FEATURE: Female Icons: Part Sixteen: Dolly Parton

FEATURE:

 

 

Female Icons

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dollywood Foundation 

Part Sixteen: Dolly Parton

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NOT only does Dolly Parton warrant…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Dolly Parton captured in 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: Sean Rice for The Guardian

inclusion in my Female Icons section -  not being arrogant; she is very much an icon and music treasure to us all! – but she is in the news right now. I will come to that soon but, right now, it is worth going back to the start. I am not going to cover all of her studio albums – as there have been quite a few! – but I will select some that are worth noting. Such is the breadth and depth of Parton’s work, it would take me a long time to get to the soul of her brilliance. Parton started life writing songs for others and released her debut album, Hello, I’m Dolly, in 1967. A lot of the all-time greats start off rather tentatively – from David Bowie to The Beatles – but Dolly Parton seemed to be in full flight; she created this debut that was instantly her own and had more than its fair share of memorable cuts! Maybe her voice was slightly sweeter and not as powerful as it would become but, with songs like Dumb Blonde in the pack, she proved she had immense power and panache in her arsenal – a song written by Curly Putman but penned by Parton! Whilst a lot of her peers would have been singing covers or having others write for her, Hello, I’m Dolly is full of personality, charisma and wise-crack. That is what Parton brought to the party from the off: that combination of smarts and style; heart and grit all in the same album.

It is amazing to think about the sheer productivity of Parton during the late-1960s. By 1971, she had already put out ten albums (some were collaborations with Porter Wagoner); this is more than a lot of artists achieve in their entire career. It was not until the 1970s when Parton really began to get acclaim and achieve the sort of success that she deserved. Although she was duetting with Wagoner into the 1970s, I think her first breakthrough occurred on 1971’s Coat of Many Colors – an album impossible to ignore. AllMusic, in this review drilled down to the core of Coat of Many Colors:

Dolly Parton had a number of hits in the late '60s as Porter Wagoner's duet partner, yet solo success eluded her until her 1971 album Coat of Many Colors. The title track was a Top Ten single, and it effectively became her signature song, largely because it was a sweetly autobiographical tune about her childhood. That song, along with its two hit predecessors, "Traveling Man" and "My Blue Tears," were evidence that Parton was a strong songwriter, but the full album reveals the true depth of her talents. She wrote seven of the ten songs (Wagoner wrote the other three), none of which is filler. There isn't really a theme behind Coat of Many Colors, even if its title track suggests otherwise. Instead, it's a remarkably consistent album, in terms of songwriting and performances, but also remarkably diverse, revealing that Dolly can handle ballads, country-rockers, tearjerkers, and country-pop with equal aplomb. And while it is very short, clocking in at under a half-hour, there isn't a wasted moment on the album. It's a lean, trim album that impresses because of succinctness -- with its ten songs, it announced Parton as a major talent in her own right, not merely a duet partner”.

Maybe it was the chemistry and natural understanding between Parton and Wagoner because, through the late-1960s and early-1970s they released album after album gold. The sheer workrate of Parton in the first decade of her career is amazing to behold! She proved herself a unique and rich songwriter from her debut but, as her career developed, so too did her songs and voice. By 1975, her work with Wagoner became rarer. Parton, by the time 1974’s Jolene was released, was embarking solo and was adapting to a new creative life. She had been part of Porter Wagoner’s weekly T.V. series for over seven years and their professional partnership had broken up. I am not sure of the intimate details but I Will Always Love You, one of Parton’s most-famous tracks, was written about Parton’s regret regarding the break-up. The title cut of that amazing album has been covered numerous times and demonstrates the wonder of Parton’s songwriting. A heartbroken tale of this seemingly perfect tale of a woman stealing her man, on the surface, seems routine. The way Parton tells the story; the emotion and conviction in her voice and the words she employs – imploring Jolene not to take her man; not knowing what he means to her – is faultless. Parton and Wagoner would re-join forces and work together through the mid-1970s and 1980s but I think Parton’s strongest moments came when she stepped out alone.

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Parton had a few missteps through the 1970s but, on 1980’s 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, she struck a new vein. I will talk about that film but, on the album, Parton explored this concept of working and the day-to-day life. Although Parton wrote only a few of the album’s tracks – including the title cut – she brought life to songs such as The House of the Rising Sun and Detroit City. Whilst the feminist revenge comedy, 9 to 5, might not have received universal acclaim upon its release in 1980, it seems radical and brilliant today; a film that holds up and was re-released recently. Parton shines in the film and brings the full force of her personality to the role. In this review, The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw provided his thoughts:

The sequences showing the three women’s weed-fuelled fantasy sequences of what they’d like to do to their boss (Dabney Coleman) are almost avant garde and their action plan is incidentally pretty radical too. Once they’ve got their horrible manager tied up, they fake his signature on memos decreeing job shares, a creche, an office redesign that accommodates access for wheelchair users. Pretty bold stuff, and not every 2018 workplace has as much, but 9 to 5 finally seems to lose its nerve, just a little bit, on the equal pay issue.

This 1980 feminist revenge comedy, starring Dolly PartonJane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as three New York office workers who kidnap their misogynist monster of a boss, is rereleased nationally, tagged to the Comedy Genius season at London’s BFI Southbank. Parton’s pumpingly brilliant song over the opening credits declares: “In the same boat / With a lot of your friends / Waiting for the day / Your ship will come in / And the tide’s gonna turn / And it’s all gonna roll your way.” Thirty-eight years on, is Parton’s prophecy being fulfilled?”.

There is no telling how many other musicians-turned-actors Parton inspired. In the 1980s, sure, there were a few artists who were on the big screen, but I think Parton definitely helped pave the way for others. I have not seen 9 to 5 for a long time but Parton and her female co-stars are infectious, bonded and truly memorable. It is a great film but I think Parton is the standout performer. For many established artists, Parton included, the 1980s was a tough decade. Maybe it was the sounds of the time that wrong-footed them; the fact they had to adapt or sounded strange against the music of the time. Parton enjoyed some success during the decade but her music did not sound as striking as it did in the 1960s and 1970s. That is no shot against her songwriting. Tastes were changing and Parton struggled to gain as much critical and commercial love as she hoped for.

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With a few blips during that decade, the 1990s was a more fruitful one for Parton. One might argue the 1980s was more diverse and scene-driven than the 1980s but I think Parton got a second wind during that time. 1995’s Something Special and 1996’s Treasures provided a glimpse of Parton’s past glories but 1998’s Hungry Again really saw her return to her roots. Parton was extremely relevant during the 1980s but there was a feeling that she was being side-lined or less important than she was previously. Hungry Again is heart-warming and accomplished work that gained a lot of critical praise. This interesting article from 1998 talked with Parton as she discussed Hungry Again:

When Dolly Parton decided to record her new album, Hungry Again, she went back to the basics — her Tennessee mountain home.

“This wasn’t something that I needed to do for money,” Dolly says. “This was something I needed to do for me. It was my music that started it all. It’s what means the most to me.”

But when she went back home to write, she took the album’s title literally — Dolly fasted for three weeks in preparation.

“It wasn’t all that different for me,” she says, slipping off her trademark stilettos and curling up in a chair in her Nashville office. “I have fasted off and on all my life, for spiritual reasons and to lose weight when I’ve been heavier.

“So that part was not that hard. I fasted for three weeks. I did a juice-and-fruit fast for the first week, to get myself into it. On the second week, I had nothing but water. Then the third week, I had juices again.

“Hungry Again” was the first song written for the album.

“I didn’t know that I was going to call the album that,” Dolly says. “It wasn’t until after I was over the headaches of fasting and kind of settled into the fact that I wasn’t going to be eating.

“Then it’s almost like you’re high — like you’re on a drug of some kind. I woke up at three o’clock in the morning and couldn’t sleep. I sat down, started singing and it all started coming:

The thrill of desire, the excitement is gone”.

I Believe in You, Parton’s forty-sixth studio album was released in 2017 – it received moderate acclaim but had its fair share of bright moments. It seems there is no slowing Parton and she will be making music for many more years to come. On 8th February, during Grammy week, she was honoured for her accomplishments as an artist and humanitarian; she was named the 2019 MusicCares Person of the Year. Here, in this article, Parton talked about her work, legacy and continued passion:

"I really think it should not matter who you are whether it’s based on race, religion, color or gender," says Parton. "You should be allowed to do a job and do your job. If you do it well, you should be appreciated, respected, and admired.  I’m proud that I’ve done well in this business. . . I try to live that as a woman. I try to let it stand in the songs I’ve written through the years long before there was ever a movement I was moving in it and talking about it even my first album was called Just Because I’m A Woman. It was based on that and my mistakes are no worse than yours and just because I’m a woman. I should get the same chance.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Musically, she's been beyond influential as well, with countless artists following in her stead and recording various versions of her songs. When asked to name a favorite rendition of one of her songs, a pretty big one came to Dolly's mind immediately.

"I will always treasure, and should, the big crossover with Whitney [Houston] on ‘I Will Always Love You,' because that really put me in the forefront as a writer and an artist and I think it made a lot of people see me as a writer," says Parton. "I was just a girl with the big hair and big tits and a big personality, but I think that one kind of pointed a finger at me as a serious songwriter and the fact that it did so well and I was so touched by it and so honored by it that. That one will stand out in my mind forever."

Parton's staggering catalog of songs listens like a testament to her earth-shaking ability to change our world, our culture and our future—and in classic Dolly style, she makes it look and sound fun.

“I dreamed it. I wished it. I hoped it and I thought it, that I had what it could take,” she says. "When I saw my name in the Billboards and the Top 10 that I was doing something right and it was going to work".

Parton is a multi-talented and ever-busy artist who has broken boundaries and inspired a wealth of artists. I have alluded to her acting career but think about some of the hits she was involved in. In 1989, she returned to acting in Steel Magnolias; a huge success that grossed millions and received a lot of positive reviews. Parton appeared in T.V. films such as Wild Texas Wind (1991) and Blue Valley Songbird (1999); she launched her own T.V. series, The Dolly Show and appeared in various sitcoms – including a spot on The Simpsons in the 1999 episode, Sunday, Cruddy Sunday. As a philanthropist, Parton has supported many charities and, through her Dollywood Foundation, is a proponent of literacy and helping those who are illiterate. Through her foundation, Parton has brought books to children and helped countless people; she has brought jobs and revenue to deprived areas and continues to donate her time and money to worthy causes. I have just sort of scratched the surface – but it is clear Parton is an icon and someone who is an inspiration to many. Through her charitable work, enduring music and positive words, Dolly Parton is a musical treasure who will continue to the generations. I am not a huge Country music fan but you just need to look at the scene now and so many artists owe their careers to Parton. There is a lot of love out there for a true legend.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In fact, Dolly Parton is to be the subject of a BBC documentary. This feature explains more:

Dolly Parton will be the subject of a new documentary for the BBC. “Dolly’s Country,” set to air on BBC Two this fall, seeks to show a different side of the country star, noting one that’s “no less extraordinary, but far more authentic and far more surprising.”

The doc will delve into Dolly’s songwriting, with the legend personally taking viewers through some of her biggest hits. It will also follow the 50th anniversary of her first Grand Ole Opry appearance, and more.

And speaking of that Grand Ole Opry anniversary, a new exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dolly’s first Opry performance is set to open next month. “Dolly: My Opry Memories” will open September 3rd at the Opry House in Nashville, and run through October 31st. It will feature at least 24 of Dolly’s iconic outfits, worn at pivotal moments in her Opry career”.

The sheer stamina of Dolly Parton is incredible! She clearly loves what she does and, as I said, there are no signs of the legend calling time. Parton is restless when it comes to improving the world and spreading love and joy through music. I want to end with an interview Parton gave with The Guardian earlier this year to promote the London run of the 9 to 5 musical.

It is an illuminating and intriguing interview that digs deep and reveals a lot of new sides. Parton talks about politics, feminism and the start of her career. I wanted to quote a section that talked about a rare force: the experience and reality of being Dolly Parton:

Parton’s work ethic is extraordinary, but the real proof of her stamina is her public persona, which she maintains as indefatigably as her makeup. The night before we meet, a friend at the BBC texted me to say she happened to meet Parton in a corridor, and she got “the full Dolly Parton experience”: southern aphorisms, boob jokes, sunny friendliness. Does she never get tired of having to be “Dolly Parton” for everybody?

“No, I enjoy what I do,” she says firmly. “I enjoy being loved – I love that. I always ask God to let me shine a light and uplift mankind because that is my purpose. I look fake, but my world is real to me”.

Where will Parton go next? I am sure there will be plenty more albums but it seems, when it comes to her, you never know what will come next. She is an influence on artists established and new and the sheer whirlwind of her humour and passion is infectious. Even if, like me, you are not steeped in Parton history and know her albums intimately, one cannot her importance; the fact she is an icon who has helped move music forward and created so much good. It is staggering to think of all the albums she has released and how productivity she has been. It makes me tiring just counting the albums but it is clear Parton does not want to do anything else. Here is someone who, since the 1960s, has added her distinct voice to the musical landscape. Sure, there have been some misses during the way but one feels Parton had a blast recording those albums/T.V. shows that were not lauded. She exudes charm and warmth in everything she does and, for that reason, Parton must be considered an icon! A true force of nature, I am sure we will see Parton reign and shine…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Parton shot for 1980’s Dolly Parton: On Tour/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

FOR a good many years to come.

TRACK REVIEW: Declan McKenna - British Bombs

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Declan McKenna

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PHOTO CREDIT: @citizenkanewayne 

British Bombs

 

9.3/10

 

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The track, British Bombs, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWAO3ZGFZys

GENRE:

Indie-Rock

ORIGIN:

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

LABEL:

Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited

RELEASE DATE:

19th August, 2019

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MAYBE this contradicts what I was saying yesterday…

but I am reviewing an artist whose latest single is quite serious. He is a great songwriter but, whilst I was writing about music being less fun these days, I am not necessarily referring to artists like Declan McKenna. One cannot deny there is a seriousness to his work that seems timely and urgent. I shall come to his latest single in a bit but, before moving on, I want to talk about artists who are mobilising and writing about subjects with gravitas; whether these more political songs resonate with politicians or the public; upcoming artists where there is a pressure to release a new album; relocating to Nashville and why there is something for everyone in that city; why artists like McKenna have a long future ahead; if artists like him will define and mould the sound of 2020 – I will see where McKenna is going and what might lie in his future. I am going to bring in a few interview snippets here and there to illustrate my points but, right now, I want to discuss this year’s music and the fact so many artists are writing about the world around them. I did just write a feature regarding the lack of fun in modern music and, whilst that is completely true, maybe artists feel like there is too much happening that needs some rather pressing attention. Consider global warming, conflict and political divisions and the fact that, really, people charged with looking after things are not doing their bit. Declan McKenna is someone who mixes a sort of curiosity, romance and enigma with something more accessible. Maybe it is down to his influences or upbringing but he manages to splice something quite nostalgic and classic with music that is very of-the-time. When speaking about his debut album in 2017 , What Do You Think About the Car?, McKenna was asked about his songwriting and the sort of themes he is tackling.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

It sort of shows that, even from the start, McKenna was activated and inspired by politics – and he alludes to some of his influences:

 “That actually brings me on to my next question, because I was going to ask you which artists have been most prominent for you?

Jeff Buckley is everyone’s musician, but also more importantly he’s a musician’s musician. All musicians are inspired by Jeff Buckley, and it’s the same with David Bowie who is probably one of my biggest influences in music. The Beatles too, who I love. I guess these days some more modern bands are St Vincent, TV On The Radio, Sufjan Stevens.

So, what theme - political, cultural or otherwise - would you like to take on next?

I don’t know… there’s so much going on! There’s just so much to write about that now I feel like I have the problem of choosing something. I feel like I need to write a song about George Osborne because he’s such a prick! Maybe something more English this time round, because I tend to write about events that have happened in other countries and I haven’t done anything about home politics yet. There’s obviously a lot of stuff going on at the minute with that, you know, Corbyn and Cameron giving it large”.

It is amazing to think of everything that has happened this year and how the world is changing. You know McKenna sees all of this and it makes an impression on him. I shall move on to another subject in a bit but it is pretty impressive that an artist like McKenna has this conscientiousness and wants to tackle bigger issues. So many modern artists talk about themselves or do something pretty commercial. McKenna could have written about relationships and made a very ordinary song: instead, British Bombs seems very eye-opening and it is a song that definitely has a distinct McKenna stamp on it!

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I understand why artists are discussing politics and the fact there is this sense of anger and dislocation. I can only imagine how someone like Declan McKenna feels about the world he is living in. I shall set aside my truck regarding a lack of hopeful and pumping music nowadays and, as there is so much s*it hitting the fan, it is understandable a lot of this friction and concern makes its way into music. I think it can be hard to talk about politics and the realities of the world in music because, not only do you have to stray away from the commercial – which is always a risk – but you need those messages to connect with the listener. Talking about love and heartache is relatable because we have all experienced it in some form. Compare a more commercial artist like, say, Taylor Swift, and then stand her alongside Declan McKenna or someone like IDLES and The Murder Capital. These are artists who are more concerned with the wider world than they are their heart and personal life. British Bombs is an interesting song and one that steps away from Brexit and a lot of subjects artists are tackling at the moment. I shall quote from this DORK interview more later but, when discussing the inspiration behind British Bombs, McKenna had this to say:

The song came was partially inspired by a conversation I had with my friend. A really smart, well-read guy. He was talking to me and saying, "Our country has been at war the whole time we've been alive." I was like, "Really?" He was like, "There's not been a time in our lives when England has not been at war. Modern war is different, and we're not faced with the consequences." That planted the seed, really. When you think about it, it's very much true, and it's something we're aware of in some way. It still doesn't feel real. It feels wrong.
It's such a big thing, the distance between where we are in England to where war is happening to which we're contributing. I didn't want them to be separate things because I think in the modern world everything is connected. It's important to link things together and attach responsibility”.

I feel artists are in a tricky position at the minute. Many want to write something that is deeper and gets people thinking but I wonder whether most of us are switched on and responsive. It is always hard to tell but think about modern youth and whether they are as political and connected as generations past. I think the young are concerned about the planet but they are faced with all these technological distractions; we have fake news and celebrity culture that seems to dominate life. Politicians are never truthful and clear and, when it comes to things like warfare and needless destruction, who do we trust and listen to? The news purports the truth and facts but I think musicians can bring these themes to life in a more accessible and powerful way. Not that they are dumbing-down the harsh realities but they can translate something like British attacks on other nations into songs that stay in the head and, once you have listened, make you think about that in a wider sense; you get motivated and you actual combine that curiosity with some research and news-watching – that’s what I reckon, anyway! I see bands like IDLES and Fontaines D.C. conquering; songwriters like Anna Calvi discussing big topics and bringing passion to the plate but I wonder whether people are singing the songs because the tune has a hook or whether they relate to the words and it speaks to them. Everyone is different but I feel artists can get through and make their voices heard. As I say…that is hard when we have so much on social media and we all are looking to escapes from the brutality and darkness that seems ever-present. Rather than hide our heads away, it is crucial we know about what is happening because we all have to live with it and it is good to be educated. I think, because of artists like Declan McKenna, we are better educated and informed as music lovers than we were a few years back. I think McKenna and co. can be proud because their words are hitting the mark – so many people will take their songs to heart and be compelled to fight for change.

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  PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

I have briefly mentioned McKenna’s debut album, What Do You Think About the Car?, and the fact that it was pretty popular. It is a sharp and fantastic debut and one that was very different to a lot of music out in 2017. Although it is only a couple of years since that album came out, there are people clambering for a follow-up. I have been a bit unfair when it comes to someone like McKenna. Whilst most of his peers discuss politics and protest with a world-weariness and sense of anger, McKenna can bring something more sunny and alive to the plate. You can hear elements of ABBA, David Bowie and The Beatles at his more elliptical and bright. That does not dampen and distill the potency of his messages: rather, you attach yourself to the songs more readily because there is a warmer mood but, when you listen, you are still hit by the physicality and urgency. When an artist comes along and gets tongues wagging, naturally, there is this excitement and, even before the dust has settled on one album, the media asks when new material is coming along – keen as they are to have another taste and get more of the same. Maybe this puts pressure on the shoulders and I wonder whether McKenna was being pushed to keep recording in 2017 when he would have wanted to tour and, at times, have a bit of a rest. I shall allude to this more in a bit but, returning to the DORK interview, and McKenna was asked about his time away and what we can expect from his upcoming album:

Hey Declan! So, you've been away for ages. Tell us what you've been up to?

It hasn't felt as long as it's been. I guess it's been over two years now since the last record. It's gone really quickly, especially this last year working on the album. I don't know where time is going. It's all systems go right now, and we're looking forward to getting stuff out there with 'British Bombs'. It feels really new and like a step in the right direction.

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How's the album recording going? Is there any gossip you can give us?

There's probably tons of gossip! The process has been going on for ages, but I pretty much had the album written before the start of this year. There have been one or two tunes that have come about since, but if you asked me at the start of the year if I was ready to record an album, I would've said yes. We've just been waiting for the right time to do what I want to do. I'm out in Nashville recording. It's amazing; we're having the best time. I've got the whole band here with me as well. That's the big difference from the first record that I have the full live band. It's all about energy. It's a different record, and I've definitely tried to progress. It feels like a natural progression. It's a little bit away from what I'd define as indie. It's a little bit insane”.

I do wonder whether we need to let young artists breathe a little and stop putting expectation on their shoulders. It has only been two years since McKenna brought an album to us and, after touring and promoting his debut, he wouldn’t have had a lot of time to think about another record and putting material together. The way one promotes an album and operates is a lot more intense than it was in the past so I wonder whether the industry takes into consideration the pressures on mental-health and whether they think of artists’ wellbeing. McKenna seems level-headed and okay but I do feel it is unfair people are sort of pressing him for another album – maybe it is natural and it is just an excitement and sense of anticipation. He is a wonderful artists and I can understand why people are eager to hear more from him. There are few artists who write protest songs; fewer who can write about them without being overly-serious and oppressive.

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  PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

I would not imagine McKenna moving to Nashville. I think he is just recording there at the moment but, who knows…he might fancy the place and want to set up camp there for the foreseeable future. I can appreciate how attractive and alluring the place is. I do think people assume Nashville is all Country and there is no other music being played. On the contrary: Nashville is a bubbling and eclectic landscape that is housing artists from every corner of the musical map. I can only envisage the sort of buzz and excitement walking around the city and, especially at night, the sort of music going down. There is a big community there and it will be interesting to see whether that affects McKenna’s sound. On his debut, McKenna wrote about everything from transgender suicide (Paracetamol) to politics (Isombard) and there was this real grit mixed with something a bit more tuneful. I do not expect McKenna to go more ‘Nashville’ regarding themes but it will be interesting to see whether his surroundings influence new songs. With so much going on in the news, one can imagine he will not stray too far from politics and subjects like climate change and division in Britain. Maybe, given the fact McKenna has changed a lot as a person since his debut, he will discuss the ensuing couple of years and how that has affected him. Before I introduce a final topic, I will bring in an interview McKenna gave to DIY – they asked him how Nashville was faring and why British Bombs has a unique edge:

 “Hey Declan! How’s Nashville treating you then?

It’s been really cool, I’ve really fallen in love with it. It seems like one of my favourite places in America actually. I really like it here and have been enjoying recording, it’s been relaxed but super-hot as well. I’ve got my whole band out here and we’ve been having a really great time making a record. It feels like such a tried-and-tested thing coming to Nashville and making an album. It’s funny because I’ve spent the last six months just twiddling my thumbs waiting to record this thing and figure out where I’m actually going to do it. Now I’m here it’s all systems go and we’ve made some great progress. It’s all come quite naturally.

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All of the proceeds go to charity from this single, where do you see those funds going?

I want to see them help people who are impacted by what I’m talking about. I think it’s important to be as engaged as possible and if there is something there that can help people then that’s brilliant. Ultimately that’s what it’s all about and if I’m not attempting that then I don’t think I’m doing it right. It’s a simple as that really. I think war and the sales of arms around the world is such a big thing that we don’t even see the impact of. So hopefully we can help some people that have been affected by these issues”.

I think McKenna has a very golden future because he has struck a rare balance. There are some great and vital solo songwriters around right now – from Little Simz and Anna Calvi through to Sam Fender – who are boldly exposing big themes and using music as a platform to educate, illuminate and awaken. So many of these artists, understandably, bring a degree of anger and force to the mix. I can appreciate one need to do this in order to make the words resonate but I think McKenna’s more accessible vibe is effective as hell. He can still create the same sort of gravity and alarm but there is more musicality; the music goes deeper and stays with you longer. Maybe he is not creating old-school bangers and a new House classic but, in a music landscape where there is very little fun and joy, he is at least doing something few are doing: getting involved with politics and meatier subjects but able to let his musical hair down at the same time. Not only is McKenna an intelligent and impassioned artist, but he is fascinating in interviews. I would like to know more about his childhood and when music came into his life; more about his earliest memories and when he started to get involved with politics. Maybe interviews have covered that previously but I think there is a lot to learn from McKenna. He does seem like this ready-made star who has a lot more to say. Nashville seems to agree with him and it will be intriguing to see what he comes up with in terms of album-two.

There is a vibrating, intense start to British Bombs that is definitely raw and hard-hitting but there is something almost filmic about it. I guess the sound is meant to simulate bombs and planes in the sky and one is instantly gripped and fascinated. Just as you think the song is going to be an IDLES like yell-fest (which is no bad things), you get stomp, rhythm and something pretty catchy. McKenna has always put out songs that combine real and striking lyrics together with music that gets you moving and has a bit of wiggle! You need to watch the video for British Bombs because it is charming, funny and original. McKenna’s voice is firm and pressing but the lyrics are wonderfully British and archaic. McKenna talks about “great snakes” and “good gravy” – some distinctly old-fashioned exclamations that, I guess, are meant to take us back to the First and Second World War and the fact we have not evolved since then; we are living in a time where we have to experience bombing and needless destruction. McKenna’s baby brother has a gas mask on - and one definitely gets affected by the weight and importance of the song. It is a track that could have been made during the 1940s – in terms of its themes and visions – so it makes it more shocking when something like this arrives nearly seventy years down the tracks! There is chant and melody in the chorus but, as we are roused to an extent, listen to the lyrics and how we are not learning lessons. We are dropping bombs on Yemen and politicians are lying to us. It is not really clear why we are dropping bombs (maybe there is no reason) but the sheer insanity of it all is getting McKenna riled. I do love the fact there is that blend of bonhomie and energy together with some really powerful and stirring words. One cannot ignore the brilliance of the video but you will picture your own scenes and these planes flying over countries.

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It seems insane we are running these campaigns of violence at a time when the world needs to come together. Maybe we have got into a headspace where we always need to attack and be vigilant. Not knowing the full truth, one can never tell whether all the attacks are justified and what the agenda is. Can we say, under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this atrocity will end? I do not think there is an end in sight but, with artists like Declan McKenna raising awareness, we are all more informed and can call for an end. McKenna talks about the dead and how sorry we’ll be (even though we carry on); the fact we are creating landslides but seem content to continue; we are reading lies and propaganda in The Daily Mail and we are keen to cause as much carnage as possible. Of course, politicians tell one side of the story and that does not always relate to fact and transparency – how much of this baloney do we buy? McKenna makes reference to money and the fact that might be motivation for the bombings. Are our leaders more compelled by greed and profit than they are human lives and the innocent? That might be naïve of me but it seems like that is the reason we are occupying nations and causing such heartache. Listen too British Bombs and you cannot help but absorb what McKenna is saying and ask questions. There is almost a sense of kick and dance to the song which is a nice balance against the anger and sense of defeat in the lyrics. McKenna never hectors and sloganeers: instead, he is richer with his language and his wordplay is incredible. He manages to mix sarcasm and irony with humour and pathos to tremendous effect. I had to listen to British Bombs a few times because it kept spitting up new ideas and visions. If you have not experienced the song, then go and do so – complete with its memorable video!

  PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

I do think that McKenna will have a lot of years ahead. He has recently played in Nashville and, when another album comes out, there will be fresh demands. I asked whether McKenna might be tempted to stay in Nashville, even if for a little while after the album has been finished. I am seeing a lot of artists move over there because they feel there are more opportunities and the environment is more stimulating and interesting. I can definitely see the attraction but one feels McKenna’s heart is in the U.K. and he will want to return to London pretty soon. I think, as we look to 2020, music will continue to evolve but I feel politics will be an important part of the conversation. Things are getting no rosier and clearer so, with that in mind, artists are compelled to have their say and call for change. McKenna struck me on his debut because of the maturity and real emotion behind his songs. So many young artists go in safe with love and relationship songs and it can seem a little boring and limited! When you release an album that has some fairly hefty lyrics and songs in there, it shows more fortitude and imagination. I shall wrap things up in a second but I do think McKenna will have a storming 2020. It is a year whose name literally relates to perfect sight and clarity – I wonder whether leaders around the world will stop bring so short-sighted and make some improvements. Keep a track with McKenna – his social media links are down below – because he is shaping up to release a sophomore album. British Bombs might relate to a distinctly British problem but, really, it is about other nations forcing violence on other countries; the fact few of us have experienced peace and times when there wasn’t needless violence. That sound staggering but I wonder whether this is normal. How many of us have seen a day when there has been calm around the world? I do think our Government needs to do more and they are not doing enough. Let’s wrap things up but, with McKenna back on the scene, many are excited to follow his steps. He is an original and hugely exciting artist who, if he does release an album before the year’s end, might drop one of the biggest albums so far. Whenever that record does arrive, you know it will be…

HUGELY impressive.

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Follow Declan McKenna

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FEATURE: The Underrated Gem, the Experimental Fever Dream and the Critical Favourite: Three Brilliant Kate Bush Albums Celebrating Anniversaries in September

FEATURE:

 

 

The Underrated Gem, the Experimental Fever Dream and the Critical Favourite

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in an outtake from the Hounds of Love cover shoot (1985)/PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush 

Three Brilliant Kate Bush Albums Celebrating Anniversaries in September

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THE good thing about Kate Bush…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1982/PHOTO CREDIT: Guido Harari

is that all of her albums remain fascinating; every anniversary allows us to a chance to explore an album from a new angle. As most of her albums are released at the end of summer through to winter, there is a long stretch where we do not get to mark anniversaries. It has been a fairly quiet period regarding Kate Bush news: she has popped up here and there but nothing in the way of fresh material. Many celebrated her birthday a few weeks back (30th July) and we are all awaiting the moment a new album is on its way – one hopes it is not too long! September and November are months, clearly, that suit Kate Bush in terms of album releases. I shall talk about the November-released albums in a couple of months but, ahead of the thirty-ninth anniversary of Never for Ever on 8th September, I want to celebrate a trio of records with very different sounds. We have the underrated and brilliant Never for Ever; the more divisive and bold The Dreaming and the critical favourite, Hounds of Love. Here, with reviews, background and choice songs, are three remarkable Kate Bush albums we get to...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1980/PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Phillips/Getty Images

RE-EXPLORE next month

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Never for Ever

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COVER DESIGN: Nick Price

Release Date: 7th September, 1980

Label: EMI

Producers: Jon Kelly/Kate Bush

Background:

Production on Never for Ever began after Kate Bush’s 1979 tour and it was her second step into production – she helped produced the On Stage E.P. and her curiosity was growing. Alongside Jon Kelly, Bush delivered an album that was more experimental and personal than her previous two (The Kick Inside and Lionheart of 1978) and, as you can tell on the record, the songs are more eclectic and daring. This sense of expansion and variety would augment and go in different directions on The Dreaming (1982) but, as an album, Never for Ever is hugely underrated and under-explored. Never for Ever was Kate's first number-one album. It was also the first ever album by a British female solo artist to top the U.K. album chart, as well as being the first album by any female solo artist to enter the chart at the top spot.

Reviews:

When it came out in 1980, Never For Ever, was the most expansive and conceptual work that Bush had released. It is suitably Floydian in parts, unsurprising given the early mentorship that Bush received from Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour. That influence seldom dilutes the impact of Kate’s distinctive voice. This is an album where Kate Bush, as songwriter, really shines through; It often feels like an aural storybook, creating a rich tapestry of tales drawn from the annals of history, art, and popular culture. From her imagining the final years of composer Frederick Delius’ life in Delius to retelling the 1961 Brit horror film The Innocents in Infant’s Kiss, Bush’s lyrics bring a new and deeply personal perspective to old tales.

It’s an album of many strong moments. Babooshka, the record’s most well-known song, has lost none of its initial impact. Its compelling, understated, piano-driven verses contrast magnificently with the explosive, bombastic choruses, which affirm Bush’s status as one of the great voices of her generation. The Wedding List and the riotous, pseudo hard-rock of Violin are slyly witty and immaculately constructed. But it is the closing one-two punch of Army Dreamers and Breathing that is Never For Ever’s undoubted highlight. The former, a song about a mother wrestling with the guilt she feels over a soldier son’s death is sparsely arranged, with Bush’s understated vocal delivery proving particularly powerful.

37 years after its release, Never For Ever still shines as a catalytic moment for Kate Bush. It’s a fact reflected in the record’s phenomenal sales achievements; it was the first solo album by any female solo artist to enter the UK charts at number 1 and it stayed in the UK top 75 for a total of 23 weeks. But it’s not just the sales that make Never For Ever special. Powerful and compelling, displaying incredible maturity from the-then 23-year-old, it set Bush up for a string of classics – The Dreaming, Hounds of Love, The Sensual World – that are amongst the greatest albums of the 1980s. It’s because of the acclaim of those successive records that Never For Ever is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be though; it’s a forgotten classic, fully deserving of re-evaluation” – Alec Plowman

The album features plenty of single worthy pop hits as usual but does offer much more collectively. Babooshka and Army Dreamers are examples of Kate exercising more of her descriptive lyrical style. On this record, Bush explores more concepts in her lyrics than previously. It's easy noticing the lyrical contrast with the album's opening and closing tracks. The opener, Babooshka is about a distrustful wife who ruins her marriage through seducing her husband under a pseudonym. The closer, Breathing finds Kate writing about her nervous actions through a more Bowie influenced style. From this point, Kate Bush adds even more variety to the mix. Musically, Never For Ever naturally expands thanks to a more layered sound. The album features a vibrant mix of wet fairlight synths, pianos, fretless bass and layers of strings. The performances of the album fit smoother than on previous records as Bush goes for a more varied final product.

Kate's third solo album was no masterpiece but a fascinating and necessary step in her discography. Bush's writing had finally evolved enough to the point where she could write without relying too much on image or style. Whether it's experimenting with her remarkable vocal range, creative arrangements, or vivid lyrics, Never For Ever shows Kate Bush improving in all the right ways” - Sputnikmusic

Key Cuts: The Infant Kiss/Army Dreamers/Breathing

Standout Track: Babooshka

The Dreaming

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COVER PHOTO: John Carder Bush

Release Date: 13th September, 1982

Label: EMI

Producer: Kate Bush

Background:

This is the moment Kate Bush assumed the mantle of producer and, perhaps, realised an ambition she had since the start of her career: to have control over her work and, as such, let her imagination run wild. Whilst The Dreaming is one of the most divisive albums of her career, it is also one of the most fascinating and nuanced. Making use of a variety of sounds, instruments and technologies, it is a kaleidoscopic album that is bursting with textures and possibilities. Songs tackle everything from a crime caper (There Goes a Tenner) to escapology (Houdini) and, nearly thirty-seven years after its release, The Dreaming sounds utterly audacious, hypnotic and wild. Bush would need a period to recuperate and regroup following an exhaustive recording period; she was drained after The Dreaming but, all these years later, the album sounds like nothing else. It is a singular work from a songwriter who was on the cusp of releasing her most celebrated and popular work.

Reviews:

For those who only really know Bush from her most popular singles, The Dreaming might well seem insane. Even from its pounding, deeply rhythmic opening seconds, it becomes clear that it’s no ordinary Kate Bush record. ‘Sat In Your Lap’ drags you into her most avant-garde world kicking and, quite literally, screaming. It deals with existentialism and the quest for knowledge, Bush’s voice moving from languid, contemplative wonder to frustrated yelping on a whim.

Perhaps the most famous moments of lyrical magic come toward the end of the LP though. Stephen King’s novel The Shining was the driving force behind the shuddering closer ‘Get Out Of My House’, but while it is set in some form of hotel (there’s a repeated mention of the concierge), Bush’s take on King is even more disturbing than the novel. While the house still remains the source of madness (“This house is as old as I am / This house knows all I have done”), and the thunderous percussion only heightens the sense of dread, it’s not the most horrifying element of the track. There’s nothing that inspires more innate terror than hearing Bush and her fellow musicians begin to aggressively bray like donkeys, as if possessed by demonic spirits.

The Dreaming, by contrast, remains the overlooked jewel in her canon. But while it may be challenging and uncompromising, it’s almost hard to imagine what Kate Bush would be like today if she hadn’t released it. A staggeringly bold step forward for her as a singer, songwriter and producer, The Dreaming was a milestone both for Bush herself and the wider world of music” – Drowned in Sound

The result was an internal unity, a more well-paced album than anything she’d done prior. The songs are full of rhythmic drive, moody synth atmospheres, and layered vocals free of the radio-friendly hooks on earlier albums. The sounds that kept her tethered to rock—such as guitar and rock drum cymbals—are mostly absent, as are the strings that sweetened her prior work. The fretless bass—often the masculine sparring partner to her voice—is still omnipresent.

When it works, her narrative portraits render precise individuals in richly drawn scenes—the empathy radiates out. In “Houdini” she fully inhabits the gothic romance of lost love, conjuring the panic, grief, and hope of Harry Houdini’s wife Bess. Bush was taken by Houdini’s belief in the afterlife and Bess’s loyal attempts reach him through séances. Bush conjured the horrified sounds of witnessing a lover die by devouring chocolate and milk to temporarily ruin her voice. Bess was said to pass a key to unlock his bonds through a kiss, the inspiration for the cover art and a larger metaphor for the depth of trust Bush wants in love. We must need what’s in her mouth to survive, and we must get it through a passionate exchange among willing bodies” – Pitchfork

Key Cuts: Sat in Your Lap/All the Love/Get Out of My House

Standout Track: Houdini  

Hounds of Love

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COVER PHOTO: John Carder Bush 

Release Date: 16th September, 1982

Label: EMI

Producer: Kate Bush

Background:

The experience of making The Dreaming was an intense and tiring one. Whilst EMI were not completely happy with the results, lack of sales success and wait since Never for Ever, one cannot argue Bush had a right to push herself and make the album she wanted to, as she wanted to. By 1983, Bush had moved from London to the countryside. She took up dance again (which she had not done for a while); she was eating more healthily (after existing off of fast food a lot previously) and built her own studio. Not only was Bush fitter and more energised but she had the inspiration of the countryside and fresh impetus. EMI were not thrilled she wanted to produce again but, in a different headspace to the one she was in prior to The Dreaming, Hounds of Love is very different album. It remains her most well-received and celebrated work; a moment when her ambitions, songwriting genius and drive coalesced into one of the greatest albums of the 1980s. It is not my favourite but even I cannot argue with the brilliance and importance of Hounds of Love.

Reviews:

The Fairlight was a notoriously expensive and complex computer; the few who could afford and figure out how to play one during their ‘80s heyday were either established stars like Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder who were invested in cutting-edge sounds, or similarly brainy upstarts who funded their techno-pop through production. One such boffin, Landscape’s Richard James Burgess, helped program Bush’s Fairlight on the very first album to feature it, 1980’s Never for Ever, which was also the first UK chart-topping album by a British female solo artist, one that marked a transition between the symphonic sweep of Bush’s earliest albums and what followed.

Imagination’s pull is the subtext to Bush’s entire oeuvre, but that theme dominates Hounds of Love, and not least in the title track. Whereas her piercing upper register once defined her output, here she’s roaring from her gut, then pulling back, and the song shifts between panic and empathy. “Hounds of Love” boasts the big gated ’80s drum blasts Bush discovered while singing background on Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers,” and yet its cello just as percussive: It builds to suggest both her pulse and the heartbeat of the captured fox she comforts and identifies with. She fears love: “It’s coming for me through the trees,” she wails. Yet she craves it, so desire and terror escalate in a breathless Hitchcockian climax” – Pitchfork

Hounds of Love is actually a two-part album (the two sides of the original LP release being the now-lost natural dividing line), consisting of the suites "Hounds of Love" and "The Ninth Wave." The former is steeped in lyrical and sonic sensuality that tends to wash over the listener, while the latter is about the experiences of birth and rebirth. If this sounds like heady stuff, it could be, but Bush never lets the material get too far from its pop trappings and purpose. In some respects, this was also Bush's first fully realized album, done completely on her own terms, made entirely at her own 48-track home studio, to her schedule and preferences, and delivered whole to EMI as a finished work; that history is important, helping to explain the sheer presence of the album's most striking element -- the spirit of experimentation at every turn, in the little details of the sound. That vastly divergent grasp, from the minutiae of each song to the broad sweeping arc of the two suites, all heavily ornamented with layered instrumentation, makes this record wonderfully overpowering as a piece of pop music. Indeed, this reviewer hadn't had so much fun and such a challenge listening to a new album from the U.K. since Abbey Road, and it's pretty plain that Bush listened to (and learned from) a lot of the Beatles' output in her youth” – AllMusic

Key Cuts: The Big Sky/Cloudbusting/Watching You Watching Me

Standout Track: Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)  

FEATURE: Away from the Anger, Foreboding and Seriousness… The Sheer Joy That Music Can Provide

FEATURE:

 

 

Away from the Anger, Foreboding and Seriousness…

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PHOTO CREDIT: @jan_strecha/Unsplash 

The Sheer Joy That Music Can Provide

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THURSDAY was a good day…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @louishansel/Unsplash

because I got to enjoy, alongside many others, the All Day Rave on BBC Radio 6 Music. As the name implies, it was a full day of bangers from years gone by – covering a few genres but most of the songs were from the Dance realm. Listening to the songs through the day, I noticed a couple of things. For one, the amazing sense of release and happiness one gets from hearing these tracks is infectious. Secondly, a lot of the tracks – the vast majority, in fact – were from at least fifteen years ago; most were from the 1980s and 1990s. I shall address that second subject a bit later on but, when we think of music, what do we want to get from it? A lot of us want something emotional that we can connect with whilst others want something more urgent and angered. I think the most important and long-lasting sensation one can get from music is joy. Let’s not confuse joy with escapism – as I have written about this subject before; I shall explain later – because that is unfair to the artists and listeners alike. I was very lucky to grow up in the 1990s and I still recall the dying years of the 1980s: a time when House and Trance were taking hold and that was sitting alongside some pretty epic Pop. Straight into the 1990s and acts like Soul II Soul and Deee-Lite crafted these timeless, colourful jams that we still fondly play today.

I am not suggesting music today has declined and lacks fun but, as I shall explore later, there seems to be a cut-off point where everything from Dance, Pop and Rock sort of lost its edge and sense of uplift. That is an interesting point. I guess many of assume music’s finest and most spirited has to be Pop or Dance but, through the years, some of the most transcendent moments have come from genres like Metal and Rock. In fact, every genre can elevate the soul and I think that quality should not be forgotten. We are experiencing so many problems and crisis’ today and I feel music plays a vital role – not just when it comes to making us feel better but documenting the severity of these issues. I understand we need to tackle everything from climate change to knife crime in music but, away from that, we do need a sense of comfort and pleasure music can provide – without feeling guilty; that goes for new music making music now. Returning to the BBC Radio 6 Music All Day Rave event on Thursday and people flooded onto social media to share their memories and favourite Rave songs. Listening to the luminous, spirited and unifying songs transported me back to my childhood and the music I was listening to through school. I am too young to remember the first blush of House and Rave but I was exposed to these trailblazing tracks before too long.

It is hard to put into words just how powerful and important these tracks are; how important they were regarding my earliest years. As I said, one cannot name-check one or two genres when it comes to bliss and fun: every corner of music has the power to resonate and genuinely make you feel happier. I love the fact music can provoke so many emotions but the thrill of hearing a big chorus or some heavy beats; an instantly memorable tune or an of-the-moment classic…one of the great pleasures of life. Even as early as 1994, which was an unbelievable year for music, there were reports arguing whether Pop has lost its melody and sense of purpose. It is obvious Pop has changed since the 1960s. I still think it had plenty of spark in 1994 but, as this article from last year suggests, things are more repetitive, sadder; less fun and angrier. Maybe it is reflective of modern culture but, at a time when we need happiness and fresh bangers, are we being let down? I do think, interestingly one can compare 1988-2004 with 2004-now. Look at both periods and see how music has changed. Not only have scenes come and gone but music from then is a lot more fun that it is now. That sounds simplistic but think of all the classic anthems and uplifting tunes and, for the most part, they are from that first time bracket.

There was some brilliantly joyous music released after 2004 – that will always be the case – but, largely, music has lost its smile. Even when artists are trying to be fun and anthemic, things sound rather flat, unmemorable or generic. As I have said in multiple pieces, music is not worse than it was but, plainly, it is not as captivating and high-spirited as it once was. The world is not necessarily bleaker than it was in the 1980s, 1990s and early portion of the last decade. There were bad leaders, huge problems and a sense of defeat back then but, rather than combat that with something ultra-real or somber, artists armed themselves with major keys and big tunes and brought them to the people. Maybe commercial tastes have changed, or something is different. Whichever way you look at it, the sound of modern music is a lot different, and less fun, than it used to be. That is okay and, whilst it seems impossible we will ever see a rebirth of heady days past, one cannot underestimate the importance of uplifting music, from whatever period you find it. Some say positive and enlivening songs are escapist because they do not address the realities of life or something serious – most of them are purely about feeling good and getting together. I find it is unfair to say positive songs are escapist. The modern world is as much about togetherness and hope as it is acknowledging big problems we are facing. I do not think the music industry today has the balance it should regarding happier tracks and those that are a bit more social aware.

Even when artists are aiming for something more positive, the end result can often appear quite undercooked or familiar – not a song that will stick in the memory. Whether you spin some Kylie Minogue or The Beatles; a House classic or a track like PM Dawn’s Set Adrift on Memory Bliss to get your spirits flowing, you cannot deny the effect the songs have. Not only does one get that warmth and giddiness but, in terms of emotional health, these songs are essential. Maybe others have their own views as to whether modern music is more mood-lifting than times past but, as I say, one need not be confined by age and modernity regarding music. I do think we forget what music can offer and how deep it can dig. At a moment when we all feel stress and a sense of dread, I feel music has so much to say; not just in regards raising awareness and compelling change but, just as importantly, making us feel better about ourselves. I think some of that lesson is being lost today – the fact so many of us head back in time when we need that cleansing burst speaks volumes. I do really like today’s music but there has been a loss of regret-free energy; no-holds-barred togetherness and pure fun. Maybe it will return but, for now, think about the songs that make you feel good and make you smile – or simply get you moving and take away the stress. I think that is a very precious thing and, to all the artists who lift people around the world on a daily basis: a huge thank you for…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @jakobowens1/Unsplash

BRINGING the fun.

FEATURE: Shining a Light: When Will the Women of Grime Get the Respect and Focus They Deserve?

FEATURE:

 

 

Shining a Light

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Leshurr is one of the strongest voices in British Grime (despite this, women are still in the minority in a genre that is slow to evolve)/PHOTO CREDIT: Derrick Kakembo 

When Will the Women of Grime Get the Respect and Focus They Deserve?

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THIS year has been a busy and eventful one…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Ms. Banks is one of the most underrated Grime artists in the U.K. right now/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

where we have seen some of the best albums of the past decade released. In my view, the best albums have been made by women. Maybe it is the passion on display or a greater sense of variety. In any case, it has been a tremendous one for female artists and, as I keep asking, I hope this reflects next year when festival line-ups are announced. It seems like the issue of under-representation is not going away. I shall come on to black women in Grime (which the BBC documentary/show tackles) but, even in 2019, it seems Grime is a genre that is still struggling to give its female artists a level platform. Whereas some genres are still struggling with gender inequality and not given women enough attention – Country and Metal spring to mind – others are starting to progress and improve. As early as 2016, when there was a wave of impressive female talent emerging, there was little talk regarding creating balance and addressing sexism. Pitchfork reacted to this:

Yet for all the hype surrounding grime’s current wave, not enough of it is devoted to the scene’s women, who are every bit as impressive in their skills. Lady Leshurr is the most visible of grime's women at the moment—for good reason—but her melodic shit-talking is nowhere near as known as it deserves to be. Croydon MC Nadia Rose recently put her own spin on the “Eskimo” instrumental and made it sound as fresh in 2016 as it did in 2002. Ms Banks sets booths on fire, packing mentions of politics, financial aspirations, and female empowerment into one slick verse and wondering if anyone who might question her talent is “feeling alright.”

IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz is a Grime/Rap artist who is inspiring a new wave of female artists/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In a recent interview, Stormzy said that misogyny wasn’t really associated with his genre, or rather that it was more prevalent in hip-hop. The latter point is debatable: Of course misogyny in hip-hop culture has long been a topic of discussion, but if you listen to enough grime, it won’t take long to notice that one of the easiest ways to shut down another contender is to liken them to part of a woman’s anatomy. It took a trifecta of raw talent, determination, and shrewd business sense to propel Nicki Minaj to the top of the rap game, but if she looks around, her cohorts are overwhelmingly male”.

There are people out there – such as photographer Ellie Ramsden - who are not willing to let this discrimination and ignorance continue - but there is, clearly, a problem. Some might say Grime is evolving and more women are entering the scene and, whilst that might be true, are they given the same coverage and opportunities. Look at Grime/Rap artists like Little Simz and the amazing work she is doing. We know Hip-Hop has always had a problem with misogamy and sexism and, even now, there are vastly more men in the genre than women; the same holds true of Grime. I wonder whether it is a case of men controlling the labels and studios; venues holding all-male Grime nights and the media not doing enough to shine a light on the amazing women in Grime.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Whilst Nadia Rose is one of the best Grime artists around, she does not get the same coverage and acclaim as many of her male peers/PHOTO CREDIT: The Squad

2016 seems to be as pivotal year when discussions were happening and great articles emerged that highlighted women pushing Grime forward. The likes of A.G and Julie Adenuga were striking hard but one hardly heard about them in magazines and on the radio – compared to the men, at least. Today, the likes of Little Simz and Lady Leshurr are creating incredible music but, when it comes to the list of the best Grime/Rap tracks of 2019, they are massively in the minority. Earlier this year, a BBC article talked about gender perceptions and how, from clubs to radio stations, the microphone is largely in the hands of male artists – and why Grime and Rap should be judged on merit and not gender. I don’t agree with the opinion Grime is more popular with men because women are not interested: the comparative lack of women is as a result of a lack of acceptance, great women being overlooked and those in a position of power unwilling to promote female artists the same way as men. The BBC feature raised some interesting points:

"Music should be measured on its merit, not on its gender," according to Dotty, the host of the Radio 1Xtra Breakfast Show.

Dotty was a Grime MC herself at one point.

"I think we need to stop looking at 'women in grime' or 'woman in rap' as a separate category," she adds, "and put them on a level playing field with the guys."

 And she says there are stereotypes around the genre that need to be looked at.

"Grime is seen as more of an aggressive genre, and I think we're trying to break out of that. It's about breaking those boundaries and saying 'it's ok for women to do this'."

"We should be further, but you know what? Let's celebrate the fact that we've already made some steps," concludes Lady Fury.

"The world is changing".

It is interesting reading that last point about Grime being aggressive. I do not think genres like Grime and Hip-Hop are violent or angry: it is more about passion and, when it comes to talking about the realities of life, a degree of energy needs to be expended. Are we saying, then, that women cannot be aggressive…or they do not have the prowess and chops to succeed? Grime is about flow and conviction; the poetry and physicality of the moment – women, in all genres, are releasing sensational music with these attributes so why does Grime still struggle to bring women to the forefront?! I think there are misconceptions regarding Grime’s sound and ethos; a feeling that it should be driven by men and that they have the best lines and shout the loudest. Grime and Rap are genres evolving and growing more nuanced as the years go by. Artists are bringing in other sounds and genres to ensure Grime remains pure but is much broader and accessible.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Caroline Simionescu-Marin is a former editor of Grime website GRM Daily and is now a talent scout at the label XL Recordings/PHOTO CREDIT: GRAZIA

When it comes to critics’ lists of the best Hip-Hop and Rap albums, men still dominate…and I wonder whether we will see change. It is a lie to suggest women are inferior regarding the music they put out and they do not want to come into these genres. The fact of the matter is that there are fantastic female artists in Grime but they are not viewed as essential, rich and strong as the men – something that has to stop. Not only does Grime have a problem regarding gender but there is a real issue when it comes to showcasing black women. Again, this is not a new trend and, as we know there are brilliant women in Grime, it is alarming to see so little movement regarding progress. I want to bring in a couple of articles that speak about a lack of black women in Grime getting props. The Guardian investigated the problem last year:

Most “women to watch” lists hailing top female talent in the genre are dominated by white women – in i-D magazine’s 2017 rundown of women in grime, of 10 game-changers listed, only three were black. If lists detailing grime’s male talent saw a dearth of black men, there would be widespread outrage. But when black women are absent, the issue barely registers.

One black male journalist who asked to remain anonymous claimed that male MCs have exacerbated the issue by giving preferential access to white female journalists and presenters. “Grime is built more like an aristocracy than a nation. That’s why they cut out black women”.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Stormzy is one of the most celebrated Grime artists of the moment/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

With fierce talents like NoLay, I wonder whether strong women are a threat to male Grime artists. A lot of male artists are not taking women on tour and collaborating with them. It is a divided genre and one that would be a lot more diverse and harmonious if there was more acknowledgment from men. Here, in this BBC article, the plight of black women is explained:

Whether as MC’s, managers, journalists or taste-makers, black women are underrepresented in Grime.

There is a dearth of successful black female artists, but what is less well known is that behind the scenes, many of the biggest female names who have worked or are still working within the industry are white - Hattie CollinsOlivia RoseHyper FrankChantelle Fiddy to name a few. 

Very few black men and white women are willing to speak up on behalf of black women, perhaps as Dr Joy White, an academic of the Independent Social Research Foundation suggests, for fear of revealing complicity. The majority of insiders willing to put their heads above the parapet, albeit hesitantly, were black women.

Though many were understandably worried about potential repercussions, they spoke openly about the difficulties faced in the industry of which there were several. In the documentary, DJ Kaylee Kay from the platform Girls of Grime spoke about how black women were often written off as ‘bitter’, the angry black woman stereotype colouring their valid grievances before they were even aired.

In asking where the black women are in Grime, we also have to ask where the black women are in any other music genre, particularly in Britain. They tend to be in the same place in each scene – overlooked”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Grime M.C. Lady Fury/PHOTO CREDIT: gene-glover.com

There is a link to a discussion that was held on Woman’s Hour back in 2016 but, three years down the line, has the situation improved greatly? Not only are black women still overlooked but women in Grime are seen as a less important and potent commodity. The fact there has been such little change means some promising Grime artists will be put off and feel their voices will not be taken seriously. It can be controversial talking about women in Grime and, when the issue is posed on social media, you always get comments that say the same things: women are not as interested in Grime as other genres; the strongest and most popular Grime is being made by men and the genre is as open as accepting as any. I do not necessarily agree with any of these notions and feel that, as Grime becomes more popular and important at a time of division, women have a vital role to play. There is still a lot of attention put the way of leaders like Wiley, Stormzy and Dizzee Rascal…what about the legendary women and newcomers who are part of the fabric? There are articles dedicated to pioneering women in Grime; those who have shaped the scene and pushing things forward. I hope 2020 sees Grime making changes and spotlighting the work of women more because, with every passing year, there are discussions around women in Grime and why they are not as prominent/popular as men. One only needs to check out the likes of Nadia Rose, Lady Leshurr and Little Simz to realise what immense…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Ebi Sampson is a rising name in Grime/PHOTO CREDIT: i-D

QUALITY is on display.

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

IN THIS PHOTO: beabadoobee 

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

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NOW that we are properly back…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Gabriella Cilmi/PHOTO CREDIT: @jessbrohier

in the summer groove, it is time for another assortment of sounds from some of the best female artists around. There are songs from multiple genres that should give you a lift when needed but, if you need to kick back a little, there is something in there for you! It has been a busy past couple of weeks and I have been looking around for the best summer-ready sounds. In future weeks, I hope to include more Rock, Country and other genres – looking a little away from Pop. Take a listen to the songs below and I know there will be something in there that will catch your ear. As the weather gets warmer and the sun is blazing, I have some music that will…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Baby Rose

PROVIDE perfect accompaniment.

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

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Gabriella CilmiThe Water

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SharkyTwo Armies

PHOTO CREDIT: IMPOSE

Maria UsbeckNostalgia 

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PHOTO CREDIT: West Smith

Great GrandpaMono no Aware

BAUMBad Kid

Chelcee GrimesTime to Talk

Olivia NelsonEverything

MahaliaSquare 1

beabadoobeeShe Plays Bass

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IN THIS PHOTO: Bea Miller

Bea Miller, Jessie ReyezFEELS LIKE HOME

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Kelsy KarterLiquor Store on Mars

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LitanyGo Out

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PixeySupersonic Love

Phoebe GreenEasy Peeler

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Sampa the Great Freedom 

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PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch

Tanya TuckerHard Luck

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Nikita BassiRescue 

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Baby RoseIn Your Arms

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Marian Hill, Douniatake a Number

Bibi Bourelly - Wet

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Virgin MiriBoy Story

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Anna Meredithmoonmoons

MUNAStayaway

Vera HotsauceOne Time

Sofia WolfsonNothing’s Real

FEATURE: The August Playlist: Vol. 4: A Sketch Artist for the People

FEATURE:

 

The August Playlist

IN THIS PHOTO: Kim Gordon captured in 2013/PHOTO CREDIT: Sebastian Kim 

Vol. 4: A Sketch Artist for the People

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A fair few mighty releases…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Taylor Swift/PHOTO CREDIT: Valheria Rocha/TAS Rights Management

have cropped up this week. Not only is there a new song from The 1975, People, but Kim Gordon has released a track – the incredible Sketch Artist. It is a welcome return and one that joins tracks from Sampa the Great, Elbow; Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey and Missy Elliott – some seriously powerful and special female performers. That is not to say there is a lack of wonder elsewhere but this week is an especially memorable one for mainstream artists. I love what is on offer and I know you will find plenty to immerse yourself in. Across multiple genres, here are some wonderful songs that will give the weekend a proper kick. Put them on, turn the volume up and let the music…

 IN THIS PHOTO: The 1975

GET inside the head.  

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

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PHOTO CREDIT: Olivia Bee 

Kim Gordon - Sketch Artist

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Elbow Empires

Sampa the Great Freedom

The 1975 People

Taylor Swift Afterglow

Lana Del Rey Fuck It, I Love You

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Bat for Lashes Jasmine

Missy Elliott - Throw It Back

Declan McKenna - British Bombs

Sea Girls Violet

Sheryl CrowStory of Everything

Feeder Blue Sky Blue

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - This Is the Place

Swim Deep - Sail Away, Say Goodbye

Charli XCX Miss U

Spector Half Life

PHOTO CREDIT: Helen Moga

Tacocat - Crystal Ball

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Anna Meredithmoonmoons

KAWALAPlay It Right

MUNAStayaway

Alessia Cara OKAY OKAY

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ashlan Grey

BROCKHAMPTON No Halo

Ava MaxTorn

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PHOTO CREDIT: Akira Ruiz

Stefflon DonHIT ME up

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YUNGBLUDDie a Little

DIIV - Taker

TRACK REVIEW: Bat for Lashes - Jasmine

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Bat for Lashes

Jasmine

 

9.4/10

 

 

The track, Jasmine, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMPnYQi9Wpw

GENRES:

Indie-Pop/Dream-Pop

ORIGIN:

London, U.K./Los Angeles, U.S.A.

LABELS:

Bat for Lashes/AWAL Recordings Ltd.

The album, Lost Girls, is available from 6th September. Pre-order here:

https://www.batforlashes.com/shop?gclid=d2cstore_DSP_BTN

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EVERY big artist I review…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bat for Lashes were in session for Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC Radio 6 Music recently/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music

allows me to step into a different genre and type of music. Today, I am focusing on Bat for Lashes. The alias of Natasha Khan, I have been following her music for quite a few years now. Before I get to her latest single, I want to talk about a few things relevant to her. I will discuss influences and the physical and emotional aspects that have compelled her music; the 1980s sounds and matching that with some nostalgic, intriguing concepts; the stage in a career where one makes decisions and has to decide whether they are going to go on; changing her landscape and the fact it might have reinvigorated something – I will end by suggesting where Bat for Lashes might head and what the future holds. Let’s start off with some inspirations for Khan; things that have compelled her sound. I think she is one of the most special and powerful voices in music at the moment and she always comes up with something deep and personal. I listened to her a week or so ago and she was performing a live session for Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC Radio 6 Music. It was a great performance and, with only one other musician alongside her, it was hard not to be moved and affected. The voice of Bat for Lashes is incredible and you can hear one or two different sources of inspiration. To me, Kate Bush is the name that stands out. That is not to say Natasha Khan is too clearly guided by Bush but it is clear the icon is a very important to her. I remember watching the Kate Bush documentary from 2014, Running Up That Hill, and seeing Bat for Lashes’ Khan talking about Bush and what she means to her. You can hear some parallels and, when I listen to a Bat for Lashes song, it is hard not to be reminded of Kate Bush. I think that is a good thing because, not only is Bush always welcome in modern artists but, rather than copy her voice or stray too close, Bat for Lashes’ sound mixes a bit of Bush but has so much unique personality.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music

You just know music means everything to Khan and she wants to put her everything onto the page. I will talk about her physical relocation in a minute but, when it comes to her approaching album, Lost Girls, I think there is this new phase beginning. This is not to say the past few years have been tough for Bat for Lashes but one can hear a sort of rebirth happening. 2016’s The Bride is a remarkable album but, in terms of feeling and tone, Lost Girls is very different. Maybe 2016’s record was compelled by some personal loss or the feeling of disconnection. Although it was a concept album (mostly) about a bride figure, one could hear a lot of Bat for Lashes’ heroine in the mix. The album resonated with fans and critics alike and, when listening back, you are startled by the emotion coming through in the songs. I think Natasha Khan has taken stock and is entering a new stage. Although Lost Girls has plenty of big questions to ask and big emotions to tackle, it does appear more optimistic. That is just my impression, perhaps. Every great artist develops and changes through time and it is fascinating seeing how the music of Bat for Lashes grows and shifts. I have always had so much respect for Natasha Khan because she never stands still and does the same thing: each album seems like a whole new world; a way for her to explore new scenes, themes and ideas. She is one of the best songwriters you’ll hear because, not only does one hear that honesty and heartfelt expression but there is so much happening in the music. You listen to her tracks and feel one way upon the first listen. Go back in and you experience something new. It is wonderful when an artist/song can do that and, with Bat for Lashes, the music reveals fresh layers with every visit. I shall move on to a new theme now but, before I do, I would recommend people pre-order Lost Girls (the link is at the top of this review) because it is going to be an album you’ll definitely need in your collection.  

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Dewe Matthews

I have been writing a few pieces regarding the music of now and how it differs to the stuff I grow up around. I was born in the 1980s but most of my memories come from the 1990s. I am not suggesting the music back then is superior to what is coming out now but so many artists for today are looking back. The 1980s is a decade that will never go out of fashion. I am not sure what it is but I think there is something wonderful comforting and uplifting about 1980s music. Maybe some of the tunes back then were cheesy but I think today’s music is so polished that artists want to bring it back to past days and create something that sounds a bit less modern. Especially in Pop music, there is this emphasis on certain sounds and I feel, for the most part, you get something that sounds too mechanical, processed and soulless. The 1980s’ sound is one that is influencing artists across so many different genres. For Khan, there are a couple of different ways she has brought that decade into the fold. Sound-wise, one can hear some nods to the 1980s. More than that, it seems like films of the 1980s has guided her latest album, Lost Girls. I really love the idea of the 1980s’ films rubbing off on an artist but, in very many ways, Khan is taking us back in time. When speaking with NME about Lost Girls, Natasha Khan had this to say:

 “I was developing a script for a film called The Lost Girls. It was heavily influenced by 80s children’s films and vampire films, many set in Portland and California,” Khan explained. “But as the songs progressed, I felt like I was writing the film soundtrack. Music does tend to overtake film ideas, as it comes out much more easily.

“The Lost Boys, obviously, is a close link, and seeing LA’s hazy sunsets is making me think of films like ET and The Goonies. Moving to LA, I’ve basically been plonked inside the sets of all the films I loved as a kid.”

“I didn’t even know whether I was going to make an album again – I wanted to have a real break and leave everything behind me. And so when this album started happening, it was sort of a secret – and nobody really knew about it until it was nearly done”.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Legato

As I say, I think a lot of artists are incorporating the 1980s into their recent work – everyone from Shura to Muse have found inspiration in the 1980s and sort of spliced it with their own sound. It is not just nostalgia we are seeing here. I think the 1980s is maligned and unfairly treated; it has this reputation for being a bit naff but, as so many modern artists are bringing the 1980s to the next generation, I do think we need a reappraisal. If Lost Girls is a soundtrack to a film yet to see the light of the day, it makes me wonder when we might get that film. It is pleasing hearing 1980s strands in Khan’s latest work and I do really get drawn to this concept of a gang of biker girls in the U.S. in the 1980s. I have heard some interviews Khan gave recently and it seems like it might happen – a Khan-directed film where we see this gang in leather riding across America; maybe it will have a vampirical edge or it is a slice of 1980s throwback. Whatever form it takes, it seems like this concept has been in Khan’s mind for a long time. Even from the start, Bat for Lashes’ music has had a touch of the 1980s but, on the latest record, I think the influence of the decade is extending beyond music itself – there is a real love of the films and culture of the time. It will be interesting to see how the 1980s sort of materialises itself in Lost Girls and whether we see a flick from Natasha Khan in the future. Although it has been a very busy and changeable last couple of years for Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan, she has settled in a new city and seems to have, as I said, found new lease. Maybe the transition from the U.K. to the U.S. has opened her horizons and made her dream again.

Whatever the explanation, there was a moment when Bat for Lashes might not have existed – Khan feeling like it was time to call things off. If Lost Girls is, on one level, about Khan moving and settling somewhere fresh, there is a sense of discovery and loss on the album – trying to find identity and a place in a world that is changing. These themes have been present in quite a few Bat for Lashes albums. I want to bring in an interview from 2016 where Khan talked about The Bride and its influences:

One of the album’s bravest elements is to question what exactly constitutes a happy ending for a woman. “At the beginning the bride thinks ‘happily ever after’ is her success at being able to fulfil this ritual, for everyone else to see she’s accomplished it. There’s a valid ‘happily ever after’ in that, but she can’t fulfil that, and by the end it’s much more about coming to another stage of maturity and realising that it doesn’t really matter what happens externally, unless you love yourself and feel some sense of self and grounding and connection to what makes you happy internally.”

It is interesting to consider why Natasha Khan moved to the U.S. but I think the landscape and the film industry are all reasons. She has expressed her desire to direct films and, with fresh vistas and views before her, it is going to spark the creative imagination. Our heroine is embarking on fresh challenges and it seems like she is a much better space. Before moving on, I want to bring in a recent interview she gave with The Guardian about Lost Girls and Khan’s musical start:

 “You’ve talked about wanting this new album to be fun, full of romance and more commercial. How did it come about?

I had moved away from London, where I’d lived for seven years, and finished my contract with EMI. My plan initially was to go to Los Angeles to focus on scriptwriting and doing music for film. The first song on the album, Kids in the Dark, was actually written for a Stephen King TV series [Castle Rock] – but the music supervisor Charles [Scott] and I had such a good time that we decided to keep meeting. I didn’t even know whether I was going to make an album again – I wanted to have a real break and leave everything behind me. And so when this album started happening, it was sort of a secret – and nobody really knew about it until it was nearly done.

What switched you on to music?

I saw Michael Jackson on his Bad tour when I was nine, with my mum, and I remember his Thriller video coming out – that was really exciting. And later on, seeing how pop musicians like Kate Bush and David Bowie were using the more theatrical aspects of music had a big influence on me. At art college, the way we approached music was very closely linked with visual art and performance. With my first band I said, “I want us to make headdresses”, and so we’d go down to the haberdashery and buy a bunch of sequins and old lady brooches in antique shops. It was a hodgepodge and it probably didn’t even make sense, but I was trying to figure out how we were going to stand out on stage and express ourselves in a playful way.

By temperament, do you lean towards sunny Californian optimism or British gloom?

I go between the two. I think this album is demonstrating a side of me that’s happy and loves to dance, laugh and be silly – that’s a big part of who I am. I spent a long time trawling the depths and the darkness in my music. But being in LA, maybe it has liberated that side of me that is more fun”.

That feeling that Khan has been liberated and feels happier is good to hear. The 1980s, the darkness of L.A. and other themes will be explored in Lost Girls but I keep thinking of the future and this idea of Khan as a director. Maybe that will manifest itself as music videos and documentaries but I do think there is a path into films she could explore. It is obvious Khan has a real passion for film and has visions that extend beyond music. Maybe this is a few years in the future but one cannot bet against Khan directed some flicks very soon.

Before I come to reviewing her latest track, Jasmine, I wanted to spend some time with Bat for Lashes’ future. I will nod more to this in the conclusion but, as Natasha Khan has moved to a new city, I do think the next few years will be exciting. Khan has been asked about her age – not in a rude way – and the fact she turns forty very soon. For a lot of songwriters, this might suggest a new creative phase and adopting a new sound. Not that this stage of life is extreme but, in commercial terms, you will get eyebrows raised and many will jump to conclusions. It is a sad state of affairs when the media and radio stations sort of judge artists on their age and limit them. Khan is as vibrant and spellbinding as ever and I know her music will be played on the same stations now as they always have been. Rather than see the approach of forty as a musical transition and commercial shift - as Bat for Lashes will not be confined and ignored – I do get the feeling Natasha Khan is more optimistic about the future. I sense this longing for something deeper and more fulfilling than music alone. Maybe that is love or a long-term relationship but, as she is in the U.S., I think – as I have said – Khan will step into filmmaking and take on more creative responsibilities. It does seem like she is embracing life right now and I cannot wait to see what happens to her. There are few acts like Bat for Lashes and, now Khan is based where she is, there will be a lot of big gigs in the U.S.

From the opening notes of Jasmine, you are transported into the screen. The synths bubble and explore with colour but you get this real rush. I was instantly transported into a film and an opening scene. Such is the power and physicality of the introduction that one cannot help but be captivated and gripped. Compared to some of her previous tracks, Khan’s voice is more whispered and deep. We know that Lost Girls sort of refers to this idea of a gang of biker girls but I think there is a wider meaning to the album – mixing personal transition and an idea of discovery after disconnection. One feels Jasmine is this heroine that is looking for her place. The opening lines are paired with some great beats and synth lines. It is a heady brew and one that gives the vocal and lyrics push and fizz. Although some of the words are quite oblique – “Legs for days and bones of pearl” -, it seems like this woman might be fleeing from something. Maybe this is just my spin but I feel like Jasmine is this inspiring figure who, whilst she has come from a bad place, she wants to make a new life for herself. Khan sings about Jasmine taking her in the night and leading her somewhere; coming on strong and stepping into a new world. I think Khan and Jasmine might be one of the same; maybe they have found one another at a perfect time but it is fascinating to wonder and conspire. I love what Khan does with her voice in the verses. She is a lot softer and deeper than previous tracks and it is almost like she is narrating the plight of the heroine. The chorus changes the tone and we get a higher-pitched and more spirited delivery. The heady bliss of the chorus and all its amazing beats, synths and sounds infuses the imagination and you cannot help but project this 1980s film.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Dewe Matthews

Everyone will have their own interpretation but, as I am reviewing Jasmine on its own rather than in the context of Lost Girls, maybe it will have different meaning in the context of the album. In my mind, this is a night-time scene where Khan is being led into the hills or being awoken by this strange and intoxicating woman. As the song progresses, the lyrics become more evocative and dark. Khan warns (us or herself) not to be seduced by “those baby blues”; the little girl “cuts your heart in two”. I was wondering whether Jasmine is this bad influence who is a seductress and hunter in the night or someone who opens your senses and eyes. Maybe there is a combination of the two. Thinking about Khan’s concept of biker girls, maybe Jasmine is this tough and killer figure who sort of beckons you in and then strikes. Everyone will see the song differently but that is the brilliance of a Bat for Lashes song: there is so much life and so many possibilities working away. Khan herself will know the truth but she never gives too much away. Instead, the listener has license to wander and they can come to their own conclusions. The brighter and more spirited chorus works well against the twilight verses – that are seductive and foreboding in equal measures. Towards the end of the track, Khan mentions a body bag “on eucalyptus hills” and sleeping pills; the fact Jasmine can cure your “night-time ills” and, when she blooms, she kills. I love the language used in the song and what visions come to mind. I get this picture of Jasmine as being slightly vampire-like but a free spirit who wants to liberate those around her. You come back to Jasmine time and time again because it such a heady and fascinating song. It is a brilliant number from Bat for Lashes and proves that Lost Girls is an album you will not want to miss out on. If you are unfamiliar with Bat for Lashes or a new convert, you will be addicted and engrossed because the music gets stronger the more you listen. It goes to show that Natasha Khan is a songwriter in a league of her own.

I have spoken a lot about Bat for Lashes and everything from the 1980s to reinvention. Looking ahead, I think there will be more albums from the always-intriguing Natasha Khan. I see films in her future but, from a musical perspective, maybe there will be more albums like Lost Girls. There was a time when Khan was going to jack things in and where she considered ending her career. Maybe that was a result of fatigue or a sense that she needed some time out. Every artist reaching that point where they wonder about the future and whether music is going to play a part. I think relocation has done Khan the world of good and it seems like she has found her footing. I do also think Bat for Lashes is underrated in the larger conversation and many overlook the potency and beauty of the music. The modern scene is very busy and competitive but, from the extraordinary Fur and Gold in 2006 to now, Bat for Lashes has stunned and amazed. I would recommend people check out previous Bat for Lashes albums and see how Khan has developed as a songwriter. That leaves us with the question of what comes next. In the immediate future, Bat for Lashes will be promoting the latest album and there will be a lot of positive reviews coming through. Khan’s grace and sheer talent has won the critical ear but, as she explores new ground, I think many more fans and followers will come on board. It looks like Khan is splitting her time between L.A. and the U.K. at the moment and you can see where Bat for Lashes are playing next. I do think there will be a lot more dates added to the diary and it will be a very busy future for Khan and co. I am writing a feature at the moment that asks whether modern music has lost its sense of fun and ability to lift the spirit. I do think, when we need that wave of joy and energy, we often look to the past and the songs we grew up around.

 PHOTO CREDIT: David Levene

One can never dismiss modern music but I think there is too much emphasis on the serious; artists lacking that understanding that, even in these tough times, we all need something positive and uplifting to get behind. In many ways, Bat for Lashes can produce optimism and hope in the darkest moments. There is definite beauty to be found but, when you listen to Bat for Lashes, you do feel restored and driven. Even when you are listening to a more emotive and tear-eyed song that digs into the heart, one thinks about themselves and finds something hidden that was missing – a sense of purpose, place and soul. Maybe that is just me but I do think, as I said earlier, Bat for Lashes’ music has so much depth and longevity. You cannot judge it upon the first listen: people need to keep coming back to the songs because they are so arresting and nuanced. Maybe that nods to one of Khan’s heroes, Kate Bush, and the sheer attention and passion that go into every song. I will wrap up soon but I would recommend you get involved with Lost Girls and, if you can, go and see Bat for Lashes play. They are in London at the moment and there are chances for people here to go and see an incredible musical force. Jasmine is an exceptional song but not one that defines Lost Girls. I wonder whether you’d call the album conceptual because there are different stories and scenes that play out. It makes me curious as to whether we will see a Lost Girls film set in the 1980s in L.A. Many people would love to see what and I know it will be in Natasha Khan’s mind. Let’s end things here and, in a great year for music, Bat for Lashes are hitting hard and strong. I would not be surprised to see Lost Girls crowned one of the best albums of this year come December. One can hear this new spark in Khan’s voice and a fresh ambition in her music. It is an exciting time for her and it makes me wonder just…

WHERE she heads next.

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Follow Bat for Lashes

FEATURE: No Man’s Land? Is Frank Turner’s Latest Album Mansplaining or a Progressive Step?

FEATURE:

 

No Man’s Land?

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IN THIS PHOTO: Frank Turner/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Is Frank Turner’s Latest Album Mansplaining or a Progressive Step?

__________

THERE is always a danger when a male artist...

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puts himself in a woman’s shoes. By that, in musical terms, it can be seen as mansplaining and patronising if they take the mantle of truth-teller and activist; to tell the story of women and, to be fair, many ask why men need to do that. I write a lot about gender equality and issues but, at no point, do I assume to know what a woman feels and what the reality is. I try to portray facts and call for change but, even when I am writing about something like festivals being too male-heavy, a part of me asks whether I am the right person to do it and whether I am crossing a line. Of course, it is important each gender discusses sexism and raises awareness but getting the tone right is important. If I was to write in a very simple and condescended way then that might be wrong: similarly, if I was too factual or detached then it might seem cold and meaningless. I do think we all need to raise awareness regarding women in music and not just stop at the current crop. So many idols and icons are being overlooked or their contributions forgotten. One artist who is keen to document the important contribution of some of history’s most important women in Frank Turner. On his new album, No Man’s Land, he has written thirteen songs for women who warrant greater acclaim.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Whilst the sentiment is admirable, some quarters have accused Turner of mansplaining or being a bit ‘flexible’ regarding facts and the real truth. This BBC article explains further:

Called No Man's Land, it unleashes his "inner history nerd", collecting the stories of 13 women who don't always get their dues, from rock 'n' roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe to dancer-turned-spy Mata Hari.

"The interesting thing is, you can't just put a name on a piece of paper and go, 'Write a song about her'. There has to be a hook," he explains.

"So, for example, I am fascinated by the story of Amelia Earhart - she was gay, she was the first woman who flew trans-Atlantic, she crash-landed in the desert, no-one knows where she's buried - but I couldn't quite find the way in, so I very reluctantly put that one on the backburner.

"Whereas, with someone like [Egyptian activist] Huda Sha'arawi, there's a moment where she arrives at Cairo train station in 1923 and removes her face veil and says, 'Enough!'

"Well, there you go: There's your central image, there's your chorus."

Despite that, he's been accused of "mansplaining" history, perpetuating a pattern of male writers telling stories that belong to women.

"By positioning himself at the centre of proceedings, he's inadvertently fishing for a pat on the back," wrote El Hunt in one such column for the NME.

Turner acknowledges "there are sensible, intelligent questions being raised about my presentation of this record".

"But I don't feel I'm crowding out other voices, I don't know of anyone else who's writing songs about Huda Sha'arawi right now.

"I mean, I can write a record about lesser-known historical men if you want, but it doesn't seem particularly worth my time."

More broadly, he says, it's important for men to acknowledge how women have been subjugated and mistreated”.

Turner himself, as I will source in a minute, has defended his objectives in an extensive blog post where he explains why he has written the album and, rather than write about himself again, why shouldn’t he focus on some forgotten women? It is rare for a male artist to write about women in this way, but things can get complicated. On the one hand, if no male artist took the trouble to write about women and highlight something deep then they would be accused of sexism or ignorance. On the other hand, if their voice is the main one on a record about women then they get criticism regarding motives and authenticity. The subject as to whether the songs are any good is another factor – I am not a huge Frank Turner fan but they are pretty good -, but that debate as to whether men are right to talk about women’s plight is an interesting one that has drawn a lot of response on social media and in the music press.

Before I source a review of No Man’s Land and add my own thoughts – ironically, even this sounds like mansplaining: you can see how sensitivity and a balanced voice needs to be employed! -, I want to bring in Turner’s explanation as to why he recorded No Man’s Land – many have seen this blog post as a bit defensive and shying away from addressing critics head-on:

My answer comes in two parts. Firstly, for the most part, these are stories that have not and are not being told right now, and I think they deserve to be. I feel like I’m not crowding out other voices in releasing these songs. It seems to me that songs about Huda Sha’arawi and Catherine Blake, to name but two, are rather thin on the ground right now, as far as I’m aware. I’ve learned so much in researching and writing this project, and I’d like to share that knowledge. And, given the streaming world we live in, me putting out a collection of songs doesn’t lessen the bandwidth for other writers to make their own statements.

Secondly, I’d flip the question a bit. I’m a songwriter and a singer, writing and releasing (and then promoting) music is what I do. I could write another album about my own life, or I suppose a record about men from history, but I’m not sure I see the point (especially the latter option), and it doesn’t catch my creative interest right now. For better or worse, I have an audience who are interested in the music I make, and who will listen to the next album I put out. Having a platform, why not use it for something more interesting or worthwhile?

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IN THIS PHOTO: Frank Turner with producer Catherine Marks/PHOTO CREDIT: Frank Turner

I have not tried to present this record as an aggressively feminist statement. I have no issue with that word – in fact I’m very much in favour of feminism, and equality in general. But putting that first would seem overbearing to me. I’m not trying to lead a parade I have no right to lead. My approach is perhaps best summed up by the name of a group I do a lot of work with on tour – The Ally Coalition (an LGBTQ+ rights group). It seems to me that my best contribution to all of this is to be just that, an ally, to use whatever platform I have to steer the conversation amongst my audience into better territory as best I can.

Some people have queried the lack of “prominent” female voices on the record itself. Well, I’d argue that prominence is in the eye of the beholder – all the women who played on (and produced) the record were fantastic players who are prominent in my eyes. Of course, I am ultimately singing and playing the songs that I wrote, but given my job description, that doesn’t seem especially weird to me. Naturally, my own character and viewpoint tends to come through in my own writing, like it or not. Then again, I’d argue that Mary Beard’s voice and outlook is pretty prominent in her (excellent) books, and that’s not often considered a problem”.

Musically, I think it is interesting stepping away from the clichés of love and personal focus; there is a new style of storytelling and, whilst some of the history on No Man’s Land has been lost, it is good to see an artist doing something different. The reviews have been mixed so far. NME, when they reviewed the album, had this to say:

This incessant backpedalling and self-defence does a few things. Firstly, it shows a redeeming willingness to engage with his critics. Secondly – and vitally – it poses a simple question: what’s Frank Turner’s role in all of this? Reading a press release will tell you that Marks produced the record, and the instrumentation is an all-female job, but when you stick on ‘No Man’s Land’, it sounds like a Frank Turner record. That’s fine in itself, but he remains so relentlessly front-and-centre throughout that all the supposed reassurances he’s given across the promotional campaign for the album mean very little.

Musically, ‘No Man’s Land’ flits from old-style folk-punk on opener ‘Jenny Bigham’s Ghost’ to the grand, sweeping ‘I Believed You, William Blake’ to ‘Sister Rosetta’, which adopts the radio-friendly folk-rock he’s become a master of. Yet it does little to either push Turner forward or tell these stories satisfactorily. ‘I Am Easy To Find’, the new album from The National, comes to mind when listening to ‘No Man’s Land’. Accompanied by a short film starring Alicia Vikander, the record loosely tracks a woman’s lifetime, and is heavily punctuated by female voices that soundtrack the highest highs and lowest lows of the protagonist.

There’s no doubt that the stories of the women spoken about here are well worth telling, but you shouldn’t need to read a defensive blog post to work out what it’s all about, and on listening to the record, their voices are consistently overshadowed by Turner’s. Should’ve just made us a Spotify playlist instead, mate”.

I do feel it is important for men to talk about sexism and gender inequality and do so in a way that is compassionate and supportive. As I said, I sometimes wonder how my articles regarding gender inequality are seen and whether, as a man, some feel I am taking liberties. I, like Frank Turner, have my heart in the right place and I often quote from articles that talk to women. Going forward, I think it is important, even when reporting fact and something we all know, to bring female musicians and those in the industry into the mix. Otherwise, my work might come off as a little ironic – given the fact I am supporting women but not actually incorporating their viewpoints in my work! The same criticism has been levied at Turner who, whilst admirable in his goals, has not included female artists. I do not think, like some do, that Turner was wrong to write No Man’s Land in the first place: male artists have a right to do what Turner has done and should not have to defend themselves on that front. Whilst he didn’t need to remove his voice altogether, I wonder whether Turner should have included female artists to sing on each track; maybe sourcing from the mainstream, underground and unusual sources to ensure these stories had a greater sense of truth and purity – is Turner, as narrator, taking the spotlight away from the women he is singing about?!

I definitely feel Turner should be on the record and present, but it would have been good to bring women in. I am sure he has a long list of women he knows or would want to collaborate with so, maybe, that was a missed opportunity. NME’s review suggested Turner should have just put a playlist out, but I think that is insincere and does a disservice to the women he has included on No Man’s Land. Once more, it comes down to creating that balance and getting the tone right. As it sounds, many feel Turner is employing too much of his own voice to tell the stories of women whose voices are being ignored today. Obviously, he could not resurrect them and get their voices on the record but, as this album celebrates important women, having female voices on the album would have deflected a lot of criticism – the fact Catherine Marks oversaw a lot of the recording is being overlooked and I think it is important to note at this stage. Turner is a great songwriter and his objectives are noble. At a time when there is still a way to go until parity occurs, it is vital we encourage people to speak but, of course, ensure women are not being spoken for. Some have suggested that men in general should not tell the stories of women. I would disagree strongly and feel that this sends a very poor message.

I think, in the case of Frank Turner, it would have been a good step, musically and socially, for Turner to include women. That might not have pleased every critic, but I do feel it would have wise. Regardless, I feel Turner has come under a lot of flack for mansplaining when that was not his aim. I feel men have every right to bring women’s rights and past into music and it is important they have a voice. Perhaps, for any other artist looking to create their own No Man’s Land, ensuring there are female voices as part of the narrative is sage. On the surface, it seems like Turner is speaking for women rather than telling stories nobody else is. It is a bit of a tricky debate…but I think, as I said, his heart was in the right place. A lot of undue and unfair criticism has landed at Turner’s feet and it has raised some hackles. I think the most effective way to spotlight history’s forgotten women is to bring them into music but ensure, with that, you have women’s voices in the mix – rather than feeling, full stop, a man should not embark on such a project. Rather than being talked about as a progressive release and a step forward, No Man’s Land has come under fire from various sides of the fence. Turner’s robust defence of the album ahead of the time helped fuel some of that criticism but maybe he should just have addressed criticism when it came rather than writing a long blog post. It is a shame because, for an album that was meant to be noble, illuminating and inspiring, No Man’s Land – this could have been avoided – seems like a bit of…

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Frank Turner

A step backwards.

FEATURE: Supersonic: Oasis’ Definitely Maybe at Twenty-Five: A Mighty Storm

FEATURE:

 

Supersonic

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SLEEVE CONCEPT: Brian Cannon for Microdot/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Spencer Jones 

Oasis’ Definitely Maybe at Twenty-Five: A Mighty Storm

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I do not intent to write a feature about...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Oasis in 1994/IMAGE CREDIT: Kevin Cummins

every album that turns twenty-five this year but, as it was such a phenomenal year for music, it is only write I allude to a few of these classics. I have already discussed Portishead’s Dummy and Jeff Buckley’s Grace – Oasis’ Definitely Maybe was released just a few days after both albums; all three were released within a week of one another! I know there have been other years where a trio of epic albums have been released so close together but, in this case, all three are very different. I look back at 1994 and all of these scenes working away. In terms of debut albums, there are few as important, swaggering and memorable as Oasis’ Definitely Maybe. The band would go on to record some pretty big albums but, by their third album in 1997, they were losing focus and what made them special – 1997’s Be Here Now is overblown, overlong and only contains a couple of good tunes. Oasis formed back in 1991 and consisted Liam and Noel Gallagher, Paul Arthurs; Tony McCarroll and Paul McGuigan. Noel Gallagher was actually the last to join the band and was a bit reticent at first. He insisted that, if he were to join, he would take control and the band would aim for something akin to world domination – an arrogant and unreasonable plea but, looking back, where would the band be without him?! It was clear Noel Gallagher has a songwriting gift and, with Liam providing these raw and urgent vocals, there was no doubt Oasis would be a success.

Despite the newly-cemented band heading into the studio with a clear vision, sessions under producer Dave Batchelor were unsatisfactory. The guys wanted this emphatic sound to come through: when they listed to the playback, tracks were reedy and too clean. For a working-class band with bags of confidence, a more commercial and watered-down sound was emerging. With the sessions running into hundreds of pounds a day, there was some tension. Whilst Batchelor was let go, Noel Gallagher tried to do his best with the tracks he had but it was clear there was little force and energy – not what we’d hear on the finished version at least. After a rather ‘messy’ trip to Amsterdam, the group set about working on the album at Sawmill Studios in Cornwall. With Mark Coyle co-producing alongside Noel Gallagher, the group found a way of replicating a live sound and really going for it. Still, with a move forward came this feeling that the album was still not clicking. Engineer Owen Morris was drafted in and, after hearing the results from Oasis’ time at Sawmill, he knew they needed new direction – Noel Gallagher was growing angry and, rather than completely starting from scratch, Morris stripped some of the layers away and fine-tuned where need. Rather than having this overly-loud album or something too polished, what we hear on Definitely Maybe is something thrilling and real. There is a bit of polish here and there but it is the vitality and physicality of the album that takes you back.

There is so much emotion, energy and delight through the album; a band sticking their chests out but, rather than being arrogant and egotistical throughout, there are moments of uplift, joy and togetherness. That, to me and so many others, is what Definitely Maybe is all about: the feeling we could do anything; there are no troubles and we need to embrace the moment. Twenty-five years after its release and Definitely Maybe sounds completely essential and fresh. I think there are very few bands like Oasis around today and, in many ways, I wonder whether the days of the working-class band at the forefront is gone. Regardless, just listen to all the pearls and peaches on the album and it is amazing this once-troubled record sounds so good! Shakemaker and Live Forever; Supersonic and Slide Away. There is so much range and barely a wasted note to be heard. The music sounds tight yet has a loose feeling; there are big choruses but some great instrumental moments. It is a thrill-ride from start to finish and I remember being around when it came out – I sort of feel sorry for those who were not alive in 1994. To celebrate twenty-five years of a musical colossus, there will be a reissue. Here, Louder Sound report the news:

The reissue will launch on August 29 through Big Brother Recordings, while a double picture disc will be released the following day exclusively through the band's website.

Oasis fans are also being encouraged to share their memories of the album on social media using the hashtag #DefMaybe25”.

The reviews for Oasis’ Definitely Maybe were hugely positive and I have not actually seen a bad review for the album. In this review, AllMusic give their impressions:

It is a furious, inspiring record, a rallying cry for the downtrodden to rise above and seize their day but, most of all, it's a blast of potent, incendiary rock & roll. Soon after its release, Noel Gallagher would be hailed as the finest songwriter of his generation, an odd designation for a guy drawn to moon/June rhymes, but his brilliance lies in his bold strokes. He never shied away from the obvious, and his confidence in his reappropriation of cliches lends these bromides a new power, as do his strong, sinewy melodies -- so powerful, it doesn't matter if they were snatched from elsewhere (as they were on "Shakermaker" or the B-side "Fade Away"). The other secret is of course Noel's brother, Liam, the greatest rock & roll vocalist of his generation, a force of nature who never seems to consider either the past or the present but rather exists in an ever-present now. He sometimes sighs but usually sneers, shaking off any doubt and acting like the rock & roll star Noel so wanted to be. This tension would soon rip the group apart but here on Oasis' debut, this chemistry is an addictive energy, so Definitely Maybe winds up a rare thing: it has the foundation of a classic album wrapped in the energy of a band who can't conceive a future beyond the sunset”.

In another review, the BBC had their say:

So how did two punters from Burnage, an unremarkable area of Manchester, become so famous? Despite the fact that the second album, (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory, sold more copies and propelled them to tabloid superstardom and 10 Downing Street, the answers are all here.

The album kicks off with Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, which Noel has since said was the end of everything he wanted to say as a songwriter. He’s right in a sense, as it’s easily one of the greatest songs about being up on stage ever written. On arguably Liam’s greatest ever vocal performance he goads all-comers with: "You’re not down with who I am / Look at you now you’re all in my hands tonight." And that’s without even considering the attendant guitar riffs that snag your brain like barbed wire on your best jumper. If you’ve got a mate or relative who’s having a bad time of it, play them this, then watch them grow 10 feet tall and walk down the street like they rule the whole world”.

Although at this point it’s easy to imagine the faces of every other British band of the time sadly searching the classifieds for a new vocation, there are still 10 more tracks left. How about Supersonic, a sky-scraping anthem about individuality adopted by the masses? Or Cigarettes and Alcohol, a brash T Rex paean to hedonism? Or Bring It On Down, a non-stop, no-messing punk stomp to certain death or glory?

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Slattery

Not only is the music iconic and timeless but the spirit and essence of the album inspired bands. The this group of guys from an honest, humble background could create something so majestic certainly lit a fuse. Think about the scene in 1994 and how many incredible records were released this year – from Blur’s Parklife to Green Day’s Dookie – and how much variation there was! Maybe Oasis captured this time of freedom and possibility. Many people call Definitely Maybe a Britpop album but, to me, that suggests something commercial and Pop-like. To me, Oasis stood in their own league; they were charting their own course but, at a time when there was this brilliant British music being produced, Oasis were captivating and part of something larger. They would record (What's the Story) Morning Glory? In 1995 and there was this period when the band were unstoppable! Of course, as Britpop faded and Oasis moved in another direction, they would lose some of the edge and brilliance that defined their debut – it was inevitable a band with so much attention and pressure on their shoulders would fade away a bit. Before concluding, it is worth looking at Definitely Maybe in terms of its class values and how, in some ways, it is a sign of the past. There are more working-class bands emerging now but, still, we have a mainstreams where artists are more privileged; fewer honest bands like Oasis are around.

Not often do we see these unknown forces rise and capture a mood so clearly and importantly; role models for those who are looking for artists who speak for them and are writing something real and tangible. In this interesting article, the author talks about the working-class roots of Oasis’ Definitely Maybe and how it is one of the last real working-class success stories – can you name that many since 1994?!

Of all the success stories that have been written about OASIS one of the most interesting ones is the focus on their roots. The rise of the 90s Britpop heroes was a triumph of the British working class. And the Gallagher brothers were its figureheads. Noel was the genius out of whose mind came the brilliant words and melodies and Liam acted as the perfect frontman.  They were snotty, boorish and with the right amount of arrogance. They weren’t intellectual giants like Damon Albarn and BLUR, their main opponents back in the days. They weren’t gloomy poets like THE SMITHS. And Liam certainly wasn’t as charismatic and visionary as Kurt Cobain who died one week prior to the release of OASIS‘ first single Supersonic. No, they weren’t the most delicate people in the world. The Gallaghers were simple lads from Manchester, born and raised in the old industrial town. The glamour of London was far away, despite the hype in the late 80s about the whole Manchester Rave and the Hacienda club.

As mentioned before, OASIS‘ story is one of underdogs making their way into the big circus of pop music without changing their attitude. They were simple boys who wanted to play pure rock and roll and they kept it that way – even now, five years after the band parted ways. The Gallaghers never curried favour to the market or to anyone. They were – in some form – some of the last uprising rebels in rock’n’roll. And probably the last big working class success story”.

I look back at 1994 and remember the possibility that was out there. There were so many great scenes and records released and it was a heady time. Whether you were a Blur or Oasis fan during the Britpop battle, all of us can agree Definitely Maybe shook things up an is a masterpiece. As I said, it is still a vital record and continues to inspire artists around the world. Maybe Oasis would not reach the peaks they hit on their debut, but they enjoyed a successful career. Liam and Noel Gallagher are solo artists now and there is always that talk as to whether Oasis will reform – it seems like this dream is unlikely to materialise anytime soon; seeing as the brothers keep tearing strips off one another! If you have never listened to Definitely Maybe – or have not spun it for a while – stream or buy the album (and get the anniversary release) and you will be blown away. You do not need to have been there in 1994 when the album came out: Definitely Maybe sounds electric and easily relatable; a creation that will sound perfect and raw decades from now. It is one of the greatest albums made and lots of people will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary on 29th August. The band promised, back in 1994, that we could live forever and, when you listen to this incredible album, you…

BELIEVE in them implicitly!

FEATURE: Pitch Perfect: Striking the Right Balance in Music Biopics – and the Artists We Need to See on the Big Screen

FEATURE:

 

 

Pitch Perfect

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IN THIS PHOTO: Jimi Hendrix/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Striking the Right Balance in Music Biopics – and the Artists We Need to See on the Big Screen

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I am not sure why there is a rise in the number of…

music biopics coming to our screens but, over the past couple of years, we are seeing more and more come through. I suppose the Oscar success of the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, has spurred others on. Everyone will have their opinions regarding the best music biopics ever and there are artists I want to see portrayed on the big screen. Why, then, are so many music-based films being made at the moment? This article from The Houston Chronicle explained:

The reasons these films keep getting made are pretty obvious. They don’t require much in the way of modern special effects, so they have a budgetary safety valve. Music biopics also have built-in iconography, so marketing efforts don’t start cold. They have historically courted awards-season votes, if not for the films then for the pantomimed performances of their lead actors.

Yet the biopics continue to sing and dance, plugging in marginally different content into old templates. Take the narrative frame. “Bohemian Rhapsody” uses Queen’s performance at the ’80s mega-concert Live Aid as its set of bookends. These narrative devices have become almost cynical in their trickery: cinematic implements to make a viewer think they’re seeing art rather than artifice.

Familiar begets familiar, and financial successes such as “Ray” ($75 million), “Walk the Line” ($119 million) and “Coal Miner’s Daughter” ($67 million, and 1980 dollars at that) often hold greater sway over Hollywood pocketbooks than the failures — even though only one of those three biopics was a particularly good film.

But they’re not all bad. Some of the better music biopics have found their voice by avoiding a cradle-to-grave narrative and instead emphasizing a tight focus on aspects of their subjects’ lives.

“Greetings From Tim Buckley” was saddled with a title that dared viewers not to watch. (Note: Viewers took the dare; the film, admittedly a niche production, made $11,000 at the box office.) But the emphasis on a purely musical connection between a son and the father he never knew was an actual story rather than a Cliff’s Notes version of a musician’s biography.

In his Miles Davis film, “Miles Ahead,” Don Cheadle focused on the late 1970s, which was right about the time Davis’ music ceased to be revelatory in its repeated regeneration. His indulgences were consuming him, and music finally raced ahead of him. A man out of time: That is a story”.

It is great artists are being portrayed on cinema screens because, at a time when most of us stream music, I wonder how many of these legends are being kept alive by young listeners; how many of them are looking back and seeing where these artists came from. So many of us stream music and then do not really take the time to consider the artist who made it and where they started life. Biopics allow these stories to be told and, for many, we learn something about big musicians we did not know before.

When you bring a story to the screen, there are some inherent problems. The same accusation was levied at the Elton John biopic/musical, Rocketman, the Queen biopic and some others: is the reality of the star in question being watered-down and ignored? I understand you want to attract families to see these films but, in order to boost profits, are filmmakers editing truth and not telling the whole story? Definitely, there were omissions in Bohemian Rhapsody – no real look into the more hedonistic side of Freddie Mercury – and Elton John’s private life was not as interesting and open on the screen as it is in real life. Not only are issues like sex and drugs being removed from films but, when it comes to portraying women on film, they are being reduced and put to the side. When you think about the biopics that have arrived over the past few years, most have concerned men – apart from the Nina Simone flick, Nina (although, as this review explains, there were very obvious flaws). In terms of casting, are studios picking the right actor and are writers/directors too afraid of revealing the truth of an artist ion case it risks box office reductions and some criticism? I think there are issues that need to be address but, when it comes to heroines and muses, are their voices being heard? Earlier this month, The Guardian ran an article that reacted to the new film about The Beatles, Yesterday – it posits a world where the band never existed and only the one musician knows they existed; so, when he played their songs, people think they are his. It was an interesting concept – not an original one, by the way – but there were problems there:

Last year, A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody questioned the price of fame for Lady Gaga’s fictional singer Ally and Rami Malek’s toothy Freddie Mercury. More recently, Wild Rose followed a Glaswegian mother-of-two fresh from prison and hoping to make it as a country star; Vox Lux lambasted America’s appetite for destruction with its story of fictional star Celeste, whose career begins after she survives a high school shooting and writes a tribute song to her murdered classmates; and Beats, set in 1994, eschews a central star to centre on two Scottish lads raving against the onset of the Criminal Justice Act.

IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Gaga in a promotional shot for A Star Is Born/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

What does commercial demand mean for the stories that are being told? Bohemian Rhapsody was slammed for suggesting that Mercury was a tragic figure because of his sexuality (and for excising all reference to his gayness for the Chinese edit) – although Paul Flynn, author of Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride – 30 Years of Gay Britain, found the criticism misplaced. “Freddie’s entire life was straight-washed – he didn’t want to be a public gay man. He was a figure that you would associate with what in retrospect you would call gay shame. It’s a complex story of him arriving at his gayness, and how some people used to have to do so through self-denial and trying to be straight.” Flynn finds it hugely significant that the two biggest biopics are about gay pop icons. “It’s the story of gay acceptance”.

 “An alternative concept for Yesterday might also be: “What if music by women never existed?” Unsurprisingly for a film that features Ed Sheeran playing himself in a supporting role, its two female characters (as in his songs) are a simpering drip who loves Jack, the lead, and a monstrous figure from his label. Amy Raphael, author of Never Mind the Bollocks and the forthcoming A Seat at the Table, which feature interviews with leading female musicians, balks at these portrayals, and particularly how the leads in Vox Lux, Her Smell and Wild Rose are humbled by motherhood”.

Filmmakers do need to be more honest regarding artists and ensure there is not too much stretching of the facts – there were factual errors in Bohemian Rhapsody and, for pacing reasons perhaps, events were jumbled and moved around. There are plans for a David Bowie biopic although, Bowie’s family are not allowing the makers to user any original music; Amy Winehouse’s life is coming to cinemas in the future…and there are more speculated.

 IN THIS PHOTO: There are plans to bring the late Amy Winehouse’s story to the big screen/PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Lake

Every journalist and site has their dream list and, as this new article shows, music films/biopics mean a lot to some very big names. Looking at that aforementioned list of upcoming projects and there is one in there that caught my eye: Blond Ambition and the story of Madonna. I will end by talking about a trio of music biopics I would like to see but, when it comes to stars you’d love to see on the screen, Madonna must be near the top! I know Madonna wants her story told honestly and, to be fair, maybe she is the only one who can do it justice. There have been projects stalled and scrapped but, as I have written before, it would be good to see a Madonna biopic or documentary. There has been a recent biopic/documentary, Madonna and the Breakfast Club, where we learn about her arrival in New York and the moments leading up to her debut album in 1983. In terms of a career-spanning biopic, nothing has come out. I also think a new documentary would be in order but, unlike some of the biggest biopics around, will filmmakers treat Madonna with respect but also not hold back when it comes to her personal life – will she want everything to be laid off bare?! I would love to see a Madonna biopic that goes from 1983-now but one feels Madonna would not allow this.

It is a shame, but I understand artists’ fears when it comes to the truth and getting fats right. If Freddie Mercury were alive and consulted on Bohemian Rhapsody, I am sure he would not have held back! I wonder whether studios have a line they will not cross and, when it comes to the truth, sometimes that is blurred and distorted. In terms of those I would like to see played on the big screen, there are three artists that spring to mind: Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. These are all massive names so there is not a lot of new information coming to life but, in terms of demand and popularity, I think they would be hits. In terms of Fleetwood Mac, I would love to see their Rumours album being put on screen. Not to revel in the disharmony and excess of the time but I am fascinated by the album and how it got made; the fact the band were disconnected and there was a definite strain in the camp. Yet, against all of this, they managed to produce one of the best albums of all-time. Fleetwood Mac are still touring together (minus Lindsey Buckingham) and I think they would approve of a film that looked at that period in 1976 when they were recording their most-famous record. Again, in terms of tone and honesty, because Buckingham is no longer with the band, will the real truth be told? Also, the band might not want to be too raw regarding the drug use and tension that was around then.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Fleetwood Mac in 1975/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Artists want their stories told but, if there is too much excess and explicitness, can that damage their legacy? It is hard to get the right blend, but I do feel biopics owe it to fans and filmgoers to ensure there is clarity and transparency. Similarly, I would be interested seeing a biopic of The Beatles that covered their formation and earliest days. That must have been a heady time and it would be wonderful seeing the Fab Four given a big screen outing. There have been films made about The Beatles but nothing really that goes into detail about their early days. As Yesterday has been made, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have given their blessing so I would see no reason why they would refuse a biopic. I guess it is different when someone else is playing you in a film but I would love to see behind The Beatles’ homes when they were teenagers; those first gigs and the moment they sort of exploded. The film would not necessarily have to feature songs from The Beatles all the time: songs from the late-1950s and early-1960s could help soundtrack the film and provide a nice contrast. So long as the facts were all laid out – there was not too much sex and scandal that early in their career; The Beatles were not as excessive as groups like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones – then I think that film would prove very popular. The final music icon I would like to see brought back to life is Jimi Hendrix.

One might point out there has already been a film made about Jimi Hendrix and, absolutely, they would be right: All Is By My Side was released in 2013 but received some backlash. In order not to offend the family of Hendrix, were facts held back? Also, was there more of an ambition to create something entertain rather than personal? This review highlights some problems with All Is By My Side:

The tens of thousands of parakeets that squat and squawk in the trees of south London could be Jimi Hendrix’s fault. Some say he released a pair of them into the sky above Carnaby Street in the 1960s. They were birds of their time. They advocated free love. They bred and bred, and their descendants are here to stay.

It could be true, it could be false. Either way, it’s a harmless urban myth about Hendrix. Another – more ugly – story will be raked over this week with the release of Jimi: All Is By My Side, a biopic about the rock legend written and directed by the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley. The film includes a scene in which Hendrix, played by Outkast rapper André Benjamin, clubs his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham around the head with a telephone handset. Soon after, Etchingham, played by Hayley Atwell, is shown overdosing on sleeping pills, before waking up in a hospital bed.

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IN THIS PHOTO: André Benjamin/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

That may be the problem with the form: everyone has an angle, but biopics give the film-maker a platform to say their piece louder than anyone else, even the people closest to the subject. They have a megaphone. It’s up to them to point it in the right direction, says Cottrell Boyce. “The moral position is to say everything, which nobody ever does or ever could,” he says. “The moral position really is to behave well”.

Mark Kermode, when he reviewed the film, found things to be rather lifeless and flat: not what one would hope for when watching a film about one of the most colourful, electric and passionate musicians ever:

A strong performance by André Benjamin, who captures the speech, stance and guitar-wielding mannerisms of Jimi Hendrix to a tee, can’t redeem 12 Years a Slave-screenwriter John Ridley’s oddly dour biopic, which struggles to capture the excitement of its subject’s breakthrough years. There’s more than a touch of Factory Girls staginess as Imogen Poots’s posh Linda Keith discovers Hendrix in New York and brings him to London, where he promptly shacks up with Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell). The woozy soundtrack and jump-cut visuals add a touch of period hallucinogenics, but the intimate detail never rings true. Indeed the depiction of domestic violence has been decried as false by Etchingham, about whom Hendrix wrote songs such as The Wind Cries Mary, which (along with all his other compositions) we never hear, permission having been hobblingly withheld”.

It is vital that facts are in biopics because, otherwise it is fantasy – at the very least, it is a dishonest portrayal of an artist. I can understand how estates and artists do not want every scar uncovered and worry some might listen to their music less if they knew everything but so many biopics have been called up because of this. Why make a film that reveals so little when you want to see a portrayal that is intimate and open? Despite hesitations and the inherent issues regarding biopics, they are popular and, as mentioned early, some new ones are in the works. Each of us has a list of those artists we’d like to see and, when it comes to someone like Jimi Hendrix, a definite biopic is yet to be made. Maybe it is difficult to balance full exposure and being quite delicate when it comes to a legend – director and producers want to ensure their film does not besmirch or taint someone. I do think filmmakers need to ask themselves why they are only telling half of the story and whether they are thinking too much about box office receipts and not enough about storytelling and being faithful to the subject matter. Regardless of some poor attempts and critical attack, the fact there are new biopics being made and planned shows the demand is hot and growing; there are so many artists we want to see brought to the cinema – I think a new Hendrix biopic would be a good move. If the recipe is right and you create a film that does not distort the truth; something that has heart, grit and plenty of wonder then it can truly…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @imnoom/Unsplash

MOVES people beyond words.

FEATURE: Spotlight: Anna of the North

FEATURE:

 

Spotlight

PHOTO CREDIT: Jonathan Vivaas Kise 

Anna of the North

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THERE are a lot of...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Anna of the North/Getty Images

Pop/Dream-Pop/Electro-Pop artists out there and, to be fair, there is a divide between those who are made for commercial radio and have quite a forgettable sound and those who dig deeper and have original layers. Anna of the North is an artist who could easily cross borders and radio stations because, whilst she has youthful spirit and can aim for the charts, there is an undeniable cool to the Norwegian artist that is hard to resist. Nations like Norway and Sweden have been producing incredible artists for decades and, with modern artists like Robyn and Sigrid taking Pop in new directions, there are a lot of eyes on Anna of the North.

PHOTO CREDIT: Anna of the North/Getty Images

Not only is her moniker pretty cool but Anna Lotterud has some seriously good tunes in her bag. Although I am putting her in the spotlight now, there are many who will be hearing her music for the first time – and she is someone who has yet to win over everyone. The modern scene is so packed and competitive so, inevitably, some artists explode later than others. In 2014, Anna of the North’s debut single, Sway, was released and it became an instant Internet hit. That is not always a guide regarding quality but, in the case of Anna of the North, the hype was much-deserved. The artist quickly gained a solid fanbase and continued to release music. Finally, in 2017, she released her debut album, Lovers.

If you have not heard of Anna of the North, I would suggest you start with her debut album. It is a fantastic and complete work and, in my view, was one of the finer albums of 2017. Here is what The Line of Best Fit had to say when reviewing the album:

Synths and guitar swirl together indistinguishably on previously unheard opener “Moving On”. Laced with Lotterud’s velvety vocals, it’s been a live favourite for some time, and is the perfect introduction to Anna of the North’s dreamy soundscapes. It’s followed up by the spacious, 80s-influenced “Someone”, and title track “Lovers”. “Lovers” was the first of the gaggle of singles from the album shared earlier this year, and it’s easy to see why. It sets the tone with all the slick pop sensitivity of MØ, albeit pared down from a club jam to echoey early morning sounds.

“Money” channels the crisp brightness of “Oslo”, sharp handclaps punctuating a warning to the song’s subject about their current lover: “Don’t want you baby, don’t want your love, she just wants your money, honey.”

There are a few moments that miss their mark – recent single “Someone” has a forced keychange that belies its soaring effortlessness – but for the most part, Lovers is a slick, listenable debut with a strong sense of direction and poise. Nowhere is this more evident than on soft, sweet closer “All I Want”, with Lotterud lilting “All I want is your warmth and devotion.” With this debut, there’s every chance she’ll win it”.

There is a freshness and vitality to Anna of the North’s music. Listen to songs such as Lovers and Always (from Lovers) and, despite some heavy production, you are hooked and buckled by these big and bright songs. Anna of the North is not just about energy and glisten when it comes to her music. She can produce slightly cooler numbers and has a great emotional blend. To be fair, I am referring to Anna of the North as a solo artists but,  alongside New Zealand-born producer Brady Daniell-Smith (who produces the melodies), they are really a duo – although many focus more on the Lotterud’s vocals and lead. I will bring in a few interviews – a couple from 2017/2018 – that shows how Anna of the North have developed…and how its lead voices growing and maturing. In this interview from 2018, Lotterud talks about her move to Melbourne, meeting Daniell-Smith and her early days there:

When I moved to Melbourne, there were so many creative people and everyone was doing something. When people asked me what I do I would say I did some music but I was afraid of saying it. They would offer to listen to my stuff and wanted to help me out. It was a good creative vibe. I’ve always written music but that’s when I really started. That’s when I thought maybe I could do something. I had done it before just for myself, like a diary. I never thought about the style, it was just whatever came to my mind. I don’t know the rules for writing. I met Brady who is classically trained and really talented. I heard a song that he put up on Soundcloud and asked to sing to something he had and that’s how ‘Sway’ (the band’s first single) came about.”

Lovers, their debut album released last September, she believes shows the “entire journey” up to this point. “This isn’t the end. It’s been a lot of trying and failing and writing heaps of songs. We’re evolving ourselves and getting better. I kind of wish we had a bit of a plan before we released ‘Sway’ but it’s been all good and organic. It’s not bullshit, it’s just us being honest and trying to figure out.” When it came to making the album she found comfort in its broader palette and creative possibilities. “The album format is open to having all the slow jams – I’m a slow jam girl. The album isn’t just about the singles but it’s about the depth, a whole picture. It’s about me and Brady on a really personal level and you also have the fun songs. It’s one big piece”.

When speaking with FADER in 2017, she talked about her start in music and how she met her musical other half:

When did you start making music?

When I was 20, I moved to Melbourne to study for my bachelor’s degree in graphic design. It was so hard getting to know people, and to be honest [I spent] a lot of time by myself. I’d brought my guitar to Australia, so when I felt sad and lonely, I would just make music and sing instead. It made me feel better. I had never thought about music as something I really wanted to push, but then I was like, "This is what I want to do."

PHOTO CREDIT: Jonathan Vivaas Kise  

How did you meet your bandmate Brady?

I met Brady at a gig, and we started chatting about music, sharing music. Then he put out this song called “The Dreamer,” which he was singing on, that I thought was amazing. I got his SoundCloud login, and I saw that I had played it like 250 times. Then [our version] just happened. [When I moved back to Norway] we just kept in touch. It was really chill. I like it when things aren’t forced. It’s like that with the Tyler, The Creator thing as well. What makes me really proud and happy is that I know it's organic. I know [Odd Future] wouldn't just choose anyone. I know that they only work with people they like”.

Here is an artist who moved thousands of miles to pursue her dreams and, against the odds, has formed a successful duo who continues to grow. I think Anna of the North have many more years in them and are one of the most interesting forces in Pop today. Many are wary of modern Pop and whether it is more about production, commercial aims and streaming figures – rather than authenticity, meaning and memorability. If you like your Pop sunny and big or prefer something more contemplative, Anna of the North are the duo for you. Having released the brilliant Leaning on Myself, Used to Be and Thank Me Later, Playing Games is the latest offering from the pair – it is hook-driven and rousing but there are darker elements hiding underneath.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Anna of the North/Getty Images

What comes next from Anna of the North? Like a lot of today’s artists, there has been a slew of singles and there is this long build-up to an album. I guess it is all part of the modern promotional cycle but I wonder whether the wait is too long and whether an album in the next few weeks would be a smarter move – I do not think there is a set release date for the next album. When speaking with The Evening Standard earlier in the year, Anna and the North’s lead was asked about the sophomore record:

Lovers was a breakup album. What can we expect from your next record?

"I think when I started making the album I was more mature. I was back with the guy that I dated during the Lovers album. I wrote a lot of mature songs that I think were positive. But then we broke up again, so now we'll see. Half of the album is going to be love and then the other half is going to be just a copy of Lovers (laughs). It's different vibes going on, as a human and an artist I've grown a lot and I've worked a lot. I feel more confident in what I'm doing and I feel more confident in my ideas".

It is a busy scene, as I said, and there are a lot of artists creating this rather cool and varied Pop music. I think what separates Anna of the North from the pack is the strength of the vocals and the clear connection between the duo. Unlike a lot of modern Pop artists, Anna of the North are not limited and have this style that appeals as much to younger audiences who might tune in to BBC Radio 1 and those who are a bit older – and, like me, someone who listens to BBC Radio 6 Music (I think the station should check out her music). There are some gigs coming up and Anna of the North hit London on 6th November when they play Heaven. If you have not checked out Anna of the North then make sure you correct that.

Even if you are not a big Pop fan, you will find something to love. The duo is much less commercial and far more appealing than a lot of today’s crop but, more than that, they are always evolving and maturing. It will be interesting to see what they come up with on their second album because, in a year that has already seen some pretty memorable Pop albums, one wonders what Anna and the North can come up with. I suspect they will keep some of their Lovers contrast and sound but, if Playing Games is anything to go by, they are bringing fresh elements into their camp. There are a lot of eyes on Anna of the North right now and, with new music out in the open, this attention and fanfare is…

DEFINITELY justified.

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FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Florence and the Machine - Lungs

FEATURE:

 

 

Vinyl Corner

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IMAGE CREDIT: Tom Beard and Tabitha Denholm 

Florence and the Machine - Lungs

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THIS is quite a timely excursion…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Florence Welch/PHOTO CREDIT: Craig McDean

into Vinyl Corner because, in July, Florence and the Machine’s Lungs turned ten. It is an album I remember vividly when it came out and it sounds strange that it is a decade old! The original Lungs album is one that amazes me but, as it has reached this milestone, there are new anniversary releases. You can buy a vinyl and cassette combination and it is something I am going to snap up very soon. I do love the fact that some really big albums are getting new releases on their anniversaries. The Beatles’ Abbey Road has a few release for its fiftieth anniversary and Jeff Buckley’s Grace turns twenty-five in a week – there is a lot of new material coming to light. Here, as Rolling Stone write, Florence Welch/her band have brought some treats out:

 “Florence and the Machine are marking the 10th anniversary of their debut album, 2009’s Lungs, with a double vinyl box set, alongside anniversary colored vinyl and cassette editions. They will be released on August 16th and are available for pre-order.

The limited edition burgundy vinyl and cassette anniversary editions comprise the original 13-song album. The deluxe box set is cloth bound and features the original Lungs on colored vinyl and also includes a second LP housing three previously unreleased demo tracks, an acoustic version of “My Boy Builds Coffins” a cover of the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling,” which was recorded live at Abbey Road, and other rarities and B-sides.

Along with announcing the anniversary editions, Florence Welch and the band unveiled two previously unreleased demos that appear in the box set, “My Best Dress” and “Donkey Kosh”.

These releases are out now and you should definitely invest in the vinyl. It is an essential purchase that documents the debut of a remarkable artist. Florence Welch is still recording, of course, and she is among the finest artists in the country. 2018’s High as Hope was nominated for a Mercury Prize last year and it was her fourth album. Over the course of a decade, Welch has matured and changed as an artist but she remains as striking and unique now as she did back in 2009. Before she recorded her debut album, Welch considered her options when entering the music industry. There are rumours she was thinking of stepping into Country and Folk but she was unhappy with these paths. She started writing with her childhood friend Isabella Summers in London and everything sort of fell into place. Welch and Summers did perform together, briefly, as a duo but Welch had gone through some heartache and one can hear a lot of that in Lungs. So many songwriters would channel this sadness and loss into something generic and commercial but, instead, Lungs bursts with life and personality; it is bursting with emotion and power. Before long, Welch joined with Robert Ackroyd, Chris Hayden; Mark Saunders and Tom Monger to form Florence and the Machine. Welch had been working on various sounds before forming the group and, rather than go with something Folk or Country-based, what we hear on Lungs is a bigger and more wave-like sound – something she was keen to explore.

Welch had written a few songs prior to Lungs but very few of these made their way onto the album. Kiss with a Fist and Between Two Lungs are on the album but, aside from that, Welch was keen to reflect more modern tastes/bands and was being inspired by artists such as Arcade Fire. Lungs does not have s singular concept: it is more a collection of songs that covers everything from guilt and love to nightmares and dreams. It is a very eclectic album and one that sounded unlike anything in 2009. I think there was this impression Welch was just another Pop singer with a slightly quirky edge. There are a number of producers on Lungs - Paul Epworth, James Ford; Charlie Hugall, Stephen Mackey; Isabella Summers and Eg White – but it does not mean the album loses its personality and individuality. Welch co-writes all the tracks (except the closer, You’ve Got the Love; a cover of the Candi Staton song) and her voice reigns high in the mix. The reviews for Lungs were largely positive upon its release but I also think, in retrospect, there has been a lot more love cast the way of the album. Maybe that is down to the fact Welch has released another three albums and she is a worldwide star. I want to bring in a few reviews that address Lungs from a number of different angles.

In this review, AllMusic talk about the impact and urgency of Lungs:

Precocious Brit Florence Welch fired a bullet into the head of the U.K. music scene in 2008 with the single "Kiss with a Fist," a punk-infused, perfectly juvenile summer anthem that had critics wiping the names Lily AllenAmy Winehouse, and Kate Nash from their vocabularies and replacing them with Florence + the Machine. While the comparisons were apt at the time, "Kiss with a Fist" turned out to be a red herring in the wake of the release of Lungs, one of the most musically mature and emotionally mesmerizing albums of 2009. With an arsenal of weaponry that included the daring musicality of Kate Bush, the fearless delivery of Sinéad O'Connor, and the dark, unhinged vulnerability of Fiona Apple, the London native crafted a debut that not only lived up to the machine-gun spray of buzz that heralded her arrival, but easily surpassed it. Like Kate BushWelch has little interest (for the most part) in traditional pop structures, and her songs are at their best when they see something sparkle in the woods and veer off of the main trail in pursuit. "Kiss with a Fist," as good as it is, pales in comparison to standout cuts like "Dog Days Are Over," "Hurricane Drunk," "Drumming Song," "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)," and "Cosmic Love," all of which are anchored to the earth by Welch's knockout voice, a truly impressive and intuitive trio of producers, and a backing band that sounds as intimate with the material as its creator”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Jackson/Trunk Archive

The Guardian had their say:

An intense young woman who read a lot of Edgar Allan Poe as a child, Florence specialises in dark, gothic imagery - werewolves, wedding dresses, bleeding hearts and coffins - and quirky tunes that start quietly and build into big, soaring climaxes. The songs are generally angry, with an undercurrent of violence and/or animal passion, and a nagging hook to keep you there. When this girl falls in love, you gather, she really falls. When it's over, the only recourse is pain, rage and vast quantities of alcohol. The current single Rabbit Heart was written after her label asked her for something more upbeat, but ended up with a typically jaunty chorus about sacrifice: "This is the gift/ It comes with a price/ Who is the lamb/And who is the knife?".

Sometimes the rough edges have been over-smoothed: there are all kinds of strange, cheap synthesised noises buried under the layers of polish that I'd like to hear more clearly. But this is a minor gripe, for despite its dark heart, there's a real joy about this debut. It's the sound of someone who has found their voice and is keen to use it - as loudly and freely as possible”.

Finally, I want to quote from a Pitchfork review that, whilst a little dismissive in place, has a lot of positives:

"Seems that I have been held in some dreaming state/ A tourist in the waking world, never quite awake," begins Welch on "Blinding". The song is about Welch's desire to put her girlish dreams away and face reality, but it conjures a place that's frightfully untouchable all the same. When notions of big-budget music become increasingly rare and name-brand artists are giving fans intimate concerts from their bedrooms via YouTube, Florence Welch's zeal for all things bright and/or shiny comes off as its own act of rebel defiance. Coming to her senses isn't an option”.

When Lungs was released, Florence and the Machine gained comparisons to Annie Lennox and Regina Spektor and, whilst there are elements of other artists, one cannot deny the original spirit of Welch. Her voice can go from soft to enraptured; there are choirs and odd sounds; sleigh bells and harps that sounds utterly wonderful and enticing. Some criticised Lungs for being over-produced but I think there is so much to pack in and there is not too much polish on the record. Instead, all these special and diverse elements are fused together and, more than an album, Lungs is the sound of Florence Welch unleashed and exploring. With an expert production team behind the Machine, you get these huge, tribal drums and phenomenal sounds. Welch’s powerful and always-astonishing voice might seem a little forceful and overwrought but is the sign of a singer who is holding nothing back and keen to give every song her all. Since its release, you can hear how she has paved a way for other artists to push music and incorporate different elements; put their voice out there and sort of fly. Welch, as I said, has changed a little since her debut but I think she sounded pretty formed and ready on Lungs. It is an extraordinary debut and one that, on its tenth anniversary, has been treated to new releases. I suggest people grab Lungs on vinyl and cast their mind back to a time when this hurricane of an artist arrived. Welch was not just about force and power: there are delicate touches and so many spiritual, tender and magical moments that blend in this intoxicating brew. Whether you buy/stream the original studio version of Lungs or grab the new anniversary releases, acquaint yourself with…

 

ONE of 2009’s finest albums.

FEATURE: Female Icons: Part Fifteen: Patti Smith

FEATURE:

 

 

Female Icons

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IN THIS PHOTO: Patti Smith in 1975/PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation 

Part Fifteen: Patti Smith

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LAST week…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Patti Smith in 2017/PHOTO CREDIT: Jesse Dittmar

I included PJ Harvey in my Female Icons feature. I have tried to cover as many genres as possible in this feature and, in the coming weeks, I will include some Pop and Jazz. Today, I am sticking with an artist who is a bit rawer and gutsier than a lot of the artists I have covered – that is not a slight but just a difference in terms of the music. When we think of great women in music who have shone and inspired, you have to mention Patti Smith. She is still recording music today and, in 2012, she released Banga. The album gained a lot of critical praise and, in terms of themes and subjects, Smith was drawing from her dreams and observations. Songs talked about history, death; nature, current affairs and so much more – Smith still able to create these profound and moving songs so long after her debut.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sebastien Bozon/Getty Images

I shall collect together some of Smith’s best songs in a playlist at the bottom of this feature but, to start, it is best to mention her debut album: Horses was released in November of 1975. Patti Smith and her band, by that point, had built a reputation as favourites in the New York underground club scene. One can only imagine the scene back then and the sort of sounds that were flying around. Punk was happening then and, whilst it had not peaked and exploded, artists like Patti Smith were starting to experiment and push boundaries.

Smith and her band were spotted by Clive Davis of Arista Records and the band started work on Horses in 1975 and, in all, it was such a quick process between singing and releasing a debut. Some might say that a rushed and quick album recording signals a lack of ideas or experimentation – maybe there is depth missing or a lack of care. I like artists who take time in the studio but, when you listen to Patti Smith’s debut, she captures something urgent and thrilling but also manages to make songs build and grow. Classic tracks like Redondo Beach are relatively short (3:26) whereas Birdland is over nine minutes. If some of her contemporaries like Ramones were releasing album full of sharp and short shocks, Smith was building poetry and different elements into the Punk template. John Cale was enlisted to produce Horses but the relationship was not always smooth. Smith wanted to release an album that spoke to the outsiders; people who were a bit like her – rather than it being commercial and a ‘hit’. The working processes of Smith and Cale were different and it is small wonder there were confrontations. Smith has played down Cale’s role but, actually, maybe that tension led to some great moments. I think Smith has suggested the tension and mania in the studio led to songs like Birdland and Land: these long and emotional songs where it sounds like she is trying to get so much out.

Maybe Cale’s approach to the studio – more professional and studious – was foreign to Smith and her experiences previously. She had come from the club scene and it was like two different world clashing. Despite some negative memories, Horses remains one of the greatest debut albums ever. So many critics rank Horses in their favourite albums ever and it has inspired so many artists. After Horses arrived, Smith was hailed as one of the most important members of the New York Punk-Rock scene and one of the catalysts when it came to the Punk-Rock movement. Unlike so many Punk records of the 1970s, Horses had poetry, art and intelligence mixing alongside spit, fire and raw emotions. Everyone from R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe to Johnny Marr have cited the record as influential. Strong female artists such as Viv Albertine of The Slits claimed the album changed her life; PJ Harvey is another artist who was blown away by Horses. The reviews for Horses are universally positive and, in this AllMusic review, a lot of good points are raised:

It isn't hard to make the case for Patti Smith as a punk rock progenitor based on her debut album, which anticipated the new wave by a year or so: the simple, crudely played rock & roll, featuring Lenny Kaye's rudimentary guitar work, the anarchic spirit of Smith's vocals, and the emotional and imaginative nature of her lyrics -- all prefigure the coming movement as it evolved on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Smith is a rock critic's dream, a poet as steeped in '60s garage rock as she is in French Symbolism; "Land" carries on from the Doors' "The End," marking her as a successor to Jim Morrison, while the borrowed choruses of "Gloria" and "Land of a Thousand Dances" are more in tune with the era of sampling than they were in the '70s. Producer John Cale respected Smith's primitivism in a way that later producers did not, and the loose, improvisatory song structures worked with her free verse to create something like a new spoken word/musical art form: Horses was a hybrid, the sound of a post-Beat poet, as she put it, "dancing around to the simple rock & roll song”.

I shall not cover all of Smith’s albums in detail but, after Horses, Radio Ethiopia was released. Smith was back on terrific form by her third album but, in some ways, Radio Ethiopia was a way to move away from Horses and release something more commercial. With producer Jack Douglas, Smith recorded an album that can be seen as interesting rather than essential. The ten-minute title track drew a lot of criticism due to its lack of cohesion and, well…appeal. Maybe some of the harsh reviews were unfair but there was a feeling there was more self-indulgence than anything on Radio Ethiopia. Things would get back on track by 1978’s Easter.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Lynn Goldsmith

Much more accessible than its predecessor, Easter had a more diverse and open feel. Rather than sticking with one genre/sound, Smith spliced Rock & Roll together with Folk and Spoken Word. Some of her best tracks to date appear on that record – including Because the Night (co-written by Bruce Springsteen), We Three and High on Rebellion. Easter’s title provokes religious imagery and, elsewhere, there are religious references – Privilege (Set Me Free) has some lyrics adapted from Psalm 23. Whilst it is a different beast to Horses, Easter is a classic in the Smith cannon and one that, again, drew some huge reviews. Pitchfork’s assessment of the album is particularly insightful and passionate:

So after working with John Cale on Horses and Jack Douglas (Cheap TrickJohn Lennon) on Radio Ethiopia, she chose to work with a new producer named Jimmy Iovine, because she liked what he’d done as an engineer working with Bruce Springsteen. It was a deliberate business decision, no matter that she would later insist that the album was “more communicative. I don’t like the words accessible and commercial.” Lenny Kaye would back her up: “There was no conscious drive to sell records, that was our last thought.”

Even the cover concept was Smith’s twist on sex appeal; while it was probably the first major-label album cover to show a woman with unshaved armpits (which Arista tried to airbrush out), it was created with the object of selling records. After that inimitable Robert Mapplethorpe shot on the cover of Horses and the black-on-silver abstract by Judy Linn that graced Radio Ethiopia, for Easter, Smith went with Lynn Goldsmith, who had just founded the first photo agency that focused on celebrity portraiture. Smith would even tell Rolling Stone that she had masturbated to her own album cover: “I thought if I could do it as an experiment, then 15-year-old boys could do it, and that would make me very happy.”

Smith then flips the switch to “25th Floor.” This is when the woman in “Because the Night” takes out a match and lights the whole damn place on fire. “Love in my heart/The night to exploit/Twenty-five stories over Detroit,” she sings, tales of unabashed emotion in the ancient Book Cadillac Hotel in the Motor City, where she and Fred “Sonic” Smith had taken rooms. “25th Floor” then transmutates its closing ecstasy straight into “High on Rebellion,” the title of which is accurate and illustrative. It is about another important relationship, this time a treatise about Smith and her electric guitar: “...I never tire of the solitary E and I trust my guitar…” The band manifests its own chaos effortlessly behind Smith, before the exemplification of that solitary E fades out slowly”.

By Dream Life in 1988, The Patti Smith Group disbanded but Smith was still in inspired form. Moving into the 1990s and we saw Smith’s music changing slightly. Maybe it is not as captivating as Horses and Easter but she was still producing these wonderful and evocative albums. There is a tinge of sadness on Gone Again, considering what was happening around the time. Released in 1996, a few of Smith’s friends and peers died around the time. Her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, her brother Todd and Kurt Cobain had departed. Gone Again also features the final studio performance of Jeff Buckley – Buckley died in 1997.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Annie Leibovitz

Gone Again, despite some of the bad luck and tragedy that surrounded it, was a revitalisation from Smith. It is one of her best albums and, as this review shows, there is a lot to love and respect:

After years of silence, Patti Smith returned to music with a series of concerts in late 1995. It had been years since she had performed live -- for most of the '80s and '90s, she concentrated on domestic life. Following the death of her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, in early 1995, Smith began playing music in public again and those concerts eventually led to the triumphant comeback Gone Again. Her husband wasn't the only loved one Smith lost between 1988's Dream of Life and 1996's Gone Again -- her brother and her close friend Robert Mapplethorpe both died. Appropriately, grief and loss hang over Gone Again, but the overall effect is not one of indulgent melancholy. Instead, it's a sober but strengthing listen -- this is healing optimistic music. Like most of Smith's best work, the songs on Gone Again aren't proper songs, they're song poems, with cascading music and dense, inspired lyrics. Smith sounds more mature than her earlier records -- there are only a handful of out-and-out rockers, and most of the album is subtle and folky -- which gives the album extra weight. Gone Again is more than a comeback, it's a revitalization -- Patti Smith simply hasn't sound so engaged and provocative since Easter”.

In terms of Patti Smith’s more ‘recent’ albums, I really love 2004’s Trampin’. I will end with a bit about Smith’s legacy and importance – returning to Horses – but, in terms of longevity and relevance, there are not many like her.

Consider the fact she has been making albums for nearly forty-five years and, let’s hope, there is no end in sight! I opened by talking about her 2012 album, Banga. It is a remarkable album and one of her finest since the 1970s. Recorded throughout 2011 at New York’s Electric Lady Studios, the sessions were produced by Smith, Tony Shanahan; Jay Dee Daugherty and Lenny Kaye. It was almost like Smith was returning to her Horses roots – she used a lot of the same personal and a lot of Banga’s best moments can be compared to Horses’ pedigree. One wonders when the next Smith album will arrive but, as the reviews for Banga show, the legendary artist still has plenty of genius and firepower in her heart. This review from The Guardian gets the heart of Banga:

Patti Smith has returned to the poetic-punk format of 1975's Horses, which the Polar prize committee recently described as "Rimbaud with amps". Four of Horses' personnel – Smith, guitarist Lenny Kaye, drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and Television' Tom Verlaine – are present here. It's a mixture of pop songs and poetic explorations, aided by the instantly resumed chemistry between Kaye's shimmering hooks and Smith's sensual vocals. While she has never sung better, the pop songs hit home first: the dreamy Amerigo, the reflective Maria and sublime April Fool, a headrushing tale of outlaw lovers who "race through alleyways in our tattered coats".

The more esoteric monologues demand – and reward – perseverance, especially the 10-minute Constantine's Dream, a passionate defence of her other great love, art, complete with fantasy sequences set in the Garden of Eden. The collision of sound and language is exhilarating; if it is also occasionally impenetrable, that's down to her death-or-glory manifesto to "let me die on the back of adventure, with a brush".

Patti Smith is still performing and creating music and, I understand, there might be something from her fairly soon – although that cannot be confirmed at this time. Smith transformed Punk and inspired countless artists. She continues to influence and the magnitude and importance of Horses cannot be denied. I will end by sourcing from a couple of interviews when Smith talks about Horses. In this BBC piece, Greg Kot recalls interviewing Smith and why some critics got Horses all wrong:

I felt that our cultural voice, which was so magnificent through the late '60s and early ‘70s, was faltering,” Smith told me, “and there was the rise of stadium rock and glam rock and all of these different things and I felt like somebody had to save it. I didn’t think that it would be me, butI thought I could play a role. I had a strong sense of myself, and I came to say, ‘Here I am’. I’m speaking to those like me, the disenfranchised, the mavericks. ‘Don’t lose heart, don’t give up’.”

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PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation 

In the end, the Smith heard on Horses aimed to transcend language, genre and her limitations as a sickly working-class kid who moved to New York in search of a job. She couldn’t be confined by a single genre, even one as full of possibility as ‘punk’. Though her bandmates weren’t jazz musicians, they flowed with and around Smith’s voice and words with improvisatory zeal and empathy, never more so than on Birdland. Smith and producer John Cale battled every step of the way about the direction of the album, and decades later the singer would credit Cale with bringing out one of her most intense performances on the nine-minute track”.

Here, in this feature from 2017, Smith talked about revisiting Horses. On 9th March, 2017, Smith played her first gig in Milwaukee for thirty-eight years; she played Horses in its entirety and she performed with two musicians who appear on the album: guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty.

What goes through your mind as you revisit “Horses” at this stage in your career?

For me it is revisiting not just an album and the lyrics within the album, but a period of my life that was pivotal to my evolution as a performer. I wrote (the opening line, for opening track “Gloria: In Excelsis Deo”) “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” as a poem in 1970. It was a very long, organic process to get to where “Horses” was, and it really sort of encapsulates my process from writing poetry and performing poetry to evolving within a rock and roll band.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Patti Smith in 2017/PHOTO CREDIT: Jesse Dittmar

What about “Horses” are you most proud of?

That people are still responding. That makes me very happy, that it communicates something, whether it speaks to the disenfranchised, or people respond to a political or poetic element of it.

And I have to say when we perform it, it has a very fresh energy because new people come, a lot of our audiences have been very young people, and it’s such a fantastic thing to be able to connect with new generations with this material. And the nice thing is a couple of the songs have improvisational sections, so every night there’s always a different improvisation which reflects the people, the city we’re in, the political climate and the energy of the night.

What are your perceptions of where are we at now politically, and what role can music play?

We need citizen activism more than ever. Of course having artists and musicians who write inspiring songs that incite and inspire people are important. But I think even more important is when I see a million people on the streets, thousands of people in front of the Trump building, thousands and thousands at the airport, thousands of people that went in the cold to protest the pipeline. The people are really rising across America, and I think that is the most important thing. And I’m not saying artists aren’t helpful and aren’t inspiring, but its really the people united that make change”.

Whilst one cannot distill the legacy and brilliance of Patti Smith to a single album, it is clear Horses paved the way. From its songs to its cover, Horses set the bar and transformed the landscape of music – inspiring, as this article explored, so many pioneering artists:

The album’s cover is iconic in its own right, featuring an image of Smith shot by acclaimed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Dressed and posed in what would be labelled androgynous following the release of the album, Smith wears a white button-up shirt with a black jacket draped over her shoulder. The image was widely considered to be a statement against the sexualisation of women in the music industry, though Smith insists the photograph simply captures her as she is.

Horses, and Smith as a result, went on to inform the work of everyone from The Smiths to Siouxsie and the Banshees and, importantly, carved a space for strong-willed, unconventional female acts for generations to come. The sheer honesty and delivery of the tracks which form Horses and Smith’s refusal to maintain the status quo have shaped her legacy as a punk, a poet and a pioneer”.

Smith’s genius still burns bright and I do not think there will be another artist like her. You can hear her sound in so many modern artists and this will continue for decades to come. I just had to include Patti Smith in my Female Icons feature because she has given so much to music and she continues to fascinate, inspire and move us. There is nobody like the incredible, electric and utterly beguiling…

PATTI Smith.

TRACK REVIEW: The Murder Capital - More Is Less

TRACK REVIEW:

 

The Murder Capital

More Is Less

 

9.5/10

 

 

The track, More Is Less, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UX2bG2-64SA

GENRES:

Indie/Punk

ORIGIN:

Dublin, E.I.R.E.

The album, When I Have Fears, is available here:

https://open.spotify.com/album/17ozByfYT9iEhfGNcT6mdz?si=sTbamtYQSo6shOszVWHHsA

RELEASE DATE:

16th August, 2019

LABEL:

Human Seasons Records

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ON this occasion…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie MacMillan

I get to focus on a band who are quite new on the scene. Before I come to look at The Murder Capital’s new album, When I Have Fears, I wanted to discuss a few different things. First, I will look at the Dublin scene and, whilst the band want to be distinct and not necessarily lumped into this one group, they have a lot of love for Dublin and it is important to them. I also want to look at bands of the moment and why people are starting to embrace groups again; why I am tipping The Murder Capital to be legends of the future and bands who have a lot to say and are very conscious of the world around them – I will end with a little on when The Murder Capital might head next. There is no stopping The Murder Capital right now. They have just released an album that is gathering huge reviews and really fond praise. I shall not quote any of the reviews here – lest it take away from what I am trying to say – but there has been this universal agreement the band are raw and urgent; they are vital and this is a mighty fine debut! Nobody can deny that and I wonder whether one could define a ‘Dublin scene’. I do not think there is a particularly unified and rising band scene in London – there seem to be more standout solo artists – and one can argue Manchester and Brighton are fostering quite a few great groups. Dublin, it seems, cannot be overlooked; so many wonderful artists are rising right now. There is a great Post-Punk movement and some fantastic Rock emerging. Look at Girl Band – who formed in 2011 – and the fact they are one of the hottest and rawest bands of the moment. I keep using that word ‘raw’ but it seems apt when you listen to the best of Dublin. There is plenty of diversity in Dublin but I think the heavy and eye-opening bands are standing aside.

Not only are The Murder Capital and Girl Band striking hard but, with a Mercury Prize nomination under their belts, Fontaines D.C. are another band to watch. Their album, Dogrel, is stunning and I see some comparisons with them and their city-mates, The Murder Capital – in the sense they are concerned about the changing face of Dublin but have a deep-down connection with it. The Murder Capital are this band who reflect the altering tone of their city but they go further than that: throughout their new album, they tackle the realities of daily life and problems in the world; they document personal concerns and address some big themes. Before I move on, I want to bring in an interview extract that addresses Dublin and, whilst the band was not necessarily channelling Dublin whilst making When I Have Fears, it is always in them:

 “In truth, the band have an interesting relationship with Dublin. Of the five members only James was born here, and even he spent a large part of his life in Cork. The others are from west Cork (Damien Tuit, guitar), Meath (Diarmuid Brennan, drums), Galway (Cathal Roper, guitar) and Donegal (Gabriel Paschal Blake, bass).

But the city is still home.

“Dublin isn't [a major theme] in the album,” he says, “but I think what Dublin did for us is that our environment affected us when we were writing. Our rehearsal space is out in East Wall.

“Dublin is where we met and where we go out drinking, where we discuss things, where we see our friends and all those things. You absorb all those things and Dublin to us is important in that way.”

With guitar bands from Dublin again riding high, James argues that there’s a common purpose at play; a reaction to what he calls the “socio-political environments and urgent issues” they face.

He talks fondly of the well-worn path that his band has taken in the city up to this point – from upstairs at Whelan's to the Workman's Club, then Whelan's main room, the Button Factory (their current level) and then, hopefully, Vicar Street, the Olympia and – who knows? – maybe even 3Arena”.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Emma Swann

One thing I wanted to move on and mention was the fact that, inevitably, The Murder Capital will be compared to other bands. There are lots of awesome bands grabbing attention at the minute – including Squid and Amyl & The Sniffers – and I do think journalists (myself included) like to lump them together and make easy comparisons. In fact, when The Murder Capital were compared with IDLES in this interview from Loud and Quiet, they were called up on it:

 “I think that’s lazy journalism,” says a stone-faced James McGovern. He’s got a point. I’ve just broadly compared The Murder Capital, a McGovern fronted five-piece from Dublin, to Idles and he’s having none of it. “To be honest, and I suppose we have to keep the honesty thing going, I think it’s lazy journalism when people throw us into that group of punk bands when there is a credible Irish scene.” Having spent the last half an hour discussing sincerity and directness with James, it’s a fair cop.

I do think we get into this habit of taking artists and, when we detect something fairly familiar, we then group them in with other people. It is true The Murder Capital share D.N.A. with bands like Fontaines D.C. but they are very much their own band. Rather than directly compare sounds, I think themes and intentions are more important links: what bands are trying to achieve and how they want to open people’s minds. We cannot ignore the fact that bands are very much coming back. I have addressed this subject before but it deserves new focus. For years, I have been writing about solo artists and they have been dominating the market. To be fair, 2019 is still heavy with solo artists; most of the best albums have been made by them and that is not necessarily going to change in 2020. I am looking at groups like Foals and The 1975 and, not only are they creating very different and original material, but they are looking at the world around them.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Neelam Khan Vela

I think bands sort of declined or lost footing to solo artists (for a time) is because of the nature of their lyrics. For a long time, we had this raft of bands who were writing big riffs but their lyrics were not really speaking to us. It was a shame because, after a while, that became stale and very boring. There are bands like that around but more conscious and mature bands are showcasing material that has edge but real dept. This is pleasing to see and I think it will continue for a very long time. That is not to say bands will take over from solo artists but the best out there are showing how they can turn the volume up but create as much noise with the relevance and potency of their words. The Murder Capital are a perfect example of a band who have great chemistry and trust; they are using their platform to speak about things that matter but they are also an incredible live act and have an energy that is hard to question and resist. I can see why some have compared The Murder Capital with IDLES but, really, the Dublin boys have a lot more to them that that – they are part of the Dublin scene but they are a unique band who have a lot to say. I cannot wait to see where the band head and what they have planned next. I will nod to that in the conclusion but, right now, I think it is important to talk about The Murder Capital and what makes them so special. Whilst there was a time when bands were writing about love and cliché subjects, I like the fact the new breed are writing about the changing world and bigger things. Whilst relationships cannot be excluded, I do think The Murder Capital have bigger concerns and they know the power of music. These chaps are on a roll right now because they have captured the collective imagination and, once heard, get right in the head. You listen to their music and it stays with you; one carries it around and it has this immense power.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Molly Keane

I do think, as I have mentioned, The Murder Capital have a lot to say. Maybe they are not necessarily wearing Dublin on their sleeves, the evolving skyline has affected them. The band is conscious of politics and how people are struggling but, closer to home, they are seeing Dublin modernise and change – not always for the better. It is sad when you see the history and roots of a city transform to make way for money and flats. Here, in this interview with DIY , The Murder Capital discuss the way Dublin is transforming:

It just feels like there are loads of fuckin’ hotels going up over Dublin, where there could be new housing,” James hammers home. “There are cranes all over the city. There’s one on George’s Street right now, and they’re gutting this beautiful Georgian house, and I stopped and asked the builder what it was gonna be, and it’s turning into a fuckin’ Premier Inn.

“The hotels are only a sidenote to the homelessness, the suicide, the mental health issues. The lack of services available to people who aren’t from even middle class backgrounds,” he continues. “We just wanna talk about it as much as possible, and make sure that the government knows that we’re not happy with the standard of where it’s at. People have real issues in their lives, and they need somewhere to go and talk about these things beyond their friends and families. It feels like there’s no excuses. I know bad things that have happened to people that were avoidable”.

 It must be pretty upsetting to see the way big cities sort of bury people and there is a bigger concern about money – making as much as possible – rather than looking after the people who are already there. I keep coming back to that theme of bands being like politicians – only they tell the truth and are more popular. If you think about some of the groups I have mentioned – such as IDLES and Fontaines D.C. –; they are speaking out and not shying away from some pretty big issues.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Neelam Khan Vela

As you can see from the interview above, The Murder Capital are concerned about Dublin and how a lot of people are being ignored. Whilst new buildings are erected and it seems the middle-class are being catered for more than anyone else, what happens to the homeless and those struggling? It is rather heartbreaking seeing these people overlooked. The band is aware of this and they are not happy. Rather than sit back and just let things like this happen, you can tell they want things to change; they are using music as a way of discussing these things and, hopefully, getting those in power to do something. At a time when the world is starting to split and we are not sure what is going to happen, music has more relevance and power than ever. I am not suggesting every artist forgoes their personal experiences and talks about the world at large but how informed are we by the news and social media? By that, I mean we can get distorted views and we are not always aware of the truth. Artists live in cities and streets; they see what is happening around them and they can see how lives are being affected. Some might say there is bias here but I would disagree. Bands like The Murder Capital have no need to fabricate and they have no reason to stretch the truth. When artists speak about mental-health rather frankly, they are revealing something very real and common – rather than quoting statistics or not addressing the subject at all. Maybe music will not change the world and lead to new policies but I think it is great bands can activate people and they use their voice to talk about something important. I shall move on in a bit but I think there is so much to recommend about The Murder Capital. They are a sensational band who can effortlessly mix big themes and catchy hooks; incredible interplay and songs that inspire people to sing loud and come together.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Imogen Thomas

I do think The Murder Capital can rise to the same level of IDLES. It is lazy to compare the two but, for the purpose of this thought, I feel The Murder Capital have the same sort of energy and brilliant songs. Maybe the two bands can be compared in terms of themes and what they are talking about but there are big differences. The accents are, literally, different and The Murder Capital are a different live act too. I think there is a real appetite for bands who have things to say and can create these huge songs. Before I move on to reviewing a song from When I Have Fears, I wanted to mention the album and the fact it has the potential to be one of the year’s biggest. Some fantastic albums have arrived in 2019 and I think all of them have things in common. For a start, there is an emotional depth that gets into the heart; a sense of importance and need to tackle important topics; tracks that have a rawness and edge to them. The Murder Capital have achieved all that but there is a warmth and playfulness that is overlooked. Rather than put out generic and familiar songs, they put their personalities into the mix. The performances are tight and I feel a lot of that stems from live experience. The band has played together a lot and I think this translates into their recorded music. I am not sure what the next few years hold for music but I feel the rise of bands will continue. Another reason why I think The Murder Capital will keep striking and killing it is because of their authenticity. They are a band who are not chasing commercial feats and trying to please labels: instead, they are writing in a way that feels real to them. I want to bring in one last interview snippet where they talk about recording and why (recording their album) was quite an intense situation:

Recording it was an intense experience, says James. “When we’re writing and recording together, we try to be as authentic to the truth that we’re trying to communicate as minutely as possible, to always try and stay honest with ourselves,” he says. “When you do that, I think you have to confront a lot of things in yourself. You take every book off the shelf and you’re dusting in areas you haven’t seen before, then you’re placing them back up in what you deem to be a better order.” “The five of us hold up mirrors to each other all the time,” Gabriel adds. “You probably don’t [normally] confront your flaws as much as when you’re in a band like we are”.

More Is Less is one of the shortest tracks on When I Have Fears but, in terms of impact, it is one of the biggest numbers. Rather than fly straight in with the vocals, the tracks sort of builds up and has this nice mix of the brooding and punchy. The grumble and rush of the introduction starts to compel images and, when our hero comes to the microphone, we get some insight. The first lines are very intriguing: “If I gave you what you wanted, you’d never be full/As the trappings of your boyish mind become unshakeable”. That idea of someone never being full and satisfied; the notion that someone gets what they want but they are not happy. One wonders whether the words refer to someone particular to the band or whether it is a direct attack on a public figure; maybe a politician or someone who we all know. As the song progresses, more truth comes to light. When singing about the “trappings of your romance”, maybe there is an element of the personal and love-based. That said, The Murder Capital never reveal too much and there is always that room for interpretation. The vocal is determined and impassioned; it has this intensity and physicality that makes the words stand out but there is also plenty of emotion and nuance. I was wondering whether More Is Less related to a dissatisfied sweetheart or was a commentary on people as a whole. I do like artists that blend the direct with oblique. You get a chance to see the lyrics in a very personal way and, whilst the truth is never made clear regarding the song’s origins, I think we will all have our own notions. The hero refers to putting his life in his back pocket. There is a beautiful line – “That the alternating atmopshere was far outside that room” – and an explosion from the band. Whilst the song never truly bursts and screams, there is an urgency and passion that grabs you and bring you into the song.

I love the tone and pace of the song. There is a sort of drone and moan in the chorus but you are hooked by the dynamic and energy coming from the lead; the way the words are projected and the effect they have on you. The hero has kept all of the objects for the “sweetness of their smell” and, whilst one does sense a degree of dissatisfaction, there is a tenderness and romance, for sure. I have mentioned how The Murder Capital discuss modern life and have a political edge but, on this incredible song, it seems that there is something more personal and love-based on their mind. The chorus is brilliantly charged and memorable. Whilst that sentiment of more being less is repeated and driven home, you do wonder what it means. Maybe too much truth is being revealed or there is this need to remove something poisonous from life. Again, the band does not give everything away and you sort of imagine where the song was born. I got the feeling there was a relationship in mind but there is this larger arc that I cannot get past. It is interesting to interpret but, just as you start to figure out the lyrics and what they might concern, the song sort of fades down and it gives the chance for the band to shine. By that, there is an instrumental section; a pause in the middle of the song that gives you a breather and adds another layer. If the track was a straight and busy one with no real break, it might not have the same power and appeal that it does. The outro is another intriguing passage where the hero asks why (the girl or person) looked at him that way. He is an anomaly and someone who sat in the park alone. All these fascinating images spring to mind and you might need to listen to More Is More a few times before everything starts to click and form. When I Have Fears has many brilliant tracks but More Is Less (the second track on the album), to me, is the very best.

I shall wrap it up very shortly but I do think people need to get behind The Murder Capital. I have, like I said, avoided bringing other reviews into mine because I want to give my opinion and not be led by anyone else. You can read the reviews for When I Have Fears and see the love that is out there for the great Dublin group. The guys are on the rise and I expect the next couple of years to be very fruitful indeed. Who’s to say what comes next? Maybe there will be a Glastonbury slot next year or they might, like Fontaines D.C., get a Mercury Prize nod. It is all very excited and I know they will want to remain level-headed. Whilst the competition is pretty stiff at the moment, I feel the best musicians have distinctions and their own camps. Whilst The Murder Capital have their own fanbase, I know they will recruit followers who are paying attention to bands like Fontaines D.C. and Girl Band. The band is going to be very busy over the next few months and, if you can, make sure you go and see them on the road. I know they are an exhilarating band to watch and they have a great bond with the audience. These are early days for The Murder Capital but they have crafted a sensational debut album that has got people talking. When the dust has settled on When I Have Fears, they will be thinking about their next moves and where they go from here. I think the band have huge international potential and they will go down a storm around the world. They are touring the U.K. at the moment but I do think they could do very well in America. Not only that, but I think The Murder Capital sound like born festival legends. I think they will be near the top of many lists next year and it will be interesting to see where they are booked.

Even though they have just released their debut, there will be that talk of the follow-up – can they avoid the clichéd ‘difficult second album’? I do not think they have to worry because, clearly, the band is on top form and striking a chord. So many people are reacting to what they put out into the world and there is a real appetite for bands. Maybe it is that blend of big sounds and moving lyrics; a chemistry and combustion that people want to embrace – there might be something else at work. I have no doubt the band will go on to big things and they are going to be future legends. This is the last comparison I shall make with bands such as Fontaines D.C. but see how they have exploded and where they are now. In a relatively short time, they have come from the underground and a major band who have been nominated for awards. I think there is something in the Dublin air; a spirit and motivation that is leading to some of the best music of the moment. The Murder Capital are a band you need in your life so I would suggest people connect with them on social media – see the links below – and go out and get When I Have Fears. It is (already) one of the best albums of the year and I think it will make the top-ten lists of many critics. The boys have a love for one another but they also want to see their city and world change for the better. That is a noble sentiment and one we can all get behind. I shall leave things here but I am thrilled The Murder Capital are picking up big reviews and they are enjoying success. This will only increase and see them rise to rare heights. Best of luck to them because I think we need more bands like them. Their careers are in the early stages right now but, with such brilliant music in their arsenal, there is no stopping…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie MacMillan

THIS incredible band.

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Follow The Murder Capital

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FEATURE: Popularity Over Purity: Why a New British Rap Talent Show Is a Step Too Far

FEATURE:

 

 

Popularity Over Purity

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IN THIS PHOTO: Krept & Konan are fronting a new show, The Rap Game UK, for BBC Three (it is based on the popular U.S. format, The Rap Game) alongside DJ Target/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Why a New British Rap Talent Show Is a Step Too Far

_________

I am not sure when the T.V. music talent format will die…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Stefflon Don is one of the most talented and striking rappers on the U.K. scene/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

but every ounce of commercial possibility has been wrung! My feelings are clear regarding long-running shows like The Voice and The X Factor. These shows are not concerned with authenticity and actual talent. In fact, there is no need validity to any music talent show. The design is not to discover an enduring and original artist who can survive for years. Instead, the same sort of generic and manufactured people are seen on the screens. In the history of every music talent show, is there honesty anyone you truly love and has remained in the heart? Even the more successful stars like Olly Murs are not exactly ubiquitous and memorable. The artists that compete on talent shows are defined for the Pop charts; to be as disposable as possible and not really challenge. People who go on talent shows mean well but they are sort of skipping the queue and are playing for celebrity and a record contract rather than any sort of respect and longevity. It has grown very boring and the finest albums artists have not come from talent shows but from other avenues – has there ever been a talent show contestant who has transcended the spectacle and sob stories of the shows and actually stood out as a name to watch? I think the music talent show format needs to die out because we get the same hype and attention that has nothing to do with unique and promising artists and everything to do with T.V. ratings and headlines.

It is thoroughly boring and, in a crowded music scene, we should be encouraging artists to do things the right way: not rely on T.V. shows and that empty lure of big contracts and judges’ approval. Many people do like music talent shows but you cannot say they are the go-to when it comes to unearthing the next generation’s stars. Real and authentic music needs to come from individuals and original thought and not what record labels want and T.V. audiences crave. There is this split between those who want empty and easy Pop music and people who have no time for these pointless shows. Just when you think the format has run its course, a new show is popping up: The Rap Game UK is a show designed to find the next big Rap/Hip-Hop star. Whilst the idea of a British Rap talent show is a lot cooler and less chart-based than the usual fare, it remains the same: it is a talent show that doesn’t need to exist. We no longer live in a time when artists need recording contracts and cannot release music without a big deal – that would not even be an excuse to have a talent show. The idea is to find this sort of diamond in the rough artist who will then be mentored by rappers Krept & Konan – they will be signed to their Dirty label.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Queen Latifah front theThe Rap Game alongside Jermaine Dupri/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

This article from The Guardian explains more:

BBC Three is, this week, launching its own version of The Rap Game, the US version of which has now been running for five seasons, fronted by rap svengali Jermaine Dupri alongside Queen Latifah. The Rap Game UK is a somewhat more low-key take. South London rappers Krept & Konan and BBC 1Xtra’s head of music and grime OG DJ Target will mentor seven unsigned MCs, who have been flung together in a soulless-looking penthouse in Birmingham for a) the purposes of our entertainment and b) the chance to win a recording contact with Krept & Konan’s Play Dirty label. The show is the latest series to prove that the appetite for rap-themed talent telly is still growing.

Maybe a Rap-themed show provides distraction and an alternative from the tacky and formulaic talent shows that want to uncover the next big Pop thing but I wonder what the point of The Rap Game UK is. Rap, to me, is about these underground artists working their way through the ranks and getting the word out; starting small but building up respectfully; never yearning for big-money deals: they are trying to get something pure and real out into the world. Whilst Rap has not penetrated the mainstream as you’d hope, there are a lot of great British Rap artists out there. From Stromzy and Skepta to Lady Leshurr and Stefflon Don; they are fusing Rap and Grime to wonderful effect.

I think the U.S. has a stronger Rap scene but there are some potent British artists – such as Dave and Little Simz – who should be leading the way. Look at someone like Dave the fact that he has built this career from grinding and working tirelessly to get his music out there. He recently played Glastonbury and it would have given inspiration to those out there who want to follow in his footsteps. What about the artists who cannot get on the new show? When the winner does get announced, they will be made to sound like Krept & Konan; something their label can mould and put out into the world. On the surface, it might sound different to all the other talent shows but it really is not. How about the people who will compete for a recording contract? Where will they come from?

When it came to casting, a shout-out for applications was placed on social media; artists were also flagged by the BBC’s own in-house new music launchpad BBC Introducing. One of them was former admin assistant Lady Ice, an MC from Manchester, whose super-fast flow is peppered with patois. She has already freestyled for Toddla T on 1Xtra and isn’t new to the televised talent show hustle, either. As a teenager, she got through to The X Factor’s bootcamp stage as part of a grime duo with her cousin, but they left the show after he had a change of heart. Back then she was gutted, but she has since realised it might not have been the best way to forge a career.

IN THIS PHOTO: Stormzy/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

I can understand why broadcasters would want to capitalise on the rise of rappers like Stormzy and uncover someone similar. I do not recall any of these big artists going through the talent show route. Maybe they had local contests and got to flex their muscles in small venues but they did not need to go through T.V. and seek the approval of judges. I have a lot of respect for British Rap but a talent show cheapens the genre and seems like a pointless exercise. Krept & Konan are hardly household names and are far weaker than peers that I have just mentioned. Maybe they will find a talent artist but that particular person already has that ability and they could put their music online and find a fanbase doing things that way. T.V. shows are just fast-tracking artists and, again, it is not about discovering the best out there and…well, I am not sure what the point is. If one wants to showcase the great Rap potential out there, we are all in favour of that. Make a documentary or put playlists together; have festivals dedicated to these great artists. Having a T.V. show controlled by individuals looking for artists that fit their bill lacks a sense of ubiquity and popular consensus – will there be voting on this show? I think talent shows are innately cruel because they rely on sob stories and there is that rejection of not making it.

Rather than search for a single artist who can go all the way, I think we should be doing a lot more to promote Rap as a whole and showcase schemes and courses that helps young artists hone their craft and get the industry support they need. The Rap Game UK is just a T.V. show that is a step too far. As I said earlier: how many winners from The Voice and The X Factor do you listen to and are blown away by?! I think the same will be true of whoever wins The Rap Game UK. Where does this cycle end? Will we have a talent contest for Jazz artists or D.J.s? Do we then move into band territories or hunt for the next big producer?! I am all in favour of supporting great genres and throwing some love the way of those who deserve it. Modern Pop is okay but I do worry that it has declined over the decades. Are we looking to T.V. shows to find the next generation rather than urging Pop artists to write for themselves or find a sound that steps away from the commercial and thruway? The most interesting Pop artists of the moment are deeper, more intelligent and intriguing than the carbon copy artists we see on talent shows. I worry the same will happen with U.K. Rap if we encourage talent formats to thrive. The Guardian’s article continues:

We will have to wait to see if the show can uncover new talent and make them ubiquitous, Olly Murs-style. But maybe that’s not really the point. Maybe it’s about finally making space for a credible British hip-hop show that truly understands that world, as well as its audience. “There hasn’t been much for me to scream and shout about on UK talent shows in the past, especially when it comes to rappers; that’s why this programme is so necessary and relevant,” says DJ Target. “We’ve been working very hard to deliver something that’s real.” It looks like they’re not too far off”.

I question the motive of a U.K. Rap show and whether it is more about cashing in on the talent show movement or genuinely trying to find a diamond. The U.K. Rap scene is growing and busy and I think judges will be looking to mould the ‘next Stormzy/Skepta’ rather than allow an artist to be themselves and utilise their own voice. I can applaud anyone who wants to promote and augment British Rap music but The Rap Game UK is really…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

NOT the right way to do things.

FEATURE: Eternal Life: The Ever-Inspiring Grace at Twenty-Five

FEATURE:

 

 

Eternal Life

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The Ever-Inspiring Grace at Twenty-Five

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IT is a shame Jeff Buckley

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IN THIS PHOTO: Jeff Buckley in 1994/PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Tonge/Hulton Archive

only lived to finish one studio album because, on 1994’s Grace, he created something truly transcendent and memorable. In fact, I think Grace is one of the most influential albums ever. So many modern artists are inspired by Grace and, when speaking with musicians, so many nod to that album. Even though Buckley died in 1997, there are new videos surfacing and exciting news. Grace turns twenty-five on 23rd August and I think it warrants celebration. I will bring in other reviews of Grace but, recently, Consequence of Sound highlighted it as a classic album:

Buckley had only one album to his name when he died, but my word, what an album it was. Grace hit shelves in 1994, arguably alternative rock’s single greatest year; its contemporaries included Soundgarden’s Superunknown, Beck’s Mellow Gold, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, Hole’s Live Through This, Green Day’s Dookie, and Weezer’s (first) self-titled album, to name just a few. The question isn’t whether or not Grace was superior to them — you can decide that one for yourself — but it sounded so fundamentally unlike those other albums that it might as well have come from another era. American alternative rock (as opposed to Britpop) was iconoclastic, disdainful of the hubris and hedonism of classic rock; moreover, it sounded ugly, and it dealt with ugly emotions.

…Instead, Buckley drew from a vast range of other influences, and they manifest on Gracein creative, inexact ways. The title track, with its fleet guitar and mystic lyrics, sounds as if Van Morrison attempted to write a full-on rock song; at the same time, I can’t name a Morrison song that it reminds me of. Ditto for “Eternal Life”, which openly (but not obviously) reflects Buckley’s love of Led Zeppelin with their overdriven guitar riffs and thundering drums. (It’s the closest Buckley came to grunge, sounding similar to Soundgarden or early Pearl Jam.) Even his take on “Lilac Wine”, which is clearly indebted to Nina Simone’s version three decades prior, comes across less like mere mimicry and more like a genuine attempt to recreate the song’s magic for himself — which he succeeds at, replacing the stark piano of Simone’s cover with guitar reverb and cymbal rolls that enhance the song’s midnight glow”.

On 23rd August, there are going to be Grace anniversary releases and it will be a rare chance to hear live recordings and demos that many will be unaware of. There is debate as to whether the archives should be closed and whether it is right to keep mining Buckley’s work – from the rough sketches through to studio recordings. I would usually object to the vaults being cleaned out but, as Grace is such a pivotal album, it is a good move.

Referring to the review above, one thing stands out: the originality and surprise of a Grace-like album arriving in 1994; at a time when Soundgarden and Grunge was still popular. I discovered Buckley’s music when I was in high-school and I recall Grace coming along in 1994. At the time, I was listening to a lot of Britpop and bands like Blur; Oasis were coming through and it was a wonderful time for music. I think 1994 is the strongest year for music and, aside from a few years in the 1970s, it is hard to think of a time where there was so much magic and wonder in the air. Grace is an album that received some caution and underwhelming reviews at the time. There were very few artists like Buckley and, at a time when a more sensitive tone was not familiar in the mainstream, was Buckley ahead of his time? Apart from Tori Amos’ Under the Pink, few of the most popular albums of 1994 displayed the same beauty, sense of emotion and…grace. In fact, Amos’ album is a lot rawer than Grace so, in many ways, there was nothing for critics to compare Buckley with. Retrospective reviews have been a lot more fevered and positive. I think Buckley stood out on his own in 1994 so it was hard to know what to make of the album. As so many songwriters have been influenced by Buckley, Grace has continued to rise in popularity, mystique and importance. From Anna Calvi and Thom Yorke to Matt Bellamy and PJ Harvey, you can hear elements of Buckley in them.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Jeff Buckley in 1994/PHOTO CREDIT: Anton Corbijn

In fact, Radiohead’s career took an important and dramatic turn when they watched Buckley perform in London. This was when the band were making The Bends and, after a particularly charged gig, Thom Yorke rushed to the studio to record Fake Plastic Trees. Overcome by the emotion and purity of the moment, he burst into tears and, as such, the album mixed tender and more sensitive songs with heavier numbers – one wonders whether the album would have been as celebrated were it not for the influence of Jeff Buckley. I shall come back to my experiences of Buckley’s music but, in another review of Grace, Drowned in Sound talk about the way the album pares the familiar and strikingly original so well:

Few albums have displayed so many influences and yet sounded so wholly original. Jeff included three covers – ‘Lilac Wine’, ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Corpus Christi Carol’ – all of which will surely come to be embedded in the popular consciousness as Jeff’s own. The fact that Benjamin Britten and Leonard Cohen share album space is testament to Jeff’s virtuosity. You can also hear shades of the Cure in the swirling guitars of ‘Dream Brother’ and Jimmy Page-style riffing as ‘Lover, You Should Have Come Over’ reaches its zenith.

Some may hold this album responsible for spawning various falsetto singing clones but they will never hit upon the heart of Jeff Buckley. How many lovelorn troubadours have succeeded in writing a lyric as vivid but simple as "My kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder"? How many acoustic bands have matched that perfect triumphant climax in ‘Last Goodbye’? The answer, to my ears, is not many.

The fact that some of the material on the posthumous album ‘Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk’ could have been even better than ‘Grace’ only serves to magnify the tragedy of Jeff’s death. However, let’s be glad that we still have some of Jeff’s music to cherish. ‘Grace’ is not a depressing album for me. In fact, there are moments when I can almost ‘hear’ Jeff smile as he realises that he has created something truly glorious”.

Grace is that combination of the more reflective and sadder but, in every moment, there is yearning, hope and light. Just listen to his iconic rendition of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah and you hear so much intimacy and beauty. It is a magnificent song and, rightly, is considered one of the finest covers ever. As an artist, I feel Buckley’s lyrics are underrated. From the visions of rain falling on funeral mourners in Lover, You Should’ve Come Over to the urgency of love on Grace, he is a fantastic and thought-provoking writer. He can write in a very personal way but ensure his songs resonate with people around the world. Rather than discuss love and longing in a very cliched way, Buckley manages to frame these feelings in a fresh and intriguing way. Maybe it is Buckley’s musical upbringing – artists like Led Zeppelin and Joni Mitchell playing a big role – that contributes to that fantastic sound.

I think a lot of Grace’s brilliance can be traced back to the year or two before (1994) when he was cutting his teeth and gigging around New York. If you have not heard Buckley in full flight at Sin-é (in 1993) then you really need to check it out! I think smaller and more personal spaces like this allowed Buckley to experiment and, I don’t know, see how his songs connected with a small audience. A few of Grace’s tracks are quite dramatic but I feel he designed the album for the individual; music that gets into the soul rather than songs that are meant for stadiums and huge crowds. As the more sensitive singer-songwriter has become more commonplace, Grace is a guide and huge source of inspiration. Some albums from 1994 sound dated or not so familiar today but Grace seems more relevant – again, it was well ahead of its time! I have been following Buckley’s music since 1994 and it still creates shivers when I listen. Grace is his sole studio album but, just before his death, he was working on a second album: My Sweetheart the Drunk was, from the material available, a more eclectic and slightly edgier album than Grace. It’s a tragedy Buckley was taken at the age of thirty and I do wonder what sort of music he would be making if he was alive today.

On 23rd August, I hope there are celebrations of a truly remarkable album. It is considered one of the best albums of the 1990s and, looking back at 1994, how could so many people have overlooked Grace, even if the scene was embracing other sounds and artists?! It is a strange thing, but I am glad this classic album has grown and grown through the years and continues to inspire artists. As I said, so many people I have spoken to have Buckley to thank for helping realise their sound and path. If you have not heard Grace then go and buy it and experience the magic. It is such a varied, touching and powerful album that grabs the senses and pulls you in. Twenty-five years after its release, this sensational work is still revealing its secrets and moving musicians. To be fair, the legacy and essence of Jeff Buckley will never die – he is ingrained into so many musicians brand-new and established alike. The new releases and the anniversary edition of Grace will be a treat for fans and, just a couple of days ago, I asked whether more classic albums should get special editions where we can experience demos and alternate takes. Who knows what modern music would be without the fantastic Grace?! As this titanic album turns twenty-five, put it on, close eyes and surrender. From the potency of Grace to the heartache of Last Goodbye; the angelic vocal on Corpus Christi Carol to the hard-hitting Eternal Life, Grace is a …

SPELLBINDING work.

FEATURE: Lost in the Machine: Do Album and Single Campaigns Need to Look to the Past in Order to Move Forward?

FEATURE:

 

 

Lost in the Machine

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PHOTO CREDIT: @dmitrybayer/Unsplash 

Do Album and Single Campaigns Need to Look to the Past in Order to Move Forward?

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I have been inspired by a tweet…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @kmuza/Unsplash

that asks whether modern albums and singles are marketed to death. Essentially – and what the tweet was getting at -, is that we hear so much about certain records months in advance of release. Look at social media feeds and artists are promoting their songs and albums with teaser videos and a few singles; by the time the actual album comes along, you have been exposed to onslaught of marketing, timed posts and teasers. Radio is the same when it comes to acts: they will hammer a single to death and, as often artists release another single or album in the meantime, you have this one song playing endlessly. It means that, when the album comes out with that track on, you are avoiding that over-exposed track; you wonder why stations do not play more album tracks. I do feel that, even for big artists, the modern album promotional campaign is too much. Maybe I am repeating myself but think about artists and the fact we hear so much about an album before it comes out. I like Lana Del Rey’s music but, today, there are two more singles out from her new album, Noman Fuckling Rockwell – it means we have had a load of build and a few songs but, I wonder, does that take the momentum and album away? Streaming services are so keen to ramp up a sense of anticipation long before an album has come out and, when the thing arrives in the world, they sort of mute and retreat – wouldn’t it make sense to be heavier on the promotional side when an album is actually available?! 

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I might be showing my age, but I do feel like thing are excessive these days. Once was the time we’d get a single before an album came out and, once it was released, there would be a healthy smattering of singles and spins. It was more balanced and top-heavy; we did not have things shoved down our throats long in advance and, because of the lack of hype and social media attack, the listening experience was richer. I can understand why labels and artists adopt a certain approach: they have a lot of competition and people need to be informed and kept in the loop. There have been ‘surprise’ album releases – from the likes of Beyoncé – but, unless you are a huge artist, that gamble does not often pay off. People might miss the album coming out and, as it is so unexpected, you risk losing a lot of money and attention. It is a hard balance these days because of how much is naturally promoted. It is hard for newer artists to get a footing so they need to utilise social media as much as they can: teaser posts, regular updates and videos brings more people in and ensure that, when a single/album is release, as many people as possible are listening – do they keep that pressure on for a few weeks after release to make sure people are still invested/buying?

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @florenciaviadana/Unsplash

If an album or song is not played for a while before release then stations are not aware; record stockers need that warning and artists suffer because reviews are not going to be as forthcoming. Maybe the sheer size of the market now means we cannot simply have albums announced and then, after one single, released into the world. I do think there is a line we can draw between overly-excessive tweets and posts – designed, I feel, with popularity and likes in mind rather than doing what’s best for the music – and making sure people are not being bombarded with information and little clips from an album that is a long way away. Also, returning to what I was saying about albums when they come out. So few tracks are played after the fact and the promotional machine sort of dies. To me, you need to keep some focus on an album for a few weeks after release so that stations/fans and the press know what is happening and can be ready. I also think so many singles are released before an album comes out. You do not need to hear four or five songs before release date. Artists rarely release tracks after an album has arrived and it seems there is this plan to make an impact right to the day of release and, when it is out in the world, take your foot off the gas. Surely having a couple of singles held back for a few weeks/months after an album comes out means it remains longer and gets more coverage? Are we living in a time when artists are already moving on to the next new thing after an album/single comes out?!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @dmjdenise/Unsplash

There are industries – such as film and literature – where we are told about a work a year before it arrives. I guess, unlike music, we do not have so many reminders…and I suppose these industries are more money-driven – trying to maximise profits by letting people know about a film that far ahead. Money does limit music marketing, too. Labels and artists have a set budget so they cannot necessarily afford to promote an album a few months before its release and then do another round of promotion a few months after. I do think a lot of artists underestimate how attentive will be. I find that some of these exciting albums that are put out there months before release lose some of their potency on release date. One has had to ensure all these adverts and reminders; maybe we have heard the same singles over and over that, by the time the album does actually get here, we are less curious. Also, if artists are giving so much away ahead of time, what is left of the finished product upon release? Are factors such as metrics and streaming figures dictating when artists should start promoting and how relevant streaming success is? I posed a few different questions on Twitter regarding album campaigns and the fact we have this excess. If an album has an inventive and fun marketing concept and niche then it can stand out and become interesting but I am curious whether artists need to step back a bit.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @lensinkmitchel/Unsplash

I am not sure whether we need such a long gap between a first teaser and an album release. I do think artists can release a couple of singles and still have people hooked when the album comes out – this stream of songs and posts does seem a bit too much. Maybe we cannot fully return to older days when there was a shorter wait for albums and we were exposed to less material from it ahead of time. I do feel like streaming numbers and statistics rule too much. I do think most listeners would appreciate an album or single more with a bit less build-up; a degree of mystery perhaps: now, I do feel like a lot of potentially great albums are being affected by rigorous and relentless campaigns. From current artists such as Bon Iver and Lana Del Rey to some of the older guard, there does seem to be a bit too much emphasis on campaigns and targets rather than considering the album as a whole and maximising its impact. I would like to see some of these hotly-tipped records getting some promotion after release and hearing new material then. It is difficult to get a balance so that artists gain maximum attention and do not overdo things. It would be interesting to know what people think and whether a look at the past is the way to move forward. Maybe we cannot entirely step back in time, but I do recall the days when albums were so exciting because we had to wait but were not sure exactly what we’d get. Having only heard a single or two, there were all these questions we wanted answers. Now, I never feel quite the same rush when an album is released. There are so many great albums out there, don’t get me wrong, but there is this pressure to promote and highlight them a long time before release – giving little thought to the days and weeks after release. It is going to be hard changing the system so that it is more effective and less intense and, for those who are a bit cold on the album, maybe a rethink would help people…

PHOTO CREDIT: @danimota/Unsplash

REKINDLE their passion.

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: RAY BLK 

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

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THE weather is greatly improved…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: FLETCHER/PHOTO CREDIT: 1883 Magazine

from last week and the sun is out today. Although the temperature is not as high as it has been, things are better and it seems like summer is holding on! To celebrate that, here is another collection of female-led sounds that is guaranteed to lift the senses. There is a variation of genres and styles that should please the most picky; a wonderful blend that is a great way to start the weekend off. Have a listen to these fantastic songs and I know there will be something in there that takes your imagination. Some of the boldest and most exciting music of the moment is being made by women and this playlist…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Lily Moore

PROVES that.

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

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Los BitchosFrozen Margarita

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Anna of the NorthPlaying Games

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PHOTO CREDIT: Alexander Aitken

ChelaHeart O’ Hearts

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PHOTO CREDIT: Loroto Productions

Frankie Cosmos - Wannago

Lydia EvangelineStill Loves You

Miranda LambertBluebird

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Gabrielle Aplin (ft. JP Cooper) - Losing Me

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Chelsea CutlerHow to Be Human

PHOTO CREDIT: Wonderland Magazine

FLECTHERStrangers

PHOTO CREDIT: Burak Cingi

Shuratommy

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Ingrid AndressWe’re Not Friends

Lily MooreNothing on You

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RAY BLKIn My Bed

PHOTO CREDIT: Douglas Hill Photography

st. martiinsMy Girl

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WESLEESomething Bout You

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PHOTO CREDIT: Conner Edward Dixon Photography

Calva LouiseBelicoso

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PHOTO CREDIT: Lola Lafia

Maude LatourRide My Bike

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Bree RunwayX2C

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Snoh AalegraToronto

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Liz LawrenceUSP

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Julie BerganCrazy Enough

PVRISHallucinations

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Josie DunneOoh La La

Annabel AllumAltar to Alter

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PHOTO CREDIT: Joshua Tate

Asha JefferiesBad Kisser

FEATURE: The August Playlist: Vol. 3: RUINS When the Center Won’t Hold

FEATURE:

 

The August Playlist

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PHOTO CREDIT: Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney/PHOTO CREDIT: Nikko LaMere 

Vol. 3: RUINS When the Center Won’t Hold

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THIS is a week…

IN THIS PHOTO: Miley Cyrus

where there are so many great songs that it is sort of hard to keep track of them all. Not only do we have new music from Sleater-Kinney, Michael Kiwanuka; Taylor Swift and Ride alongside Miley Cyrus…there is also music from Tegan & Sara and The Murder Capital. It is a fantastic week and one where some of the biggest stars of today are out there and proud. I keep saying how we get contrasts regarding quality but one cannot accuse the music on display here of lacking in any depth and quality. It is a collection of absolute gems that should get your weekend off to a flyer. Have a look at the incredible cuts here and I am sure you will agree they are top-quality. Sit back and let these incredible songs…

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Murder Capital

GET into the head.  

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: The New York Times

Sleater-Kinney RUINS

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PHOTO CREDIT: Olivia Rose

Michael Kiwanuka You Ain’t the Problem

Miley Cyrus Slide Away

Taylor Swift Lover

(Sandy) Alex GSouthern Sky 

PHOTO CREDIT: Loroto Productions

Frankie CosmosWannago

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Ride Future Love

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Anna of the NorthPlaying Games

Whitney Used to Be Lonely

The Murder Capital Feeling Fades

Shura flyin’

PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

Tegan & Sara I’ll Be Back Someday

Liam Gallagher One of Us

PHOTO CREDIT: Rob Baker Ashton

Iggy Pop James Bond

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikey Buishas

Big Thief Not

Charli XCX (ft. Sky Ferreira) - Cross You Out

Blanck MassNo Dice

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PHOTO CREDIT: Pedro Mkk

Jorja Smith (ft. Burna Boy) - Be Honest

Ross from Friends - Epiphany

Mystery Jets Screwdriver

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You Me At Six What’s It Like

BROCKHAMPTON Boy Bye

Frank TurnerEye of the Day

ROSALÍA, Ozuna - Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi

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Normani Motivation

PHOTO CREDIT: Alexander Aitken

Chela - Heart O' Hearts

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Young ThugBad Bad Bad 

Call Me Loop Self Love

Death Cab for Cutie - To the Ground 

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PHOTO CREDIT: WDZIEKONSKI

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Superbug

grandson Rock Bottom

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Stereophonics Fly Like an Eagle