the risk of losing certain types of intimacy and accountability we get from simply speaking to one another. 

What comes next for you? What does the rest of 2019 hold in store?

I’m currently in Korea. I head to H.K. Art Basel in a couple of weeks followed by speaking at The United Nations in May about art and technology. It’s such an exciting time and I want to try and push for artistic and progressive discussion on a global level. But, of course, I will be releasing a lot more art and much in the coming months - so that’s what I’m the most excited about. (Typical artist).

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

Very tough. A simple one was playing the Arcadia Stage at Boomtown to nine-thousand people. The rest of the line-up was D.J.s so, to feel that power and to be speaking music in a way that made people dance for an hour was a huge moment for me. The booth was so high up that the audience couldn't see me. They didn't know it was just a human voice and they didn't need to. We were all just together enjoying music. That was a benchmark for me.

When did beatboxing come into your life? When did you realise you had a natural talent?

It actually started from being around early-Grime and Dubstep producers. I had always experimented with making beats with my voice but it was the London sound that I connected with. Then things really started to evolve. 

Is it easy to learn beatboxing? How would you sell it to anyone interested?

If you are speaking, you can make music with your voice. Don't think of it as beatboxing; see it as a way to write and make music all the time. A nonstop music tool. Most people will realise they do that anyway - it's just up to them if they want to make people dance. 

Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

Aphex Twin - Ambient Works 11

It changed how people view electronic music and opened up a new type of listener. It's an amazing album to think to. 

Daphne Oram ‎- Electronic Sound Patterns

The original sound pack and an incredible woman Electronic music pioneer.

The Prodigy - Music for The Jilted Generation

The legendary masters of high-energy Electronic music that brought together all parts of U.K. music. R.I.P. Keith Flint.

IN THIS PHOTO: Gene Shinozaki/PHOTO CREDIT: @zach.mov

Are there any new artists, beatbox or not, you recommend we check out?

Gene Shinozaki is a really interesting vocal talent. He's just released a new album fusing new-school beatboxing Jazz and Electronic. I look forward to seeing what he does.

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

I never stop. Ever...but, if I do, musically painting and writing…. 

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).

Anything by Squarepusher

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Follow Reeps One

FEATURE: No April Fools: The Best Albums to Own Next Month

FEATURE:

 

No April Fools

IN THIS PHOTO: Fontaines D.C./PHOTO CREDIT: Richard Dumas  

The Best Albums to Own Next Month

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WE have seen a lot of great albums come out...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Aldous Harding

this month but I feel April is going to be another hot one. There are a couple of weeks left but I wanted to look at some of the records you will want to own! It is always hard to get to grips with all the great music coming out but there are some definite standouts from the April-due records. If you have some spare pennies and are looking for what to own next month, I have collected together the essential releases. The days are getting warmer and longer so it is a great time to invest in music. That might sound strange but we are happier when the weather is finer and I feel this season is conducive to a lot of musical passion and fresh investigation – less fatigued than we are in the winter time. As I say, it is challenging deciphering the best from the average but here, in this assortment, are the albums you need to get involved with...

 IN THIS PHOTO: SOAK

IN April.

ALBUM COVERS/PHOTOS: Spotify/Getty Images

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 Circa WavesWhat’s It Like Over There?

Release Date: 5th April, 2019

Label: Prolifica Inc.

Standout Tracks: What’s It Like Over There?/Movies/Passport

Pre-Order Link: https://circawaves.com/#home

Key Selection: Times Won’t Change Me

PRIESTS The Seduction of Kansas

Release Date: 5th April, 2019

Label: Sister Polygon Records

Standout Tracks: Jesus Son/I’m Clean/Control Freak

Pre-Order Link: https://priests.bandcamp.com/album/the-seduction-of-kansas

Key Selection: The Seduction of Kansas

Anderson .PaakVentura

Release Date: 12th April, 2019

Label: Aftermath Entertainment

Standout Tracks: Make It Better/Winners Circle/Jet Black

Pre-Order Link: https://buy.andersonpaak.com/collections/music/products/ventura-2xlp-webstore-exclusive

Key Selection: King James

Fontaines D.C.Dogrel

Release Date: 12th April, 2019

Label: Partisan Records

Standout Tracks: Too Real/The Lotts/Boys in the Better Land

Pre-Order Link: https://www.normanrecords.com/records/174852-fontaines-d-c-dogrel

Key Selection: Big

The Chemical BrothersNo Geography

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Release Date: 12th April, 2019

Label: Virgin EMI Records

Standout Tracks: No Geography/Got to Keep On/Gravity Drops

Pre-Order Link: https://www.thechemicalbrothers.com/

Key Selection: Free Yourself

Cage the ElephantSocial Cues

Release Date: 19th April, 2019

Label: RCA Records

Standout Tracks: Black Madonna/Ready to Let Go/The War Is Over

Pre-Order Link: https://www.cagetheelephant.com/2019/01/31/social-cues/

Key Selection: House of Glass

Fat White FamilySerfs Up!

Release Date: 19th April, 2019

Label: Domino Recording Company

Standout Tracks: I Believe in Something Better/Fringe Runner/When I Leave

Pre-Order Link: https://fatwhitefamily.bandcamp.com/album/serfs-up

Key Selection: Feet

Jade BirdJade Bird

(NOT ACTUAL ALBUM COVER)

Release Date: 19th April, 2019

Label: Glassnote Records

Standout Tracks: I Get No Joy/My Motto/Uh Huh

Pre-Order Link: https://www.banquetrecords.com/jade-bird/jade-bird/GLS-0242-02

Key Selection: Lottery

LizzoCuz I Love You

(NOT ACTUAL ALBUM COVER)

Release Date: 19th April, 2019

Labels: Nice Life/Atlantic

Pre-Order Link: https://store.warnermusic.com/cuz-i-love-you-digital-album-1.html

Key Selection: Cuz I Love You

Aldous HardingDesigner

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Release Date: 26th April, 2019

Label: 4AD

Standout Tracks: Fixing Picture/Treasure/Heaven Is Empty

Pre-Order Link: https://www.normanrecords.com/records/175059-aldous-harding-designer

Key Selection: The Barrel

Peter Doherty & The Puta MadresPeter Doherty & The Puta Madres

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Release Date: 26th April, 2019

Label: Strap Originals

Standout Tracks: All at Sea/Someone Else to Be/A Fool There Was

Pre-Order Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Peter-Doherty-Puta-Madres/dp/B07N47DRWJ

Key Selection: Who’s Been Having You Over

SOAKGrim Town

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Release Date: 26th April, 2019

Label: Rough Trade Records

Standout Tracks: Everybody Loves You/Crying Your Eyes Out/Scrapyard

Pre-Order Link: https://store.roughtraderecords.com/products/soak-grim-town

Key Selection: Knock Me Off My Feet

INTERVIEW: Jack Rua

INTERVIEW:

PHOTO CREDIT: PureGrand  

Jack Rua

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IT has been interesting learning about Jack Rua...

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and his ascent into the music industry. I wanted to know about his recent single, Scarlet A, and what will come next; the sort of artists that inspire him and which artist he’d support if he could – he selects a few albums that have helped shape him.

The Dublin-based artist talks about the scene where he is and picks a few approaching acts to watch; how he spends time away from music and where we can see him play next – he selects a pretty good track to end the interview with.

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Hi, Jack. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi! My week has been great. Thanks for asking! It’s been busy because my song is coming out on Friday and I’m working very hard to make sure it’s getting as much attention as possible - but it’s all very exciting and I also just played a great gig last night with my friend and collaborator LOGUOS.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Hello. My name is Jack Rua. I am a Pop singer and songwriter from Dublin, Ireland. I have been hibernating for the last two-and-a-half years writing and producing music with my friends.. and now I’m finally here to show you what I’m all about.

PHOTO CREDIT: PureGrand  

Scarlet A is your debut single. What inspired the song?

Well. Musically, Scarlet A draws inspiration from a number of sources. It’s easy to hear the kind of late-noughties influences like Lady Gaga, Goldfrapp and Sam Sparro; however, initially when writing the song, I was listening to a lot of Glam-Rock and that’s how the song started out: when I was writing it and rehearsing it with my old band. As I evolved and started embracing Electronic music, then that’s when the Gaga-ness started seeping through! Lyrically, the song talks about the nature of human attraction.

In a way, I’m questioning the idea that human beings are meant to start going out with someone; marry them, die with them and never have eyes for someone else. The song sings of lust and feeling seduced by someone when you’re already in a relationship.

A lot of shame goes with those ideas but, in this song, I’m wearing that shame as a part of my costume, just as in The Scarlet Letter (the book that the song is inspired by). The main character had to brand herself with a red letter ‘A’ to show to everyone that she was an adulterer. The song certainly isn’t advocating acting on impulses. I think, if you commit to being monogamous with someone, you obviously have to follow that through; it’s more just admitting that a wandering eye is a common side-effect of being human.

The video is definitely arresting and bold. What was the idea behind it?

Well. My friend and collaborator PureGrand directed the video and we both developed the idea together based on the story and the mood of the song. I would say that the main idea behind the video is the dichotomy between lust and guilt that one might feel in the situation that I previously described. There are these dark scenes in a bedroom that represent the temptation and the danger where I’m rolling around on a bed and flirting with my dirty thoughts...and then this is juxtaposed by a scene in a bath where I’m trying to wash myself of these temptations and feelings of lust.

My co-star and lover Narcissus, a mannequin head, also makes an appearance. You’ll be seeing more of her over the coming months. We have a really strong connection that is established in this video.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: PureGrand

Now you have a single out, might there be more coming later this year?

Absolutely! I have been collaborating with a couple of really talented artists including my buddy LOGUOS, a talented dance producer from Dublin. We’ve written a song together that I’m so excited to release. I also have a collaboration with a rapper from Cork called Darce which is another really exciting project. I’ve been working with my good friend Porridge who I met in college…

I really can’t wait for people to hear all of this music. It’s going to be a busy year. I’m also doing a podcast with my friend Jack called The Anatomy of Pop!

Can you tell me what sort of music you grew up around as a child?

Well. When I was a kid, my dad would always be playing artists like The Beatles, Bowie; Stevie Wonder, Prince; Talking Heads, Bruce Springsteen…but, when I was a kid, I hated all that! I loved the Spice Girls and Britney Spears...like L-O-V-E-D them. Obsessed. But then I kinda went off Pop music; I was doing a lot of music theatre and singing in choirs as a kid, so that’s the kinda stuff I listened to. I loved the music from Oliver, High School Musical; Little Shop of Horrors, Chicago

Then, when I kinda became a teenager, I really started to connect with music for the first time. I loved Amy Winehouse’s album, Back to Black, and Duffy’s Rockferry. This all lead to Lily Allen. I remember the first time I heard The Fear and that’s when I knew I wanted to make music.

 PHOTO CREDIT: PureGrand

You definitely have your own style. Is there anyone from modern music you particularly identify with?

I mean, I don’t wanna say I’m SIMILAR to her because she’s a worldwide icon but Lady Gaga is one of my biggest inspirations. I don’t try and base myself off her because I think she’s very different but I love her creativity and artistic freedom and how she injects art and theatre into her music. I’d say, lyrically, my biggest influence is Marina + the Diamonds and, musically, I really identify with the music of Leland and Allie X.

As a Dublin native, what are you opinions regarding the music coming from there now?

It’s great. I’ve been kind of on the scene for a number of years and, in my opinion, it’s reaching its strongest and most varied point. Funnily enough, as I write these answers, I’m actually sitting really close to the singer of one of my favourite bands called Barq (she doesn’t know who I am though so I feel like a massive weirdo). But, like, one of the greatest things that’s emerging out of the city and the country right now is a massive Hip-Hop scene fronted by artists like Kojaque, Tebi Rex and Jafaris.

Also, it’s great to see friends of mine in bands like ZaPho and Vernon Jane absolutely slaying. It’s really in a great place. And hopefully I can wedge myself into the market as that weird Pop singer who doesn’t give a f**k about what people think of him!

PHOTO CREDIT: @jackruamusic

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

Hmm. I’m going to be super-pessimistic and mention a BAD memory, which is when I was performing a showcase gig to a packed out venue (I’d say like 150-200 people). I had planned this super-extravagant performance with costume and choreography and I was performing as an alter-ego and the performance started with a long and dramatic piano instrumental.

I was staring out into the audience and then I would start singing a capella. The whole room was silent because I’d grabbed their attention, so I went to start singing, picked up the wrong microphone and I had actually picked up the wrong one and it was off. And, when I realised this, I muttered “ah, s***e” but, just as I said those words, the microphone came on and echoed through the entire room.

Bad memory, but a funny one.

PHOTO CREDIT: PureGrand

Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

Hunky Dory by David Bowie

I remember listening to this album start to finish for the first time so clearly. The album opens with Changes and it was the first Bowie song that I’d ever listened to as a ‘David Bowie’ song, if you get me, and it just made me fall in love with him. The songwriting is so intricate and comes from one of the best songwriters of all time and yet it sounds so simple and organic.

ARTPOP by Lady Gaga

I’d never heard Pop music like this before and I never thought that it could be like that. I remember when it came out, I was like “Eh, W.T.F. is she on about; HoW iS tHiS aRt”. As a fan, I was kind of disappointed but then, as I got older, it became the album that spoke to me the most out of all of them. I love the message and the ethos behind it. Music can be at once both a personal manifesto AND a spectacle. I love that.

No Shame by Lily Allen

I don’t think I have ever needed an album so much in my life - and I didn’t even realise it at the time. I have been stanning Lily for years and this album came out like five years after her previous one, so I was so ready for it. It came out at a point in my life where I was feeling lost, heartbroken; a little bit ashamed of myself. It was like a breath of fresh air. One that hit my lungs cold and sharp but, after the pain, it filled me with a new energy.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Lady Gaga, obviously. I would do a cover of Marry the Night as my final song. I would ask for my dressing room to be decorated with red and blue velvet furniture. I’d like a grand piano to be there (adorned with candles and roses, obviously) with a portrait of David Bowie on the wall. And I’d ask for peppermint tea; a supper of soup and a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet, half for before I go on and half for afterwards.

PHOTO CREDIT: PureGrand

Are you planning any gigs in the coming months?

Yes, actually! They’re all in Dublin. On 22nd April, I’ll be performing my first headline gig in The Workmans Club. This will be the first time I’ll be doing a full set of my Electronic music, so I’m nervous and excited for that.

How important is performing? Do you prefer it to life in the studio?

I love performing. I hate to say it outright, because I feel like it’s a cliché, but I really do feel at home on stage. I just absolutely love the feeling you get when you know that you’ve entertained someone. I love the applause at the end of a performance; when you KNOW from the energy in the room is genuine. As for life in the studio, I do love that too. It’s one of those things where it’s a labour of love: it can be incredibly tedious and boring and then it can be really frustrating and really, really hard work.

But, at the end of it comes something tangible and something beautiful and it’s all worthwhile. Performing and being in the studio are two different highs - and I love them both.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Zapho

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Yeah! As I said, Zapho is someone y’all should check out. She just released a song called Water Me. They’re not necessarily new artists but Vernon Jane are bringing out incredible music...so are MUNKY and SIIGHTS. I also love an artist called Andrea di Giovanni - who I recently discovered on Twitter.

IN THIS PHOTO: SIIGHTS

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

NO. MUSIC CONSUMES ME. I LIVE AND BREATHE IT…just kidding.

Honestly, music is how I chill and unwind whether it’s listening to, playing or writing it. But, aside from that, I love playing tennis, playing and watching football (I’m a massive Liverpool fan, so maybe ‘unwinding’ isn’t the right word for watching them this season).

I love walking my beautiful dog around Howth, which is the town I’m from, and I enjoy reading. To unwind at the end of every day, I do ten minutes of meditation and then fall asleep listening to ASMR videos - which is slightly creepy, but, whatever.

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).

Delirious - Susanne Sundfør

She is honestly one of my biggest influences and this album (Ten Love Songs) is one of my favourite albums of all time; criminally slept on in my opinion. I, one day, hope to be as extra as Susanne in this song. The last minute of this song is PERFECTION.

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Follow Jack Rua

TRACK REVIEW: Elles Bailey - Little Piece of Heaven

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Elles Bailey

Little Piece of Heaven

 

9.4/10

 

 

The track, Little Piece of Heaven, is available via:

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

ORIGIN:

Bristol, U.K.

GENRES:

Country/Americana/Blues

RELEASE DATE:

13th March, 2019

The album, Road I Call Home, is available here:

https://open.spotify.com/album/7rooTZehVu9pdUIirCwA0a?si=rAtrfIV6T0eydF8dPp3iIg

RELEASE DATE:

8th March, 2019

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I realise I have included quite a few women...

PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Berger

in my review section and will definitely be bringing more men into things soon! The reason I have been featuring more women is because, largely, they are given less attention than the men. I will talk about Elles Bailey very soon but I wanted to talk about a few different things before then. I wanted to address Country music and whether there is gender equality; how the scene differs here from the U.S. I will also come on to investigate Bristol and why there are plenty of areas outside of London that warrant fondness; D.I.Y. artists and those who get to tour around the world; a bit about fusing genres and how that can lead to something incredible – I’ll end by talking a bit about Bailey and where she might head. Because my reviews are not your average cut-and-paste jobs you get from most sites, I might be repeating myself to an extent. That is why I choose a bigger artist to review on Saturdays: I can go in a different direction and it is easier to create a bigger review. That is nothing against the new breed but you tend to find less stark diversity and sonic invention than you will with those who are closer to the mainstream. The stories can be very similar and you find yourself struggling for words. In the case of Elles Bailey, there are some interesting new angles I can explore and work from. I have known about her music for a while now and have been following her. She plays Americana and Blues but, at its heart, I detect a great influence regarding Country. This is a genre I am keen to talk about more because it is not really as huge here than it is in the U.S. I will come to that soon enough but it seems, around the world, there is inequality when it comes to the genre. Look even at Blues and there is still that dominance by men. By that, I mean there are plenty of female artists but how many of them are being featured on the radio?

 PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Hobson

In America, there is definitely a problem regarding women on the radio. Many stations feel that playing two women in a row will drive people away and it will turn people off. The fact that big artists like Kacey Musgraves and Carrie Underwood are famed and celebrated should, you think, give them a free pass and passage. It seems that there is that discrimination and feeling that men are more commercial and popular. Maybe it is not as rife here but look at the songs played on the radio in general and how often does one here Country music featuring? We do not really have any specialist stations and I feel, even when I hear Country, most of it is women being played. Artists like Elles Bailey look to Nashville and the scene there for inspiration. It is only natural that Country artists here look at the bigger U.S. scene and what is happening. If they see that radio stations are mostly playing men – despite the fact that there are a lot of great women playing – then that does not reflect well. We want to encourage a new breed of Country artists forward and I do worry a lot of women will feel the scene is against them. Bailey is not pure Country, I know, but she is someone who takes guidance from America and the best artists there. Even though there are these wonderful artists like Miranda Lambert, there is this dominance on U.S. radio when it comes to men. If anything, I feel women can bring more emotional diversity, texture and interest to Country than the men. They are not being represented fairly and that is something that bothers me. Look at Elles Bailey and she is certainly on a rise right now. She is getting her music played on the radio here but I wonder, if she ever moved to the U.S., whether life would be a bit harder. Those aspirations might be in sight so I do hope things change and there is more balance in years to come.

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Like Country music in the U.S., a lot of the best artists here are melting in other genres. I have mentioned Kacey Musgraves and one can see Pop and Americana mixing alongside all sorts of sounds. Maren Morris is another big artist who is not beholden to a single sound and is taking Country in new directions. Whilst there is Nashville in the U.S. and a huge base for Country artists, we do not really have anything as grand in the U.K. Country music is no longer about Stetsons and naff music. Maybe there was this idea that, years ago, you had to play something a bit corny and it was all twang and no real substance. Now, in a modern age, Country has moved on. Big shows like Nashville have not only inspired American artists – the British have taken note and been compelled. We have stars like Catherine McGrath and Ward Thomas; a new wave coming through that is showing how broad the genres is. As this article from The Guardian last year showed, big festivals and mainstream artists are helping make Country more accessible and interesting:

Midland are one of the acts performing at the Country 2 Country, a vast annual festival held simultaneously in London, Dublin and Glasgow over three days, celebrating a music genre that has gone from decidedly cringeworthy to undeniably cool in a few short years. The inaugural C2C, a one-day event held in London in 2013, sold 17,000 tickets: this weekend more than 80,000 people will descend on C2C, many of whom weren’t born when the 1992 Billy Ray Cyrus hit Achy Breaky Heart put a nail in the coffin of country music in the UK.

Former One Direction singer Niall Horan worked on his debut solo album with country artist Maren Morris, while Ed Sheeran’s work has been hugely shaped by the genre, and he’s written a track, Stay the Night, for the Shires’ new album, Accidentally on Purpose, out in April. Adele consistently cites Alison Krauss as a major influence, and has recorded a track by Chris Stapleton, who performed at last month’s Brit Awards alongside Justin Timberlake...

PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Berger

Rebecca Allen, president of Decca UK, Musgraves’s label, says: “The British love her because she is a maverick. She wasn’t frightened of the [country] old guard and stayed true to herself, and as a result appealed to the new guard of fans”.

Stars like Kacey Musgraves are giving British artists food for thought and it seems likes there is a growth in British artists over in America:

It’s not just British fans who are growing in numbers: there’s a rise in UK country acts making waves, here and in the US. Crissie Rhodes, one half of homegrown act the Shires, said: “When Ben [Earle] and I first started making music together in 2013, there wasn’t much of a country scene in the UK; now it’s a massive community and still growing”.

Elles Bailey is one of the names who is bringing British Country to new lands and, one feels, takes a bit of influence from the U.S. newcomers and giants. On her new album, Road I Call Home, she has worked with hit-maker Roger Cook, Nashville giant Bobby Wood and Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys). That is a pretty impressive roster and, when you listen to the songs, there is so much happening. I do feel like there is a growth regarding Country music in the U.K. and we might soon challenge the U.S. I am not sure whether U.K. artists will get the same focus as the Country stars in the U.S. as we do not have the same popularity and options. I shall move on and look at other things because I am quite keen to look at a great song from Elles Bailey. Before I come to that, I want to look at areas outside of London that are worth checking out. Bristol is an area that has always produced great music and I feel more people need to keep their eyes trained there.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Berger

Not only is there that great history of Trip-Hip music and artists like Massive Attack but you have greats like Portishead and The Cortinas. IDLES are part of the new breed that are putting Bristol back on the map and, from everything I have heard, it is a wonderful city to be based in. I am seeing venues close in London and it is quite hard to predict how sustainable it might be for some artists to remain here in years to come. Great sites are closing and there are more and more people coming along. It seems like the musicians-to-venue-ratio is quite high but one wonders how easy it is to get attention and stand aside. Bristol seems to be freer regarding the crowds and there is great variation to be found. Spaces like Colston Hall, Thekla and The Exchange provide spaces for new artists but I feel, with new acts like Elles Bailey and IDLES adding to the city’s history, whether there are plans for development and expansion. So many artists I know love playing in Bristol and always love going there. The city itself is magnificent and provides so much interest and warmth. I would like to see more venues coming in so that the best musicians there are not tempted to come to London. Bristol is a great space for musicians and there is so happening. In terms of genres, it is not confined and limited: one can experience clubs that cater for Trip-Hop lovers and there are venues that host Pop, Folk and Country. It is a very vibrant scene and one that is always growing. I do hope there is more investment in Bristol and we will see a raft of great new artists come from the city. I hope Elles Bailey has no immediate plans to move because she seems to be comfortable right now and, listening to her music, picking up different colours and genres with it. It is the way she splices together different sounds that fascinates me and makes her stand out.

PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Berger

Bailey is someone who is inspired by American music and the Country scene but there is Blues and American involved. Americana and Country are different. The former is a collection of shared traditions and sounds that define America. It is not purely Country and can bring in Folk and Blues. There are Blues touches to Bailey’s music and she has that Country skin. It all comes together wonderfully and you get this very rich and rewarding blend. I will finish by talking about Bailey’s D.I.Y. approach and her touring but I do like the way she mixes together genres and takes her music in different directions. If you listen to songs on Road I Call Home, there is plenty of stomp, swagger and Blues funkiness alongside something more tender and introspective. One can hear America in her bones but Bailey is keen not to be limited and too beholden to one sound. Throughout the album, we get this very eclectic selection that gives the songs such weight and fascination. I do think that a lot of artists are not being daring when it comes to unifying different genres and taking chances. Although there are more British artists looking at Americana and Country, I still feel like there is an over-reliance on other genres such as Pop. Growing stars like Elles Bailey have shown what can happen when you sprinkle all these different avenues together. She has created this very personal and appealing brew that not only makes her music strong but gets you interested in different genres. I feel Blues has changed through the decades and there are not that many artists keeping it alive. The same can be said for Americana. We do not have that many British artists playing Americana and looking at that genre. I do feel like Elles Bailey and her peers are trailblazers in that sense because, in a homogenised scene, we need artists who are bolder and more innovator. I think things are okay in modern music but it would be good to see the mainstream a bit more varied and not just rely on what we hear right now.

Elles Bailey is someone who has her own dynamic but she is always growing and looking to strengthen what she does. Her fanbase is growing and I know she has one eye on the U.S. Right now, there is every possibility she could be a big name there which makes me wonder whether she will move there soon enough. That is a big decision but, right now, Bailey is enjoying touring and making music. It is her D.I.Y. approach and determination that impresses me. She is always promoting herself and gigging around the world. Whereas a lot of artists are not too active on social media, she is always putting her music out there and looking for gigs. What is amazing is the sheer tenacity and determination of Bailey. There is no stopping her and you get this feeling that music is everything to her. Even though she has collaborators when it comes to putting her music together, there is not this huge army regarding promotion and bookings. Bailey is the one who connects with fans online and gets her music out there. Many big artists have teams pushing their stuff around the world but Bailey takes care of business and, as such, seems like a much more personable and accessible artist. It is no surprise that her music has connected with the masses and her streaming figures are huge. That is not usually an area that bothers me – I look for quality rather than big figures – but Bailey is someone who deserves every single streaming figure. She keeps working relentlessly and this is translating into success and plaudits. I alluded to the fact Bailey might look to the U.S. very soon and her fan numbers are growing there. It would not be a huge leap of faith to assume that she would want more celebration there so I will keep my eyes open. At the moment, she has tour dates around the U.K. and will be busy as we head through spring.

PHOTO CREDIT: Cam McMillan

It is actually Elles Bailey’s birthday – I hope this review is a nice addition! – and she has been reflecting on the touring she has done. It is clear that Bailey wants to connect with people around the world and very proud of what she is putting out into the world. Road I Call Home is a terrific album that will appeal to those who love Country and Americana but there are great Blues and Rock moments to be found. It is a great album that is easy to love and one will find songs they fall for easily. I want to look at Little Piece of Heaven because it is new and a great little slice of Road I Call Home. When thinking about Bailey and what makes her stand out, it is a combination of everything. She has that boldness when it comes to genres and sounds and, when you hear her sing, every note rings with conviction and passion. I love her delivery style and how she manages to bring you into her heart. There are few songwriters who have that sort of power but, with Bailey, she does that easily. Her songs have her own stamp on them but each one is quite different and explores new ground. Because of that, you are invested throughout and her music has that broader appeal. I have mentioned how there is sexism in American Country radio but I feel there is this British explosion that can remain where they are and make their way onto the bigger stations. Bailey has a great foundation here but she is respected around the world. It is her determination and spirit that keeps her moving; brilliant songs that are connecting with people and that mutual love. I am keen to move onto her new track and show you why she is such a strong and promising artist. This year has already been busy and eventful and, with Little Piece of Heaven out, proof she is among our strongest and most promising artists.

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There is a discernible strut and movement when you listen to Little Piece of Heaven. The guitars scratch and strum as the song whips up its own storm and brings sunshine. Our heroine is at the microphone and her soulful and impassioned voice shines through. One reason why I love artists such as Elles Bailey and her peers is because you get something soulful and big. Many Pop artists have very limited voices and they can seem rather empty and vacant. In the case of Bailey, there is so much strength and shiver when you hear her sing. She apologies to her sweetheart for making him feel that way. It appears that there have been some issues in the past or the two have not always seen eye to eye. There is a bit of mystery regarding the opening of the song and where the lovers stand. It seems that Bailey was looking for companionship and someone to hold onto. She never meant to push him away and the two have gone through a bit of tension. Love, she says, is complex and never can be predicted. Even though, as I said, there is something quite revealing coming out, the song is never morbid at all. Bailey investigates her place and situation but never dowses it in whiskey and gasoline. She is trying to piece things together and, as the song’s title suggests, things are not all bad. I instantly looked at the title itself – Little Piece of Heaven – and was expecting a distinct sound and narrative. Instead, the heroine is fighting against these tides and forces. She does not care what people say and is keen to keep her sweetheart by her side. I get the view that people might try and split them up and there are some disapproving tongues. Bailey apologises for being very casual and like she is not invested but she is deeply passionate about the relationship. The lyrics are very clear and understandable and, rather than hide her feelings behind obfuscation and obliqueness, we get these very striking and stirring sentiments.

I am not sure why others are willing to see bad sides but the two will not be broken. The love Bailey receives is her Heaven and she is not going to let that get away! Maybe it is the case that some think the man is not right for her but, as one looks at the song’s video, they seem like a great fit – he is not someone you’d associate with trouble and strife. It is interesting to guess who the man might be in the song and whether the two are still involved. Bailey pours her heart out and knows that life is not as simple as it should be. The composition keeps quite simple and unobtrusive and you get this nice combination of Country and Blues. One can hear Country themes in the lyrics – the lovers who fight against separation; the guitar definitely has a Country vibe – with the sophistication and soul of Blues. It is an intoxicating cocktail and one that gets right into the blood. Even the most casual of listeners will be interested to see where the song goes and how the two work out. I cannot figure why their relationship is facing tests and what has happened – I guess that is part of the mystery! There is a lot of hokum theory (fate and destiny bringing them together: no such thing, you see) and some tenderhearted compassion and romance. It seems like the two are a great fit so it makes me worried as to the prognosis of the relationship. They are strong against the wind but having to fight this suppression. I do like the strength in Bailey’s words and how she is not going to let the negativity get to her. It is her voice that really captures me at every stage. It is so full of life and passion; one cannot ignore the wonder arriving from Bailey. She is one of these singers that can take you off your feet and make every song shine and explode. There is a lot of spirit and uplift to be found in Little Piece of Heaven. Bailey is seduced by this love and she is never going to let anyone break them down. In a music scene where there is still too much negativity and anger, it is good to hear an artist who has that faith and keeps their eyes focused.

Touring continues for Elles Bailey as we head through March. She heads to Bridgwater on 21st and makes her way back to Bristol; then down to Southampton and Horsham before coming up to Bath and back down to Bournemouth. In terms of itinerary, it is quite up-and-down – she moves in different directions rather than a straight line – but it will give her a chance to see new places and faces. The travel will be quite brutal and exhausting but the rush she gets from the stage is hard to fault. At the moment, she is playing a lot of smaller/medium-sized venues but it cannot be too long before she is commanding the bigger stages. Her numbers continue to rise and her music is being featured on radio. There are not that many artists like Elles Bailey in the U.K. and I know she will be a big name very soon. What amazes me about her is how she manages to craft this very personal and unusual sound that is completely fresh yet strikes a note of familiarity. Her music is busy and bold and it takes you to wonderful places. Her songwriting is wonderful and she is not an artist who deals with a lot of clichés and tropes. Instead, you get a true storyteller and performer who is puts all her emotion and soul into the music. Bailey is tirelessly promoting her music and eager to play where she can. I do hope she gets time to recharge – especially today of all days! – and has some moments to unwind. With a new album out, there is that demand but it also means she can, when touring ends, look at her next moves. I speculated about America and I do wonder whether that is in her sights. She would fit in very well and there is a place for at multiple venues. Her live sets are lauded and that sort of confidence will easily translate to the U.S. market. Let us see what she has planned and what is in mind for the rest of this year. I am troubled by the fact certain genres are not as receptive to women as others. Maybe things will change but progress I stubborn and slow. With great artists such as Elles Bailey shining, stations must take notice and change their ways. I shall leave things here and let you get about your day but I would urge people to seek out Elles Bailey – one of our best young artists right now. The Bristol-based musician is already making big moves in 2019 and she will not want to let up anytime soon! Listen to Road I Call Home and I guarantee there will be something in there for everybody! I have featured her latest single because it struck my ear hardest and there is a video out there right now. As she takes a breather on her birthday and enjoys the spoils of the day, Elles Bailey can be proud of everything she has achieved and look forward to…

A very bright future.

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Follow Elles Bailey

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FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope

FEATURE:

 

Vinyl Corner

IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope

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THIS is the opportunity where I get to put a record...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Janet Jackson/PHOTO CREDIT: Vibe

into the corner and give it special appreciating. As Janet Jackson has been confirmed for Glastonbury, it seemed only right I would focus on one of her albums. I am of all of her work but I have a special love for The Velvet Rope. I was a teenager when it arrived and it instantly took me aback. Jackson signed a contract with Virgin Records for $80 million; the largest recording contract in history at that point. With that sort of money behind it, it was clear her future work had to live up that sort of belief. She was no stranger to hit albums and singles but she was entering the peak of her career and a lot of eyes were on her. Around the time of the album (1997), Jackson experienced an emotional breakdown and was going through a rough time. A lot of the turmoil stemmed from childhood problems and traumas and, rather than sublimate the fear and unhappiness, she used it in a sort of concept album that would tackle these feelings. The title, The Velvet Rope, refers to that need to feel wanted and popular: it also has that sort of feeling that there is a hidden world away from those who are not V.I.P. Jackson put her heart and soul into the album and, whereas there were inner-scars and personal burdens in the songs, The Velvet Rope was a much broader album that looked at things such as same-sex relationships and domestic violence.

By the time of The Velvet Rope, Jackson was seen as one of the greatest and most seductive vocalists of the 1990s. Helped in part by a lot of the album’s charged and passionate songs, Jackson’s status rose and she proved she was far ahead of most of her Pop peers. The inclusion of same-sex marriages and homophobia on The Velvet Rope turned Jackson into a bona fide gay icon and she received huge kudos. The Velvet Rope is a twenty-two-song bonanza that has a running time of over an-hour-and-a-quarter. Many artists embarking on a project of that ambition would be derided and critics would be all over them. Jackson was going through a lot of change and struggle so it is only fair she would be granted the chance to let everything out. Co-writing with her then-husband René Elizondo Jr., Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, there were contributions from the likes of Vanessa-Mae, Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell (even if it is more of a sample). Not many artists can boast that sort of eclectic line-up and that was mirrored in the variety of genres on The Velvet Rope. Alongside Pop and R&B was Trip-Hop, Folk and Jazz – a myriad of sounds and expressions. It was clear that Janet Jackson was struggling away from the microphone and she was starting to question her career path. Feeling the pressures of the industry and the demands of fame, The Velvet Rope is a cathartic thing from an artist trying to make sense of everything and see where her future lay.

Although The Velvet Rope received bans and judgements in some nations (including Singapore) because of its look at homosexuality and support of same-sex marriage, it struck a huge chord with critics. In fact, a lot of the criticism was coming from a few corners but it seems strange that, in 1997, singing about homosexuality and sexuality in general would provoke outcry. On various numbers, Jackson addressed AIDs and bisexuality; personal scars and fears as well as a more conventional mixture of topics. Jackson herself saw no issues as, aside from having a lot of gay and bisexual friends, this was her being natural and a true artist. She was pushing boundaries and opening up the conversation and, when the album arrived on 7th October, 1997, it seemed like nothing else. I wonder whether we have seen many albums as bold and eye-opening in the near-twenty-two years since! Listen to the song, What About, and how Jackson discusses domestic abuse. She was unflinching and raw and, alongside some of the other songs on the album, The Velvet Rope could be seen as starling and hard to swallow. Consider the fact that, in 1989, Madonna was addressing similar themes on Like a Prayer - including AIDs, domestic abuse and freedom of expression. In this article udiscovermusic talks about The Velvet Rope being this risk-taking album that saw the growth of this Pop rebel:

By the time The Velvet Rope came along in 1997, the girl from Gary, Indiana, had morphed into a confident young woman whose two follow-up albums to Control – 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814 and 1993’s Janet, both co-produced by the singer with the dependable Jam & Lewis – made her the most famous woman in the world at that point...

The whole album was an access-all-areas invitation into Janet Jackson’s internal private world – a world usually cordoned off by a velvet rope. Explaining the album’s title and concept, Jackson said, “We’ve all driven by premieres or nightclubs, and seen the rope separating those who can enter and those who can’t. Well, there’s also a velvet rope we have inside us, keeping others from knowing our feelings. In The Velvet Rope, I’m trying to expose and explore those feelings. I’m inviting you inside my velvet rope.”

Despite the controversy it engendered, The Velvet Rope topped the album charts around the world on its release in the autumn of 1997 and reaffirmed Janet Jackson’s position as the pre-eminent top-selling female recording artist of her generation. But Jackson’s main goal was more about personal development and exorcising her demons than selling records. Above all else, her honesty on The Velvet Rope was genuine and sincere. “I think it’s important to be true to yourself in your music,” she said. “I think that’s the only way I can actually write music”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Away from the (unnecessary and overactive) controversy, The Velvet Rope remains this hugely inspiring and different album. It is, as The Guardian explains, a hugely eclectic and challenging album:

There are also the various shades and moods that go with a 22-track album, showcasing what lifelong fan How to Dress Well, AKA Tom Krell, refers to as the album’s “recklessness with genre conventions and restrictions”. For pop star MNEK it covers “the full human condition. The whole thing bares a sadness but still a joy.” Not many albums utilise a Tubular Bells sample next to a solo from violinist-turned-Olympic skier Vanessa Mae...

At its core, too, is the enduring relevancy of its subject matter. Written following a severe bout of depression – “I’ve been burying pain my whole life,” she told Ebony at the time – the songs are therapy-esque monuments to self-discovery (very 2017), bookended by sensual self-exploration (Rope Burn) and, on the cover of Rod Stewart’s Tonight’s the Night, the suggestion of bisexuality. The jazz-tinged Free Xone, meanwhile, tackles homophobia. “It felt incredibly personal, like I was diving into someone’s creative process,” says lo-fi pop practitioner Shura of the first time she heard the album. “I love the idea that a fearless record like The Velvet Rope has inspired artists and albums that are so vastly different”.

In terms of its influence, The Velvet Rope has inspired so many artists since. Janet Jackson helped make the dark and riskier album seem part of the fabric. Before then, there were not many artists talking about such weighty topics as domestic abuse on their albums. Jackson was also mixing genres like never before and combining Jazz, Folk and Techno shades to create this bright, unique and stunning soundscape. Artists who followed her could see what could come from fusing strange bedfellows and taking greater risks regarding subject matter. The Velvet Rope was a rarity regarding mainstream releases and was creating all these wonderful angles and digressions. Jackson was this liberal and explosive songwriter who was sexually free and showing that this was okay – that was a big revelation in 1997! In terms of its nakedness and boldness, artists like Rihanna and Fiona Apple have been inspired. The list, in fact, is long and one can link a lot of songs/albums back to Velvet Rope. In this time, we do not see many albums like The Velvet Rope and I wonder whether artists need to take note. The 1990s did see bolder and expressive artists put out these incredible albums and, in many ways, things have become softer, safer and less risky. I do think music needs to learn from artists such as Janet Jackson and ask why we are more reserved and less brave regarding what is put out there.

Some were unsure about The Velvet Rope when it came out but a lot of retrospective reviews have seen the album in a more positive light. There is a lot to enjoy about it. In this review from SLANT, they look at the sexual themes expressed and how her honesty and emotional openness was the finest quality of all:

For a sex album that also seems to aim at giving fans an unparalleled glance behind the fetish mask (literally, in the concert tour performance of “You”), Janet’s probably never been more cagey.

But behind the sex is something even more compelling, because it gradually dawns on you that Janet’s use of sexuality is an evasive tactic. That it’s easier for her to sing about cybersex (on the galvanizing drum n’ bass “Empty,” one of Jam and Lewis’s very finest moments, maybe even their last excepting Jordan Knight’s “Give It to You”) and to fret about her coochie falling apart than it is to admit that it’s her psyche and soul that are in greater danger of fracturing. Soul sister to Madonna’s Erotica (which, in turn, was her most daring performance), The Velvet Rope is a richly dark masterwork that illustrates that, amid the whips and chains, there is nothing sexier than emotional nakedness”.

Following the announcement Janet Jackson will play at Glastonbury, it is a good time to look back at her catalogue and gems like The Velvet Rope. Although it is quite tricky tracking the album down on vinyl, there are second-hand copies and chances to pick it up. After all this time, it still sounds completely forward-thinking, revolutionary and raw. It will be exciting seeing whether any of the songs (from the album) make their way to the Glastonbury stage and how the crowd react to them. Maybe Janet Jackson released more critically-acclaimed albums than The Velvet Rope but, to me, she never released...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

ANYTHING more accomplished.

FEATURE: Glastonbury 2019: Has It Moved Forward at All?

FEATURE:

 

Glastonbury 2019

IMAGE CREDIT: @GlastoFest  

Has It Moved Forward at All?

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THE list of artists who will play this year’s Glastonbury...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Christine and the Queens/PHOTO CREDIT: Eva Pentel for DIY

have been announced and, whilst there are more names coming, we have the idea regarding the sort of sounds that will define the festival, it is interesting to see how things have changed through the years. It is definitely a packed and varied festival with plenty of great talent in the pack. Here, as The Guardian writes, there is an eclectic spirit running through the line-up:

The Killers and the Cure have been announced as the final headliners of the 2019 Glastonbury festival. Brandon Flowers’ Vegas band will headline on the Saturday, and Robert Smith and co on the Sunday. They join the previously announced headliner Stormzy, who will close the Pyramid stage on Friday night.

It is the Cure’s fourth time headlining Glastonbury, following slots in 1986, 1990 and 1995. They join Coldplay as the only groups to have headlined the festival four times.

Down the bill, there are first-time Glastonbury appearances from Janet Jackson, Lauryn Hill and Miley Cyrus, among others. Liam Gallagher will follow his packed Other stage show at Glastonbury 2017, and Christine and the Queens returns for her second Glastonbury, having provided a flash of European optimism with her debut at the 2016 festival, the day after the UK voted to leave the EU.

There is a strong showing for the crop of young, game-changing pop stars: the goth-pop icon-in-the-making Billie Eilish joins the hip-hop and flute polymath Lizzo. The Spanish flamenco trap musician Rosalía, Norwegian power-popper Sigrid, British producer Shura and Fiona Apple-endorsed King Princess also perform...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kamasi Washington/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The UK rap scene is well represented with Stefflon Don, Little Simz, Kate Tempest, Loyle Carner, Slowthai and Bugzy Malone, as is the burgeoning international jazz community with Kamasi Washington and Britain’s Sons of Kemet and the Comet is Coming. Britain and Ireland’s male singer-songwriter set is represented by George Ezra, Hozier, Rex Orange County and the socially conscious guitarist Sam Fender”.

I do like the fact Glastonbury have mixed in new Pop artists and the best when it comes to British Rap. It is hard to include every genre together but the fact Glastonbury is not all about Pop and Rock is rewarding. Stormzy is a good headline shout because it breaks away from the usual Rock bands and provides a platform for British Grime and Rap. I will come to the headliners soon but I do like the look of the artists under the headliners. More names are coming through but some of my recent favourites, like IDLES and Jorja Smith, have a chance to capitalise on successful 2018s and get their music to a new audience. Similarly, it is good that newer artists like Anne-Marie get to sit alongside established names such as Sheryl Crow. Glastonbury has always been good regarding its blend of the older and new and this year is no exception. This means that revellers of all ages will come along and there will be this great community.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Kacey Musgraves (omitted from this year’s Glastonbury line-up)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Look down at the line-up and one can have few reservations regarding the mix of genres. There has been criticism that some genres have been left out. I wonder whether Country artists like Kacey Musgraves got a call and whether Country as a whole was considered. I do feel like there is a place for greater variety. The same can be said of Metal. Maybe adding a big Country name like Kacey Musgraves alongside a legendary Metal band or newer name would make Glastonbury even broader. I know there are specialist festivals for Metal but many would like to see it play a part at the country’s biggest event – it has been missing for a very long time now. More names will be revealed so we cannot say we have seen everything yet. It is the powerful female showing of Janelle Monáe, Christine and the Queens and Janet Jackson that excites me. Many, myself included, are thrilled to see Janet Jackson included on the bill. Many of us know her biggest hits but she will have chance to play a career-spanning set to a delighted crowd. I am about to feature her album, The Velvet Rope, later today so I will be in Jackson territory for the rest of the day! It would be good to see more bands in general because, largely, this year’s line-up is solo-heavy.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Janet Jackson/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I am glad obvious names like Foo Fighters and Muse are excluded but there are a lot of great bands emerging that would benefit from a spot. Look at the best albums from 2018 and it is a little odd not seeing some of their creators included. Cardi B (Invasion of Privacy) and Ariana Grande (Sweetener) could sit alongside The 1975 (A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships) and Robyn (Honey). There is no inclusion of Arctic Monkeys and I do hope some of these names get included later. It is wonderful Lauryn Hill and Liam Gallagher are involved but I do wonder why names such as George Ezra keep getting appearing so high! He is headlining and dominating festivals at the moment and I cannot figure out why! He has a bland sort of Pop charm but it is not something that needs to appear at so many big festivals. Kylie Minogue has been confirmed already to play in the ‘legends’ slot and I do wonder whether we will see more like her, who can bring genuine fun, coming along. I was a little shocked to see artists such as Hot Chip and Pond appear on the bill when there is an absence of bigger acts. I guess you need to balance the established with the rising so, in many ways, it is hard to please everyone. There is a nice balance of British and American artists but not that many from outside these two countries – except for a bit of Swedish and French shine.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Stormzy/PHOTO CREDIT: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

To me, the biggest benefits and standouts from the names already announced is the variety of sounds. It is one of the most multifarious rundowns and many new punters will come to Worthy Farm in Somerset. I do feel like, in future years, a few extra steps can be taken regarding ignored genres but we have Rap, Grime; Jazz, Pop and everything else thrown into the blender! A major festival should not be just about big names and those who have enjoyed long careers. Stormzy’s headline set is a rare chance for a new artist – only one album in – to have their say. Including icons like Janet Jackson, Kylie Minogue and Lauryn Hill in the mix gives Glastonbury a strong backbone and that sense that, regardless of the weather, people will flock to see them! Although organisers Michael and Emily Eavis tried to get a fifty-fifty gender balance, about 42% of the names are women. I am curious how one tries and fails to get a fifty-fifty split. Surely it is simple arithmetic and you just invite a few more women?! One doubts they’d refuse and so, next year, there is no excuse for needlessly having a male majority...however small it appears. Artists like Kacey Musgraves, St. Vincent and Dream Wife would have been terrific and, if it meant bumping a few lesser-known male names then so be it! It is strange hearing excuses and wondering why, when the most exciting music made right now is by women, there is still that male majority.

 IN THIS PHOTO: A guaranteed crowd-pleaser, Lizzo/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It is good to see Sharon Van Etten on the bill and also Little Simz. They have both turned in terrific albums this year – Remind Me Tomorrow and GREY Area respectively – but where is Julia Jacklin? She has been consistently great and, with Crushing, provided us one of the best albums so far this year. Despite my gripes, the bill is pretty solid and a lot of effort has gone in. Seeing the names most likely to provoke excitement and dance and, again, they are women. Look at Janet Jackson, Christine and the Queens and Kylie Minogue; Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Sigrid; Miley Cyrus is in there too – an unusual booking but a pretty good shout. There is a lot of energy in there and, when compared to some of the boys on the bill, I think the greatest power and pull will come from the women! I understand that Janelle Monáe is headlining a stage and Kylie Minogue is the big name in the legend slot but when it comes to the Pyramid Stage and, effectively, the major headliners it is another case of men ruling. I could forgive, maybe, male-heavy headliners if the rest of the bill was dominated by women. As it stands, we have an imbalance further down the bill and 100& men as the headliners. Excluding names I have already mentioned, I could rattle off a dozen-plus women who could replace any of the headliners.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Cure’s Robert Smith/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I knew The Cure were headlining because they have been odds-on for weeks now and nobody is shocked. You need a legendary act as a headliner and The Cure’s inclusion is good. I was wondering whether Sir Paul McCartney would get the call but The Cure have a huge fanbase and their headline slot is welcomed. They have headlined before but I know they will be adding new songs and elements to their set this time around. Stormzy’s headline nod was always going to divide people but, as we have a new male artist and an iconic male group already confirmed then why add a third?! The Killers have their own qualities but they are not really adding anything truly exciting or new to Glastonbury. You need a female voice at the top of the bill and, looking at this year’s headliners, it seems like we are traveling back in time. Glastonbury’s bill shows progression but the headliners seem to have frozen us about a decade or two back! The headliners are the big selling-point and a big reason to come to Glastonbury. I am annoyed, if not surprised, there is an all-male look – cast your eye back to the last decade of Glastonbury and you can pretty much count the female headliners on two hands and have fingers left! – but it is general quality that frustrates me. I do think that, looking forward, the Eavis’ need to think more about gender balance and providing a more exhilarating headline look.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Killers/PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Weiss

2017 saw Ed Sheeran included alongside Foo Fighters (turning in the same old set) and it has been a long time since we have seen a truly standout, history-making set. Regardless of the predictable gender imbalance and that beige headline booking, the rest of the bill should sort of set an example as to what we want the headliners to be about. The fact Janet Jackson is getting more positive buzz than The Killers makes me wonder why she could not have been booked as a headliner. There is definite forward-movement regarding genre diversity and bringing more to the party. I do feel like that reach need to stretch a bit more for 2020 but it is a pleasing mix of newer and big names on the poster. Even if the weather does not hold up, there is plenty of strut and electricity to get people jumping and united. That is what we need, I guess. We are in a very testing and struggling time so music can fill that gap. I am not quite enticed enough to go to Glastonbury – the headliners need to be a bit stronger – but it is wonderful seeing so many promising newcomers get their shot. To mark a busy and eclectic Glastonbury – with more names still to come – I have put together a playlist of songs from the artists already booked. As the playlist shows, the sheer assortment of sounds...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Kylie Minogue/PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue/Getty Images

IS amazing.

INTERVIEW: Crooked Weather

INTERVIEW:

Crooked Weather

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I have been talking with Crooked Weather...

about their latest track, Easy. Holly and Will discuss the track and the music that moves them; what we can expect from their album, Are We Lost, and whether it is true they have a 1979 campervan – they select some rising artists worth watching.

I ask if there are tour dates coming and whether they each have an album that is special to them; who they would support on tour if they had the chance and what they would say to artists coming through right now – they select some great tracks to end the interview with.

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Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Hello! Life has treated us well, most of this week.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?

We (Will and Holly) make up the core of the band with a mutual taste in strange old Folk music. The stripped back duo expands with Beth Nicholson (Yorkshire Orchestra stalwart) on cello; Tom Skelly (gardener and songwriter, currently residing in Scotland) on bass and Dave Tomlinson (vegan-machine and equipment-collector).

Easy is your new single. How did the song come to pass?

Easy was one of those songs that just wrote itself and it’s hard to say where this kind of a song comes from. It had been fermenting away in the background for a while and ideas would come now and again when outside cutting the grass and things like that. Then one afternoon, it pretty much came out fully-formed.

It’s probably best not spending too long thinking about where it came from.  

The album, Are We Lost, is out on 12th April. Are there particular themes and inspirations that go into the songs?

They are mainly songs that have been born out of the ups and downs of spending a lot of life on the road. Sometimes, everything just makes sense and you can’t understand how things could be anything but beautiful; yet, at other times, the bottom falls out, desperation takes hold and all seems lost.

Is there a track from the album you would select as personal favourites?

Will: Too hard to call!

Holly: Easy has a special place in my heart. It’s been a trouble-causer for some time, so it feels good to have finally it there, have it finished!

What sort of music are you compelled by? Did you both grow up around the same sort of music?

We both have varying tastes but they evolve around the transatlantic sounds of the '60s and '70s. Some favourites of Will’s include Bob Dylan, Roy Harper and Nick Cave; whereas Holly could bore you to death talking about Bert Jansch, Pentangle and obscure Psych-Folk.

Is it true a 1979 campervan holds a very special place in your lives?!

Yes! We have lived in and toured in our beautiful 1979 Sherpa campervan. She often needs a good bit of T.L.C. to keep her on the road but that's the way with old machines. We’ve just had a new radiator made but now the fuel gauge has stopped working!

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

That’s a tough one. SoL festival springs to mind; a strange festival ran by Deadheads in Kent. We got to play with some of our musical heroes as well as hearing stories of Woodstock, Monterey and what it’s like hanging out with Joni Mitchell and Mama Cass. We like being on the road, though - especially in the sunshine, meeting people from all different walks of life.

Which one album means the most to each of you would you say (and why)?

Holly: There can’t possibly be one album. There are too many I’m thankful for! Harvest by Neil Young is probably the first music I listened to as a kid and thought it was magic.

Will: Agree with Holly – “There can’t possibly be one album”. But, to carry on the same idea, Folkjokeopus by Roy Harper was an album I had on-repeat for weeks when I was a youngster.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The rider would have to include being able to play on stage to maybe Down by the River, Cowgirl in the Sand or one of those good jams!

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Always stay true to the love and passion that led you to first practice an instrument.

Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?

Bournemouth, Cellar Bar - 12/04

Hyde Tavern, Winchester - 13/04

Square and Compass, Worth Matravers - 19/04

Cafe INDIE, Scunthorpe - 24/04

Sheffield, Hallamshire House - 27/04

The Basement, York - 28/04

Evron Center, Filey Folk Festival, Filey - 05/05

Tom Thumb Theatre, Margate - 11/05

The Lamb, Surbiton - 12/05

The New Adelphi Club, Hull - 17/05

Vestry Hall, Cranbrook - 18/06

Green Note, London - 19/06

If we came to one of your live shows, what might we expect?

An intimate evening of Alternative-Folk. Melodies, harmonies; happy and sad and a little story-telling.

 IN THIS PHOTO: This Is the Kit

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Karl Culley, This Is the Kit and Copper Viper.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Cooper Viper/PHOTO CREDIT: Anna Orhanen Photography

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Music is all-encompassing, but only because we enjoy it!

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

Holly: I’ve been enjoying Easy Ride by Relatively Clean Rivers recently!

Will: Friend of the Devil - Jerry Garcia (live at Oregon State Penitentiary). Love it.

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FEATURE: The March Playlist: Vol. 3: Our English Rose

FEATURE:

 

The March Playlist

IN THIS PHOTO: Lucy Rose/PHOTO CREDIT: Harry Wade 

Vol. 3: Our English Rose

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IT is a bit of a slender week…

PHOTO CREDIT: Arcade Fire

regarding big new releases. Aside from new tunes from Lucy Rose, Billie Marten; Arcade Fire, Solange and Shura, there is a bit of a mixed bag. It goes in cycles so you can never tell when we will get a really hot week or whether it will be a bit quiet. In this case, things are a little on the quiet side but there are still some great songs to be found. There is enough in there to keep you energised as you go through the weekend and, if anything, a chance to look at the lesser-known artists breaking through at the moment. As the weather is still a bit rough, let’s settle down with this week’s new music and let the assortment of sounds…

IN THIS PHOTO: Shura

DO their work.  

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

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Lucy RoseTreat Me Like a Woman

Billie MartenBetsy

Shura - BKLYNLDN

PHOTO CREDIT: Mary Ellen Matthews

Arcade FireBaby Mine

Wallows - Sidelines

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PHOTO CREDIT: Eliot Lee Hazel

Karen O & Danger MouseTurn the Light

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Jade BirdMy Motto

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PHOTO CREDIT: Elias Tahan

SolangeBinz

PHOTO CREDIT: Pennie Smith

The Good, The Bad & The QueenThe Truce of Twilight

Foals White Onions

Kara MarniLose My Love

Twin ShadowTruly

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IN THIS PHOTO: Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend (ft. Steve Lacy) - Sunflower

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Jenny LewisWasted Youth

Julia MichaelsApple

Khalid - Talk

PHOTO CREDIT: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Power 105.1

Juice WRLDHear Me Calling

PHOTO CREDIT: Israel Ramos

Anderson .Paak - King James

Emeli SandéSparrow

IN THIS PHOTO: Etta Bond

Etta Bond (ft. Kojey Radical, Shaé Universe) – If I Fall

Iggy AzaleaSally Walker

Lennon StellaBITCH (takes one to know one)

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Rachel PlattenWonder (from Wonder Park)

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Tierra Whack - Wasteland

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Una Healy - Strangers

IN THIS PHOTO: Cheat Codes

Cheat Codes, Daniel BlumeWho’s Got Your Love

PHOTO CREDIT: WDZIEKONSKI

King Gizzard & the Lizard WizardFishing for FishIes

Joy WilliamsWhen Does a Heart Move On

Hands Off GretelIt’s My Fault

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LalehKnock Knock

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Sophie Zelmani - Sunrise

Natalie McCoolWoman’s World

TRACK REVIEW: Billie Marten - Betsy

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Billie Marten

PHOTO CREDIT: Katie  Silvester

Betsy

 

9.5/10

 

 

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

The track, Betsy, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o19nhh4ophs

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

GENRES:

Folk/Singer-Songwriter

RELEASE DATE:

13th March, 2019

PHOTO CREDIT: Katie  Silvester

The album, Feeding Seahorses by Hand, is available from 26th April, 2019.

PRE-ORDER:

https://www.roughtrade.com/gb/music/billie-marten-feeding-seahorses-by-hand

LABELS:

Sony/Chess Club Records

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I do not need much of an excuse to review...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Adam

Billie Marten - but it always helps when she continues to bring out such great music. In a way, I have been following her career for a few years and sort of seen this maturation and blossoming. She has turned from this newcomer teen who was writing about her life and feelings and now, on her second album, there is a more outward perspective. I will start off with that and then, in a bit, look at female artists vs. male artists in 2019; Folk and why it is a genre that is burning hard; changing your life and absorbing new experiences/influences; recording processes and how the best albums can come down pretty quickly – a bit about Marten and where she is heading. It is quite wonderful seeing this songwriter go from strength-to-strength and, as I say, I have known about her music since she was sixteen. Her debut album, Writing of Blues and Yellows, arrived in 2016 and I instantly fell in love with it. In a year where we had albums from Beyoncé and David Bowie, Marten’s debut remains my favourite. It is a gorgeous and spine-tingling collection of songs that address her life but also a definite ambition. I still adore the record and play it often; listening to that unique voice and how she can paint these incredible scenes. Songs such as Emily and Heavy Weather are incredible and instant – you cannot believe you are listening to someone so young! It will take a big effort to shift that album from my mind and when her second album, Feeding Seahorses by Hand, comes out next month, maybe it will not be as instant. The reason I say that is because Writing of Blues and Yellows has stayed in my heart and I can identify with the young woman writing. Marten was making sense of anxiety and her life but doing so in a very original and spectacular way. It is only natural that, a few years later, Marten would change and her dynamic would be a little different.

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

I will talk about her new life situation but, on her sophomore release, there is a greater need to look at the outside world and absorb what is happening right now. Betsy is the lead-off single from Feeding Seahorses by Hand – a bit confusing as she has already released two tracks from the album – maybe this is the first ‘official’ single – and Betsy is a great blend of what we know of Marten already (in terms of her style and voice) but the lyrics are definitely fresh. I know there will be Writing of Blues and Yellows-like songs on her new album but there is a lot more of the world-observing young woman who needs to put it onto paper. It is a trend that is defining this year and, as I will show in a bit, it is mainly female songwriters doing this. Maybe it is me being soppy and sentimental but I was not quite willing to let go of the Yorkshire-based artist at her family home; the teen who was quirky and comfortable surrounded by beautiful geography and recording music at home. In many ways, one felt like they were at Billie Marten’s home in 2016 and could picture the scenes. Because of that, Writing of Blues and Yellows had this real sense of the physical and evocative. Even though a lot of the songs had a downbeat nature, Marten mixed that with songs of light; she was looking to other lands and seeing where her life might head in a few years. Three years after her debut album, a lot has changed for Marten. The Yorkshire-born artist is no longer there and, when looking at her publicity photos, there is something a bit different and changed. This is natural but, as I said, I have a fondness for the debut-album Marten and how that album makes me feel. I have noticed something interesting about female artists and how they differ from the men in 2019.

I am going to write about it in more detail this weekend but there is a definite split between the male and female perceptive in modern music. Some critics have noticed how the men of music are more boring and writing about their personal lives. Aside from more exciting options like Sam Fender, we have something rather tepid from the largely bearded and acoustic guitar-strumming alternatives. I will name no names but there is a feeling that male artists in 2019 are more concerned with following acts like Ed Sheeran and creating something more commercial and far less challenging. It is not the case that every single male artist is quite dull and lacks ambition but I do feel like there is this divide. Listen to the male crop and there is so much of the same thing bubbling around. Not a lot of it resonates and says anything important. Female artists, on the other hand, are producing something more interesting. This is even the case when we talk about the Pop mainstream. Listen to other artists, though, like Julia Jacklin, Lucy Rose; Billie Marten, Sharon Van Etten and Self Esteem and they are reflecting the world beyond their bedroom. It is no coincidence that albums but Van Etten, Jacklin and Little Simz are seen as some of the best from this year so far – because of what they are talking about and how important their words are! I am not sure whether all of Feeding Seahorses by Hand is all going to be political and impersonal but you know there will be that charm and Marten touch. Songs we have already heard – Mice and Blue Sea, Red Sea – are more about personal struggles and what is going on in her life. Betsy is, as she explained, more about a political feeling and something rotten in the country. This CLASH feature included a quote from Marten regarding the song:

It was the first time I’d tried jamming with someone and had the pressure of writing instant, spontaneous lyrics. They poured out actually, it’s about confronting a politician, no one in particular, but sort of ridiculing them. I liked the idea of using number 9 instead of 10. I didn’t want the big political stance, and I didn’t want to single out a specific human, it’s representing parliament as a whole institution really.”

“The song turns the wise old politician into a child, infantilising them takes away their power. I think most people feel a bit unsafe with it all, because it’s impossible relate to these characters. No one shows any personal weakness or empathy, and if they do, they’ve already cracked”.

It is amazing seeing how the sixteen-year-old Marten who was writing about the need to break from where she was and discussing stresses in her life and changed her lyrical perspective and is now tackling politicians and the way they run this nation. Alongside Rich Cooper, Betsy is a track that definitely has something to say and seems to be following closely to the best female artists of today. I am not sure why there is this split regarding themes and musical depth but maybe there is this feeling that male solo artists cannot write politically or need to be more commercial. Artists like Sam Fender are the exception but maybe the words are more potent and intelligent coming from female artists. Whatever the reasons, I am seeing this contrast and I feel 2019 is going to be defined by the female voice. Since Billie Marten released her debut album, a few other singer-songwriters of similar voice – nobody is quite as mesmeric as her – have come along. Lucy Rose is the closest example and it will be interesting to see how Marten’s forthcoming album compares to Lucy Rose’s No Words Left. It is clear Marten is more comfortable jamming and writing lyrics on the spot now. Before, she would often write in her room and craft lyrics in quiet. In many ways I prefer that vision and young woman but I realise people change and, if it leads to terrific music, then one must let go of that romantic vision. The slightly older Marten is still the same but city life has changed her perspective and process. I am glad she has a new album out and I was worried whether we might have to wait until later in the year to hear anything. I do think it is these fantastic young women who are shaping music this year and delivering the biggest records. I must move onto Folk and Singer-Songwriter genres and cover them a little bit.

Before I mention that, I must nod to Billie Marten’s song titles and how they grip you before you even hear them. I am still hearing so many artists who write boring titles and they seem very samey. On Writing of Blues and Yellows, songs like Heavy Weather, Teeth and La Lune stood out and sort of gave you an impression before you heard the songs. On Feeding Seahorses by Hand, we have songs like Cartoon People, Blood Is Blue; Vanilla Baby and Boxes. In some ways, Marten is more an author creating chapters and mini-stories than a traditional songwriter. On her debut, I sort of felt this narrative but each song inhabited its own world and skin. Now, in 2019, it seems like there is a similar thing happening on her sophomore release. Maybe it is me but I think genres like Folk allow artists a bit more expression and sense of the literary. Pop, to me, seems about creating these bangers and tracks that will get in the head and make an instant impact. Even if Pop artists are being more personal, there is this more processed and soulless sound that doesn’t have the sort of depth and nuance you’d like. Other genres can create depth but I feel like Folk and Singer-Songwriter are the perfect choices. Here, artists can take the momentum down a bit and relax the energy. Billie Marten has always been great when it comes to letting listeners into her world and creating these amazingly rich and wondrous songs. Her peers such as Laura Marling and Lucy Rose do this too but I think Marten is a step above. One of my biggest fears when I knew Marten had moved to London and was growing a bit was that she would go electric or maybe add more Pop into her music. I would forgive her and many would have done that. Happily, she has not radically altered her debut sound and we still have the gorgeous voice at the centre and a similar vibe. If anything, she has become bolder as a composer and there is more electric guitar and other instruments in the mix – her debut largely revolved around acoustic guitar with percussion and piano (and some strings on a few songs).

 PHOTO CREDIT: Liz Seabrook

Things have definitely changed for Marten and I do think that the music has evolved in a natural way. Rather than succumb to the temptation to go commercial or collaborate with a line of different singers, her core is solid and it means those who love her debut album (such as me) do not have to adapt too much. I do like the fact that the production sound is a little different to Writing of Blues and Yellows. It is a bit less intimate and a bit bolder. There is more electricity in the songs and, thematically, Marten is documenting the world about her and not quite as enclosed and homely as she once was. It is this maturation and sense of this young woman stepping out into the world. I am pleased to see there is a natural change between albums because repeating her debut album exactly would have been an unwise move. I did mention how this year will be about women in music and maybe it the way they look at life that leads me to believe this. I know bands like IDLES and Sleaford Mods have a political mind but you do not hear a lot of it from solo artists. It is hard to explain but I do feel a lot of male solo artists are more interested in commercial success and talking about matters of the heart. Whether they feel ill-equipped to pen songs about politics or they feel they need to follow the mainstream best, it is down to some great female artists to say something more relevant and important. Billie Marten sees what is happening in the country and is motivated to have her say and address her anger through songs. Even on her 2016 debut, she was conscious about the bigger picture and not beholden to being too personal and limited. It is the move to the capital that has compelled a lot of her new expressions and directions. She has said that, on her new album, she is unlearning a lot of what she learned on her debut.

Some of the best moments from Writing of Blues and Yellows were when you got the feeling you were at home with Marten. On It’s a Fine Day, the closing number, we could hear her dad mowing the lawn. It seemed like, on Teeth, we were in her living room and there was definitely an intimacy and feeling we were right inside Billie Marten’s life. Now that she has relocated, her process is different and her objectives have changed. Her lyrical talent remains but she has had to sort of write in a different manner – no longer in a cosy room in Yorkshire, the city-based Marten now has to get used to the different pace and feeling around her. I am not sure exactly why she moved to London but I get there was a feeling that she needed to be closer to the action and the commute to and from Yorkshire was a bit of a drag. If one looks at her Twitter and Instagram feeds, there is still the same quirky and charming Marten we are used to – especially when it comes to things like trying new food (I wonder if she is still fascinated by alpacas?!) – but there is a stronger, bolder and more resolute musician in her place. Marten packed her bags after finishing school and, rather than continue in higher education, she left the beauty and grace of Yorkshire to come to the more rushed and packed London. Working in a bar, she was able to observe the world passing by and, crucially, she found her feet before too long. Able to observe a greater demographic and more people, this inspired her music and outlook. A few songs on Feeding Seahorses by Hand look at political figures and how ridiculous they are but there is also the feeling that this young woman still feels a bit squashed by the city. Marten knows she is more aware of society than she was at fifteen – the then-Marten more engrossed in records and books – but she has retained that sense of intimacy and warmth that defined her debut.

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Moving to London has also provided greater opportunity when it comes to personal and spaces. I  believe she resides in East London but, in terms of producers and studios, there are greater options compared to somewhere like Ripon (where she used to live). Although a lot of the lyrics and music was written in London, Marten actually recorded a lot of the album in Ethan John’s Bath house. She recorded over this intense two-week period and worked in a way that was very different to her debut. In many ways, I sort of see Marten as a Kate Bush-like figure. Bush, on The Kick Inside, wrote the songs at home on her piano – some were written when she was as young as thirteen! There is this personal feel to the album and Bush allowed herself time to get the tracks write and make sure she had them all right when she headed to the studio. By her second album – or later in her career – she was writing more in the studio and recording in a very different way. In fact, when Bush was Marten’s age, she had just brought out The Kick Inside but already looking to work in a different manner. There is less need to have this perfect and polished sound: instead, Marten has created music that is honest, urgent and broader than what we are used to. Betsy has only been out a couple of days but is already delighting people and making an impact. I should move on and get to the song itself – as I have talked quite a bit. I hope, too, there will be some new photos uploaded to her social media because there is a split between the sixteen-year-old debut-look and how she appears now. She can still create striking art and images but there are different tones this time around – Writing of Blues and Yellow’s album and singles had actual painted images as their covers; a more homebound and intimate feel, as I say. Besty is the new song from Feeding Seahorses by Hand – or the ‘lead-off single’ as many have said – and it is a cracker.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Victor De Jesus

Whereas a lot of songs from Writing of Blues and Yellows began with a gradual rise or some acoustic passage, Billie Marten is bringing percussion and force more to the fore. Maybe this reflects the album’s tonal shifts but I feel she is becoming bolder with her compositions. Betsy opens with this crackle from the drums and unexpected rush. Many might have been expecting a bit of guitar lick and piano tenderness but, no, there is this nice little spark that gets things going! In a way, there is this Country feel to the song. It is a soothing and languid in equal measures. There is this nice woozy electric guitar in the background that creates this sort of ripple and mood. Marten’s voice has a tired-but-seductive quality and it is almost whispered. This creates this wonderful mix of emotions and sounds that makes the song an instant winner. We know that Betsy is about an unnamed politician and a reflection of how, in some ways, the country is being torn by those in power. “Heard you got the job/Hope it serves you well” suggests a sort of sarcasm where politicians are in government for their own ends; a way of serving themselves and not the people. In this “coffee-ticket town”, it is only natural these people in power are not really concerned with the bigger picture: their voters and those who they are meant to be looking out for. Marten, as narrator, calls in at number nine and there is the feeling she will not get any truths. I mentioned how there is a sense of sarcasm but maybe cynicism is a better term. When we get to the chorus, there is this percussion rise but it is more the odd bit of cymbal and a more paced delivery. Rather than popping in big drum solos and packed sounds, there is this breezy and dreamy sound from the drums that gives this mixture of keen kick and lumbering vibe. “Take a generational bow” are words in the chorus and it makes me wonder where that came from.

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Again, it seems like Marten is calling politicians out and getting them to bow to those they have let down – sort of mocking their lack of accomplishment and wondering what they are for. In that slightly breezy-cum-breathy sound, one can draw a line between Julia Jacklin and Billie Marten but there is something distinct about Marten’s words and how she delivers her songs. Even when Marten – as she does in the second verse – is talking about politicians corrupting and talking about death, there is this upward lilt in her voice and half-smile that keeps things being too heavy and haunted. The words are powerful and the second verse talks of leaders messing with heads and the church. These are deep ideas and expressions and Marten projects her words beautifully. There is no huge anger nor is there this sense of detachment. Instead, we have this artist who seems angered but has a weariness and sense of defeat. Whereas a lot of writers repeat choruses and have this very rigid approach to songwriting, Marten is different and ensures that her songs have movement and flow. “It’s wavy, man” she explains; the way she chooses her language is incredible! “Are you ruined by the shake of a hand?” is another line and, again, Marten showing she is so much more interesting than most songwriters. This mixture of oblique and tangible means the song strikes upon the first spin but you’ll want to go back and hear it again to see if the words paint new images. As percussion waves and clashes, Marten talks about the world and how it is no man’s toy. Things have changed and the glory days – perhaps as old as the 1990s – are behind us. Where are we heading and how far have we really come?! Billie Marten knows we are doing things wrong and is trying to make sense of it all. Rather than yell and be aggressive on the record, there is this sense she is tired by the machinations and lying; not having the strength to get worked up but she knows how bad things are and we need to do something. Betsy captivates from the start to the end and, in the outro, Marten sings “All feel better/This all feels better/So much better” and it has this mantra-like quality. The words are hypnotic and wave-like and take the song to a beautiful end. Betsy is a complex song and has layers but there is a definite truth. If Feeding Seahorses by Hand contains more songs like Betsy then critics will be drooling and it will be among the best albums of 2019 – something Billie Marten is fully capable of doing!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Katie  Silvester 

We have heard three songs that will appear on Feeding Seahorses by Hand. There is more political and social awareness on the nineteen-year-old’s new album but Marten is still tackling self-doubt and anxieties – Blue Sea, Red Sea and Mice are prime examples of this. I cannot wait to hear the rest of the album and, as I say, the rest of the songs sound great. I love how she can create this anticipation with titles alone. If Writing of Blues and Yellows was about this teen in Yorkshire who was making sense of the world and seemed to be vibing from her record collection – a lot of classic Joni Mitchell and Jeff Buckley in her songs – the slightly older Marten is in a fresh setting and reflecting what is happening in London. She has been inspired, good or bad, by the mix of people and the pace of life (one feels getting crushed on the Underground will never inspire anything positive). It is amazing seeing how she has grown and how far she has come. Betsy is a song that shows how, in many ways, she has kept her true and distinct sound but really changed as a lyricist. Marten will tour the U.S. in May and returns to the U.K. to headline – beginning on 5th June in Birmingham before concluding on 13th June at London’s Islington Assembly. Check her social medic channels and official website for ticket details as, from 22nd March, they go on sale. Also make sure you pre-order Feeding Seahorses by Hand and get it on a cool, orange vinyl! I still maintain Billie Marten is the finest young songwriter we have right now and, despite new artists coming through since her 2016 debut, nobody has the same jewellery box as Marten. That brilliant voice and all the colours and gems she has at her disposal; the way she expresses her lyrics and that nuanced and multi-layered voice! I feel that the female voice will guide 2019 so would  not be shocked if Feeding Seahorses by Hand cracks many top-ten lists come the end of this year. In many ways, critics omitted Writing of Blues and Yellows from their end-of-year lists and, given the fact the album picked up a slew of four-star reviews, it was a travesty! Let’s hope, when Feeding Seahorses by Hand arrives, the critics, come December, will not be...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Katie  Silvester

MAKING the same mistake again!

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Follow Billie Marten

FEATURE: We Stand Together: The New Zealand Playlist

FEATURE:

 

We Stand Together

IN THIS PHOTO: Christchurch, New Zealand/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

The New Zealand Playlist

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IT has been an horrific day for the people of Christchurch...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Christchurch, New Zealand/PHOTO CREDIT: @edwardmanson

in New Zealand. A terrorist attack has left forty-nine dead and many wounded in a senseless and insane attack. People around the world are sending their sympathies and best wishes but one wonders how it happened and what provoked anyone to carry out so a violent attack. The BBC reported the news here:

Forty-nine people have been killed and at least 20 wounded in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the incident as a terrorist attack and one of New Zealand's "darkest days". It is the nation's deadliest attack.

A gunman identifying himself as an Australian live-streamed the rampage at Al Noor mosque to Facebook.

A man in his late 20s has been arrested and charged with murder. Two other men and one woman were also detained.

Firearms and explosive devices were recovered, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said. One of those detained was later released.

The gunman live-streaming the attack from a head-mounted camera said he was a 28-year-old Australian called Brenton Tarrant. The footage showed him firing indiscriminately at men, women and children from close range inside the Al Noor mosque.

Police called on the public not to share the "extremely distressing" footage online. Facebook said it had removed the gunman's Facebook and Instagram accounts and was working to remove any copies of the footage”.

New Zealand is known for its peaceful people and safety and this comes as a huge blow – a moment of evil that has shocked a nation! Although there is nothing that can make things better, I wanted to bring together some New Zealand-born/based artists and celebrate the music of the country. There will be a lot of questions following the terror attack and we hope the death toll does not raise. New Zealand is a fine nation and, as you can tell from the playlist below, it is a country that has produced...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lake Tekapo, New Zealand/PHOTO CREDIT: @tokeller/Unsplash

SOME truly wonderful music.

FEATURE: Violently Happy in This Post-Utopia: Björk’s Studios Albums on Cassette: Her Five Essential Releases to Own

FEATURE:

 

Violently Happy in This Post-Utopia: Björk’s Studios Albums on Cassette

 IMAGE CREDIT: @bjork  

Her Five Essential Releases to Own

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GOOD news for Björk fans because...

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 IMAGE CREDIT: @bjork

she has announced her studio albums will be released on tape! It is not only great for her fans – such as myself – but it will capture the imagination of other artists. Some might say it is a bit of nostalgia and who really owns a cassette player in this time? I must admit it is quite tricky getting hold of a stereo tape deck but I think it is great we get to see these multi-coloured Björk albums available in a nice bundle. You can order your favourite albums or you can get hold of the lot. Here, as Tiny Mix Tapes explain, 26th April is an exciting date to put in your diaries!

 “Here’s what you can get: DebutPost, HomogenicVespertineMedúllaVoltaBiophiliaVulnicura, and Utopia (R.I.P. Selmasongs) individually or in a bundle as stunning colored cassettes. They’ll look incredible on your shelves! (Or, more realistically, the Discogs Marketplace.)

For fans who love Björk as much as they love inconvenience, lack of durability, and low fidelity, you can pre-order one or all of the cassettes here, with an official release date of April 26. Individual tapes cost £8.99, while the bundle will run you £69.99, which Google tells me is currently equivalent to 92.91 United States Dollars (or 10,972.77 Icelandic Króna!), which is honestly a steal”.

I do think that, following Björk’s announcement, more artists need to get involved with cassettes. I will definitely be buying Post and Debut on cassette and I would love to see other bands and artists do the same.

It is not mere nostalgia and a way to accrue new interest in her back catalogue. Instead, we get to see her work in a new light and, against digital onslaught, this is a way we can truly cherish her albums. I think I still have a cassette player somewhere but, at any rate, I can see a new interest in tapes. Vinyl is healthy and we are still crazy about that but, with the decline in cassette sales, many of us are either buying records or going digital. There is the problem with cassettes and the plastic: if an alternative material could replace plastic then I can see more people buying them. I would love to see The Beatles’ catalogue back on cassette and a limited edition run of tapes from someone like Joni Mitchell. There are endless possibilities and artist options and I think Björk will definitely start a bit of a wave. It has been twenty-six years since her Debut release and, since then, she has released some of the most arresting records ever. It might be a bit pricey buying all her albums but, if you want an affordable bundle of five, I have picked the ones you need. Every Björk album is full of life and interest but, with so many cool and colourful cassettes about to come out, here are the five...

 IMAGE CREDIT: @bjork

THAT you’ll want to snap up.

ALBUM COVERS: Spotify/Getty Images

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Debut

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Release Date: 5th July, 1993

Labels: One Little Indian/Elektra

Producers: Nellee Hooper/Björk 

Key Cuts: Venus as a Boy/Big Time Sensuality/Violently Happy

Review:

Björk's playful energy ignites the dance-pop-like "Big Time Sensuality" and turns the genre on its head with "There's More to Life Than This." Recorded live at the Milk Bar Toilets, it captures the dancefloor's sweaty, claustrophobic groove, but her impish voice gives it an almost alien feel. But the album's romantic moments may be its most striking; "Venus as a Boy" fairly swoons with twinkly vibes and lush strings, and Björk's vocals and lyrics -- "His wicked sense of humor/Suggests exciting sex" -- are sweet and just the slightest bit naughty. With harpist Corky Hale, she completely reinvents "Like Someone in Love," making it one of her own ballads. Possibly her prettiest work, Björk's horizons expanded on her other releases, but the album still sounds fresh, which is even more impressive considering electronic music's whiplash-speed innovations. Debut not only announced Björk's remarkable talent; it suggested she had even more to offer” – AllMusic

Standout Track: Human Behaviour

Post

Release Date: 13th June, 1995

Labels: One Little Indian/Elektra

Producers: Nellee Hooper/Björk/Graham Massey/Tricky/Howie B

Key Cuts: Hyperballad/It’s Oh So Quiet/Isobel

Review:

On Björk second solo album, Post, the ex-Sugarcube finds a bizarre and irresistible connecting point between industrial-disco, ambient-trance, and catchy synth pop. She even shoehorns in a big-band number, though few will confuse the Icelandic pixie — with her otherworldly lyrics and supernatural pipes — with Peggy Lee. Luckily, there’s a conviction to Björk’s delivery and an assurance to her hooks that make her most surreal passages as relatable as moon-June standards. Ultimately, she reinvents that tradition, constructing standards for the cyber age” – Entertainment Weekly

Standout Track: Army of Me

Homogenic

Release Date: 22nd September, 1997

Labels: One Little Indian/Elektra

Producers: Mark Bell/Björk/Guy Sigsworth/Markus Dravs/Howie B

Key Cuts: Hunter/Bachelorette/Alarm Call

Review:

Björk’s voice is, without question, the life force of this music. You can hear her finding a new confidence on “Unravel”: The edge of her voice is as jagged as the lid of a tin can, her held tones as slick as black ice. A diligent student could try to transcribe her vocals the way jazz obsessives used to notate Charlie Parker’s solos, and you’d still come up short; the physical heft and malleability of her voice outstrips language” – Pitchfork  

Standout Track: All Is Full of Love

Vulnicura

Release Date: 20th January, 2015

Labels: One Little Indian/Megaforce/Sony

Producers: Björk/Arca/The Haxan Cloak

Key Cuts: Lionsong/Black Lake/Mouth Mantra

Review:

On History of Touches, a nostalgic litany of old intimacies is backed by a series of weirdly muted electronic explosions; Mouth Mantra, a song about escaping the numbness of a relationship’s end and finding your voice again sounds like a sudden gushing of pent-up sounds, exploding from a waltz into sonic chaos.

The album ends with Quicksand, a song on which a relatively positive, life-must-go-on sentiment – “Hackle this darkness/ Up to the light … When we’re broken we are whole” – feels undermined by its nervous rhythm. It sounds like a breakbeat with some essential workings missing: it moves forward, but refuses to swing in the way it should. This is a fitting conclusion to an album that begins, on Stonemilker, with Björk’s frank admission: “I better document this.” You could say there’s something gimlet-eyed about a woman who realises her relationship is collapsing and automatically thinks: still, great material. But it’s nothing if not honest. And besides, on the evidence of Vulnicura, she has a point” – The Guardian

Standout Track: All Is Full of Love

Utopia

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Release Date: 24th November, 2017

Label: One Little Indian

Producers: Björk/Arca/Rabit

Key Cuts: Blissing Me/Utopia/Tabula Rasa

Review:

The electrifying Tabula Rasa is even more specific, speaking of Björk’s “deepest wish”. “We are swollen from hiding his affairs,” Björk mourns as flutes sigh. She wants to wipe the slate clean. “Tabula rasa for my children/ Not repeating the fuck-ups of the fathers/ For us women to rise and not just take it lying down.” Later, the discussion widens out, away from the personal. “Embarrassed to pass this mess on to you,” Björk aches. Eventually, rain falls.

Traditionalists might still wonder where all the nice steady beats have gone, why so little music here is anchored. The dominant message, though, is of limitlessness, of hope and, on Future Forever, of “a matriarchal dome” with “musical scaffolding” – The Guardian

Standout Track: The Gate

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

IN THIS PHOTO: Shura 

An All-Female, Spring-Ready Playlist (Vol. III)

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ALTHOUGH things have been a bit...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Leshurr/PHOTO CREDIT: Zoe McConnell

stormy regarding the weather, there are hopes that it will calm down and brighten in the next few days! I am excited to experience so proper spring weather and get rid of the gusts. Even if things are a bit rubbish outside, there is plenty of great music out there. I have been looking for female-led sounds that should get the energy levels up and everyone in a better mood. It is a great time when it comes to new talent and there are some wonderfully rich and diverse artists around right now. Many overlook female artists and assume they are not capable of offering much in the way of surprise, strength and range. That is not true and, as I show here, they are bringing a lot of spirit, energy and pop. We need some sounds that fight against the weather and all make us feel a little better. Take a listen to the songs here and I am sure you will find something...

IN THIS PHOTO: Rachel Wammack/PHOTO CREDIT: Joseph Llanes (edits by Matthew Berinato)‬

THAT suits your tastes.

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

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Nasty Cherry Win

PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Dream

Art School Girlfriend Come Back to Me

PHOTO CREDIT: Anne-Line Nygaard

Moyka Colder

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PHOTO CREDIT: James Rushton

MEI (ft. Sans Soucis, Toya Delazy) - Homebound

girl in red i need to be alone

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Holly Herndon Eternal

Chelsea CutlerOut of Focus (Recorded at Spotify Studios N.Y.C.)

Grace VanderWaal Hideaway (from Wonder Park) 

Rachel Wammack Damage

PHOTO CREDIT: Kaine Crowhurst Imagery

Sarah Saint James Bittersweet

Sara Diamond Ride

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Kira Isabella - Handcuffs

PHOTO CREDIT: Flore Diamant

Tusks Peachy Keen

PHOTO CREDIT: @vitelleschi

So Below Bone

Emeli SandéSparrow

RuthAnneLove Again

Sofia Reyes (ft. Rita Ora, Anitta)R.I.P.

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RuthieSpirit Now Moves

Clara MaeLost

PHOTO CREDIT: Patrice Brylla

La Fleur - Aphelion

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Lady LeshurrHorrid

Poppy AjudhaDevil’s Juice

Hannah GraceThe Bed You Made

Violeta SkyaI Need You

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Lauren JenkinsRunning Out of Road

Clara Sanabras - Helium Horses

FoundlingsBusan

ShuraBKLYNLDN

INTERVIEW: Malory

INTERVIEW:

Malory

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THE superb Malory has been talking with me...

about her new album, Cornucopia, and whether there are a lot of personal stories defining the music; if she has a personal favourite from the record and whether there might be some tour dates coming later in the year.

Malory reveals a few rising artists to watch; what sort of music she grew up around and how important London is as a city regarding inspiration and drive – she picks a pretty good song to end the interview with.

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Hi, Malory. How are you? How has your week been?

Great, actually! The album launch was a massive success and I’ve been so excited to hear all the positive response to the record. I’m actually visiting Australia for a bit right now…

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

My style is a combo of classic songwriting with alternative, quirky production. I love to create music with tons of vocal layering and strange percussion but, at the core, I hope to write a good song that stands the test of time. 

Cornucopia is your new album. What was your reaction when hearing it back for the first time?

A lot of times, when you’re working on a special batch of songs, it’s easy to get lost in the minutia of each track. It’s tricky to hear the thing as a whole and it wasn’t until very close to release that I was really able to take a step back and hear it as one cohesive idea. And, when I did, a lot of little insecurities I had about small details faded away and I just felt very proud of what we accomplished.

Are there personal experiences and particular moments that inspire the songs?

All sorts. A lot is taken from personal relationships; most of the album was inspired by my long-distance relationship with my boyfriend. Also, travelling: I love going to new places and trying to immerse myself in culture as much as possible (I called it my inspiration sponge-time) and then, often, I’ll get back and write quite a few songs in succession. 

Do you have a favourite cut from the record that means the most?

As an artist, you always want to believe all of your songs mean as much as another - but then you get on stage to perform and sometimes one just blindsides you with emotion as it comes out. I’d say the album closer, Cornucopia, has always managed to swell up a whole range of feelings when I sing it out loud.

How do you think your new music differs from your earliest work in terms of scope and ambition?

I’d say the scope and ambition has remained the same - they’re just becoming more effectively realised! I was lucky enough to work with Nick Kingsley and Danny George on Cornucopia and we all really clicked in terms of what kind of sonic vision we had for the tracks.

What sort of music did you grow up around as a child?

A lot of Dylan; a lot of Folk music in general. Growing up, I loved Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple - all the greats! 

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

You go through a lot of musically-transformative experiences as you develop as an artist, so it’s hard to say! A couple highlights would be supporting George Ezra - a very cool experience - and also recently getting onto Spotify New Music Friday. I, admittedly, shed a little tear of joy! 

You are based in London. How important is the city regarding your music and inspiration? 

It’s definitely an amazing city to have grown up in. The amount of venues and cool people to work with is insane. But, it’s also a fast-paced place to be so I think it’s probably helped most with giving me a good work ethic and acknowledging within myself that you can make a career out of music. 

Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)? 

I’ve always been a sacrilegiously-bad album listener; I’ve definitely gotten better but I hardly listened to albums just mostly singles! However, some of my faves:

Regina Spektor - Begin to Hope

She’s always been a huge inspiration for me and I totally fell in love with this album when I heard it. Definitely had it on-repeat one too many times…

Josie Field - Mercury

My cousin Josie’s first album was incredibly influential for me. She’s an incredible South African songwriter/artist and this album blew my mind as a twelve-year-old girl. Her writing and vocal strength always motivated me to be better.  

Ry Cooder - Into the Purple Valley

He’s just the absolute coolest guy. Such an accomplished musician and experimentalist. I’m a sucker for Country, Blues and Americana stuff and this album just makes me really happy, it’s weird and groovy. 

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If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Oooo, this would be cool…

Probably Rostam. He’s my current biggest inspiration. My rider would honestly not entail that much. Booze/food for my wonderful band and just an unlimited supply of hot water with honey for me. Haha… 

Might we see you on tour in 2019?

I’m definitely going to be gigging with prospects of some cool opportunities across the pond - so definitely stay tuned world! 

How important is performing? Do you prefer it to life in the studio?

I guess, neither! I prefer the initial writing process to both of those. I definitely love them all but the winner is just the pure transcendent moment of giving birth to a new song. 

 IMAGE CREDIT: sky kids

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

shy kids, VIBES; Feng Suave & Still Woozy.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Feng Suave

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

I love illustration so I do that in my spare time (you can find me on Instagram as @lickablesquid). Also, just hanging out with my wonderful group of friends and occasionally playing tennis when I can. Also movies...lots and lots of movies. 

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).

shy kids - I Was in New York

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Follow Malory

FEATURE: Bricks Turning to Faux Wood: The Social, London: Another Iconic Venue Facing Closure

FEATURE:

 

Bricks Turning to Faux Wood

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

The Social, London: Another Iconic Venue Facing Closure

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ONE is always fearful and cold when...

a great music venue is threatened with closure! Although there are some thriving and safe sites, there is no real security regarding the fate of most of the great venues around the country. A lot of venues outside of cities struggle because there is not the same choice regarding music - and it can be hard attracting big names. Cities are not immune and, if anything, high rent prices and competition for spaces means, often, venues are muscled aside and replaced by those able to stump up the rent. I will come to look at London’s changing skyline and why it is ridiculous to see wine bars and hipster joints taking the place of some of the most-established and best venues around. London’s The Social is the latest venue facing an uncertain fate. NME have covered the news:

 “They have just two weeks to raise £95,000

Legendary London venue The Social needs to raise £95,000 in just two weeks or face threat of closure.

Following a long-running and successful club night by Heavenly Records in the ’90s, the label opened The Social on Little Portland Street in West London in 1999. Since then, they’ve played host to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Florence & The Machine, Beck, Jack White, Vampire Weekend, The Horrors, Doves, Lily Allen, Aphex Twin, Super Furry Animals, Shame and many, many more.

As the venue’s 20th anniversary approaches, they’ve now launched a crowdfunding campaign to urgently raise money to prevent redevelopment...

“Rising rents and an offer to the building’s leaseholder from a cocktail and wine bar chain have put The Social under very serious threat,” the venue said in a statement. “The bar’s founders need to raise money to buy a controlling share in the venue from the leaseholder in order to keep The Social open.

“Unless new investment is found in the next two weeks then the iconic venue will be forced to close its doors. We’re asking you for help.”

The venue added: “We need to raise £95,000 ASAP as a down payment to get the venue off the market, save it from turning into just another bar and then kick start a second round of private investment so we can take full control of The Social lease and secure its long-term future.”

If saved, the venue promise to offer the ‘biggest small festival in the world’ in celebration of their 20th anniversary, as well working to put on more club nights and artists, help to promote independent breweries, and open more venues across the UK.

IN THIS PHOTO: wych elm (So Young Magazine presents the E.P. release party for the Bristol band on 22nd March)/PHOTO CREDIT: wych elm

“If The Social is saved we would quickly look to set up further venues and take the kind of music and arts culture clash we’ve promoted in Little Portland Street to the rest of London and beyond,” they said.

“Basically, wherever anyone wants us, we’ll be there.”

One would think a venue in the city would be safe! Some new venues are being built but, largely, it is the venues we have here already that have this established core of supporters; they are coming through the door and putting money behind the bar. Artists are still flocking to The Social but, more and more, extortionist rent prices are proving too high for spaces like this. In the case of The Social, it seems a wine bar/bistro will take its place – if money cannot be raised to keep the bricks standing. In 5 Little Portland Street – just near Oxford Street; a great spot and perfect location – one would expect to see rather fancy and unnecessary wine bars festooning the view. I often pass by the venue and it offers character and richness to the area. Look around The Social’s boundaries and you see plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars – another is not needed at all! It is great to see a gig there and you are spoiled for choice when it comes to pre/post-gig options. If we get rid of such a reputable music venue then the area becomes less sociable and exciting. In many cases, noise pollution and drug problems can threaten a venue – this is not the case here.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @scottiewarman/Unsplash

The Social is not the only venue that has been threatened lately. As the NME article continues, venues around the U.K. are struggling to meet demands and high rent charges:

This comes after beloved Oxford venue The Cellar announced this week that they too would be closing down following a rent battle.

Last year, a number of leading artists and industry figures led the Agent Of Change campaign to stop the closure of independent live music venues across the UK.

“Without the grassroots clubs, pubs and music venues my career could have been very different,” said Sir Paul McCartney of the campaign. “If we don’t support music at this level, then the future of music in general is in danger”.

London’s ‘Night Czar’, Amy Lamé, has come under fire given the news. She is committed to preserving venues around the capital and ensuring London’s place as an essential music hub is preserved. She is working with the city’s Culture at Risk Office – a resource to support cultural spaces and venues at risk – and discussions are happening. One cannot blame any single person but it seems sad that, in so many cases, venues are closing because of rent issues and an inane and faceless bar taking its spot. Gentrification is needed but, if we are replacing these loved and popular venues for something soulless and high-priced then you are going to drive people away and deprive artists.

 IN THIS PHOTO: London’s Night Czar, Amy Lamé/PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Writtle

London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has helped keep venues alive – alongside his Culture at Risk Office and Night Czar, Amy Lamé – but there are many others that have a rather shaky future. There are great articles promoting terrific venues around London and one wonders, in years to come, whether they will still be standing. There are few good reasons to replace a popular and terrific venue with any other business but the fact we might see a wine bar in the place of The Social is horrifying. In an area already stuffed with bars and options for every human, what rationale is there for making things more exclusive and stuffy?! The Social cannot be accused of being controversial or adding a sour tone to the area: it is a trouble-free part of London that offers great music and nightlife to punters. London is at its strongest when it balances great entertainment and its nightlife. If we start replacing music venues with cafes, bars and bistros then where do artists play and what is the future of London’s music stature going to be?! It is hard to compete with other cities in the world – such as New York, Los Angeles and others – if we keep letting venues shut their doors. It is hard for everyone but I do fear the increased rents and rich businesses angling in compromises a lot of our best and brightest venues.

Why is The Social such a respected and go-to venue?! Not only is its twentieth anniversary coming up – it would be a hard pill to swallow if they were not able to see that! – but so many great artists, big and upcoming, have played there. The Social themselves tell the tale:

The Social opened in the summer of 1999 as part of a thriving musical landscape in the capital. One of the first public buildings designed by hugely respected architects David Adjaye OBE and Will Russell, The Social joined a list of central London music venues such the Astoria, the LA2, the End, Turnmills, Plastic People, The Falcon, the Metro and Madame JoJos (to name a few). Now, it’s one of just a couple of places left to see bands or DJs in the West End.

The Social evolved out of the legendary Heavenly Sunday Social club nights that ran in various venues between ’94 and ’99 and helped push the career of the Chemical Brothers (nee Dust Brothers). Rather than act as a bricks and mortar extension of those nights, The Social quickly developed a reputation as a free-thinking, boundary-pushing destination for open minded drinkers from all over the capitol.

Since it first opened its doors, The Social has played host to everyone from the Chemical Brothers to Edna O’Brien (twice), Wolf Alice, Adele, Caitlin Moran, Horace Andy, Bon Iver, Florence and the Machine, Young Fathers, DJ Yoda, Fatboy Slim (who sorted his records in the toilets before playing), Kate Tempest, Alt-J, Arctic Monkeys, Al Murray, MGMT, Tim Westwood, Rudimental, Jarvis Cocker, Four Tet, Cold War Steve (his first public exhibition anywhere in the world), Jack White, Irvine Welsh, Saint Etienne, Black Midi, Shame, Hip Hop Karaoke (the legendary club’s longterm home) Jeremy Deller...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Florence and the Machine is just one in a long list of big acts who have played at The Social (photo is not from her gig at The Social) since its birth/PHOTO CREDIT: Lillie Eiger  

Fat White Family, Doves, Laura Marling, James Dean Bradfield (Manic Street Preachers), Beck, the Avalanches (first UK DJ gig), Michael Kiwanuka, Artwork, Boy Azooga, Super Furry Animals, Baxter Dury, Goat Girl, Sleaford Mods, Hot Chip, The Horrors, Trojan Records, Vampire Weekend, Huw Stephens (who’s hosted a monthly night for the last thirteen years), Nabihah Iqbal, the Charlatans, Frank Turner, Aphex Twin (Italo Disco set) and Lily Allen to name a few.
As well as gigs and club nights, The Social has held regular literary salons with friends from Faber & Faber and Caught by the River and art and photography exhibitions from established names and new talent alike. As far as we can tell, there isn’t another venue in London – possibly even Britain – that’s staged such a diverse and inspirational list of performers.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Another popular artist who has played at The Social, Michael Kiwanuka

Go to their website and contribute to the crowdfunding campaign. They have raised a lot of money so far – they are just over one-third of the way to their ninety-five-grand target – but there is not much time to get your money in! The fact The Social is coming up for twenty is a great thing we all want to see:

If the Crowdfunder campaign is successful, The Social would organise twentieth birthday celebrations at Little Portland Street. Key to these will be the ‘biggest small festival in the world’ – a month of gigs, DJ sets, talks and discussions and exhibitions from a handpicked selection of friends of The Social who’ve performed there over the years. These intimate shows will be captured for a film documenting the rebirth of the bar at twenty years. Following the birthday parties, we have plans to considerably freshen up promotions in The Social. This will see a host of new nights, a series of streamed gigs and the return of some old classic nights rebooted for 2019.

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Alongside promotions in the downstairs area, we would aim to donate a minimum of a day a month to charity. This would involve giving over either (or both) floor to a rotating list of charities to hold events and asking drinks partners to offer up charity kegs to maximise donations.

A key aim in moving forward is to increase the variety of draught beer on sale by installing new lines and pushing independent beers/breweries alongside those we already work closely with. In an ideal world, The Social would become something like a permanent beer festival attached to the best spirits bar in the world.

And finally, if The Social is saved we would quickly look to set up further venues and take the kind of music and arts culture clash we’ve promoted in Little Portland Street to the rest of London and beyond.

Basically, wherever anyone wants us, we’ll be there”.

It is never the case there are too many venues and many are expendable - every venue has its place! Rising artists are coming through all the time and they need spaces in which to play. As The Social proves, huge names like Beck are happy to come through their doors! We definitely do not need more places to drink and eat because, as a city, I think London already has it covered! Music venues, on the other hand, are a different matter! The Social is much more than a music venue. It hosts poetry and arts events; it is this eclectic space where you can chill in a friendly environment and catch great music and art with like-minded people!

 PHOTO CREDIT: @felipegraphy/Unsplash

If we keep replacing the proud bricks and mortar of our music spaces and replacing them with fake wood and artistic flourishes, then we are making the city more elitist and making our music scene much weaker. It is always sad to hear of a venue being challenged but The Social is looking forward to twenty years and to spoil the party with threats of closure is awfully sad. I am hopeful The Social can be rescued and the wine bar – or whatever crap was going to occupy 5 Little Portland Street! – will have to look elsewhere. Contribute a few quid in order to save The Social and I hope, if it can be saved, measures are taken to ensure its survival and success – we would all like to see it turn fifty in thirty years to come.

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It is hard ensuring all venues are safe and funded but there needs to be more of a kitty reserved for our music landscape. There seems to be endless capital for ridiculous bars and businesses: when it comes to music venues, where is that security net?! Let us ensure that the musicians coming through right now can find ample spaces in London and, for those who love a great gig, their local is not marginalised. There are twelves more days to save The Social and they need another sixty-three grand to survive. I feel they can do it but I am worried what will be in the next few years. Can this sum of money lead to a more secure future or is it a stall to keep the wolves at bay?! The Government needs to do more and we cannot keep reading news of great venues going under. If you love music and want to see the capital’s best spaces flourish then head here and ensure The Social gets to celebrate...

ITS twentieth anniversary in style!

FEATURE: Albums of the Decade: Part III: 2016-2018

FEATURE:

 

Albums of the Decade

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IN THIS PHOTO: IDLES/PHOTO CREDIT: Pooneh Ghana for DIY 

Part III: 2016-2018

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THERE are not many months left in the decade...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Kendrick Lamar/PHOTO CREDIT: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

and I am pretty sure there will not be many contenders that will challenge this list. Speculated albums from Madonna and The 1975 might be in with a shout of being the albums of the decade but I am carrying on the rundown with a look at the best albums from the three-year period that covered 2016 to 2018 (inclusive). Every decade boasts terrific records but this decade has been really strong and seen some truly unexpected revelations. Here are the fifteen albums that made the years 2016 through to 2018 wonderful. Future parts will bring us right up-to-date but here, in this third part, we can see albums that helped make this decade...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Lorde/PHOTO CREDIT: Dean Chalkley/NME

SUCH a winner.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Spotify/Getty Images

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2016:

David Bowie - Blackstar

Release Date: 8th January, 2016

Labels: ISO/RCA/Columbia/Sony

Producers: David Bowie/Tony Visconti

Key Cuts: Blackstar/Girl Loves Me/I Can’t Give Everything Away

Standout Track: Lazarus

Review:

Only seven tracks and 42 minutes long, Blackstar is impressively hard to place in his back catalogue and feels completely self-contained. It has some of the off-kilter character of his late Seventies Berlin trilogy (Low, Heroes and Lodger) but little of their electronic flavour.

It is shot through with a late-life melancholy that sits intriguingly with the jazzy modulations. Beneath the swooning cinematic rush of Dollar Days beats a gorgeous, bittersweet piano ballad on which Bowie proclaims himself “dying to... fool them all again and again” but the phrase breaks apart until he sounds like he might be singing “I’m dying too” – The Daily Telegraph

Beyoncé - Lemonade

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Release Date: 23rd April, 2016

Labels: Parkwood/Columbia

Producers: Various

Key Cuts: Hold Up/Don’t Hurt Yourself/Freedom

Standout Track: Formation

Review:

Her voice though, in its rawness of emotion and tear duct-filling emotion, pushes at the boundaries of what is considered acceptable. Likewise, 6 Inch where her voice starts to crack and falter, sounding oddly vulnerable.

In a week where we have has to come to terms with the loss of one more explosive and unpredictable and talented and genius pop star, it is so reassuring to know that Beyoncé is still among us – and from the sounds of this – has still yet to reach her peak. Both Prince and Nina Simone (whose voice also features here) passed away on April 21. Sometimes it feels like Beyoncé is determined to pick up the mantles of both” – The Independent

Buy Album (Lemonade is not available on Spotify): https://www.beyonce.com/album/lemonade-visual-album/songs/

RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool

Release Date: 8th May, 2016

Labels: XL/LLLP/LLP

Producer: Nigel Godrich

Key Cuts: Daydreaming/Decks Dark/Ful Stop

Standout Track: Burn the Witch

Review:

And then there’s “True Love Waits.” It’s an old song, one that has been around in various forms for over two decades, but unlike “Burn the Witch” or the other teased sketches and scraps that Radiohead diehards pick apart on forums, it’s long been a part of their canon. It appeared on the 2001 live album I Might Be Wrong and, dragged into 2016, feels like a relic from a different geological era. “I’ll drown my beliefs,” Yorke sings, “just don’t leave.” It is the message they leave us with, this very open-hearted song that has always felt like an open wound in their discography, a geyser of feeling erupting out of scorched earth. Its very inclusion is a striking moment of transparency” – Pitchfork   

SolangeA Seat at the Table

Release Date: 30th September, 2016

Labels: Saint/Columbia

Producers: Various

Key Cuts: Rise/Don’t Touch My Hair/Scales

Standout Track: Cranes in the Sky

Review:

In "Borderline," a chugging machine beat and a lilting piano line form the backdrop of a scene where Knowles and her partner tune out the world for the sake of their sanity. Then, after Nia Andrews and Kelly Rowland's half minute of proud harmonic affirmation, along comes "Junie," a squiggling jam on which André 3000 makes like the track's namesake (Ohio Players and Parliament legend Junie Morrison), where Knowles delivers a sharp metaphorical smackdown of a cultural interloper like it's merely an improvised postscript. All of the guests, from Lil Wayne to Kelela, make necessary appearances. The same goes for Knowles' parents and Master P, who are present in the form of short interludes in which they discuss segregation, self-reliance, cultural theft, and black pride. These segues shrewdly fasten a cathartic yet poised album, one that weighs a ton and levitates” – AllMusic   

A Tribe Called QuestWe Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service

Release Date: 11th November, 2016

Label: Epic

Producers: A Tribe Called Quest/Q-Tip/Blair Wells

Key Cuts: Solid Wall of Sound/Dis Generation/The Killing Season

Standout Track: We the People....

Review:

Q-Tip, the group’s leader and politically conscious straight man to Phife’s ribald sports fan, takes on subjects from gentrification to the mis-sold dreams of African American youth. He calls out to those he sees as his heirs – from Kendrick Lamar to Earl Sweatshirt – to keep the Tribe flame alive. The album closes on The Donald, a tribute to Phife (not the new president), and there is a real sense of this being the group’s final testament. At times the album can seem tired and mid-paced, and some of the collaborators (Andre 3000, Anderson Paak) are more effective than others (Talib Kweli, Jack White). But for those who value Tribe’s contribution to music, this is a record to be grateful for” – The Guardian    

2017:

Kendrick LamarDAMN.

Release Date: 14th April, 2017

Labels: Aftermath/Interscope/Top Dawg

Producers: Various

Key Cuts: DNA./LOYALTY./GOD.

Standout Track: HUMBLE.

Review:

Lamar’s gift is not just that he can say why he’s the best (“I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA”), but also that he articulate how this responsibility feels (“I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em/But who the fuck prayin’ for me?”). He can paint pride and agony with the same brush, and it’s that ability that makes “Fear” probably the most emotionally rich song in his entire discography. Like Sigmund Freud meets Scarface, Lamar connects the dots from the seven-year-old terrified of catching a beating from his mother to the 17-year-old terrified of being murdered by police to the 27-year-old terrified of fame. “I practiced runnin’ from fear, guess I had some good luck,” he raps with ease. “At 27 years old, my biggest fear was bein’ judged.”

Much like the recent A Tribe Called Quest record, Damn. is a brilliant combination of the timeless and the modern, the old school and the next-level. The most gifted rapper of a generation stomps into the Nineties and continues to blaze a trail forward. Don’t be confused if he can’t stay humble” – Rolling Stone

LordeMelodrama

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Release Date: 16th June, 2017

Labels: Universal/Lava/Republic

Producers: Various

Key Cuts: The Louvre/Liability/Writer in the Dark

Standout Track: Green Light

Review:

It’s a rudely excellent album, introspective without ever being indulgent, OTT in all the right ways, honest and brave, full of brilliant songs with lyrics to chew over for months. The message might be that Lorde considers herself wild and flawed and bruised (“I’ll love you till you call the cops on me,” she sings, on the deliciously bitter ‘Writer In The Dark’), but we all do sometimes. That’s the neatest trick the album pulls off – universal connection, in spite of the squad and the praise and the superstardom and the pressure. Humanity intact. Artistry assured. Brilliance confirmed” – NME

St. VincentMASSEDUCTION

Release Date: 13th October, 2017

Label: Loma Vista

Producers: Jack Antonoff/St. Vincent/Lars Stalfors/John Congleton  

Key Cuts: Sugarboy/Slow Disco/Smoking Section

Standout Track: Pills

Review:

Clark recently told Buzzfeed that Masseduction asks, “What does power look like, who wields it, how do they wield it—emotionally, sexually, financially?” Exploring those balances of power gives Masseduction its inherent tension and anxiety. But it also doesn’t let instability win. The final song, “Smoking Section,” talks about going to the edge, nearly giving in to violent and dark tendencies, then deliberately taking a step back. “It’s not the end,” Clark repeats, in a weary and increasingly faded-sounding voice, as ghostly pedal steel smoke rings curl up around her.

Defeated as she sounds, it’s an unmistakable declaration of power—an emotional cliffhanger that leaves the door cracked for new beginnings. Masseduction is a manual on how to go through hell and back, then emerge stronger than ever. It’s a record that wrests control from turmoil and believes that a different, better future is possible. It’s the best encapsulation of her vision to date, here fully under her control” – The AV Club

ThundercatDrunk

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Release Date: 24th February, 2017

Label: Brainfeed

Producers: Flying Lotus/Sounwave/Thundercat  

Key Cuts: Show You the Way/Day & Night/Walk on By

Standout Track: Friend Zone

Review:

The presence of yacht rock kingpins McDonald and Loggins may indicate at first glance that Bruner is taking the current vogue for cheesy soft rock to new heights. Yet there’s considerable merit to how the supple and hugely earwormy Show You the Way works in relation of the rest of the Thundercat universe.

Changes shares a title with a Buddy Miller album and a sample from the Isley Brothers’ Footsteps In the Dark as its enticing R&B pounce and prowl builds and develops with added elevation from a slippery Washington sax line. The Turn Down has Pharrell showing he can do art-pop as well as pop-pop, while Friend Zone is a Valentine’s Day card for all the jilted would-be lovers pining for those who just want to be friends.

The only soundtrack you’ll need for the year of the ’Cat” – The Irish Times

Laura MarlingSemper Femina

Release Date: 10th March, 2017

Label: More Alarming Records

Producer: Blake Mills  

Key Cuts: Wild Fire/Don’t Pass Me By/Nouel

Standout Track: Soothing

Review:

Some things have changed, though. Marling has a new producer in Blake Mills (Conor Oberst, Sky Ferreira) and together they create a motley set of textures. ‘Always This Way’ delivers its rueful tale with a muted acoustic thrum; ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ ripples with glum reverberation; ‘Next Time’ hints at inner conflict with some somersaulting fretwork straight out of a bizarro Joanna Newsom composition. It all adds up to the most serene, stylistically varied album Marling has ever created – and that’s surely the point. Fickle and changeable are you,” she smiles to a dear girlfriend on ‘Nouel’, and long may that continue”. Hear that, Virgil?” – NME

2018: 

Christine and the QueensChris

Release Date: 21st September, 2018

Label: Because

Producers: Christine and the Queens/Cole M.G.N.

Key Cuts: Doesn’t matter/5 dollars/Feel so good

Standout Track: Girlfriend

Review:

Crucially, Chris' purposeful sound doesn't come at the cost of Christine's vulnerability -- in fact, her newfound strength lets her dig deeper and reveal more. On "Whats-Her-Face," she brilliantly captures how teenage bullying can still feel like it happened yesterday. "The Walker" is an unbowed ballad that compares bruises to violets and wears them like badges of honor, while "Doesn't Matter" is a crisis of faith that's impossible not to dance to; even though she questions everything, Christine urges her listeners to find a ray of hope and run with it. As she examines what masculinity, femininity, strength, and vulnerability mean to her, Christine has never sounded more exposed -- or in control. A triumph, Chris reaffirms just how masterfully she engages minds, hearts, and bodies” – AllMusic  

MitskiBe the Cowboy

Release Date: 17th August, 2018

Label: Dead Oceans

Producer: Patrick Hyland

Key Cuts: Geyser/A Pearl/A Horse Named Cold Air

Standout Track: Nobody

Review:

Right from the overshot volume on the album's opening organ attack, abrasive sounds also put cracks in the surface. Stomping, clapping, and relentless keyboard bleeps permeate the brutal, danceable "Washing Machine Heart," evoking the appliance as well as the wife's frustration ("I'm not wearing my usual lipstick/I thought maybe we would kiss tonight"). Elsewhere, "Me and My Husband" opens unambiguously with a heavy sigh. After passing moments of more raucous rock, atmospheric synths, dance rhythms, irregular percussion, melodic sweetness, and dissonance, Be the Cowboy closes on the tender "Two Slow Dancers," the album longest track at four minutes. Wistful, string-like keyboard tones accompany sentimental lyrics that conclude that the couple has grown apart. In the end, rather than being a disappointment, Be the Cowboy's point of view provides a brilliant twist, one that channels all the unease, unpredictability, and intuitiveness of Mitski's previous work -- even for those who don't take in the lyrics” – AllMusic   

Noname25

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Release Date: 14th September, 2018

Producers: Phoelix/Noname

Key Cuts: Window/Regal/Part of Me

Standout Track: Blaxploitation

Review:

Once again favouring the live instrumentation that intricately underpins her languorous delivery, the glacial elegance of ‘Regal’ and infectious funk strut of ‘Part Of Me’ finds Warner effortlessly flitting between two changes of pace, the latter buoyed by turns from Benjamin Earl Turner and collaborator Phoelix.

Even if the delivery is often delicate, the record’s deft lyricism is arresting and unflinching, exploring themes of police brutality on ‘Prayer Song’ and terminal illness on the impeccable ‘Don’t Forget About Me’, while firing the haters a stinging retort on ‘Self’: “Y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?”

‘Room 25’ should find few protesting” – CLASH

IDLESJoy as an Act of Resistance

Release Date: 31st August, 2018

Label: Partisan

Producers: Space/Adam Greenspan/Nick Launay

Key Cuts: Colossus/Danny Nedelko/Television

Standout Track: Samaritans

Review:

But he can also be laugh-out-loud funny. “You look like a walking thyroid / You’re not a man you’re a gland,” he sings at the small-town bully in Never Fight a Man With a Perm: “a Topshop tyrant / Even your haircut’s violent.” Conversely, June addresses the death of Talbot’s daughter at birth, with a version of the poignant, six-word poem often attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “Baby’s shoes. For sale. Never worn.” The band tackle everything from I’m Scum’s Fall rockabilly to soul classic Cry to Me, previously recorded by Solomon Burke and the Rolling Stones. Idles won’t be for everybody: this isn’t good-time, aspirational, radio-friendly pop. But for anyone in need of music that articulates their concerns or helps them to work through their troubles – or anyone who simply appreciates blistering, intelligent punk – they might just be Britain’s most necessary band” – The Guardian    

Arctic MonkeysTranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Release Date: 11th May, 2018

Label: Domino

Producers: James Ford/Alex Turner

Key Cuts: American Sports/Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino/Science Fiction

Standout Track: Four Out of Five

Review:

Perhaps the great mystery of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is not its knotty themes or cryptic lyrics but what’s motivating Turner. With the keys to the most lucrative and well-oiled indie-rock band around, he’s regenerated Arctic Monkeys in service of a delirious and artful satire directed at the foundations of modern society. This is not an act of protest: Implicated in its sprawl are gentrification, consumerism, and media consumption, but rather than address these meaty topics, he strafes around them, admiring their transformation in the laboratory of his word tricks. In the end, his helpless struggle for meaning is what makes him relatable. For all this record’s hubris, the long-touted “generational voice” that is Alex Turner has never sounded more real, or more himself” – Pitchfork     

FEATURE: Spotlight: Stella Donnelly

FEATURE:

 

Spotlight

IN THIS PHOTO: Stella Donnelly/PHOTO CREDIT: Pooneh Ghana

Stella Donnelly

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THERE are a lot of great artists out there at the...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Emily Mackay

moment but I am struck by Stella Donnelly. I am not hearing a lot of great Australian music being promoted in the mainstream but with Julia Jacklin, Confidence Man and Perth’s Stella Donnelly, there is definitely a case to be made for featuring more Australian music. Whereas Confidence Man have a distinct Pop and their lyrics are more concerned with something a bit lighter, Jacklin and Donnelly are songwriters who deal more with the serious – not that this is a bad thing. If Jacklin’s latest album, Crushing, looks at repairing after a relationship, Stella Donnelly is looking to the outside world and tackling some big themes that she feels compelled by. The young songwriter released her debut E.P., Thrush Metal, in 2017 and her debut album, Beware of the Dogs, came out last Friday. She is being covered quite impressively in the media here and it is all justified. Her music has a sense of breeziness and the light and, whilst some numbers do concern big themes, there is plenty of personal hope and relief. It is a nice balance of emotions and themes and the abiding sense (when listening to Beware of the Dogs) is one of fulfilment. Her voice has a potency and calm; there is a nice mixture of textures but we have this very beautiful and nuanced sound that makes all the songs come to life.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

On the albums best moments, there are glorious backing vocals and a Pop sound that takes one back to the 1960s; this rushing mood and sensation that takes you away. As she told NME earlier in the year, her debut album does address some pretty provocative and controversial themes:

“No story is ever a simple story in itself. Now, I guess that ‘My Old Man, for example, is a reflection on the taste in everyone’s mouths post-#MeToo and how we’re dealing with it now, and whether enough has happened,” she says. “For example, Harvey Weinstein has only just been charged and on trial. There are people out there who are still suffering and particularly in Australia, as our defamation laws are very strict. So it is really hard for any victim to speak out in the way that those living in the US have done”.

She spoke about Australia and nationalism; the accusations of sexual assault made against Geoffrey Rush and how it was a turning point for her. It is rare to hear an album from an Australian artist that references their country specifically – maybe I have not been listening hard enough. It almost reminds me of Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust and how they talked about aborigines being displaced and the way their government operate (this was back in the 1980s).

“When I was writing the album, there was a conversation about nationalism, and the pride that we, as Australians, have at the expense of other people’s freedom and rights,” she says. “We break a lot of Human Rights laws in terms of how we treat our First Nations people. At the time, I was writing about the fact that I’ve got a lot of friends who have suffered at the hands of the Catholic protocol system that we have in our country. I say ‘harmless’ with inverted commas here, but there’s a lot of ‘harmless racism’ that happens in Australia

One of the most important things to Donnelly is being able to join the conversations and talk about harder subjects through her music. She was born in Wales and moved to Australia when she was eleven. She spent her teenage years busking and joined various bands; she performed various gigs and her confidence gradually grew. There are many reasons why you need to seek out Stella Donnelly but, as I hinted, she can balance the personal and universal. She is not one who walks away from meaty topics: her songs are keen to uncover those who do wrong and put them in the spotlight. Beware of the Dogs can be quite a hard listen but it is often funny and brilliantly sharp. I think, in 2019, it is important to reflect the harder truths and talk about subjects beyond mere heartache and personal doubts. Another thing Donnelly addresses is marriage equality. Here, when speaking with The Guardian, she talks about marriage equality and abortion repeal in the Republic of Ireland:

Donnelly was relieved when marriage equality passed in 2017, particularly since the referendum followed Brexit and Trump’s election, “so I had no idea what was gonna happen”. She was equally overjoyed to play in Dublin on the night of the abortion referendum and still has her “Tá!” (yes) badge on her guitar. It made her investigate Australian abortion laws (“Ours are based on state, which I didn’t realise, and very unprogressive in many ways”) and prompted another idea: the uneasy lounge pop of Watching Telly is a characteristically conversational song that frames her abortion at 21 in the context of society’s control over women’s bodies. “It’s not an easy thing to get, and it is tough and it hurts and you have to sit there bleeding for two weeks, and it’s fucked,” she says. “But at the same time, it’s our choice. We’ve fucking chosen to do that”.

Stella Donnelly can write from the heart about herself but it is the way she can make slightly edgier aspects of societal ill seem accessible and educational. Never preaching and too angered, the way she integrates natural tones and humour does not detract from the seriousness of everything – instead, it makes for a more rounded and memorable experience. She is, as she continues in the interview, keen to change perspectives and minds:

Too sharp to have written an album of blunt-edged protest songs, Donnelly knows that such conversational, unexpected approaches have a stronger impact than lectures. She recalls her dad collecting an award for Boys Will Be Boys on her behalf. “He said something like, ‘I hope this song helps to change the attitudes we have, even if it’s one dickhead at a time.’ Having my dad – a 50-year-old, privileged white man – do that probably made more difference than me getting up and saying it.” She has “blind confidence” that society has to change. “I know it’s gonna go there because everyone’s voice is too loud for it to stop.” She stops, laughs and mocks her utopian ideals: “I just want world peace!”

With her giant eyes and gregarious attitude, Donnelly is charismatic enough to carry the sentiment. Plus, she knows first-hand how transformative the relationship between art and the public can be. “When my dad first heard Boys Will Be Boys, he told me, ‘It won’t be yours any more and that’s OK.’ It allowed me to let go. My friend who it was about had the same attitude. That’s how I dealt with it,” she says. “Letting it be everybody else’s song”.

These are still early days for Stella Donnelly but she has progressed as an artist and, as debut albums go, Beware of the Dogs is one of the best you’ll hear all year! Indeed, she has a busy time ahead so keep an eye on her socials regarding tour dates and general movements. Her album is getting a lot of love and, in this review from The Student Playlist, they drill down to its heart:

Many aspects of Beware Of The Dogs are autobiographical, but Stella Donnelly also acts and sings like a vessel for the hurt and rage of others. Time and again, she observes on behalf of friends who have experienced abuse and unfairness. There’s rarely any hint of optimism about proceedings, but the manner in which she delivers her messages makes the whole package positive and graceful. And, just to show the breadth of her talent, Donnelly is also capable of turning the microscope on herself – on the slow, sparse ‘Mosquito’, she compares her lust to a blood-sucking parasite, and the forlorn ‘Allergies’ is played with a much straighter bat with none of the hint of irony of the rest of the album.

Truly, Beware Of The Dogs is a remarkable and deeply affecting album, memorable on all possible measurements of how anyone would rate a debut LP, and Stella Donnelly is a ferocious, funny and highly empathetic songwriter whose future is incredibly bright”.

It may take a while for her music to affect changes and truly open eyes but, as she says, she is content to open...

 IMAGE CREDIT: Stella Donnelly

ONE eye at a time.

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INTERVIEW: Munky

INTERVIEW:

PHOTO CREDIT: Zak Milofsky 

Munky

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THE lads of Munky...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Gary Morrisroe

have been talking about their new track, One in Five, and what it is all concerned with. I ask them what the scene is like where they are in Dublin; how they all found one another and if there is more material coming along later in the year.

They reveal their favourite albums and musicians; which rising act we should keep our eyes out for; if we can see them perform soon; how they chill away from music – they choose a couple of great tracks to end things with.

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Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Sam: We're all good; how are you? It's been a good week getting everything ready for the new release (smiles).

Conor: Not so bad. Been working my other life: a peddler of leprechaun memorabilia. But I'm def keeping well.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?

Sam: Hello, newcomers! Lovely to make your acquaintance. We are Zach, Conor; Niall and Sam and our music is kind of like the core of a pineapple when you throw it off a ten-storey building. It's raw, gritty; funky explosions and full of 100 M.P.H. punky drive with pieces of weird sweetness filling the space around impact. Easily describable, right?

One in Five is your new single. Can you talk about its background and story?

Zac: It was written in response to some highly-covered sexual assault cases in Ireland last year, and the messages sent out by the verdicts of those cases. I saw the effect that those messages had on the women close to me in my life; one of “don’t seek justice because no one will believe you, and it will be dragged out for too long and you’ll be ripped apart for all to see”.

The song is meant to challenge victim-blaming by showing how ridiculous it is to blame the victim when there are so many victims. Statistically speaking, you’re most likely to know someone who has been sexually assaulted.

Might there be more material from Munky?

Zac: Oh, hell yea. Alongside our debut E.P. - out on 12th April -, we’re working on an eight-minute ode to Bootsy Collins; a song about a refrigerator and an emotional investigation into the struggles of trying to live up to the high expectations a parent can have on you. These are all real songs: you can have the premiere for Refrigerator if you like

How did the band find one another?

Sam: Zac tracked us down with the marauders map after he solemnly swore that he was up to no good. 

Is there a good scene in Dublin right now in terms of music?

Zac: Dear lord, yes. There are so many incredible bands and musicians in the city right now. Bicurious, Pillow Queens; Kojaque, Brass Phantoms; Thumper, Murder Capital and, of course, the Fontaines D.C. boys to name just a few

Conor: Dublin is hopping at the moment, in no small part thanks to BIMM. There was a real lull in the scene for a few years but things have really come back with a vengeance. And what I find amazing is the amount of variety that we have genre-wise at the moment in the city.

What sort of music did you all grow up on?

Zac: Started on Robbie Williams and Eminem. Then I listened to AC/DC for two years straight when I was nine, emerging as an Emo on the other side. Now it’s mostly Psychedelic-Rock, Funk/Soul and Hip-Hop

Conor: Well. I grew up listening to Blues artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan thanks to my dad but also Deep Purple and Pink Floyd But, thanks to my mam, I listen to ABBA and Disco music - my true love in music. 

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

Sam: I won £20 in the Stena Line ferry arcade. Like, that just never happens. 

Conor: Probably getting to sell out Whelan's two nights in a row. I will never forget that first night. That room was hopping and I was blown away with the response that we got. 

Which one album means the most to each of you would you say (and why)? 

Conor: For me, it’s The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. When I started in BIMM, that album was just on-repeat. I dunno. I just really connected with it at the time but I do think it is a bit timeless, thematically as, no matter what era you grow up in, people will always experience an Us and Them environment at some stage.

Zac: I mean, I don’t know that it’s my favourite album but the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance will forever mean a lot to me. It deals with themes of death and illness and it came out like two weeks before my father died of heart failure. I still remember, clear as day, the first time I saw the video of the title track. It was on the first day I was home after he died.

Sam: I don't overly connect with any particular album but Wasting Light (Foo Fighters) if I had to choose. If ever I need a small mental retreat or an inspiration boost, I usually go back to that album because it reminds of when I knew that I wanted to pursue music as a career. It brings me back to the mindset I had back then and that is comforting at times. 

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Zac: Hozier and a bowl full of his toe nail clippings. Not in a creepy stalker way but in a ‘We’re soulmates but you don’t know it yet’-sorta way. But, in all seriousness, I adore Hozier’s music. He’s a massive influence in my songwriting.

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Sam: 1. You have to like the people you play and, more importantly, what you play otherwise nothing will get done. 2. Be able to take what you deal regarding criticism and suggestions. 3. Don't quit your job because pursuing music is very expensive. 4. Persistence, Persistence, Persistence. 5 Persistence, Persistence, Persistence, Persistence, Persistence... 

Conor: Not to get discouraged if things don't work out at first: we have all played in loads of bands and sometimes they don't work out. But, if you keep at it, you will definitely find some sort of success. 

Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?

We’ve got some dates in Ireland. Warrenpoint on 30th March with our brothers, New Valley Wolves; Belfast on 4th April with ROE and our E.P. launch in the Grand Social on 12th April. Also, Waterford on 29th June. We’ll be playing a good few U.K. shows (and some other spots) but they haven’t been announced yet.

We may have already said too much...

If we came to one of your live shows, what might we expect?

Zac: Painted nails, dancing; moshing, kissing and music to justify all these social expressions

Conor: Mega guitar face...10% melt.

As your new single is One in Five, which member of a famous five (either a band or fictional) would you choose to take on a roadtrip?

Zac: Iggy Pop. Hands-down. Man seems like craic incarnate. Although, I don’t know if The Stooges were ever a five-piece, so I guess I’ll go with Harry Styles from One Direction. He seems lovely.

Conor: Probably Louis Theroux...who wouldn't want him to document their tour.

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Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Zac: Post Punk Podge & the Techno Hippies are these lads based in Limerick who kinda do an array of styles and proudly sing in a lovely, thick Limerick accent. They we’re one of my favourite experiences at KnockanStockan last year.

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Sam: Honestly, we don't deserve chill time away from music just yet. After a tour, we might take two weeks of no rehearsal and chat. But, as we are up-and-coming, there is nothing but work to do. 

Conor: I either chill with my mates/girlfriend or play video games. I love video games. For me, there is nothing better than escaping in to a fantastical world fill with whimsy (smiles).

Zac: I love fantasy novels. And the cooking show, Chopped, which you can easily find full episodes of on YouTube.

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

Khruangabin - White Gloves. It’s the self-care you need, Sam.

Betty Wright - Clean Up Woman. Purse your lips and move your hips. 

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Follow Munky

FEATURE: On the Flip Side: Kate Bush: The Other Sides

FEATURE:

 

On the Flip Side

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/Fish People 

Kate Bush: The Other Sides

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HOW often do we get to hear unreleased...

Kate Bush material at all?! She has been remastering her back catalogue recently and, last year, committed everything to these box-sets of vinyl. I am a massive fan of hers and have already got quite a few of her records. You check the details out from the Fish People website but there is this treasure chest of Bush material that is essential for any music lover! It is worth investing in as many box-sets as possible because they are sought-after and I feel like these sets are really valuable. Among the collection were these B-sides and rarities; remixes and unheard songs that have not been released so far – now they are out into the world. You can buy is swiftly here - and there is a bounty of these rare tracks. Videos have been coming out and the most-recent one is Kate Bush performing The Man I Love – originally by George Gershwin. It features Larry Adler and is a sumptuous, charged and gorgeous performance that shows some of her non-album tracks are as powerful as those that are standalone. A few of the covers we find are not that essential. There are takes of Elton John’s Rocket Man and Candle in the Wind and, whilst she does not quite hit the right notes on the latter, the former is interesting if inessential.

The first disc/quarter of the collection are remixes of existing songs. We get to hear a Meteorological Mix of The Big Sky (from Hounds of Love) and an extended mix of Experiment IV – a non-album track that was included on her sort-of-greatest-hits, The Whole Story, in 1986. It is interesting hearing this already-extraordinary songs being given these new elements and seeing them take on new forms. I am not always a fan of remixes and find they can be a little bit weary and hit-and-miss. In this case, I would recommend any Kate Bush fans to seek them out and have a listen. Lesser-heard songs like Walk Straight Down the Middle (included as an extra track on some releases of The Red Shoes) and Lyra are beautiful and, whilst not her strongest songs, it is fantastic to hear them together. I already mentioned Experiment IV and it is almost like The Beatles releasing Strawberry Fields or Penny Lane: not tracks you find on any studio albums of their but just as mighty as their best work. The track (with the video directed by Bush herself) has this sort of chilling sound but it is one of her most complete and nuanced tracks. I keep listening to and trying to unravel its secrets! Under the Ivy (a B-side of Hounds of Love’s Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) is often cited as one of her best tracks; worthy of album inclusion and a truly remarkable piece. It is indeed and deserves to be heard in full.

Be Kind to My Mistakes and Un Baiser D’Enfant are great tracks but not as strong as a lot of stuff on The Other Sides. I have already mentioned the cover versions – comprising the final disc/quarter – and there is a mixed-bag regarding interpretation and quality. The Elton John songs mean a lot to her but I think Candle in the Wind better suites John’s voice. One would not expect a song famed by Marvin Gaye, Sexual Healing, would sound as sweaty and electric coming out of Kate Bush but it does indeed! Some have given her version a bit of a bashing but I really like it and she brings a new perspective to the song. As you’d expect from Kate Bush, the choice of cover versions are not obvious and there is not a lot of mainstream stuff in there. This is good because it allows listeners the chance almost to discover these songs fresh. Mná na hÉireann is an Irish poem written by Peadar Ó Doirnín  - Kate Bush is half-Irish – and it sound perfect and natural coming out of her mouth. In terms of other slightly odd choices, My Lagan Love and The Handsome Cabin Boy can be discovered. It is a beautiful mix of the lesser-known and some bigger songs. She brings her own voice and spirit to them all and, for many, these recordings are fresh. It is the third disc/quarter of the collection that is really interesting.

IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush/PHOTO CREDIT: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

Included are some Christmas numbers. Home for Christmas and December Will Be Magic Again are wonderfully evocative and delightful and there is the feeling you can play these songs at any time of the year and they would work. Elsewhere, there is a remix of Wuthering Heights and the incredible Passing Through Air (a B-side on Army Dreamers). Ran Tan Waltz (a B-side on her single, Babooshka) is, perhaps, not an essential inclusion but still a curious track. I love the fact that artists like Kate Bush can bring out B-sides and, given the quality of her A-sides, you know there are some treats in there. The Other Sides is a fabulous collection of rarer cuts and some remixes that should be in everyone’s collections. There have been some hearty reviews but Rolling Stone, here, drill down to the essence of the multi-disc album:

There’s plenty more to (re-) discover. The French version of Never For Ever’s “The Infant Kiss” (“Un Baiser D’Enfant”), based on the 1961 film The Innocents, and the French original “Ne T’Enfuis Pas,” make a diptych suggesting Bush might’ve had a nifty collaboration with Serge Gainsbourg. With its hollered declaration “it’s you and me babe, against the world!,” “Burning Bridge” is one of her most dizzying vocals; at point she sounds like she’s making herself seasick. “You Want Alchemy” is a fairly jaw-dropping Prince channeling with strings, r&b brass, feral orgasmic squealing and gospel-infused backing vocals...

The 12” versions, more extensions than reinventions, include the unhinged “meterological mix” of the Hounds Of Love single “Big Sky,” pumped up with machine-gun handclaps and didgeridoo drones. Completists will notice some omissions, like the 1979 live EP On Stage, which documents the only tour of her career, and her sole live shows before the Hammersmith Apollo residency 35 years later (check the glam-tastically proggy, partly shrieked 6-minute version of “James & The Cold Gun”).

Nevertheless, the motherlode is here. Bush’s oeuvre is singular, and has stood alone for decades. But lately its brilliance feels especially prescient, reflected variously in the sound and approach of (among others) RobynFlorence Welch, and Annie St. Vincent Clark, whose confession of tipsy karaoke-ing “Wuthering Heights” is one of the highlights of that delicious 2014 Bush documentary. So the timing of this deep-cuts set couldn’t be better. Most of the tracks feel as contemporary as they ever did; maybe more so”.

Kate Bush still inspires artists around the world, over forty years on from her debut album, The Kick inside (1978). Even though nobody can match her incredible heights, you can aspects of various songs in some of the artists we hear at the moment. I advise everyone to get hold of the latest release from Kate Bush: a wonderful combination of her lesser-exposed material through the years shows how varied her music was and how special she is. I would keep writing but I need to play Bush’s version of The Man I Love...

ONE more time.