TRACK REVIEW: Loyle Carner (ft. Jorja Smith) - Loose Ends



Loyle Carner (ft. Jorja Smith)

PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Holyoak 

Loose Ends





The track, Loose Ends, is available via:



The album, Not Waving, But Drowning, is available here:


19th April, 2019


AMF Records


I am doing things differently this weekend...

and am focusing entirely on artists that are in the mainstream. I would normally look at a rising artist now but, without anything current that is interesting to me, I thought I would take the time to look at Loyle Carner. After reviewing Madonna yesterday, this is the second review in as many days that looks at a collaboration – this one, I feel, is more effective. I will talk about, first, Loyle Carner and the pressure of a second album; British Hip-Hop and the development through the years; duets and collaborations and why a well-judged one can be very effective; Jorja Smith and why she is one of the strongest artists in the world right now – I will take a look at Loyle Carner and where he might be heading in the coming months. When Loyle Carner released his debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, early in 2017, there were many who couldn’t believe the sound he was making. The record was nominated for a Mercury that year and fantastic reviews came in thick and fast! I count that album as among the best of 2017 and it was wonderful discovering this raw talent who was different to everyone else around. Some of the songs from the album – such as The Isle of Arran and Ain’t Nothing Changed – are still in my brain and the songs, whilst accessible, hold personal weight and unique spirit. There are bits of Jazz sprinkled in and there are some nice beats throughout. It is Carner’s prowess and command that makes the songs pop and resonate. His rapping and flow is never too boastful and primal: instead, we have someone who is more personable and softer but has a lot of skill and cut. I am not sure who Carner is inspired by but he does not sound like some of the more aggressive U.S. Hip-Hop artists. It is no shock that Yesterday’s Gone received such acclaim and celebration. Following that is quite a hard task.

Rather than replicate what was on that record, we have a new album, Not Waving, But Drowning, that has some similarities. Carner has not changed his sound radically and, over fifteen tracks, he has plenty of time to explore and expand. He covers a lot of ground and, once more, brings in some collaborators on various numbers. I will discuss Jorja Smith when reviewing the track but Not Waving, But Drowning has been picking up plenty of love from fans and critics. Both of his albums talk about his family and past. A lot has changed over the past few years and Carner has documented this on Not Waving, But Drowning. Carner, in this interview with FADER talked about his need to be open and, in many ways, his sophomore album is deeper and harder-hitting. Carner discussed the changes and what has happened in his life since his debut release:

A lot of stuff was changing for me," Carner says. “I was moving out of my mum's house and in with my missus — a kind of purgatory. My only safe space was the studio.”

Carner’s close relationship with his mother was the beating heart of Yesterday’s Gone, an album that concluded with her reading a poem she wrote (“He was and is a complete joy / The world is his, that scribble of a boy”). This time, his relationship with his “missus” informed the new album: “She's the only person that tells me if my music is shit,” he says. “It's an incredible thing to have.” He also says he’s been learning to be less selfless with age: “It's been nice to put myself first, in really small ways.”

Not Waving, But Drowning allows Carner to open up about those closest to him over nostalgic boom-bap production, rejecting modern sounds and lyrical trends while clearing a lane that only he is keen to occupy”.

There is a lot of pressure on artists between albums and following up a successful debut. Whilst there are similar shades this time around, Not Waving, But Drowning seems like a more personal and open work. It holds greater emotional weight and there is more depth to be found. That is not to say his debut was light but I feel Carner is exploring his own psyche and going deeper this time around. A lot of artists are being very revealing regarding mental-health and it is not a surprise to see these very evocative and touching albums coming through.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Coulson

Some critics fancy Carner’s debut more but there is ample passion for his new record. I feel there is this pressure for artists to top what they did before but, as long as they remain true and focused, it is possible to navigate that expectation and sense of pressure. Carner has produced another masterful album at a time of change and movement. I do like British Hip-Hop and the fact there is a rise right now but Carner seems to sit outside of what is happening at the core. In the interview I just sourced, he talked about the British crop coming through and how he is slightly separate. Stormzy, slowthai and Dave are all doing remarkable work and, whilst they might be more Grime/Rap-based, you could not compare Carner to them. Those artists, in many ways, are documenting what is happening in Britain and have a slightly more political edge. They have a sharper and edgier sound and I actually prefer Loyle Carner. He is, as stated, more accessible but can still produce songs that have bite and attack. He always works with people he is close with so, when it comes to the likes of Jordan Rakei and Jorja Smith, these are people he respects and knows will bring something great to his work. There is greater warmth and the homespun from Carner and you feel like this is a young man who is concerned about the state of the world but knows that family come first. He has a very close relationship with his mum, Jean, and she has been a central focus of both albums. Carner was keen to provide for her and worried about her during the debut album; wanting the best for her and hoping the album did well so he could look after her. Now, there is less pressure regarding finance but Carner has gone back to his roots for Not Waving, But Drowning and explores his Guayanan heritage. He has a tense relationship with his biological dad and was raised by his mum and step-dad.

It is hard to discuss family and something fraught but Carner, as a songwriter, feels it is important to touch on these subjects and not shy away. Instead of the usual rappers and those who shout and spit anger, there is this calm when you hear Carner sing. He lets the listeners into his world and wants them to get a true sense of who he is and where he came from. This is not something you hear from all artists and it is fantastic that Carner has not stepped away from this path and betrayed his ideals. Jean, naturally, is his guiding light and someone he counts as his rock. On his latest album, there are some hard moments and big emotions expressed but there is plenty of light and compassion. It is a nice blend of sounds and expressions; one gets a full spectrum of thoughts and feelings and it is impossible to ignore the album. A couple of the singles have been floating about for a while so we sort of knew what Carner was going to give us. The more you dive into Not Waving, But Drowning, the more you pick up. There are differences and fresh additions (compared to the debut) and he has not merely copied Yesterday’s Gone. If Loyle Carner is apart from many of his Rap and Hip-Hop peers then that is a good thing. He is forging his own path and determined to add his unique stamp. I know there are loads more albums in Carner and I cannot wait to see where he heads next. The young man has changed from this promising artist living with his mum to this growing star who has moved out and is looking ahead. Success has not changed his core and heart but one can feel greater confidence and range on his current album. Collaborations are an important part of Carner’s work. He is keen to bring his mates in to give his music that sense of the familiar and personal. He lets us all in and wants his music to be this fulsome and varied thing. Jorja Smith appears on the current single, Loose Ends.

There are some great collaborations on Not Waving, But Drowning. Jordan Rakei appears on Ottolenghi whilst Sampha features on Desoleil (Brilliant Corners); Jean Coyle-Larner (his mum) on Dear Ben and Tom Misch on Angel. It is like Carner has his mates around and we are opening his door but, more than that, we get these different voices that add new dynamics to the songs. I said yesterday, when featuring Madonna, how collaborations can be misjudged and unwise. You do feel like some are engineered to give artists a boosts or rack up the numbers on Spotify. I do think a great collaboration can do wonders but there are so many that are quite vague, insincere and forgettable. A great collaboration should put the main artist at the front but have another (other) artist providing something special. In the case of Loyle Carner, he has these artists with him who he knows and trusts – not just the latest fad and hot star that can add a bit of credibility. Because of that, the fusions sound more natural and there is this great connection between Carner and his guests. Carner is the standout but I love how these different voices can add something fresh and nuanced. Look at Jorja Smith and what she does on Loose Ends. This track, to me, is the standout from Not Drowning, But Waving because of the way the two combine and fuse. Carner is up-top and doing what he does and then, adding this rose-scented and sweet breeze, Smith comes in and produced a sublime vocal. It is so full of beauty and not something you might expect from a Hip-Hop song. She is a great artist and, not to steal too much focus from Carner, someone who is enjoying big success herself right now. These two British titans sound perfectly joined and you cannot help but fall in love with this gorgeous sound. In many ways, Jorja Smith is rising faster than Loyle Carner. Both of them are examples of the best of British and what quality is coming from the country.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Jorja Smith

I discovered Jorja Smith a couple of years and have been following her ever since. Her debut album, Lost & Found, was released last year and nominated for a Mercury too. The album has this mix of the simple and complex; the emotional and breezy and there is this great clash happening throughout. Smith is a fantastic writer and someone who, like Carner, takes us into her heart. Her voice is sensational and, at only twenty-one, she has years to develop it and make it even stronger. Right now, she is growing and making a name for herself here and in the U.S. Listen to Lost & Found and it is the sensual and tender nature that gets to you. It is a fantastic record and, like Loyle Carner, there will be pressure how she will follow it. Smith does not really collaborate with others on her own material but has appeared on other records. I think she has a really bright future and I am excited to see where she can go. What I love about her music most is the command and confidence she has. Even though Smith is very young, she has been in music for a little while and sounds completely comfortable and assured. I do hope Smith and Carner work together again because they sound completely harmonious and natural together. Smith will go onto great things because she has her own style and the sort of songs that get into the bones and stay in the mind. I didn’t want to steal too much focus from Loyle Carner but it is important to mention his collaborator and how important she is. Loose Ends is this fantastic moment where you get Carner’s distinct voice laying down the words and then, out of nowhere, comes this caramel-rich and stunning voice that takes you somewhere else. Let us look ahead and look at the song in question, shall we? It is a brilliant moment from Not Waving, But Drowning and a demonstration regarding the effectiveness of a great collaboration.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Bella Howard

It is Jorja Smith who opens Loose Ends. It is unusual to see a collaboration where the ‘outside’ artist starts things off. One expects Carner to have first say but it is much more effective and unexpected hearing Smith lead us in. “In love, when the going is tough…” she sings. It is the way she phrases those words and how striking they sound that really catches you off guard. There are words of sentiments falling on deaf ears and a lack of boundaries; the wish that there is a better way and (hope that) things can be different. I am intrigued by the words and the fact that Smith delivers them with such beauty. There is never a sense of anger or blackness and, enveloped by this sumptuous sound and grace, your heart and brain move in different directions. I wondered whether the song was about a personal relationship Carner has or a general feeling about family and dislocation. Smith retreats to the back and says the word ‘way’ at the end of each line. It is an effecting and stunning idea that gives this nice flow and beauty at the end of lines that are quite open, searching and emotive. The blend of Carner and Smith works wonderfully from the beginning. The hero looks at loose ends in his life and the fact he has a lot to clear up. There are people in his life that he wishes he knew back then and one feels that, when things were tough a while ago, he would have liked them around – they might not have been in his life then but there’s a feeling that things would have been different if they were. Carner is “wetting the pen” – such a strangely romantic and unusual image in the age of the digital communication – with every letter that is sent. I do wonder, again, whether Carner is talking about a lover or someone that used to be in his life.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Holyoak 

Knowing that he has this closeness with his mum and there were problems with his birth dad, maybe family and communication from them has inspired this song. As Smith sings gorgeously in the background, Carner talks about friends going astray and him changing. He was in Australia and turning down free drinks he could not even name. It seems life this new life and sense of increased success has taken him to new places and he has drifted apart from some of his mates. Maybe not everything is bad but you sense this yearning from Carner. There is this image of him seeing all these family trinkets and memories and them being so far away. Life has changed and Carner has grown; he is not the same boy he was and people have left his life. Carner delivers his lines with a skillful and mature combination of heart and drive and you are captivated by the flow. There are words of blame and sticking his head out in the rain and, whilst that projects images of depression and loss, I wonder whether Carner is speaking about his state of mind and changing relationships or something else. The words are both oblique and direct and there is this room for interpretation. Jorja Smith arrives with her opening words and breaks up the tenser and faster flow. It is a nice interjection and gives the song a sense of strange romance and comfort. Carner talks about someone not being there when his father died and his mum cried; a need for someone to be there for him and by his side. I hear images of Carner feeling pressure to put his pen to the page and being up there on the stage. He looks down from the stage and sees women winking and mates drinking. He has this sense of regret and longing and I wonder whether he feels estranged from an older life where he was free and his new-found life as a star.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures

One definitely feels Carner speaking to his peers as well as himself. Time is on his side but there has also been a lot of wasted time. Carner has seen tragedy and loss and there have been times he’s dropped the ball. His mates have been the same and there is this message for them. The words come so thick and fast that images swim and crash like waves. Carner is never aggressive but he packs a lot in over a short distance! Loose Ends is a fantastic song that gets you thinking and, throughout, you feel this sensitive and brave young man pouring his heart out. I have listened to the song a lot and feel I have a better understanding each time I listen to it. I do think that Smith adds some relief and escape from darker words but, more than that, seems to be this voice inside Carner’s head. Carner has a lot of love inside of him and he realises that his past was tricky and he made mistakes. He needed that stability and support and, yeah, there’s regret that things were like that. Now, looking back, you sense this young man making sense of things and looking forward. The elegant and touching piano line support the words and adds extra weight. The song ends pretty suddenly and, at the end, you do wonder what the song is truly about. Everyone has their own view and you can pick up truth from the lyrics. Carner leaves some room open for personal interpretation and thought. Loose Ends is this brilliant cut from Not Waving, But Drowning and shows the full spectrum of Carner’s talent. Make sure you check out the song and, more than that, go and listen to the album because there are many more gems like this. I selected Loose Ends for special consideration because of the juxtaposition of Jorja Smith’s voice and Carner’s. It is a magnificent blend and one that I hope is exploited more in the future.

It has been a very busy past couple of years for Loyle Carner. Many were waiting for his debut before it come out in 2017 and there was a lot of excitement swirling. It arrived and, sure enough, there was passionate chatter and praise. The record got award nominations and some huge reviews. Carner has produced this sublime second album and, again, there is a lot of love for it. People will want to see him on the road and get a chance to witness these new songs in the flesh. It is a busy time for the young man and one could forgive him for taking a rest and spending a few months out. Instead, he is busy on social media and seems like he is gearing up for a hectic next few months. He will want to get on the road and take his album to the people but there is also going to be other commitments. He is, by the looks of it, sporting football shirts right now and there is a partnership happening. Check out his Twitter page and you can see what is happening what the man is up to. With a record out, there are lots of interviews and everyone wants to know what the songs are about. Even though there has been a bit of tension between him and his long-time friend Rebel Kleff (the two have fallen out regarding a disagreement about money), this new album sees Carner moving forward and embracing the future. I will finish by quoting from another interview he gave and some interesting revelations. If you are not familiar with Loyle Carner than maybe track back to Yesterday’s Gone and see where he came from. Not Waving, But Drowning is a natural step forward and has many similarities to the debut – perhaps some greater range and depth when it comes to his emotions. When speaking with The Independent, Carner discussed living with ADHD and how cooking not only helps him but kids with the same condition:

Carner also runs cooking courses for 14-16-year-olds with ADHD. “I trust them with knives and fire,” he says. “Because nothing keeps the focus like danger. And giving kids responsibility helps them behave responsibly. We do simple things, make tortellini and learn to respect the ingredients, relish the flavours. It can be a meditation.” The course has also featured guest chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi: one of two chefs to get a shout out on the new record. The other is the late Antonio Carluccio, who gives his name to a song on which Carner rhymes a line about “pouring sparkling pressé” with one about his mum “marking essays”.

There is, with any artist, this pressure to conform to the ideals of fame and celebrity. Many artists revel in the notion of the old-school Rock lifestyle: where there are women who want to have sex with you and there’s this sense of excess. This, to Carner, is not what he is in music for:

Carner shakes his head: “I mean, I’ve been on tour. If your music starts to take off there will be a lot of girls who want to sleep with you and a lot of boys who want to hang out and give you drugs. There will be a lot of boys who want to sleep with you and girls who give you drugs. So you can do that. Or you can take that little bit of cash you’ve made and invest in having a real life. I focus on the fact I’ve managed to help my family, I’ve got a girlfriend who loves me, I’m thinking about getting a dog. These things are so wicked to me. These things have been my dreams since I was a kid. Why would I mess that up?”

As I leave, Carner writes an inspirational message for my son and asks if I can bring him to the album launch. “Are you sure?” I ask. “He’ll be upside down in the corner!” The frog prince grins wide. “That’s fine. I’ll be the rapper upside down in the other corner”.

I wanted to include that last paragraph from the interview as it shows what a gentle and down-to-earth nature Carner has. Unlike some artists who appear aloof and distant, Carner connects with people. He is someone we can all relate to and one of these people that is keen to open up and not hide away. This is inspirational for others who go through the same things and feel they are alone. Listen to Not Waving, But Drowning and discover this remarkable and bold record. It is a fantastic revelation and sports some of Loyle Carner’s best material to date. You can see and hear the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into the music and so, for that reason, Not Waving, But Drowning warrants…

 IN THIS PHOTO: A young Loyle Carner with his mum, Jean

YOUR full focus.         


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TRACK REVIEW: Madonna (ft. Maluma) - Medellin



Madonna (ft. Maluma)






The track, Medellin, is available via:




17th April, 2019


Boy Toy, Inc., Live Nation Worldwide and Interscope Records

The album, Madame X, is available from 14th June, 2019. Pre-order here:


EVEN though I have been...

writing on this blog for over seven years, I have never reviewed Madonna before! It is hard to know where to start but, when considering her latest track, I want to investigate alter egos and personas; collaborations and big artists who fuse with others; longevity in the industry and keeping fans behind you; teasing material and building up that sense of mystery and defying ageism in the music industry – I will end by looking ahead at where Madonna might step next. I am writing more about this later today but I am interested when artists invent a persona and their own character. It can be quite interesting seeing artists take a big leap between albums and taking their sound in a new direction. More compelling than that is someone who can change their identity and bring about this new figure. In Madonna’s case, she is not new to the alter ego. One might say that every album she has produced has given us a fresh personality but, in terms of a unique character, Erotica was the first reinvention. That album came out in 1992 and arrived at a pretty interesting time. She wowed critics with Like a Prayer in 1989 and was at the peak of her powers. Every album before that saw Madonna rise and grow but it was her 1989 record that broke her into the realms of superstardom. Madonna needed a logical move or a step away from what she was doing. Mistress Dita was/is this saucy, dominating woman who gave Erotica its necessary edge and sexuality. The album received some raised eyebrows but it was the first time that Madonna had embodied this character. She did not do anything radical with her voice but there was this sort of concept running through Erotica. Madonna was bold on Like a Prayer but Mistress Dita gave her this platform to write material that was a little more provocative and risk-taking. Even though that was twenty-seven years ago, this new embodiment seems to be a more fleshed-out version of Erotica’s heroine.

Madame X will be hitting the shelves on 14th June and its titular heroine is this all-encompassing superpower. Almost like a secret agent, Madame X is, as Madonna said on her social media feeds, this mother and lover figure; a teacher and spy; a whore and equestrian. These titles/jobs might give us an insight into what the songs on Madame X will sound like. There has already been talk/news regarding Madonna using a horse for one of her music videos so that is where the equestrian angle comes in. She has been rumoured to have a video using drag queens in the pipeline – no idea which part of her character that would embody. In many ways, Madame X is an extension of who Madonna has always been. She has always fought for freedom and wanted to change lives; wanted to touch people and give them a voice. Madame X is this spy-like character that travels the world and can be a nun and saint; a prisoner and criminal who reveals different aspects and angles. It is intriguing to think how the songs on Madame X will sound and whether she will use different sides of the character on each. Erotica was a sexual and confident album but, from song to song, there was not necessarily a different side of Mistress Dita. Here, it seems like Madame X will be the chameleon and project a different side in every song. This means the album will have that flow that keeps it fresh; a series of little stories all connected to this heroine. The first track, Medllin, has Latin rhythms and is more about Madonna and her partner, Maluma, embraced in this rare and exciting love. I will talk more about that track but it is more about Madonna as the rebel and lover of Madame X. I am interested seeing what other songs are about because, in my opinion, having this character is more interesting than a traditional album. We get to see Madonna in a new light and embrace this strong and inspiring figure. Each song, I guess, finds her traveling the world and changing her personality in this rather cool way. Nobody is quite sure what Madame X will sound like but, from its first offering, it will be pretty impressive!

I was a bit worried when Madonna revealed her tracklist for Madame X as there are quite a few collaborations. Out of the thirteen tracks announced, five have other artists on it. That might not same like too much but I do look back at her earlier career and there were not many times when Madonna had to share the spotlight. Apart from duetting with Prince on Love Song (from Like a Prayer) and having people like Babyface sing on her tracks, it has been all her. In more recent albums, Nicki Minaj has been involved and Madonna has been keen to promote various producers – giving them quite a big billing on album covers. Whilst Madonna is the star and the reason we will buy Madame X, I do wonder whether other parties will take too much focus away from her. As she has this new persona and storyline, these other artists give additional voices and characters. I can appreciate that they need to be there so the album has this sense of story and narrative but I do feel like a few less cooks in the kitchen would have been a good thing. In the Spotify era, collaborations are a great way for artists to get more people listening to their music. A big artist can bring others on and, in an instant, the profile of the lesser-heard artist can rise. I am not cynically claiming collaboration is about business and getting the numbers up but a lot of songs do not need others performing on them – or not as many as you get! I hear songs with five or six different artists on it and it can be pretty annoying! In the case of Madonna, she has carefully selected her collaborators and has always worked with different acts through her career. Collaborations before have been quite subtle and it is only in recent years where other performers have taken more of a role in her sound. Madonna does not really need others to make her look and sound great but some say that her collaborating is an effort to remain relevant and fresh in a competitive market.

That would be wrong as Madonna is the Queen of Pop and will always have a huge fanbase. The landscape has changed since she burst through in the 1980s and there is a lot more to choose from. Music has become more digital and the type of music we favour is also different. Doing what she did back in the 1980s and 1990s might not work now and there is nothing wrong with joining with other artists. It will be a big test for Madame X as to whether these other artists take too much focus. Five songs have collaborators and I just hope that Madonna is not pushed out of the way and has minor say when it comes to the vocals. If you have the odd duet or another voice in the background, it can be highly effective and original. Maluma features a couple of times on the album and seems to be a lover-type figure. There are no big names collaborating which makes me feel like there is not going to be that feeling world-famous and legendary figures are in there just to revive their career. On the other hand, I have not heard of any of the collaborators on the album and, I guess, they are trendy and cool with the young folk. Madonna has a reason for including them but I do wonder whether, instead of the hip newcomers, she could have created a bigger punch joining with more established and long-standing artists. I am not a big fan of the BBC Radio 1-type artists who seem very popular and cool but will not endure many years from now. Madonna does not need these type of artists to make her cool and current but, so long as motives are pure, then it is fine. Recent Madonna records have brought in super-cool producers and artists but I think it is a way of making sure her material is in good hands and sounds contemporary. She could not well keep writing and producing with the same people in a climate that has changed; she needs to bring in the new core and, yes, use other artists to bring new fans/eyes Madonna’s way.

Not only are new personas and constant creative shifts a reason why Madonna ensures and inspires but she has knows what the people want. Look back at her early career and Madonna was aware of how good she was and what the scene was lacking. She talked about deeper subjects and tackled things that others were not. There was this boldness and confidence that meant she was a standout artist from the 1980s and 1990s. Able to fit in with changing musical trends and keep her material fresh and individual, Madonna was much more inventive, savvy and strong than her peers. She is shrewd when it comes to business and takes care of every aspect of her career. Look at the way Madame X has been promoted and teased and here is Madonna able to adapt to 2019. That sounds patronising but she is not an artist who sits back and assumes her legacy will create sales. She realises people need to promote in a certain way and has created this great campaign. As opposed doing a few interviews and letting a team run things, she is more hands-on and is keen to take care of things. Madonna also celebrates her older albums and wants people to discover them. This balance between a very modern artist and someone who acknowledges her past is fascinating. I have seen some legendary artists lose fans because they either do not change or they sound a bit fake when trying to modernise. Madonna knows what her fans want and does not change that. She needs to keep evolving and looking forward but she could easily sell out and be someone different. There are multiple reasons why Madonna has endured but she can read the market and is able to change and create these steps without losing her core and true identity. The music itself remains strong and always keeps you guessing. Others need to look her way regarding how to survive and remain in a very challenging industry.

I have been a fan of Madonna since the 1980s and feel that she has many more years ahead. She ruled Pop in the 1980s but knew that, in the 1990s, music was changing. Erotica brought in some Dance and House elements and she was aware of the European influence in the early-1990s. Ray of Light in 1998 was the first album to bring Electronic music fully into the mainstream and give producers like William Orbit a bigger voice. I think it is the risks Madonna takes and how she can see the future. Rather than copy what everyone is up to, she looks to the underground and creates something new. Madonna always bends sounds and united different genres and, on Medllin, she is at it again. This article from The Telegraph shows why Madonna backing a Latin sound is important – and what we might expect from the rest of Madame X:

If Medellín is anything to go by, then the Queen of Pop is back to her usual genre-bending form. A collaboration with the 25-year-old Latin-pop sensation, Maluma, the airy reggaeton-infused track, named after the city in which Maluma was born, is written in both English and Spanish – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Madonna already revealed her penchant for Latin music on her 1986 song La Isla Bonita.

The Latino flavour is timely: while sales of music in Europe grew by just 0.1 per cent in 2018, Latin America grew by 16.8 per cent. US pop stars have been paying attention – both Beyoncé and Justin Bieber have worked with Latinx artists since 2017 (the year when 19 predominantly Spanish-language tracks made their way into the Billboard Hot 100).

Several details about Madame X are still under-wraps, but we do know that Mirwais Ahmadzai, who worked with Madonna on her albums Music and American Life will be involved, as well as Rebel Heart producer Mike Dean”.

That foresight regarding sounds and utilising the best producers around means Madonna can keep her career burning and inspire a new generation. She is always moving forward and does not want to repeat herself. This is something that should act as guide to other artists who repeat themselves and never really shift between albums. Whereas some of her iconic peers are eager to remain still and not really embrace the modern ways, Madonna is always adapting and bending to ensure that nobody rivals her.

There is always this talk regarding Madonna as Pop’s queen and whether she can compete now. Many say that people like Arianna Grande and Lady Gaga are overtaking her. There is a raft of new Pop artists who are popular but can one really lay claim to a new leader when Madonna is still kicking?! Given the body of work Madonna has and how she has changed music, I am not sure anyone in our life will rival what she has given music. The newcomers are okay but it is quite insulting to think that one could easily usurp Madonna with a couple of good albums and some big Instagram figures. You need to have respect for Madonna’s past and what she has given music. Madonna endures and compels today because she has that legacy but she has embraced modern technology and ways. She could just release a single or two and bring the album out – that would be fine and it’d sell well. Some relatively new Madonna albums have not sold as well as hoped but maybe that was to do with the social media campaign. Having this Madame X character means Madonna can build that sense of interest and use social media in a different way. She is posting photos and tweets regarding different aspects of Madame X and there is a new picture for each one. The teaser for the album was this cool little film where we saw Madonna in different costumes and giving Madame X this rather dramatic and flowing edge. She travels the world and is a chameleon that inspires, breaks and loves. I do feel like a lot of modern music and promotion relies on something quick and easy that we can digest and then move on from. Here, Madonna has given us something that requires a bit of imagination and actually hooks you in. You can call it gimmicky and a bit of a marketing tool but it is a natural extension of what she has done in the past.

I love the fact Madonna keeps things interesting and, in 2019, is still turning heads and getting people talking! I will move on to reviewing Medellin soon but I wanted to ageism in the industry. Madonna has faced this for a while now and, in fact, post-Music (2000), one feels like certain radio stations have overlooked her. Madonna is only sixty and showing that age does not matter. There are older artists who are producing gentler music and not quite as empathic as they were back in the day. Whether we are talking about Kylie Minogue or Sheryl Crow, they have faced ageism attacks and been relegated by radio stations that used to play their music. It is an issue that affects more women than men and I do wonder why there is this feeling an artist becomes irrelevant or uncool when they hit a certain age. Look at what Madonna has given to music and you can see how she has inspired and brought music to where it is. Albums like Erotica gave rise to more provocative and daring artists; each of her big records has resonated with artists and made them want to follow in her footsteps. It is a crying shame that many overlook Madonna because she has reached sixty and, therefore, needs to be shunned to a limited range of radio stations. Madame X will be an album full of life and pop. Madonna is not sitting down with an acoustic guitar and playing things safe: the always-enduing and influential leader is ensuring her music has the same sort of energy and desire it always has. Why, then, do radio stations ignore the sound and dynamic of the music and focus on age alone? I get the suspicion BBC Radio 1 will not be playing much of her album but maybe they will. It is strange that slightly softer and more romantic songs from recent Madonna albums have been overlooked but the more upbeat ones are okay. Perhaps joining with artists like Maluma means she has that crossover appeal but it seems tragic that it takes these relatively inexperienced artists to give Madonna a place on ‘younger’ radio stations.

A lot has been made of Medellin and some slightly dodgy lyrics. I shall come to them but, in terms of the opening notes, Madonna checks the microphone. She gives us a whispered and sensual “1,2…” and makes sure people can hear her before things kick off. In some ways, it is Madonna returning to the stage and getting people’s attention. Before you get any images of Madonna on the stage and being this sort of cabaret figure, she talks about taking a pill and slipping into a dream. There is this sense of nostalgia and slipping back as she returns to the age of seventeen and a time, one suspects, where music was making a big impression on her. There are some cool beats and electronic funk whereas we get some Maluma injections in the background. His presence is quite low and anonymous at the very start as Madonna talks about her dreams and experiences – one could not have a first single from this album and feature too much of a collaborator at the top! That distinct Madonna vocal sound rides the wave as she takes sips and dreams. One gets the sense of this heroine sleeping in the sun and returning to a younger time. Maybe there is naivety but it is interesting hearing Madonna look back on a song that is very modern and unlike what she has done before. In terms of sounds, there is a Latin flavour that runs throughout. This is not new to her. Songs like La Isla Bonita (True Blue, 1986) show Madonna has an affinity for Latin sounds but here we get a fusion with something jagged and harder-hitting. The song is quite romantic but a more modern version of a track such as La Isla Bonita. Maluma comes in with Spanish verse and you will need to put the lyrics through Google to understand what he is singing about. Madonna responds to the alluring call of Maluma with the declaration that she will be so good for him.

You cannot help but escape the catchiness and sense of dance that defines the song. Medellin is a twisting, groovy song that has a definite swivel and fun to it. Madonna sips her pain “like a Champagne” and feels naked; alive and vulnerable without having to have to hide herself. Maybe the Spanish lyrics are a bit hard to get behind and there is this clash between the familiar words and a feeling rather than clarity. One can appreciate Maluma in terms of sound but, as many will not know what he is singing, it means you might have to pause the song and translate the words. In many ways, it means Madonna can make the biggest stamp and can resonate harder. It is nice to hear the two artists spar and unite as they have a very different sound. We get a bit of processed vocals and machines stepping in but they are more for effect than to disguise a lack of strength. The chorus for Medellin has a big heart and pump and the song itself never loses its fire and sassiness! Madonna sort of returns to her earliest days when she was putting out Pop belters. One can also look at albums like True Blue and Ray of Light in terms of the energy and quality being put forward. Some of the lyrics do sort of slip by – and there is a time when she talks about love being like a cartel that does seem a bit of a poor choice – but most of the words strike and provide clear and alluring images. Medellin will definitely strike those who like their Pop with a twist but it is the fusion of genres that gets to me. Madonna takes a trip with her lover and the two unite and sway with one another. Beats crackle and the sunshine breeze gives the track a real heat and intensity. You need a few spins to get to the heart of the song but it definitely puts you in a better mood! It is hard to escape the passion and power. Madonna, I feel, stands out and gives the biggest performance but Maluma adds an exoticness and vocal that is less crowbarred and more essential – the two are on the same page and it will be great seeing what Maluma brings to another Madame X song, Bitch I’m Loca. It has been a few years since we have heard Madonna music but the wait has been worth it. There are some slightly weak aspects of Medellin – some of the lyrics are saccharine and trite; more natural instrumentation and strings rather than electronics could have created a better song – but this is a strong and compelling song above everything. It is good to Madonna back!

Madame X will be out on 14th June and it is the fourteenth studio album from Madonna. There have been a lot of photos, teases and posts to suggest what we might get from the album. There has not been an official video for Medellin yet so that will be interesting to see what comes about. Madonna posted the tracklist for the album and there are some great titles to be found – Batuka and Bitch I’m Loca among them! I am sure there will be other singles before the album is released and it will be cool to see the various visuals and characters Madonna plays. I am not sure when Madonna will tour but, in terms of images and sets, one feels like a Madame X tour could rival some of her best work. Think of all the different sets and visuals she will create and what could come about! There are no firm plans at the moment but, when the album is out, I am sure there will be dates announced. It is a great time for Madonna and I cannot wait to see where she heads from here. I understand she is moving from Portugal (where she lives) to New York and she has recently been in London talking about Madame X. I have talked about reinvention and ageism and how it relates to Madonna. It is sad that many stations and outlets will overlook Madame X because of Madonna’s age rather than the quality of the music. Madonna does not need to worry as the album will get a lot of great reviews and many will want to see her hit the road. There is nobody out there who keeps changing shapes and moving like Madonna! She has been at the forefront of music since the early days of her career and many are calling Medellin a return to form. Albums such as MDNA (2012) and Rebel Heart (2015) got some good reviews but nothing quite like Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005). It appears there is a new lease back in Madonna’s music and, even though she has created this new heroine, Madame X will be personal and revealing. There is a lot to look forward to and recommend so, when the album is released, make sure you get a copy and see Madonna in…

A new light.


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TRACK REVIEW: Andy Jordan - Gin & Jazz



Andy Jordan


Gin & Jazz





The track, Gin & Jazz, is available via:




London, U.K.


15th March, 2019


I will start my explaining some changes that...

are coming into this blog in the coming months. I am cutting out interviews and reviews very soon – taking submissions from others; I will approach bigger artists I want to feature instead – because, in new music, it is hard to find that sense of establishment that I need. It is no slight against any artist but it is difficult producing a big review for someone starting out or who sounds similar to someone else – you are just repeating yourself and it is a struggle. I can write about someone like Jack White or Self Esteem and there are multiple angles I can go from. In terms of newer acts, I am pretty much going on limited biography and maybe a slight difference in terms of sound. It can be frustrating but, as I say, I am pushing away in the next few months and only concentrating on bigger artists that will get my blog to a larger audience. Despite not having a lot of biography out there, Andy Jordan has the odd aspect I can focus on – the reason I am featuring him now. I will look at Jazz and Soul blends and why they need to come into the mainstream more; putting a new spin on heartache; artists who can develop and make an impression on the scene in years to come; relating to Record Store Day yesterday and why Jordan’s music suits those who love their vinyl; a bit about where Jordan might head and what the future holds. You’ll forgive me repeating myself but, as I say, given the format of my writing and the length of my reviews, it is near-impossible to put too much original expression considering I have reviewed a few similar artists lately. In any case, I am back to Jazz and Soul and types of music that are present in the mainstream but still isolated to a large extent. Think about what rules the charts and radio and most of it has a Pop edge and there is a distinct sound. Apart from artists like Leon Bridges and Gregory Porter, do we really hear that much Jazz around? There were times when Soul and Jazz were part of the mainstream and held huge influence. Now, in 2019, the scene has changed so much and it seems like a more processed and commercial sound rules.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @jacklaexanderuk

A reason why an artist such as Andy Jordan digs deeper, I suspect, is his record collection and what he wants to achieve from his music. I suspect that, for a lot of big artists, they just want to produce music that sounds familiar and connects. They try hard to be unique but it can be tricky when you consider what the consumer wants and the style of music they are playing. I hear too many artists who rely on clichés and tropes and you do wonder whether the music will linger and influence in years to come. That is not to say that everything in the mainstream lacks soul and longevity. It is highly possible that some of the best of the moment – including Billie Eilish and Little Simz – will be ruling years and years from now and compelling the next generation. I just think that there is a definite place for artists like Andy Jordan. You hear Jazz more commonly in genres like Hip-Hop than you do standalone, I think. There are some great British Jazz artists working now but they are on the fringes and not quite being embraced by the mainstream. I love the range of British Jazz and Soul at the moment and know full well that there is ample quality and brilliance to be found. Look at Jordan and his peers and you do wonder whether the market should open up more and recognise something special. I do like Pop but I feel like Jazz and Soul goes further and uncovers emotions other forms of music cannot. Maybe it is a bit cliché but think about the late Amy Winehouse and the impact she made in her life. She threw in some R&B and harder beats but, at the centre, there was a Jazz and Soul mixture that stunned the masses. I think many people assume modern Jazz is going to be all noodling and the sort of stuff you hear in the background at coffee shops.

I do think we have misunderstanding and misconceptions regarding Jazz and what it entails. Listening to Andy Jordan and you get something very accessible and familiar. He has a great passion and energy but does not rely on electronics and the same sort of compositions as many out there in music. I am not suggesting he is more authentic and natural but it is nice to hear music that backs away from machinery and the fake to herald something more human and organic. In that sense, his songs of heartache sound more human and emotional. I have written about it a few times now but, another reason I am backing away from reviewing smaller artists is because of this theme: heartbreak and loss. This doesn’t apply to Andy Jordan but, given the fact popular music has been swinging for over six decades, one grows weary of the same themes in music. Everyone faces break-ups and heartbreak but it still dominates music. I feel the most inventive and exciting artists now go away from that and bring other topics into their music. There is nothing wrong with discussing love and disappointment but how does one stand aside and capture the imagination when nearly everyone else in music is doing the same? A lot of artists use the same wording and you do think they need to have a bit of a rethink regarding their subject matter and how to make an impression. I know Jordan has other topics in his songbook and know he will stretch out in future but, as a song that has a degree of pain at its heart, he manages to create something that is different from what is out there. Gin & Jazz, in its title alone, projects images of a man who calms his woes with some Jazz and a glass of gin. The sort of thing I imagined – before approaching the song – was a rather classic scene of a hero at a bar somewhere; thinking about mistakes and the past and things that could have gone differently.

It is vital artists discuss loss and separation in their music but I do think the lyrics can get samey. Instead, Andy Jordan projects something rather film-like and unusual. He does not rely on the familiar sentiments and structures regarding his words. Rather, he puts in images of records and better times; those special nights and, well, everything really. It is hard to compare his latest song with anything else in terms of its descriptions and voice. I like the fact that you get a familiar weight of heartache but the words take your mind in different directions and compel these great images. I have talked about Soul and Jazz and how effecting it can be. I will discuss it further but listen to Jordan’s music and you do not instantly link it to anyone else. The instrumentation and vocals have more nuance and depth whilst the lyrics are from a very personal space – rather than sticking to some sort of commercial format or employing language lazily. I am all for songs regarding break-ups and relationship perils but, given the countless songs that have come before, artists need to work harder and do something different if they want to stay in the mind. Jordan has penned a song that many of us can understand but you sort of know that he is opening his diary and personal life; this track is very much about his particular experience rather than anyone else’s. This is good to hear and, fused with music that is fresh and needed more in the charts, you do hope that Jordan changes minds and perceptions. I have a lot of respect for those genres more at the outskirt; those that have never truly been accepted but, to me, are more interesting, ripe and extraordinary than we know. I shall move on but I do feel that newer artists like Andy Jordan can change things and lead to a bit of a re-arrangement in music. Let’s hope that these evolutions and steps happen sooner rather than later.

I think that there are a lot of great artists who can make an impact in years to come. I think there is so much out there and we can get a bit bogged in all that is around. Is it possible to truly unearth artists who are going to remain and be on the block years from now? I think you just have to use your instincts and trust your gut but a lot of artists sort of slip through the cracks and do not get the celebration they deserve. I think Andy Jordan has the opportunity to keep growing and do really good things in music. Not only does he have a healthy fanbase and a growing following but he is putting out music that has its own skin and personality. That cannot be said of everyone in music so, for that reason, make sure you check him out. I like the conviction that one finds in his music, too. Listen to songs like Gin & Jazz and you know that every word holds meaning and prominence. I do hear songs that appear to be quite insincere and you wonder whether the artist means what they say. Jordan is never too oblique and makes sure that his audience understands what he is saying and they can connect with the music. Artists who can balance the personal with universal are very rare indeed. I like the fact that we get this interesting story on Gin & Jazz and everyone will have their own perception. At its heart, it is a song that we can all understand and take something away from. Another reason why Jordan will be around for a long time is the way he connects with fans. His social media is updated regularly and you sense this is an artist who places the needs of his fans at the top of his list. The sense of passion and energy Jordan puts into his work is reciprocated by dedicated and loyal fans.


His numbers are growing and I do wonder just how far the artist can go. I will discuss his future in a bit but, staying on this theme, there is stuff to uncover. I do think that music today is a very tough environment and how easy is it for anyone to succeed? There are so many challenges one must navigate and many find the pressure too daunting. The belief one has in their music and its power is at the centre of what artists do. If they have faith in what they are putting out then that sort of determination and focus will see them through. In a very packed and eclectic music world, the music needs to have that edge and U.S.P. I do feel that the generic are embraced too much and there is a feeling that cheap and commercial is much better than something a bit more challenging and intelligent. I am seeing attitudes change but look at all the huge artists that dominate Spotify and YouTube and their music is not nearly as exceptional and promising as the likes of Andy Jordan. Maybe it is impossible to change things in that respect but I know Jordan will continue to make big steps and recruit new followers. I do love what he is throwing out into the world and how he has grown since the start of his career. We have just experienced another Record Store Day and seen endless tweets regarding people buying records and racing to their local record shop. Yesterday was a hive of activity and excitement in the music community. I wanted to move on from my previous topic and address Andy Jordan in respect of Record Store Day and where he fits in. I’ll end the current subject by saying that, if he continues down the road he is on then Jordan can really shake things up in music or, at the very least, he can get some big gigs and record albums for many years. He has a great sound at his disposal and it is definitely something we near more of.

Going back to Record Store Day and, as I said, Jordan seems like the kind of musician who slots in with the day’s ethics. Record Store Day is about bonding people and discovering rare records; heading to your nearby record shop and spending some money on great music. Some argue that the day is fabricated and has no real relevance but, more than that, it is a day when we can appreciate record shops and how important they are. We spend every other day of the year on Spotify and other services and we tend to forget the joys of a record shop. Just heading down to your local and seeing like-minded people flicking through records and chatting is great. You get this community and connection that you do not achieve online. I think of record stores and associate them with cooler albums and stuff that you would not expect in the Pop mainstream. That might sound like a dig but I go to record shops to get either something classic or a new record that is not chasing chart positions. Actually, I love to go to a record shop and look through genres like Jazz, Experimental and Hip-Hop and collect albums that are a bit rare or do not get much of a spin. You want to discover albums that will take you somewhere special or are outside of your comfort zone. I get home, put the record on and let it immerse and envelop me. I am not sure whether Andy Jordan has had his music placed in a record shop but I can see him featuring in future Record Store Days. I get the sense Jordan would take delight in considering the colour of vinyl and making his release unique. Maybe he would have a special picture edition or have a few B-sides. Perhaps he would throw in a hidden track or release different versions of an album. I can tell that Jordan has a great love of music in its purest form.

You only need to listen at what he is doing now to realise Jordan wants to be in music for a very long time and connect with the world. He could have easily replicated Pop artists and produced something quite familiar but, instead, his music definitely charts its own course and does not apply to usual rules. I love the fact that there is this seamless blend of genres like Jazz and Soul but you do not have to be an expert in either to understand what he is doing. That makes me believe that Jordan’s music would be perfect for those who love to rummage through vinyl and spend a few hours chatting to similar souls at their local record shop. Perhaps I have got that wrong but I can detect a musician who thinks about his audience and the impact his music makes. In an industry where there is so much competition and pressure, having an artist think about every side and aspect is very pleasing. I have covered a lot of ground regarding Jordan and, whilst he does not put a lot of information online regarding his background, musical tastes and reviews – something he will want to consider going forward -, I hope I have managed to tap into his music adequately. That is another problem with many new artists: they let the music do the talking but there is not a huge deal regarding their history and likes. I would love to know the music Jordan holds dear and what his early life was like. You get a more complete image of the artist and it would bring him even more fans in. From looking at his Facebook page, I can tell he is influenced by the likes of Sam Cooke and Chet Baker and he began performing at school. I am not sure if there is anything else to fill in but I feel like there is more information and revelation that would give the listener a wider impression of Andy Jordan. Let’s move onto the new music from Andy Jordan and what Gin & Jazz is all about.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jacklaexanderuk

There is some nice bass twang and some finger-flicking action that heralds in Gin & Jazz. Right away, I was caught between a Jazz club and its environment and somewhere more intimate – maybe the hero at home, trying to make sense of what is happening to him right now. There are a lot of deep-voiced and powerful singers around right now that, rightly, get a reputation for being a bit boring and samey. We have Tom Walker and Lewis Capaldi and, whilst they have their merits, there seems to be this formula for successful British males right now. Don’t let the deep voice of Andy Jordan lead you astray. His music, like many of his peers, does not rely on words being belted out and the same clichés being spouted. The opening to Gin & Jazz does not put the composition too high and allows the vocal to have much of the say. I am not sure whether the hero has broken with the girl and they are splitting but he implores that she returns to who she was: the girl of his dreams and back to a time when they were both happy. Rather than blame her and put his heart on a chopping board, Jordan keeps his composure and asks for some commitment and discussion. He longs for those nights where they were listening to Jazz and sitting beside one another. Maybe I am too premature regarding that assumption. I look at the song’s title and assume it refers to a routine Jordan and his girl used to enjoy. Maybe it is more about a carefree life the hero had when he was listening to records and did not really have the same pains he has in his life. The hero used to be haunted by demons and troubles and you wonder how long the relationship has been cracking. I keep switching between impressions of Jordan wanting the simpler days when he was a bachelor and the romantic ideal of him and his girl enjoying a pure and safe love.

There is no need for blasting horns and histrionics in the song. Jordan keeps his voice cool and calm and does not let anger show. Whilst the words are direct and clear, there are some oblique touches that allow one to have their own response and interpretation. I got images of the girl dropping off her keys and the hero being a bit lost. There are moments when you see Jordan listening to Jazz records and wondering how things went bad. We hear about the ship sinking and tears filling his heart. The reason behind the romantic distress is not clearly revealed so one has to come to their own conclusions. Maybe it is that the two are drifting in different directions and they are not the same as they were when they first met. Jordan longs for those past days – whether it is him and his sweetheart in their prime or a less responsible time – and wonders whether he will ever rekindle that spark and sense of comfort. The chorus layers the vocals and creates a real rush. I like the fact Jordan keeps the composition tight and colourful without throwing too much in. The focus is still very much on the vocal and what it is trying to say. Gin & Jazz has a definite pace and cool that sets it aside from a lot of what is out there right now. If the current mainstream relies on artists who belt everything and has a bit more energy, I do hope they consider songs that take their time to intrigue and resonate. I like Jordan’s style and how this endless sense of calm and cool rules. He does not need to get overwrought and distressed to make his words strike. We have this very honest song that regrets what has happened and tries to get back to times when he and his girl were happier and secure. There are greater little coos, licks and lines that give the song a real kick, sway and movement. You can easily bond with the song and get behind it but, the more you listen to it, the more that comes to light. I played it a few times and saw Jordan’s story from a different perspective. It is a great track from Jordan and I do hope there is more material coming from him in the coming months.

Andy Jordan is keeping his social media updated and, over the past couple of months, he has put up various videos and news. It has not been refreshed for a few weeks now but I do wonder whether that is just because he has a new song out and there is not much to say right now. I wonder whether Jordan is heading in the next few months and whether we can catch him on the road. There are some great venues around that would support his music and many will wonder whether an E.P. or album is afoot. I guess that is where interviews come in and many will keep their eyes open and wonder where the musician is going. I think that 2019 will be a busy one and we will get more material from Andy Jordan. He has a definite sense of ambition and momentum so it would be nice to see that reflected in more music. His sound has that real sense of beauty and emotion and is never too heavy-hearted or bleak. Instead, we have someone who has come a long way and has a pretty impressive fanbase at the moment. I neglected to mention that Andy Jordan used to be on the T.V. show, Made in Chelsea, because I feel it detracts from the music and gives people a certain view of who he is. I am not a fan of the show by any stretch of the imagination but I have featured another graduate, Caggie Dunlop, on my site before. I do think we can be a bit judgmental when we see someone from a reality T.V. show – not there was much reality on Made in Chelsea! One must judge Jordan purely as a musician and I feel that is where his strengths lie. Unlike a lot of people who have appeared on shows like Made in Chelsea, there is not this desire to be commercial and uncomplicated.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jacklaexanderuk

Andy Jordan is more concerned with creating something with substance that means a lot to him. I might have repeated myself a few times through the review but that is why I am focusing purely on bigger artists very soon. It is nice to discover artists who can go a long way and you feel have the ammunition to succeed. I am not certain what Andy Jordan’s next steps are but I do feel like he has potential to strike hard. Make sure you listen to Gin & Jazz and discover a song that will definitely get under the skin. You need not be a huge fan of Soul and Jazz to understand what the song is about and why it is so good. You just need to open your mind and let the music do what it needs to do. It might have personal relevance to Jordan but many others can take it to heart and apply it to their own life. He may be fairly new regarding the music industry but it is clear, if Andy Jordan keeps focused and going strong, then he can create a sound, reputation and foundation that is…

VERY much his.                                                                                           


Follow Andy Jordan

TRACK REVIEW: PJ Harvey (ft. Gillian Anderson) - The Sandman



PJ Harvey (ft. Gillian Anderson)


The Sandman





The track, Sandman, is available via:



The album, All About Eve (Original Music), is available via:


12th April, 2019


Invada Records/Lakeshore Records


I like my Saturday slot...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

because I get to look at an artist who is established and someone I know will provide the goods. On this occasion, it is the turn of PJ Harvey. I will talk about the work she has produced for All About Eve – a play running in London concerning an aging Broadway star who gets her career and life threatened by an ambitious fan – but I wanted to talk about other things first. I have wanted to discuss PJ Harvey for some time now and, with an album of original music out, this seems like the perfect chance. I was not expecting any new music from Harvey this year but, as this Rolling Stone article from last year shows, we have been building up to it.

PJ Harvey will provide the score for an upcoming stage adaptation of the classic 1950 film All About Eve. The adaptation has booked a three-month run at London’s Noel Coward Theatre beginning February 2nd.

The Academy Award for Best Picture-winning All About Eve, itself an adaptation of the play The Wisdom of Eve, starred Bette Davis as a Broadway star and Anne Baxter as a young fan of the actress. In the London staging, Gillian Anderson will take on the Bette Davis role while Baby Driver‘s Lily James will portray the adoring fan.

Harvey previously provided the scores to documentaries like 2005’s Ukrajina and Towards Mathilde, as well as the 2016 play The Nest”.

The play has received huge praise and it will be a shame to see its run come to an end. I will circle back to that but, when thinking about PJ Harvey, I wanted to discuss these huge artists who keep on growing and inspiring; those who step into stage/screen scoring and uniting music and drama; why artists like PJ Harvey are making me hopeful for the future of music and actors collaborating in music. I will start by looking at PJ Harvey because, back in 2016, she released The Hope Six Demolition Project. It was another well-received and fantastic album from the icon.

 IMAGE CREDIT: tomhermans

Look back at her career and has there been another solo artist over the past couple of decades who has been able to match Harvey’s innovation, quality and impact? Albums such as Rid of Me (1993) are among the best albums ever released. That album, as the title implies, saw Harvey discover the dark side of human nature. In fact, she was exploring it fully and created this very challenging and bold soundtrack. With Steve Albini producing, many raised their eyebrows and were not sure. The results speak for themselves. I adore that album but am aware that it is quite challenging and black. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea came in 2000 and it was another terrific album. Somewhat lighter and inspired by New York, the album is another remarkable move. Look back at the career of PJ Harvey and you are amazed by the scope and quality you find. From her debut, 1992’s Dry, through to her current movements, there is this unique stamp and sound that only PJ Harvey creates. Her best modern-times album, Let England Shake (2011), was nominated for a Mercury prize and was another genius release. It has been a busy career for Harvey and, through the decades, she has changed the face of music and inspired so many other artists. I am excited to see what comes next from Harvey but, if you are new to her work, go back through the back catalogue and discover this phenomenal songwriter. At times raw and open, at others warm and inviting – here is an artist who is never predictable and puts so much emotion and honesty into her work. As it is Record Store Day today, what better excuse do you need than heading down to your local record shop and picking up a PJ Harvey album?! She will continue to inspire artists for generations to come but, at a time when there is a new generation of female songwriters shining, one would do well to look back at Harvey’s work and realise how influential it is.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Seamus Murphy

One of my biggest complaints is the lack of female artists booked to headline festivals. I have moaned about this for a long time and I do wonder whether there will be a resolution. This year’s biggest festivals have booked all those headliners and, once more, there are very few female artists to be found. I did wonder why PJ Harvey wasn’t booked to headline at least one festival this year because, in my view, she would put on a storming set! One cannot say there is a lack of worthy female talent ready to headline. The industry gets it into their heads that men are the most competent and bookable artists and they have been ignoring great women for decades. PJ Harvey’s immense body of work tells you that, here, there is an artist who is perfectly capable of headlining a festival and doing a much better job that a lot of the acts booked this year. I digress but it is frustrating when you have this world-class artist like Harvey and see her overlooked. My main point was to illuminate her catalogue and show you what a terrific artist she is. She seems to keep growing in terms of curiosity and scope and, looking ahead, I wonder how this will manifest itself. This year has already been busy and exciting; I wonder whether we will see any other big albums arriving in April. Every year provides huge quality but I think 2019 has been especially bold and exciting. Not only has film composition become broader and attracted big names to its fold but the same can be said for the theatre. I do wonder whether music needs to play a bigger role in the arts in general. I shall talk about that in just a second but I would suggest, for anyone reading this, they investigate the work of PJ Harvey and make it part of their lives! She is one of the best songwriters of the past couple of generations and I hope we see many more records from her.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

I will discuss All About Eve in a bit but I have been left a bit cold by British drama. We do theatre really well but, in terms of T.V. drama, we go down the same path all the time. We are obsessed with police dramas and domestic scenes. Look at all the biggest dramas on our screens now – and those that have appeared through this year – and there is very little variation and excitement. Not only are the dramas completely humourless and samey, we seem to have it in our heads that people want to see the same thing. The Americans have lots more imagination when it comes to drama. They can explore exciting areas and topics that brilliantly translate to the screen. We here need to watch the Americans when it comes to drama and realise that more ambition and bravery results in genuinely moving pieces. I do wonder whether the link between music and drama is not being exploited. PJ Harvey has collaborated with musicians James Johnston and Kenrick Rowe and brought new life and dynamics to the play – adapted from the film of the same name. I ask myself why British drama-makers tend to get fixated with the same boring themes and do not really stretch their imagination. Look at what is happening on the stage and it is so much more exciting and original. I do wonder whether T.V. producers and directors should look at the theatre and bring some of that magic to the box. I do like the fact that a big musician like PJ Harvey has decided to step into this medium. Not only should T.V. dramas borrow from music and periods of music for inspiration but they could do well to make music a bigger part of things. Another thing I am noticing is more and more popular artists composing for the stage and screen. This is one of the biggest changes that has happened over the past few years.


Look back at the classic film scores through the decades and they are all composed by traditional composers. Now, more and more films, plays and shows are being scored by more familiar musicians. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood have composed for films; this article shows other big names who have moved into film and it is exciting to see the nature of scores changing. In many ways, the more open and diverse compositional market means that great films are being given more energy, possibility and nuance. This also applies to the stage. Think about what the likes of PJ Harvey are doing and how the music and performances interact. I often think about theatre and music and assume there is not going to be too much to highlight. There are some great film scores but do we really connect musical brilliance and theatre together – I mean, outside of musicals and that kind of thing? Harvey wanted to work on All About Eve so she was free from the constraints of songs. She does not have a songbook to work from and does not have to fit her music around lyrics. Instead, there is almost like this blank page where she can work from. Get the soundtrack now and you will be blown away by the various moods and stories being told. I do think that many people will come and see the play based on the music. I do think music and artists can heighten productions and add something brilliant. I have bemoaned the lack of great British dramas but I do feel like changes can be made. Understanding the importance of music in general and how that can elevate scenes; pushing the envelope in terms of concepts and synopsis’; expanding the spectrum and dipping into areas away from family/police dramas and realising there is a whole world out there. Maybe I am rambling but I am excited to see how music and theatre interact. I think imaginative music can lift acting whereas a great performance can bring something new from music.   

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Before I move onto reviewing a track from All About Eve, I wanted to mention actors and collaborations with musicians. Gillian Anderson sings on The Sandman and she appears in the London play with Lily James. I am a big fan of Gillian Anderson and, if you do not follow her on social media, make sure you correct that. She is charming, cheeky and cool and makes you smile! She is a fantastic actor and I do think she is one of the most underrated talents out there. I think she lives in London at the moment and I wonder whether she will appear in British dramas/comedies very soon. Right now, she can be seen in the T.V. show, Sex Education. As she revealed in this article, she had the chance to play a less-than-serious character:

I’ve always played such serious characters before,” Anderson said by phone from London, where she is rehearsing for a forthcoming stage production of All About Eve, in which she’ll star alongside Lily James. “I’ve never had an experience like that where I’ve gotten to just let it all hang out, so that in and of itself was such a pleasure.”

A show about teenagers addled by hormones, Sex Education is cringe-inducingly funny—it opens on a scene of two teens having rampant, yet unsatisfying, sex—and unexpectedly poignant. Anderson plays Jean Milburn, a British single mom and sex therapist whose adventurous approach to sexuality has not rubbed off on her geeky 16-year-old son Otis (Asa Butterfield). In fact, Otis is so repelled by his own desires that he can’t masturbate, let alone make out with girls”.

It would be great to see Anderson on the screen more and, now that she has appeared in a London theatre production, on the stage. It is quite rare seeing actors contribute vocals to music. I love what Anderson has done on The Sandman and, curiously, I wonder whether Gillian Anderson has considered a move into music.


IN THIS PHOTO: Gillian Anderson/PHOTO CREDIT: @charlottehuco

It is neat seeing the worlds of acting and music fuse. There have been occasions where big actors have recorded music – from Hugh Jackman to Bruce Willis – but I think it should happen more. Not only can Gillian Anderson and Lily James’ involvement in the soundtrack make more people want to investigate PJ Harvey but PJ Harvey’s involvement in All About Eve will get more to the theatre. I do love the bond between the stage and music and how it has evolved through the years. The music world has expanded through the decades and the fact artists like PJ Harvey are stepping into new worlds will inspire many. In years past, film and stage scores were reserved to those with a more traditional background in that sense. Not that mainstream artists are diluting the waters but they are showing that anyone can do it and there is a whole world waiting. Look at the music through the All About Eve score and it has given Harvey the chance to be liberated. I think she has created some of her best modern work on the score and love the fact actors like Gillian Anderson have worked alongside her. I do wonder whether Anderson will lend her voice to more musical projects as she is very natural and authoritative! I do think there needs to be a closer link between music and drama in general as it has worked marvellously on All About Eve. As British T.V. drama stagnates and lacks any real colour, there are definite opportunities out there. I will move on to a new subject – the song review, in fact! – in a bit but I do think that PJ Harvey’s work here will see some changes on T.V., the stage and film. I also love discovering that much-loved actors have a really great voice and reveal talents you didn’t know they had. If you have not seen the play, go and see All About Eve before its run ends. It is a magnificent production that has, quite rightly, been receiving some very hot reviews.


The Sandman is one of the shortest songs on All About Eve. There is this haunting and pressing piano line that captures you and gets into the heart. With ethereal vocals and a really stunning performance from Gillian Anderson, you are immersed in this song that makes its impression felt the first time around. It is always hard approaching a score/soundtrack if you have not seen the production. Some might say that the songs are out-of-context and unusual if you do not know the story and history. I think there is a case for that but you can appreciate songs on their own merit and do not need to know the true background and context to get an understanding. We hear the heroine talk about this spirit and feeling that comes to her during the night. The vocal floats and has that mix of dreaminess and sensuality; the song’s eponymous figure brings love to the heroine and, as someone who has not seen the All About Eve play, I do wonder whether the song represents a pivotal moment. Looking at things from a purely musical standpoint, one is stunned by the grace and beauty of the performance and how gripping the song is. People will have their own impression of the visuals/song and what it is telling us. I actually imagined Anderson wrestling with dreams and nightmares and trying to forget painful memories. Maybe she has had better times and not found the success (now) that she had before. Going to sleep and letting her dreams take her away, it seems there is more positivity, hope and calm. You do get the sense you are inside the head of the heroine and following what she dreams. Harvey’s score is the perfect balance between calm and spiritual; mixing in something more urgent and unsettled. There are words regarding the moon arising and there being fears. I speculated how the heroine might be looking for nightmares to end and there being this sort of calm in sleep. Maybe I have got things the wrong way around. Perhaps sleep is when nightmares come to play.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Weller for British Vogue

The vocals have this spectral power and, the more you listen to The Sandman, the more you discover. I love the vocal performance because it has so much power and beauty and it leads you in different directions. One can swim in the beauty of the vocals but there Harvey’s lyrics seem to get into the mind of someone who is quite troubled and more complex than you might think. The Sandman is quite a short number and does not outstay its welcome. In many ways, it is like a bridge between the events of the evening and the break of a new dawn. Although we do not hear much of Gillian Anderson’s voice on the All About Eve album, she makes a huge contribution and, like Lily James on The Moth, it is exciting hearing these popular figures sing. I listened to The Sandman a few times and was looking to see if I could guess the inspiration and the role it plays in All About Eve. One does not need to be familiar with the play/original film to empathise with the heroine or feel moved by the track. It has such an emotional weight and prowess that one cannot help play it over and over again. It is calming and inviting but there is a sense of unrest and ghostliness that infects and infuses its mood. There are so many reasons to recommend The Sandman as a song. It is the third track on the All About Eve score so you know that it sort of sets the scene and plays an important role. As a PJ Harvey composition, I cannot remember hearing anything similar on any of her albums. Harvey has always been able to bring something haunted and beautiful to music but not quite in this manner. It is a fantastic song from her and there are plenty more like that across All About Eve! Harvey shows her songwriting talents are bottomless and she is a master regarding mood and emotional resonance. Anderson is a revelation and someone who, I hope, gets more involved in music. There is a lot of great music around right now but I do think people ignore film and theatre soundtracks. They might assume it will be all Classical music and not what they like. Modern composers are much broader and popular artists like PJ Harvey are making scores more accessible and exciting, in my view. I love the entire All About Eve score and think there is some of PJ Harvey’s best work on it. Who would have ever thought we’d hear a song with PJ Harvey and Gillian Anderson harmonising and combining?! The Sandman is a magnificent track that spikes the imagination and makes one wonder. I was not aware Anderson had such a strong and versatile voice but, as we hear on the song, she is capable of showing the same breadth and ability as the best artists of the moment.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Cummins/Getty Images

I do think that PJ Harvey is one of those artists who sort of define what it is to be great. She has never taken an easy route when it comes to subject matter and I feel like she is one of those pioneers who has pushed music to new plains. I can hear so many of her tones in the best modern songwriters and I do hope that the new generation get familiar with one of the best artists ever. I am not sure whether there is a new studio album coming in the next year or two but it seems like Harvey has been pretty busy lately! One can forgive her if she wants to take some time off but I do feel like she will be making movements fairly soon. I love what she has done on the All About Eve score and how she stepped into new territory. She was not trapped by a particular mood/lyrics and was allowed to reign free and bold. The various songs on the album tell their own stories and very few of them exceed three minutes in length. It is a remarkable work and one that you dive into and surrender to. Maybe Harvey will contribute to other theatrical projects and do some film composition. You never know what you’ll get with PJ Harvey and it is great she continues to move in new directions and show what an immense talent she is. I have talked about T.V. drama and how music can play its part. I do worry that there is so little originality in British dramas and have been searching my mind for a reason why. The lack of risk is quite troubling but I do think that things like PJ Harvey composing music for a play will help. It will draw more eyes to the play and inspire writers to bring something more arresting and vivid to the screen – there has not been a T.V. drama like All About Eve on British T.V. for a while.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lily James (who appears in All About Eve with Gillian Anderson)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jan Versweyveld

Music itself is unexploited on T.V. and there is so much to choose from. Whether having a particular period of music/genre as a backdrop for a drama or concentrating on a particular artist/album, I do think there are endless possibilities. I shall leave my train of thought there because I have gone on a lot. I do think that PJ Harvey’s work on All About Eve will get more people into the theatre and, I hope, more people heading her way. There will be those who associate Harvey with a particular sound and might have been hesitant listening to her work for All About Eve. The fact artists can cross-pollinate and we see the clash of two worlds opens minds, new discovery and perspective. Make sure you investigate the score/soundtrack and discover just how far PJ Harvey’s talents extend! She is this ever-compelling artist who seems to have no limits. In many ways, big musicians composing for the theatre can get people like me watching plays. I have not been to the West End since I was a child and usually avoid plays. Not for any good reason but I do feel like the experience will be less moving than film or music. I do feel like many have this perception but, with such great reviews in, plays like All About Eve will bring more bums to seats. With big names like Lily James and Gillian Anderson involved, it is a must-see event. Let’s leave things there but I would urge people to listen to the All About Eve and, if they like it, go and see the play – or the other way around if you please! I might try and see if I can get a ticket to see the play and, on Record Store Day, I am sure I can find some time to spin All About Eve’s incredible score once more! I am not shocked PJ Harvey has produced such a masterful work and I do hope she does more of this in the future. She is one of the finest artists we have right now and, from her 1992 debut to now, PJ Harvey has always stood aside…


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

FROM her peers.                                                                                       


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TRACK REVIEW: HANNIE (ft. Carys Selvey) - 5 Years



HANNIE (ft. Carys Selvey)


 5 Years




The track, 5 Years, is available via:


London, U.K.




8th March, 2019


THIS time out...

I will be exploring HANNIE and their new single, 5 Years. I know the song has been out for a few weeks now and, going forward, I am only really going to look at songs that are new and upcoming. The trouble is that you get sent requests and they sort of pile up. I only have time to do one review a week from the public so it is inevitable that some get left a bit and become a bit older. That said, 5 Years is not that old and still fresh in the minds of many. I will chat about the song soon but, before then, I wanted to address HANNIE and how artists come together – or can do – in the modern age; duos/production duos and why there are marketing opportunities from HANNIE; getting a bit more online in the way of information to give the public a greater insight into artists; songs that do not have a bitter aftertaste or anxiety; a little about Pop in general and its flexibility – I will end by looking at where HANNIE are headed. I was looking at the story of HANNIE and how they found one another. I have interviewed Hannah Koppenburg and Annie Wagstaff before and they strike me as very bonded and sisterly. One would think they have been friends since childhood and sort of worked their way into music. Actually, they met over Instagram after they uploaded cover versions. Maybe it is not as romantic as a band advertising in a music magazine or there being this chance meeting somewhere that bonds them all together. Technology has provided us the chance to take music anywhere and, in many ways, it has made it easier for people to find one another. One might say the fact artists do form because of social media and the Internet lacks a certain charm, connection and human touch. There is something in that but how likely is it, nowadays, that every band/duo comes together that way? There are artists who meet in public and form friendships but I think the Internet provides a new world.

In the case of HANNIE, the girls got to see one another’s work and were able to see, before meeting actually, whether their music would mesh and they’d be a good fit. Maybe they could have met in a different situation or by chance but the fact Koppenburg is from Germany and Wagstaff is from England means that their paths might not have otherwise intersected. That is what I mean I talk about the Internet and this universe. How many great combinations and sounds have been forged because of the networking opportunities and platforms we have in the modern time? It is great that we have these mediums where artists can communicate and collaborate without having to navigate continents and space. Many might state that there is a lack of organic charge and a business-like approach to things but, as mentioned, there are plenty of bands that are formed in the old-school way. HANNIE have this natural understanding and bond and I do wonder if they would have found one another were it not for Instagram. The duo have amassed an impressive following and caught the idea of various brands and outlets. I do love what they are doing now and how far they have come. I am interested when it comes to artists and how they find one another. Not only is the Internet great for sharing music and reaching new audiences but it is invaluable when it comes to joining people together. I do think music is as broad as it is because we have sites like Instagram and Twitter so artists can collaborate more readily and have those options. I do love the networking opportunities out there and the fact artists from all over the world can easily find one another and create music. HANNIE do have a natural friendship but, again, would they be where they are now were it not for them uploading videos to Instagram?! I shall move on and look at duos in general.

When it comes to HANNIE, they are a production duo who works with other singers. I do love duos in general and the fact they are quite underrated. I think solo artists get most of the attention and they seem to be dominating music right now. Bands are still there and creating good work but they do not hold the same sway as they once did. I have always gravitated towards duos because they can often project the same energy as bands and seem to have greater nimbleness. I do feel solo artists can be a bit limited and lack a certain something. As REWS show, duos can definitely pummel and have the same strength as a full band. Most of the duos I come across work with Pop and Electro sounds but, in the case of HANNIE, they mix in different sensations and sides. I do think that duos will make a real charge and get more attention as the years go on. I feel duos are particularly strong and appealing because of that central relationship. Think about the way HANNIE connect and the quality of their music. You know there is that sense of trust and admiration at the core of everything they do. Bands can and do have that but there is something different about duos. It is a tighter unit and, in many ways, they do not have anywhere to hide. At a time when so many producers out there are men and I do wonder if women are ignored in that respect, HANNIE are inspiration and proof that some of the best sounds are being made by women. That might sound a little patronising but I know how many great female producers there are but I do think the market is more set up for men. HANNIE are quite rare in a sense and will lead to some change. I do think most duos out there have others produce their work and usually lead all the tracks. HANNIE are different in the sense they often use guests to voice their songs and the girls themselves produce.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Arielle Shear

Maybe I am wrong but I do not see many duos like that at all. I mentioned how HANNIE have collaborated with brands and among their credits is Nasty Girl and River Island. I am writing a piece later today that looks at artists going into fashion. There have been mixed fortunes for Beyoncé and Liam Gallagher this week but, despite it being tough for retailers and brands, musicians are still involved with fashion and keen to launch their own labels. I think there is something in there for HANNIE. It is clear that they are happy to join alongside brands and promote them but I do wonder whether they have considered launching their own wears. I think there is a HANNIE brand awaiting that could include clothing and audio equipment. They are great producers but they also have a real flair when it comes to style. One looks at them and you can easily imagine them launching their own fashion brand or a bigger label. Maybe they want to focus on the music for now but I can imagine them branching out and conquering the market soon enough. Not only could they establish their own brand but they could use that to inspire women in music and those thinking of becoming producers. There are so many different sides to HANNIE’s music and I think there is a huge audience out there for them. I am sure they have their own ideas and plans but we shall see where they head. Purists will state that artists need to focus on music but the modern climate means artists are going into other areas and focusing on fashion, technology and business. There is nothing wrong with that and I feel that they can act as ambassadors and inspirational figures. I do think, in a good way, HANNIE are quite marketable and could definitely succeed if they wanted to embrace their own fashion label or step in other directions.

HANNIE have been worked hard for a long time now and are growing with each release. I am curious whether they will put out an album in 2019 and what their plans are. I will touch on that in the conclusion but, as I hinted, they could go beyond music and get a HANNIE-style revolution happening. It is clear they have a big future but I do wonder where they came from and what music inspires them. It is the nature of modern music and P.R. campaigns that not too much is ever revealed about an artist. Maybe people figure that too much can be a bad thing and the music will fill in a lot of the gaps. I often bemoan the lack of photos some artists have and I do like to see a good biography. I know HANNIE met over Instagram and shared videos with each other but it would be good to know how Hannah Koppenburg and Annie Wagstaff started life. Every artist has a musical upbringing in the sense they were exposed to sounds and different artists. It would be interesting to discover how both of their lives started in that respect and how they came into music. I can get a bit from the music but there is a lot to be said for having a bit more information on the page. Most of the time, emails and pitches contain streaming figures and which outlets have supported the music of that artist. This is important as we can see how they are growing and popular they are but I want to know more about the human(s) behind the music and fewer statistics. It is good having some context when you approach artists – for journalists like me, it means I have something to write about and different angles. Carys Selvey is the singer on their latest track, 5 Years, and brings something fresh to HANNIE’s music. I like the fact the duo work with different artists and can get unique sounds with each release.

If they had a bit more information on the page, it would add to the music and give a bit more depth. It is a minor complaint but HANNIE, I am sure, have a lot to say, and there are few interviews online available. I am eager to know where they each come from – in a musical sense – and what motivates them. It is a competitive industry, music, so artists needs to think about their biographies and things like photos. There are some good photos online already but I wonder whether there will be some new shoots with HANNIE. This will all add to their portfolio and mean they can reach more people. The music itself is great and varied so they do not have to worry too much about the production/music side of things. To get that additional boost and reach new audiences, let’s get some HANNIE information and some interviews online with Hannah Koppenburg and Annie Wagstaff. I am excited to see where the duo can go and whether they will be touring in 2019. There is a lot to love about them and their music definitely has a special edge to it. I feel a lot of Pop artists can be a bit limited with their sounds and are not willing to experiment and look in other directions. I have seen duos split up because of this and the fact their music sounds very similar to other stuff out there. HANNIE are always mobile so I do not think they will have any danger when it comes to success and longevity. Maybe a bit more online would help them but I actually think they are doing really well at the moment. It is clear that the music media is responding to what they are throwing out and there is no real end to what they can do. 5 Years is their sixth release and, with every move they make, they step somewhere fresh. There are not many duos/bands that can claim that so I do hope that HANNIE have a very long and prosperous future.

Before reviewing 5 Years, I wanted to look at music and general and whether it is too reliant on negativity. Maybe artists are not deliberately trying to be moody and depressing but there are few out there that project anything other than anxiety and a bitter taste. Even if songs have an upbeat melody, the lyrics can be quite cutting and have that sour edge. It is not the case that every artist operates this way but I am hearing fewer and fewer cheery songs and artists who just want people to have fun or let go. I do get that artists want to project something serious and they cannot waste the opportunity they have. A lot of songs revolve around personal issues and problems. It is great to connect with people and write songs that are relatable and familiar. Aside from that, we all need somewhere to escape to. If all music is quite negative or anxious then that has quite a problematic effect on people. HANNIE are on the other end of the spectrum and keen to give as much light and life as they can. 5 Years is about living in the now and not really worrying about the past. We can all get a bit tense when it comes to expectations and we put pressure on ourselves unfairly. Rather than letting that feeling win out, let’s let life take us where it wants and see what happens. That sense of liberation and ease goes into the song – more artists should follow this example. It is great that there are acts like HANNIE that can take a more positive approach to music and create songs that make you smile. We need to embrace positive aspects because, right now, there is not a lot of positivity about. Music needs to be honest and real but it also needs to give everyone the chance to relax and find something nourishing. I go back in time when I want to experience something joyful and do worry modern artists have an inability to be forward-looking and bright. I shall leave things here because I am keen to explore 5 Years and a new venture for HANNIE.

One gets some funky clicks and twang from the opening of 5 Years. One might expect electronics and buzz but, instead, you get something quite smooth and slinky. Carys Selvey is on the microphone and talks about forgetting what was said yesterday and focusing on the future. I guess there have been cross words and some problems but that is not something she wants to focus on. There are little buzzes that come through and electricity that gives the song a bit more energy and passion. Combining with something more causal and cool, the song keeps growing and reveals new layers. HANNIE provide the texture and backing whilst the heroine reveals pains that have come before and some angered words that might have been said in haste. I do feel like there are many artists that focus on love and relationships and document them in a very negative and samey manner. Rather than dwelling on the rough aspects and getting hung up on the bad times, HANNIE and Carys Selvey are looking at moving forward and not letting that rule things. There is this positive aspect that is more about forgiveness and ignoring minor problems rather than letting stress and anger dominate. The chorus has a summer-time feel and boasts a pretty big beat. The song might be more suited to the shores of BBC Radio 1 but the reason I took it on – I am not a fan of BBC Radio 1 – is that there is more depth and potential to be found. I think a station like BBC Radio 6 Music could play the song because 5 Years is not pure Pop and does seem to have more to it. You come into the chorus not knowing what is going to happen but you get struck by the swagger and sway. The heroine wants any cross words to be set aside as, in five years, they are not going to be remembered.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Arielle Shear

So many other artists will look at an argument and make that the focus. There will be this invariable and stressful argument and it gets a bit tired. HANNIE and Selvey have created a song that asks what is the point of harbouring ill feelings and focusing on something minor. I can get behind that sentiment and feel that a lot of other artists need to follow this lead. The chorus for 5 Years is pretty emphatic and sounds like it is perfect for beach parties. I have not heard that many Pop songs that have a positive skin and a real natural sound to them. A lot of times, the production is too polished and the vocal sounds machine-processed and drained of personality. On this occasion, HANNIE treat the music with respect and allow the vocal to shine. It is pretty high in the mix and not subjected to trickery and technological intrusion. Of course, there is a bit of shine to be found but it does not dominate. Our heroine does not want to think that things are over and she knows everything is within reach. It seems like this relationship has provided challenges but she is not going to call it quits. They need to focus on the here and now and look at what lies ahead. The heroine is young and not going to let things get on top of her. When the chorus returns, it is already in the head and familiar. The fact there are vocals layered and nice little touches here and there makes it more appealing and stronger than a lot of material in the Pop market. Selvey does not want consequences and to think about problems: there are possibilities in front of them and they can let the silly little things slide. In many ways, there is this urge to make silly mistakes and be young while they can. Nothing as big as arguing and exploding but being a bit reckless and foolish when the mood calls for it. I do think many people ignore life and do not have enough fun. 5 Years is a great song for releasing energy and embracing positivity. Selvey gives the song a real sense of passion and excitement that will bring in those not usually enamoured of Pop. It seems that 5 Years is about these young lovers who could get buried by responsibility or focus on bad things but need to live their life and be free. I do think more artists should follow this lead and write songs that lift the mood and look away from the strains and perils of relationships.

It has been a busy past couple of years for Hannah Koppenburg and Annie Wagstaff. With Carys Selvey, they have created something great with 5 Years. The duo has been keeping busy but I wonder whether there are going to be more tour dates in the future. They have some great music under their belts so it is understandable people will want to catch them on the road. HANNIE is a solid and exciting unit and one that, I feel, could be around for years to come. I did ask whether they will release an album this year and that might be something to ponder. There is definitely a lot of energy and creativity in the camp and I would be interested to see what a HANNIE album contains. Clearly, Koppenburg and Wagstaff have a lot of affection for one another and you get this translated into fantastic music. I do love what they are doing and the fact there are not many others like them. I speculated they might think about a fashion brand or going into business and having their own label. The girls have been backed by brands before and are no stranger to that side of the market. Maybe that is all ahead of them and I know they want to concentrate on the music right now. This year is fairly new so I am sure it is too early to say whether they will tour abroad and how far they will go. Every release means new fans come on-board and there is this feeling that HANNIE are on the cusp of being pretty big. So many artists, as I said, deal with negativity and it is nice to hear music that genuinely puts you in a better mood. I think there is a lot of potential when it comes to HANNIE’s music and 2019 will be a very important year. Their material is getting stronger and I like the artists they collaborate with.

At the moment, HANNIE are playing around London and making a name for themselves in the capital. They have their own label, HANNIE Music, and have aspirations when it comes to international markets. I do feel like they could be a big hit in countries like America and I wonder whether that is part of their plans going forward. HANNIE are pretty ambitious and they have a great relationship with their fans. They are fairly new to Twitter and not tweeted much but I think they need to consider upping their game there. Instagram is important but there are so many opportunities on Twitter. They could gain such a huge following there and get so many chances from putting out a little more. It need not be anything too much; maybe some new updates or interviews. I think Twitter is essential and HANNIE can get their music spread to new nations if they use Twitter a bit more. It is a minor quibble but, apart from that, they hardly need my advice. They are doing really well and taking every chance to get their music to the people. I genuinely think duos like HANNIE can inspire the next generation and they are setting a great example. There are not many production duos around but HANNIE are much more than that. It seems there is this whole HANNIE universe that has its band of followers and name. I am not sure whether they have a nickname for their fans but, when you look at social media, you can tell that Hannah Koppenburg and Annie Wagstaff have a great bond with their supporters. It is wonderful to see and I do hope that there are many more years in the tank for HANNIE. It is the energy and passion they put into every song that amazes me and how busy the music is. May artists are content to throw out the minimum and not really look at other possibilities. There is a curiosity when it comes to HANNIE. Already, HANNIE have played around the world but I know there are nations they want to tick off the list and will want to explore. Australia seems like a natural territory for them and I do wonder whether they have considered playing there. I shall leave my predictions and urges aside and just encourage people to check out HANNIE. Their previous music was great but, with Carys Selvey, they have created something brilliant with 5 Years. It is a fantastic song that gets into the blood and really makes you feel better. This is what we want and should encourage. It seems there is no end in sight for HANNIE’s great music and, if anything, they are just getting started. If you need a boost and kick to get you out of the door then you really need to listen to what…

HANNIE are producing right now.                                                     



TRACK REVIEW: Sam Fender - Hypersonic Missiles



Sam Fender

PHOTO CREDIT: Sophie Mayanne for CLASH

Hypersonic Missiles




The track, Hypersonic Missiles, is available via:


Newcastle, U.K.




5th March, 2019


I have talked about artists from the North East before...

so I will not cover that ground when referencing Sam Fender. I will touch on his roots but, when considering him, I think it is important to consider personality and his natural charm; critics’ choices and whether artists live up to that acclaim; male solo artists in general and the difference compared to females; natural songwriting talent and a sense of conviction off the bat; bringing Alternative Rock to the forefront and helping to revive that format for bands – I will end by seeing where Fender might head and how his future will pan out. I listen to so much music and, at the end of the day, I stick with very few artists. This is not a shot but, when it is so busy and bustling, what defines those who will remain and those who will fade away? I do find that, in musical terms, there are a lot of like-minded artists and that can make things very difficult. The distinguishing marker is, for me, their personality. How they stand out and remain in the mind. Sam Fender is someone who is very natural and does not force anything. He hails from Newcastle and does not try to be anyone he is not. One gets this very organic man who is open, funny and interesting and, in a landscape where it is hard to spot interesting people, Fender does stand out. I know there are artists who compel and grab you with their personalities – IDLES and Lizzo spring to mind – but there are not that many that really grab you. I wonder why this is. Maybe it is that magic combination but, with Sam Fender, you get this artist who is pure and compels with his humour and intellect. Maybe it comes down to where he comes from and the fact there is no need for pretence. There are so many artists who put on an act or seem very boring and distant. That is fine but, when it comes to artists who remain and stay in the mind, there needs to be something extra.   

In the case of Sam Fender, we have someone who comes across as very friendly and has no barriers. I have heard interviews he has given and he always seems very chipper and honest. There is no need to be guarded in his case because Fender wants people to know the real him and no hide. You do get artists who are always wary of what they say and come across as too cautious and safe. Fender has that natural sense of fun and playfulness but he is always compelling in interviews. In his music, he addresses everything from toxic masculinity to mental-health. Alongside other artists like IDLES, Fender is keen to tackle these subjects and provide something substantial. In this interview with NME, Fender discusses the themes and his experiences growing up:

I remember specifically for me as a kid growing up or as a young teenager if I ever cried or got upset in front of anybody, I would be so humiliated. I’d be so angry with myself for being upset and then it would just become this catch 22 situation. It’s that attitude that stops men from talking and stops men from being like able to turn to each other. Me and my mates are very, very close. We all talk about our problems – especially as we’ve got older. But I don’t think a lot of people have that. Men just need to be open and not emasculate one another”.

It is a difficult time for all of us because of political splits and the fact there is so much crap happening. It is up to musicians to address realities and dig deep. Fender is important because he has a very approachable demeanour and, at the same time, discusses meatier themes through the music. This is the sort of artist we should be encouraging right now. I either find artists can be rather boring or unengaging or they do not do anything special with their music. I shall move on now but, if you want to get a better sense of Fender as a very warm and receptive artist, have a look at interviews online and see what I mean!

Sam Fender attended this year’s BRIT Awards but did not really need to worry. He had already won their Critics’ Choice gong and quite right too! It must be great attending an award show and knowing that you already have one in the bag. I watched bits of the ceremony but I recall Jack Whitehall (the host on the night) interviewing Fender and it being a rather laidback chat. The story goes that when Fender found out about the award he was in a car and got a call through. He then went to his manager’s house where he projectile vomited on the garden. Whether there was alcohol involved or it was the pure excitement of the moment I am not sure. When speaking with Billboard last month, Fender addressed the BRIT win and how it has changed things:

It's nuts. [My] following on Instagram just shot up thousands the other day. That was insanity. All the gigs are instantly bigger. We're playing 2,000 cap venues and stuff, which is nuts compared to when we were only doing a hundred half a year ago. It's happened very quick. Just the interactions being mental. What always will be weird is kids asking for photos. I just had three there outside the bus and I was just like, this is surreal. The fans over here are really incredible. Especially when it's not your city. And the following is so mixed as well. You've got all the really young teenagers at the front and then the older teenagers slightly back, then it's [people in their] '20s and '30s and then '40s. And in the back I've seen some people attend and be like, "I'm 70 and I fucking love your tunes." And I'm like, this is so good. It's amazing because it's really nice to see such a mad mass of people. I'm just going to keep on writing songs that matter if I can”.

There will be many more awards coming the way of Sam Fender but I like that he has been humbled and moved by the win.


It was a deserved win and one that will give him a booster. There is an album coming this summer, as I shall explain, and it is a busy time for Fender. There is always this debate whether artists marked out by critics are worth the plaudits. Look at the BBC and their annual ‘Sound of…’ and how artists who have won that fare. I always do feel that it is a bit dangerous following too closely to what various sites say. In the case of the BBC, they have picked some good artists through the years but they are not always spot-on. Fender was long-listed in 2018 and, to be fair, Sigrid, Jade Bird and Billie Eilish were also included. The most popular and appealing artists on the longlist – including Fender and Eilish – were not in the shortlist and, this year, there are some artists you know will do alright and those who might fade away. I know lists like this should be taken with a pinch of salt but I do wonder whether artists like Fender get overlooked. He should have been in the forefront of the BBC’s mind for this year’s essential sounds and, compared to artists like slowthai and Octavian (who were in the shortlist), I feel he has advantages. One of the past problems with critics’ choice rundowns is the nature of the artists included. There were a lot of male songwriters with a rather dull and commercial sound; too many artists who were comfortably primed for the charts and offered nothing in the way of depth and interest. I do think the BBC has strengthened in this respect but I do wonder whether a lot of the winners/nominated artists live up to their promise. The same can be said of the BRITs. Fender has that expectation and pressure now but last year’s winner was Jorja Smith – she has gone onto great things and looks set to be a big name indeed. Fender has a level head and confidence that means he will live up to the celebration and be one of those artists who thoroughly warrants the complete love and faith of the critics.

I have always marked female artists and highlighted them but I do think there are some male artists coming through worth looking out for. One of the problems with male artists is what they are writing about and the effect they have. I do find the best and most striking work of 2019 is from women. Maybe it is the fact many are being open with their music and tackling big themes that means they are standing out. I do think female artists in general are standing out and creating bigger waves. Maybe, too, male bands are more common than male solo artists or have greater scope. I referred to Sam Fender and how he has discussed mental-health and toxic masculinity in his music. Other bands are doing this but, in 2019, I feel it is vital as many people as possible step away from the commercial and love-based and get more serious. I often get this impression of the modern male solo artist and they are usually wearing a hat, strumming a guitar and talking about their love lives. Maybe this is unfair but I think a lot of the most interesting work is coming away from the mainstream and genres like Pop. Fender is an artist who can and will discuss his private life but he realises what an important platform he has. I often think about the deeper themes in music and who covers them. Maybe Hip-Hop, Grime and Rap are a bit more conscientious in that respect but, in 2019, many artists outside of these genres have been penning something rawer and revealing. I keep name-checking the likes of Julia Jacklin and  Little Simz – part of this female revolution; artists releasing material of the highest order. Male artists are doing this too but I always feel like female artists are more conscious and bold regarding subject matter. Sam Fender could easily do what many expect of him: write about booze, girls and success and not really deliver anything with much depth and resonance. Maybe we all have a narrow view of what the male solo artist is and should be.

To be fair, when it comes to the mainstream, a certain type of male artist is fostered. You will always find something more interesting and promising outside of that realm and on the outskirts. Maybe the female dominance will continue – I hope so – but there are great male artists like Fender who are peaking my interest. I do think there are a lot of male artists who use acoustic guitar or are electronic. It is quite rare to see a solo act with an electric guitar whose music has a real sense of grit and meaning. I do think Sam Fender can change the tide and take attention away from the softer and less impactful male solo artists. I am interested to see how far Fender can go and what his future holds. He definitely has his head screwed on and is not getting carried away. One would forgive the man for having a bit of swagger and confidence but Fender is down-to-earth and grounded. There is no sense of arrogance and boastfulness when you hear him talk. His Dead Boys EP was released last year and showed what he was made of. There is more material coming and, with each step, there is this rise in confidence and ability. Fender is getting out there and performing and all of this feeds right back into his music. I have been worried about Rock and whether it is slowly disappearing. Consider years past when we had a load of bands that were producing this very physical and anthemic sound. Now, we have Post-Punk artists but not that many great Rock artists that summon memories of the past. I appreciate modern music is very diverse but it seems electric guitars are not as potent and needed as once was. Aside from the odd band/artist, other instruments and sounds are being used. Fender has this very solid and electric sound that makes me hope we see more artists pick up the guitar. I have nothing against acoustic guitar and synths but I do long for something grittier and more rousing in modern music.


Before I get to reviewing Fender’s latest track, Hypersonic Missiles, I wanted to stay with this theme regarding sound and authenticity. I do like the fact Fender is able to cast his net and look at societal ills, unlovable types and tougher issues. In this interview he discussed his track, Poundshop Kardashians, and what it was all about:

Plastic action men being like, ya Georgie Shore types, pound shop Kardashians being budget Kardashians. That’s what I’m talking about, I’m being a prick about ‘em. There’s a line later on where I say, ‘we idolize idiots, masturbate over sex tapes, we love them and we hate them and wanna see them fall’. But it’s kinda in this weird state where people are famous for the sake of being famous, like what are they famous for? They’re famous for being famous, it’s a very strange thing, it is what it is. I’ve got nothing against ’em! Got nought against the Kardashians, I do think there’s a lot of, like, kids idolizing these pumped up deities, and it does make me think what’s the drive to do anything, what’s the example it gives to kids? All my roles models were either really talented musicians or they were wicked at football, they were good at something! [Musically] I’m not really talking about answers, I’m just asking questions, what effect does that have on a kid growing up? I dunno. I’m not smart enough to change a thing”.

Like Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys, here is a lyricist who can pick from the streets and the people around him but also look at social issues and wider themes. There is a lack of love songs but, seeing as the scene is packed with artists writing about that, is there a big need for someone like Fender to follow suit?

I just haven’t released a love song yet, that’s all. People are kind of obsessed about this, ‘he doesn’t write love songs, oooh’, but I just haven’t released one! I find that, as a starting artist, it’s not gonna set me aside from anyone else on the planet, it’s a very saturated thing. And to write a good love song is f****** hard. We need love songs, of course we do. I’ve got some love songs in there that are coming out, so we’ll see”.

As he revealed in the interview with Bitter Sweet Symphonies, there is so much to his work. I have mentioned Fender having this great guitar sound but, as a live performer, there are a lot of different aspects to be found:

Um, it’s not just an indie band, not just a singer songwriter, there’s a lot of things in between, a lot of little touches, I’ll play some solo stuff on the piano then do stuff that’s really thrashy. I think it’s a very mixed show in sonic terms, quite a jumbled up set. I hate that when you see bands where everything’s exactly the same, so it’s got a lot of different flavors, caters for a wide audience, and it’s sad and loud”.


I know Hypersonic Missiles has been out for a couple of week but I have not had chance to review it until now. The cool-looking, rather basic video for the song has a sort of D.I.Y. charm that gives the song extra gravity and boost. There seems to be a lack of trust and unrest when you hear Fender sing. He keeps his voice level and direct without the need to shout and deviate. Backed by firm and driving guitar and a percussion heartbeat, the hero addressed a sense of disconnect and confusion. He is feeding the corporate machine and watching films; reciting its line and living with wool over his eyes. At this early stage, you get the feeling that there is this aspect of propaganda, fake news and media control. Whether he is talking about American lies and ideals that are fed to us through films and the news, you are gripped by the song and its meanings. I sort of feel like there is this young man who wants truth and guidance but is being fed all these lies and messages. Maybe there is an ideal and ‘perfect vision’ of what the world is and how things are panning out. There are tensions rising and anger around whilst the hero seems to be out of it – he is quite numb to a lot of things and seems to be out of the loop. The video helps give context because we see images of those on the Internet and a man being arrested; a variety of scenes that show people disconnected from the world. In one scene, there is a man wearing a virtual reality headset and, the more I hear Hypersonic Missiles, the more I think the nature of engagement and how we interact is at the forefront. Fender is addressing all of this and looking around. It is high time for hypersonic missiles he says and there seems to be this fatigue regarding lies and the way the world is being run.

The video shows people on webcams and lovers kissing; Fender cycling down a street and a feeling that there is hope. We get a contrast of scenes. From desolation and isolation to the purity of lying in the sun and being in love – maybe some things are going to crap but there is simplicity and purity to be found. Fender realises that the world is heading in the wrong direction but the hero will give his everything. Maybe he is speaking to a lover or friend when he talks about faith and devotion. Fender is not pessimistic and glum but, instead, there is a pragmatic view that many of us share. He watches the T.V. and film; he sees the way politicians lie and cheat and he is growing weary. One feels like he wouldn’t mind something ballistic to reign down and sort it all out. Rather than destruction and wiping people out, I get the feeling Fender just wants change and some truth. His voice has gravel and power but there is a sense of passion and vulnerability as well. There are not many singers who have these blends and I think it gives songs like Hypersonic Missiles an edge. The song does not have too much compositional pressure. We have the drum and guitar working away that gives the song its sense of anger and movement. I listened to the track a few times to get to the bottom of it. The first time around, you get a sense of what Fender is saying but you might need to come back a few times. The song ramps up and gets hotter as it goes towards the end. It is almost Bruce Springsteen-like when you hear horns come in and blare. At its heart, Hypersonic Missiles is about togetherness and trying to pull through. People in power do not have our interest at hearts. It is the common people and those out there in the real world who have the greatest power and influence. The silver suits and “cartoon tongues” that rule Fender’s world are causing distress and feeding lies. It is an experience we all have and our hero wants an end to it. There is this pining for change and revolution. Fender’s emphatic voice makes the words strike and stand out. He has this clear passion and, when you listen to any of his songs, you buy every world and dive into the music. Few artists can do that so easily so, if you are not familiar with Sam Fender, then make sure you check him out. All of his tracks are different and he has not really put a foot wrong so far. This all bodes well and I can see Fender recording quite a few albums in his time. The man has plenty of might and talent and it is great having him in the music world!


Fender is a busy man right now and will be touring around Europe for a few months at least. Look at his social media feeds and you can keep up with Fender’s movements. I am glad there is a lot of attention coming his way and the northern star is growing in stature. As this article from Rolling Stone highlights, there are not many chart acts writing their own music at the moment. Look at the Pop acts around and what is popular in the mainstream and how many of these acts actually write their own stuff? I do think we need to promote those artists who pen their own music because it is much more meaningful and personable. If you have musicians singing someone else’s words then does that create as big a hit compared to someone who is controlling their own music? Make sure you catch Fender on the road and see his fantastic live set. There is an album coming in the summer and I am sure there will be big U.S. date approaching. It seems like Fender has the world at his feet and he can do no wrong. It is quite rare to find a solo artist who writes their own stuff and brings in something electric and direct. I do think he has a golden future because there is no ego and agenda. Fender is always very engaging and interesting in interviews and he is a songwriter that does not shy away from harder subjects. He is opening eyes and minds but not doing it in a very heavy way. Instead, you have this artist who can splice humour alongside pathos and create this wonderfully rich and substantial sound. I will round things off now and come to an end but I want to encourage people to investigate Sam Fender and what he is doing. These are still early days but the man has a long career ahead of him. There are a lot of dates coming up so I hope he gets chance to unwind and recharge at some point! Everyone wants to see him and there will be a lot of buzz around his debut solo album. Keep your eyes on Fender’s social media channels and watch him explode. I did mention how some critics pump up acts and it can be rather short-sighted. So many have been elevated and tipped and not really lived up to that promise. In the case of Sam Fender, he will fulfill these predictions and become a huge star. He, of course, has his feet planted but, before too long, he will be headlining festivals and rubbing shoulders with the greats. Rather than be arrogant about it, the young artist will be graceful and humble. In a world where we need honesty and someone we can rely on, Sam Fender is here to provide that comfort and…

STEELY guidance.


Follow Sam Fender

TRACK REVIEW: Death of the Maiden - His House



Death of the Maiden

His House





The track, His House, is available via:


Oxford, U.K.



The album, The Girl with the Secret Fire, is available via:


29th March, 2019

Produced by Tamara Parsons-Baker and Richard Neuberg 
Mixed and Engineered by Richard Neuberg 
Mastered by Tim Turan 
Album Artwork by Millie Rawicz @millierawicz 
Recorded at Strawhouse, Oxford (
All songs written by Tamara Parsons-Baker; lyrics for The Walls are Wider and The Love of Phlebas were taken from poems written by Henry Stead


ON this outing...

I wanted to address a few things before I come to look at Death of the Maiden. I will discuss Post-Punk sounds and why there is a definite need for something more explosive in modern music; a little concerning female bands and, again, why they are being under-represented right now; greater visibility and awareness of difference and diversity; variety in music and how songs can grip the imagination – I will address why we need embrace bands like Death of the Maiden. The clocks have just gone forward and my brain is adjusting slightly to that. Waking up this morning, I was readying myself to write about various aspects of music – I have a list that I get through at the weekend – but my thoughts have changed. Although Death of the Maiden have a varied palette and eclectic sound, there is a directness and sense of physicality about their music that gets under the skin. Maybe they are not quite as intense as IDLES or Slaves but, in fact, there is more depth and emotion. They mix Post-Punk, gothic sounds and Pop together to create this sumptuous, dream-like music that takes you somewhere special. Although the sound is less accelerated than a lot of the Post-Punk bands around, their words are what stand out in that sense. There is an immediacy and sense of passion in the songs that swims in the blood. I have heard a lot of bands sacrifice depth and meaning for sheer energy and noise. That is not the case with Death of the Maiden. Tamara Parsons-Baker has spent a few years setting herself up as one of Oxford’s best artists and voices. Having seen off the competition and climbed up the ladder, she set up the band with Emma Coombs (drums), Jenny and Hannah Bruce (on guitar) and, together, they are Death of the Maiden. The Girl with the Secret Fire is an album that boasts the band’s chemistry and core strengths and showcases a wealth of textures.

In a good way, it is hard to describe Death of the Maiden and drilling down to their essence. One thinks about genres like Post-Punk and Baroque-Pop and gets their own impressions. Maybe we feel it is going to be morbid or snarling; too violent or gloomy. That would be short-sighted because, as Death of the Maiden show, there is much more power and resonance when it comes to being subtle and wider-reaching. You unpick their music and it is crammed with scenery, colour and imagination. I said how it is important we promote something physical and intense but, in fact, Death of the Maiden project that in the soul; a more subtle revelation that we need to see more of. I have argued how important it is we encourage range in music and I do think the most interesting stuff is happening away from the mainstream. I am not saying the biggest acts are boring but I do think there is a tendency to fit into some sort of groove and preconceived slot. You sort of wade through everything out there and it can be hard to decipher what actually has any meaning. There are a few bigger acts I really love but most of the more interesting material is coming from the underground. Maybe it is the lack of commercial pressure or the fact the current generation are shaping up to change things. I am seeing more and more artists genres and experiment with sound. I do think a lot of what is in the mainstream appears pretty narrow and flavourless but, with the best of the rising crop, we are seeing a true blossom and feast. Death of the Maiden explore the rawness of Punk and the sense of spirituality one gets with Baroque-Pop. I shall move onto another theme because I want to tackle something that has been on my mind. I do wonder whether some of the problems we see in the wider music world will change and we will see balance.

Whether Death of the Maiden see themselves as a female band or would prefer a gender-fluid label, there is no denying that, compared to some bands, they will struggle for festival bookings. I brought this up yesterday when discussing Glastonbury and its lack of female headliners but, moving forward, I do wonder whether discrimination is just with gender. There is a surge of feminism and need for equality but it is not being met with acclaim and respect by the industry. Many are fighting for parity at festivals and throughout music but I do feel like those in power have been lacking. Look at a group like Death of the Maiden and you have a solid and exciting band that have the promise to last for many years to come. I see so many male bands being given top spots at festivals and made cover stars but what of the female artists? They are, in my mind, producing the best music around and this is not being translated into acclaim and attention. What gets to me is the fact music is a meritocracy and that means the best music should be celebrated. Why is it that, in 2019, we still have the battle sexism and the ignorance of the music industry?! I do find it shocking that bands such as Death of the Maiden might be overlooked because of their gender. They have the promise to be a big deal and will get there soon enough but I do feel like many will hold them back because they are women. I have seen bands like them take longer to get to the top because festivals still have this problem booking women. That might sound gloomy but I know they will get where they need to get to. It might be a while longer until they are at Glastonbury but I do think the industry needs to open its eyes and mind when it comes to talent and not being so blind. If it was more gender-blind and actually judged artists upon their sounds then that would be a lot better.

Tamara Parsons-Baker, when emailing me, stated that Death of the Maiden are trying to be visible women, queers and those who fight for greater rights. I have been seeing a lot of discussion on social media and, whether it is relevant to this point, how many schools are uneasy regarding lessons around L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. issues. It seems that there is still uneasiness when it comes to aspects away from a heteronormative spectrum. Maybe this might not directly relate to music but I think it is important to raise the point. I feel like there is a real uncomfortableness when it comes to talking about sexuality. If bands like Death of the Maiden are determined to create visibility in that respect, is society as a whole going to match that? I find that there are many who feel it is wrong to teach lessons about L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. subjects in schools and it is not fair to foist that onto children. Parents think that it is wrong to instil these lessons at a young age and schools should not stray from more ‘traditional’ subjects regarding sex and gender. I do feel like it is rather absurd we have to have this argument because times have moved on and children need to be educated. It is wrong to ignore the sexual spectrum and, in essence, be discriminative. I am appalled that there is so much prejudice and stupidity today but I do wonder whether music is more open-eyed and aware. I have discussed sexuality in music before and how many L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists have to struggle. How easy is it for them to assimilate into the mainstream and discuss their sexuality in a very real and open way? I feel many people want music to be straight and white. They have this vision of normality that is denying passage to artists who just want to be themselves. Music is richer when it is expressive, opens its channels and does not judge artists at all.

Death of the Maiden are unafraid to be themselves but want to create greater awareness and discussion. I am still bothered by the lack of discussion regarding L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists and how, in the education system, the syllabus is quite rigid and coming under attack. I will skip to another subject soon but I felt it was worth raising because there are so many different sides to this band. I love what they are putting out and they have such strength. Their music grabs you and sucks you into this imaginative and special world. Sonically, they are exciting and compelling but, as people, there is another side to them. The sense of liberation and being who you are, this is what Death of the Maiden are all about. How far has the industry come since, say, the 1950s? Certainty, sounds have evolved and we are much broader than then but I do think attitudes have not changed. In terms of sexuality and gender, have we moved on at all? I do think that there needs to be more discussion and artists need to be judged on talent and not excluded on the basis of sexuality and gender. Discrimination extends to race, too, so music has a lot of problems that need tackling. When it comes down to it, we need to assess all artists on their potential and talent and strip everything away. Death of the Maiden would not necessarily label themselves as women or see themselves in rather limited terms. They are a fantastic band who warrant acclaim because of their talent and drive. The Girl with the Secret Fire is packed with great music and standout moments. I do hope that this quality and determination leads them to some wonderful places! I will end the review by talking about the band’s touring and potential but things are looking great right now. Reviews are already coming in for their album and there is an awful lot of positivity around them. It is their multifarious and vivid palette that has engaged so many minds.


One listens to songs on their record and there is dreaminess sitting alongside passion. Whether it is a striding piano line or something rawer, there is no denying Death of the Maiden are a rounded and exciting band. I do love how each song has a personality of its own and the band are not beholden to a singular sound. You hear what they are putting out and immerse yourself in the music. There is a subtlety to the playing and performances that mean songs are never too forced or pushy. That is not to say, too, the music is too calm or detached. The band has concocted this great blend that tackles dreams and nightmares alongside pure emotions and a sense of fantasy. In fact, some commentators have stated how Tamara Parsons-Baker is getting something off her chest in the music. There have been striking nightmares that have affected her. Rather than throw these ideas away, she brings them to the music and lets the listeners into her mind. I do think so much of music is based around relationships and matters of the heart and musicians do not really stray too far from that template. Music is at its most promising, enriching and engrossing when more of the artist goes into the music. There is great imagination in the work of Death of the Maiden and this is something others should follow. It is the sonic nimbleness and beauty that one finds that perfectly captures the soul. There is nothing too heavy and dark or anything that is too slight. One can be a fan of Baroque-Pop or Post-Punk and there are no borders at all. Indeed, Death of the Maiden have created an album that will appeal to music lovers of all shapes and sizes. From a purely aesthetic and sonic viewpoint, I can approach Death of the Maiden and find much to enjoy. Every song has its own story and skin and you keep coming back time and time again. One is affected by the compositions and vocals but you also gravitate towards the lyrics. They are never generic and too personal and, instead, there is a richness that sparks every corner of the mind. It is hard to put into words but you need to listen to the music to see what I mean.


Before I come to reviewing one of The Girl with the Secret Fire’s songs, His House, I wanted to stay with this theme of diversity. Like the band’s championing of gender and sex; the need to be seen and how hard it is to fit into a music industry that has this rigid ideal of what one should be, they are not slavish to sounds that are limited and commercial. I am seeing, as I said, many artists in the underground doing great work and Death of the Maiden should be highlighted because of their compositional talents. There is delicate piano and something romantic; militaristic percussion and rousing backdrops – sometimes all within the same song! I do find many artists lack a sophistication and depth but, with Death of the Maiden, every song has multiple layers and angles. The vocal is always at the centre but that is not to say the rest of the band is secondary. Instead, there is a connection and chemistry that infuses them all together and creates this harmony. We need to celebrate bands like Death of the Maiden because they have that special spark and edge. Their music rewards those who take time to digest and experience everything at its fullest. There are personal revelations and dreams being exposed but one never feels excluded or uncomfortable listening to something quite soul-baring. I hope I have not put people off listening to Death of the Maiden with my rambling and detail – I was determined to include them and get their music heard. They are already gathering acclaim but I feel like their future will be very promising. I do feel like a lot of artists who write quite simply and without passion are getting ahead of those who are more intelligent and different. This takes me back to my point regarding equality and acceptance in music and the wider society. It is important I get around to His House and study a song that has a great deal of quality. It is one of the standouts from The Girl with the Secret Fire; an album that is brimming with brilliant moments.


Opening with delicate strings that start to skip and create this wave, our heroine comes to the microphone with her voice ringing clear. The voice is very high in the mix which means that we feel the full force of the emotions playing out. Other songs on The Girl with the Secret Fire burn brighter in terms of compositional weight and instrumentation: the simplicity of the music allows the vocal to explore more but there is still great weight and potency. In fact, the acoustic guitar has this story of its own and I listened to His House a few times and found new stories and revelations coming through. It seems like there is this drama and sadness. Our lead seems to be in a space with stained windows – maybe a church or somewhere else – and her eyes are stained. We come into this house – whether emotional or literal – and hear about the roof coming in and things starting to crumble. The heroine’s hands used to be joined with another and there was this unity that kept her comfortable and safe. Now, it seems like this secure spot and location is being battered by the weather and slipping away. It may sound quite heavy and emotional but, in fact, there is a lot of beauty and tenderness. The vocal has a lot of passion and sadness but there is a sense of hope and focus that keeps it from sounding drained and lost. Backed by these spirited strings, we concentrate on this very evocative scene that seems to represent the heart starting to lose a beat; stability lacking and something transformative happening. This man begged and willed us (whether there is someone with the heroine or just the two of them) to take things outside. Just then, there is a surge of electricity and a new layer coming into the song. There is this sort of nodding to the spectral and religious throughout the song. I get the sense that, at the core, a relationship is being assessed but it almost like His House is a hymn; a prayer or something spiritual.


One cannot escape the transcendent nature of the song and how it makes one feel. Everyone will have their own view regarding the song and its true origins. I feel like some bond has been broken but, in a wider sense, there is something wider being addressed. Parsons-Baker’s voice is clipped and has a distinct accent but it carries so much nimbleness and movement. There are very few singers who can sing as evocatively and purely as her and that is something to be proud of. We see the heroine losing her feet and way; a sense of being directionless or looking for stability. We have this mix of the oblique and direct that takes your thoughts in different directions. The chorus talks about his house as being somewhere secure against the lashes of the storm. Again, whether it is a trusted friends/sweetheart or a church that is keeping the heroine guarded from the outside, I am not so sure. The chorus is powerful and everyone will have their opinions regarding the story and truth. Great songs get you thinking and leave a bit of mystery in the mind. With a voice that rises and summons great power but is also capable of being softer and tenderer, it is a masterful performance. Even if the lyrics become bleak and quite haunted – bones being picked; graves dug and visions of death – one does not necessarily view things literally. Maybe the heroine wants to escape a hard situation and suppression but I think there is a greater need to be rid of a burden and strain. Death of the Maiden are brilliant when it comes to matching darker lyrics with spirited and gorgeous music. It is this blend that makes His House such a memorable song. Our heroine is in the chapel and listening to this song that remains. I do wonder, at every stage, whether the song is a spiritual awakening or something dream-like. It is a powerful offering so one will have their own thoughts regarding its history. There is a mix of grand themes such as God speaking and spiritual reckoning and the more intimate. The heroine has clung onto this raft in an ocean; there have been challenges and you do wonder whether things improved. However one sees it, His House is a remarkable song that will be hard to forget. Each listener will have their own take and visions when it comes to the song. I hope my words got close to the truth of His House but perhaps it is best not knowing everything – keeping a sense of mystery and enigma.

I have talked a lot about Death of the Maiden and how they have progressed. They are a relatively new bands but that is not to say they lack experience and promise. Instead, they have an instant sense of confidence and comfort that suggests they are where they need to be and want to remain for a very long time. There are some great bands coming along right now and I do feel like the scales will tip from the dominance of solo artists to bands. What gets to me is how quality seems to take a backseat to something populist or commercial. I have talked a lot about festivals and their rigidness so I shall leave that be. What I do want to say is that people should judge bands like Death of the Maiden on their musical merit and the fact they are doing something fresh. Check out their social media pages for upcoming dates but the band will be playing at The Finsbury on 12th April. It is worth seeing them in these venues but I feel like larger spaces await them very soon. Death of the Maiden are not purely about the music. They want to give a voice to everyone and stand out in a challenging music industry. It is hard enough being a woman in music and the band know this. I have discussed how festivals tend to overlook women but Death of the Maiden should not fear that. Already, they have proven themselves and created an album that is crammed with delight. The Girl with the Secret Fire is a stunning album that contains ten songs that will stay in your mind for a very long time. It is hard to drill down to the essence of the album and why it is so special. Maybe it is the interplay between the band members of the fact the music is so beautiful and pure.

I love all the different things happening throughout and the fact one can escape in the album. I predict big things for Death of the Maiden and think they have a bright future. It is tough out there but I do not feel the Oxford-based group need to fear anything. I hope I have covered everything and explained myself well enough. It is exciting discovering a band that hit the heart and impress right away. There is so much out there right now and it is always hard to decipher the great from the average. I love Death of the Maiden and know that they will go far. With more tour dates and stage exposure, they will get to more people and attract the attention of radio stations and promoters. I know their music will resonate with a range of stations and who will bet against Death of the Maiden going international and playing big gigs. They have a determination and quality that is hard to fake and ignore. I have stated how it is early still but I think that, in a year or two, they will get to festivals and be playing some really great gigs. They clearly love what they are doing and this funnels into the music. Let me wrap things up now because I am aware I have talked a bit too much. Make sure you investigate Death of the Maiden and follow their progress. They are busy promoting their music right now and, with a great album out, many people will be experiencing them for the first time. In a world where there is a lot of the same thing being played, it is nice discovering an act that are unique and capture you straight away. One can listen to their music and feel better and, in these tough times, that is what we need. They go even further than that and can open your mind and make you think. Albums and artists that challenge the imagination and enrich you should be promoted above that which is straightforward and radio-friendly. I will leave things there but make sure you see Death of the Maiden play; follow them across social media and check out their album on Spotify. If you can, give them some pennies and throw some love their way. Things might just be getting underway but we will see a lot more from this band. They are truly...


A force to be reckoned with.


Follow Death of the Maiden

TRACK REVIEW: Billie Eilish - all the good girls go to hell



Billie Eilish

all the good girls go to hell





The track, all the good girls go to hell, is available via:


Los Angeles, U.S.A.




The album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, is available via:


29th March, 2019




YOU can hardly flick a magazine page...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Cameron Postforoosh

or see a page on a music website without seeing teenage star Billie Eilish staring back at you. Her album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, has just arrived and, for the most part, met with passionate acclaim. The American artist released an E.P., don’t smile at me, in 2017 and, since then, I have seen her grow more ambitious and daring. Before I investigate her debut album and the song I selected from it, it is worth talking about young/newer artists and a certain voice; the new way Pop is going and those who are adding something fresh; putting pressure on young artists and allowing them to grow; following something as big as WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? and, in the case of Eilish, growing out into the world and where she can head – I might also nod to her personality and why she adds a certain freshness. I must confess I am not completely on the Eilish bandwagon when it comes to fervency. I think there is a bit of a way to come regarding star quality and hitting her peak. There have been some brilliant reviews but, in some more mixed ones, there have been comments regarding an inconsistency – maybe her album lacks a balance and, in terms of sonic scope, there is not as much as there could be. What is it about artists like Billie Eilish that stand aside? She might be the youngest of the approaching pack (still eighteen) but that is not to say she lacks experience and depth. In fact, in interviews recently, she has expressed her worries regarding her peers dying from drugs; how there is a lot of pressure on artists to succeed and what it takes to succeed. She definitely has a wise head on her shoulders and this bleeds into her music. A lot of the younger Pop artists, such as her and Sigrid, are straying from this rather simple template and creating music that has more personality and colour.

Listen to Sigrid and she, on her Sucker Punch album, makes you feel alive and energised but there are revelations and darker moments that give a balance. Eilish might not have the same optimism but, in her own way, she is an innovator and someone who is not beholden to the mainstream and a certain way. Look at articles such as this - and there is this young generation that is emerging and doing music their way. They do not want to talk crap and stick to the same themes as many of the commercial favourites. In many ways, people like Billie Eilish are narrowing the generation gap and speaking more to the older listeners who might not normally invest their time in modern Pop. Whether they are a D.I.Y., bedroom-made artist or are determined not to be coerced, there is something coming out that is blurring genre lines and quite exceptional. I do think there is a lot of expectation when you discover an artist so young who stands out. Eilish is a teenager and she has a long way to go but I still think she can blossom and expand. Her vision is different to what is around her and, as such, everyone wants a piece of her. It is scary seeing all the interviews and features written about her and, whilst I shall cover this more later, she is handling it all calmly. What is it about Eilish’s music that has captivated and entranced? This interview she conducted with The Guardian exposed some truth and talked to the woman herself:

From her recent eerie single, Bury a Friend, to the brooding vision of grandeur in You Should See Me in a Crown, Eilish’s music conjures a twist on dark, theatrical pop, sharing as much DNA with the broad strokes of Broadway as it does Del Rey’s haunted balladry. The release of her debut album this week may mark the first time that many parents have heard Eilish, whose music represents everything about Gen-Z pop culture that foxes adults: genre-less but image-conscious; extremely online, but private. It deals in anxiety, sincerity and emotional intelligence, mixed up with classic teenage apathy. Her music, like her style, is difficult to place on a timeline or pin to specific references. It’s new and it’s accomplished. Eilish embodies it all.

Lucid dreams, night terrors and sleep paralysis litter Eilish’s debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? It’s an album of firsts, of which Eilish has had plenty over the past year: being in love, experiencing the death of someone close and first time (she adds with another snort) being famous. She says it’s about the parallel awfulness of dreams and reality, and, occasionally, the pleasurable, dreamy quality of being alive. Her young life conveys no obvious torment or trial, but she makes a few lyrical references to her personal safety. She says she wouldn’t be able to do casual meet-and-greets any more for that reason. Although she feels happy on stage, she doesn’t feel physically safe up there. Before shows, “I’ll go through the back entrance because it’s the safest way for me to go. Sometimes, there are not-great people outside: not fans, sometimes people who … don’t want the best things for me.” Later on at the gig, I personally feel uncomfortable at the number of solitary older men incessantly taking photos of her”.

I think a lot of people still have a set impression of Pop and what it is all about. They listen to BBC Radio 1 and hear something tinny and machine-fed and assume that this is what modern Pop is about. I agree that there is this mass that seems to be concerned with the same lyrical themes and sounds. You get a lot of boring and overly-processed songs that are all designed to be disposal and easy to understand. Artists like Billie Eilish are seeing the modern, popular sounds and offering alternatives. I do feel that the more interesting Pop artists – whether that is Billie Eilish or Sigrid – are doing something more personal and inventive. Eilish is getting a lot of warm nods because she throws in odd sounds and has this true personality. Whether you respond to her textures or feel they are a bit dark, one cannot dispute they are a stark contrast to what is deemed popular and accepted. There is a bravery and boldness in WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? that staggers the mind.

Eilish could have come in with something quite safe and radio-friendly but, in many ways, she is more an Experimental artist than a traditional Pop performer – more similar to someone like Gazelle Twin than Rita Ora. Most of the criticism regarding Pop – through the last few years – concerns its staid and routine flavour. We know that Pop is getting sadder, more repetitive and involving minor keys but, staying within this rule, there are those that are capable of producing something interesting. There are few, I admit, that are doing these brash songs that are exciting; complex and rich that punch through the sky and have the ability to remain for decades. Instead, Pop is in a bit of a limited state. There is this need to be exposed and raw with the music rather than pen belting anthems. Some artists go for optimistic but, a lot of the time, it can feel empty. Many young artists are exploring difficult themes and darker realms but ensuring there is plenty of originality and intelligence. Genres are being pollinated together and explored and there is a more interesting Pop sound. Whether you count Billie Eilish as ‘Pop’ or have other labels for her, she is showing there is an alternative to the chart-bound shallowness. In this album review from NME, they drilled into some of the subjects Eilish explores and why she stands out:

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


Now, Gen Z (teens born mid-’90s to mid-’00s; Eilish was born in December 2001) icons like Billie, guns-rights activist Emma Gonzalez and more are proving themselves tech-savvy, politically aware and ready to push the envelope creatively. “Bro, teenagers know more about the country that we’re living in right now than anybody,” she says.

“The world is ending and I honestly don’t understand the law that says you have to be older to vote, because they’re going to die soon and we’ll have to deal with it. That doesn’t make any sense to me,” she says. “But to see young people taking part in peaceful protests and not obeying is beautiful”.

 I do wonder whether, when we see and promote these bold artists, there is too much pressure on their shoulders. I wrote a piece about Sky Ferreira recently: she has returned with an album and this ends a six-year period of relative inactivity. Some wonder what has taken her too long and, after a successful debut, why has she taken until now to come up with something?! Listen to her new song, Downhill Lullaby, and it is similar to what Eilish is putting out. Ferreira is producing something with a darker hue and more dramatic tone; another Pop artist that is writing in a more expressive and interesting manner. There has been pressure put on her shoulders and I feel there is this tendency to expect too much from young artists. Maybe it is the generational gap and the mid-1990s/mid-2000s that means young artists now are being inspired by different artists. Maybe they are not growing up around the same sounds or perhaps the way they promote their music is different. More are doing it bedroom-made and promoting on YouTube; many are growing up in a different world to the one in which their older peers have. It is interesting seeing the difference but I do worry that, still, when we see a young artist doing well there is this need for them to follow their latest album up right away.



The business is so competitive and busy that there is a danger taking too much time away. If you have a big album like WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? then, of course, many will want something next year and they will want Eilish to tour the world. There is a raft of press out there and so many column-inches so that does make me wonder whether Eilish will be allowed some time off. She will be touring her album and bringing it around the world but, at the age of eighteen, she has plenty of energy in her. The downside is that there will be this fatigue that kicks in and she will not be allowed to relax. I do worry that we are expecting too much from young artists and, in years to come, what affect that will have on their physical and mental-health. Eilish is just starting out but, given the fact she is gaining headway, does this mean she will be allowed any time for reflection and room before the end of this year? Eilish has spoken about her peers dying from drug abuse and suicide and she knows there is something worrying happening. Do we expect too much and drive artists to unreasonable lengths?! It is a hectic industry but, even if you do have this very rare talent in your midst, that does not mean they should be driven and pushed to the point of exhaustion. This is not a new thing in Pop. Look back at the 2000s heyday when the likes of Britney Spears ruled and, back then, there was this need for her to tour relentlessly and she rarely caught a break. I do hope that people lay off her and give Eilish the room to live her life and not be controlled. She is someone who will not be controlled but, in order to succeed and be heard, she does need to conform to an extent. I do feel like she will be able to balance work-life and not burn-out too much.

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is Eilish adding her own style and voice to music. I have also written a piece about how annoying it is to see the way songs and artists are stylised these days. I used Eilish as a focal point because, as you can tell from her album and song titles, she is someone who is not exactly beholden to correct English. She likes to put songs in lower-case-only letters and upper-case in the case of the album. This is something that bugs me but, when I posted my article on Twitter, someone came back and argued that this – and other artists that do this – is a case of adding personality and art into music. To me, it encourages bad English and other artists to be rather lazy regarding songs. I see so many songs without a question mark when they should; many with lower-case lettering where there shouldn’t be one – this also bleeds into lyrics which, in some corners, can be rather basic, unimaginative and simplistic. Even if the stylizing lettering is annoying and not really needed, maybe it indicates a style and sense of personality that is different from the rather straight and disciplined music around. Eilish is someone who can address the same themes as many of her more commercial artists – including depression and struggles in life – and add more ambition and flair. Listen to any song on WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? and there is greater emphasis on the vocal nuance and experimental, interesting nature of the music than there is anything else. On so many Pop records, there is this need to be polished and formulaic. Many are too concerned with being radio-friendly and chart-conforming and you rarely get these more explosive and rare moments. Many have been calling for Pop to go in a new direction and take bigger risks. Billie Eilish is not the first artist to hone the sound she has right now – listen to FKA twigs and M.I.A. – but she could so easily have produced something pretty safe and soft.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Rachael Wright for NME

all the good girls go to hell is one of the more interesting and snaking songs on the record. It starts with a slow build and we get this sort of funeral wind and echo that suggests something dark. Eilish comes to the microphone with the words “My Lucifer is lonely” and you feel like we are going to have this punishing song. Just then, the track switches and we get a very bouncy and sweeter piano refrain and vocal that catches you by surprises. There is an element to the girl groups of the past like TLC and Destiny’s Child. Although Eilish’s voice is softer and less anthemic than those groups, there is a musical strut that makes the song pop. The lyrics, I wonder, might be about the heroine or a peer. She talks about standing there and killing time; not being able to commit to anything but a crime. Maybe this is a view of someone who is a no-good; a bad girl who is walking down a bad path and is wasting time with crime. Perhaps this is a side to Eilish and where she is in life. Many have noted how, on WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, there are oblique lyrics and not a set construct. Look at other Pop songs and you get these rather obvious lyrics. Eilish talks about someone called Peter being on vacation and drops in animals and evidence; “Pearly gates look more like a picket fence” – she has friends but can’t invite them in. Rather than being these simple and hand-feeding lyrics that set out their stall clearly, you do wonder with Eilish and what inspired this song. Maybe it is about recklessness and excess; living on the edge and being in this excessive frame of mind. I can see there are nods to contemporaries and her friends but I get the feeling Eilish is looking at herself and how she is walking down a darker road. The beat rolls and there is this funkiness and, all the while, Eilish keeps her voice somewhat whispered and calmer – reminding me of M.I.A. in some places.



Eilish talks about hills burning in California and I wonder whether it is a look at something like climate change or more to do with celebrity culture or a changing landscape. Things are never obvious with Eilish and you do wonder where the true origins lie. That pre-chorus builds speculation and drama but, when the chorus comes in, Eilish talks of the good girls going to Hell; God (as a woman) having enemies and Heaven being out of sight. Maybe you can see those lyrics as a warning or something oblique but maybe there are words about gender-equality and balance; perhaps it is more about control and something darker in music. I feel like a lot of Eilish’s observations stem from her peers and where she lives. The Los Angeles-based artist is growing up around a lot of fakes and there is corruption around. I love songs that go deep and make you ponder. Everyone will have their own interpretations but, in my view, we are listening to a song that talks about the city and how it leads people astray. The song has this wired and buzzing electronics that mixes with a big beat and a skipping piano. It is like a fusion of classic House with some Electronic and Pop all mixed alongside one another. Eilish rides the wave but keeps some caution in her voice. She name-checks those who need her help and, once again, there is mystery. She speaks about a man/men being fools and not being able to save themselves. They are poisoning themselves and begging for help and I wonder whether this is a reaction drugs and excess or something else. I love the combination of the more anxious lyrics and intriguing scenes with the lighter and more spirited composition. Eilish discusses Heaven and Hell and her own private Lucifer; the dangers and darkness lingering and people in her life fading away. all the good girls go to hell is just under three minutes and you sort of end the track and want a bit more – addicted and held by the blends and layers the song provides. Everyone, as I say, will have their own view regarding the song’s truth and I find the lyrics are amazingly mature and deep from someone so young. Regardless of your views about Eilish, you cannot deny she is doing something new and her music definitely engages the senses!

 IN THIS PHOTO: Rachael Wright for NME

I have covered Billie Eilish, I hope, in detail and explored her different sides. She is this sensation that is turning heads and getting people in the press very excited. I do love what she is doing and, although I will not convert completely – there are songs and moments on her album that are a bit samey -, I do think she is part of this more interesting and appealing wave of artists. Her album is collecting more than its share of great reviews and people are excited where she can head. I do feel like we will not have to wait five or six years for a follow-up but that is not to say she should rush another release. Many will want a successor to WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? because we are quite impatient and we have that thirst. Look at Eilish’s social media pages and you can see where she is headed and where you can catch her. I have heard Billie Eilish in the press and there is no pretense and ego. One knows her answers are not being carefully vetted and redacted by a P.R. team: instead, you get this honest teenager who wants to write the music that feels right to her. One of my biggest problems with modern Pop is the lack of personality and actual truth. You feel so much of what is out there is rather generic and follows too closely to everything else. You rarely get a sense of who the artist is and them writing in a way that is unique to them. Eilish is one of those artists who can relate and strike a chord but she does things in her own way. I know it is never a good way to cross-reference reviews but I think Variety nails her sound and what makes WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? shine:

With all its moments of distortion and attitude, tempered by sheer loveliness, and rude and emotional songs about night terrors and daydreams, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” feels like a rock ‘n’ roll album, even if there’s virtually nothing on it that sounds like rock music...

And although the jazziness is more latent than blatant in this sonic blast, she hasn’t done any disgrace to the name her parents gave her, either. Attention, 2020 Grammys: The future still isn’t quite done being female”.

Many reviews are saying the same thing and there is plenty of promise when it comes to the young Eilish. I do think the industry will heap expectation at her feet and there will be this need for her to keep touring, talking and making music. We are seeing a lot of artists suffer from that stress and tiredness but I think Eilish knows this and is not going to let herself get to that point. She has given the world this interesting and diverse album so, naturally, many will ask what comes next and whether we will get even more material later in the year. I will bring things to an end but I wanted to write about Billie Eilish because there are contrasting views regarding her music. Many are positive and hopeful but there are some that are not quite warm to her. Maybe that will change but, to me, Eilish is someone who is making Pop more interesting and brave. The production and eclectic compositions score these, at times, scary songs but you never feel offended or cold. WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? rewards patience and multiple listens so make sure you invest some time in it. Let’s stop the review here but, when investigating all the good girls go to hell – her and those bloody lower-case letters! – I felt like there was this strange and honest artist who was not following a set pattern and formula. The rest of 2019 is a busy one for Billie Eilish but she will have some time to relax, one hopes, sooner or later. She warrants some time off because she has worked hard and you can hear the effort in her debut album. Although Eilish has been making music for just a few years, it is clear that we will hear...


A lot more from her.


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ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise):

Getty Images/Press/Artist (every effort has been made to cite and source the photographers in each case; I can add credits if needed)

TRACK REVIEW: Nadia Sheikh - Toxic



Nadia Sheikh


PHOTO CREDIT: Javier Nomdedeu Lopez 





The track, Toxic, is available via:


London, U.K.




25th January, 2019


I have been on a bit of a run...


regarding female artists but, as there is so much quality out there, I do not feel like there is any need to break the run. I will cover Nadia Sheikh in a minute but, before then, I wanted to mention passion in music and sounds that definitely make you move; cultural and genre mixing that adds to a big impression; Indie-Rock sounds and whether there is a resurgence happening at the moment; the need to be inspired right now and uplifted; where Sheikh can head and how she will step as we head through 2019 – a little bit, again, about headliners and female artists (I shall leave the topic alone after this!). The reason I break down my weekend reviews to the near-mainstream (Saturday) and new (Sunday) is because, more often than not, I found I was getting sent similar-sounding artists without much of a story and background. It makes it hard to write a four-thousand-word review when you are faced with similar stuff and, as I know I can get more ammunition and inspiration from someone like Lizzo, that is why I break things up. It has been the case that, for the past few months, I have had to reject quite a bit of stuff because it is similar or not really distinct. When it comes to Nadia Sheikh, she definitely has an edge and sound that interests me. It might take a while before she is in the same leagues as the best out there but she is making her way out there. She has festival experience – which I will talk about later – and is producing something raw-yet-alluring. I am going to cover Elton John later because, not only is tomorrow his birthday, but there is a biopic coming out very soon – Rocketman is already gaining a lot of attention and speculation. We know how well Bohemian Rhapsody did at the box office and Oscars; it is a complete hit and, despite some historical and personal inaccuracies, the film fared pretty well.

One of the reasons why these films are happening and people want to see them is because, at heart, there is this catalogue of music that gets you up and energised. Think about a biopic of an artist that is a little upbeat and spirited and it does not really hold the same promise. These charismatic singers who had/have these fascinating lives; the songs that have come and how they connect with the people. I do feel like there is a bit of an absence when it comes to stomp and fun. Maybe it is because music is so large and wide-ranging that it is hard to get a proper sense of focus. Look at everything flowing out right now and can one say there is as much energy and fun as there was a couple of decades back? I do not think so and I wonder whether, as I have said before, introspection and deep emotion has taken away that sense of fun; whether artists are willing to be that submissive and feel they need to produce something deeper and more emotional. It is sad to see so little passion coming in terms of sound but I get why many do it. I have been hankering after music that gets the body moving and motivated but is has been pretty hard to find. I guess, when Lizzo releases her album, we will see a stormer that we can all get behind. It need not be a complete fire and explosion of a song: something that makes you a bit happier and can get the feet moving. That is all we ask, really! Nadia Sheikh has the potential to bring a bit of flair and kick back into music and, although it seems like I am writing people off, there are those who are pretty intoxicating and intense. In the case of Sheikh, she is someone who can mix the sort of lyrics that make you think and hold emotional weight but there is that musical attack – helped by her tight band – that adds something special.


Sheikh is half-Spanish so it makes me feel, in a way, that she brings some of that heritage into her music. I am not suggesting there are cliché Spanish sounds in the mix but one gets the feeling that something from the great country is sprinkled in the notes. Definitely, when you hear the passion in her voice and the way she can get people moving, that seems to have a very Spanish flavour. I have been to Spain seven times and, every time, revelled in the local music and how there is this intoxicating and instant charm. Maybe British artists are too rigid when it comes to sounds and, at a time when we need to embrace Europe and its people, I wonder whether we should look to the continent for inspiration regarding music. Certainly, there is enough gold and brilliance out there and I feel like a lot of it is being neglected. Sheikh has that family connection but she knows that, with a subtle bit of culture-fusion, she can get this rather electric and tangy punch that gives her music an edge. It is zesty and uplifting and it is different to everything I have heard. Not to make this political, but I feel like musicians here are probably taking heavily from the U.K. and U.S. I do not feel like we are that inspired by Europe but, when you consider, there are so many rich and diverse sounds out there. Not only does one get a sense of countries fusing within the music of Nadia Sheikh; she also mixes genres to create this big and impassioned impression. I do wonder, also, whether there is a general lack of energy in music as a whole. Maybe there is a fear that Indie-Rock is a bit of a lost genre or it is not as strong as it used to be. There are some great bands out there but I am hearing a lot more of other genres hold influence.

Sheikh’s blend of delicate vocals and an ominous Indie-Rock is great but she goes even further and dips into other types of music. I love stuff like Folk and Pop but I do feel like there is, as I said, too much emotion and delicacy. That is not to say it lacks appeal but I yearn for those artists who are broader and can get you involved. I feel like we all need a bit of a boost and kick right now so, thinking about that, I am seeking out those artists who can get us all jumping. I do feel like Rock and Indie are genres that have been overlooked or were popular years ago. I am hearing Post-Punk bands coming around but look at the mainstream and are there are as many Rock bands as there used to be? Certainly, in terms of numbers, there are fewer than there were in the 1990s and early part of this century but I do wonder whether there is too much of a stronghold by Pop. I am seeing some great Indie-Rock bands emerge but it is hard to integrate and shine in a mainstream that still is dominated by other genres – including Hip-Hop and Rap. In my experience, I feel that a lot of bands from the past have lacked originality and tastes shifted. We had the time when we idolised these bands but, more and more, the solo artists is taking over. Nadia Sheikh is a solo artist but she has a band. She has that combination of original and personal intent with some backing and strength behind her. It is actually quite rare to find a solo artist like her in music. When I think of solo musicians then I consider something gentler and less intense. I do feel like Sheikh has a definite role and chance to lead. The music she is throwing out is great and, alongside a few bands that have a similar sound, there is not a lot of company out there.


I do not feel like there is a complete recovery and rise but there are more Rock and Indie sounds coming out. Most of this is happening in the underground and I hope we see more of them come through. Look at the festival artists playing in the U.K. this year and very few of them are Rock-natured. I do wonder whether there is this reliance on certain genres or whether bands are heading in another direction. This might sound scary for Sheikh but I do feel like the wind is changing and artists like her have a chance to take advantage. One of the reasons why bands of the past struck a chord was because of the passion and the way they could unite us. They had these big choruses and anthems that got into the mind and made us all sing along. I do miss those days and, whilst Indie and Rock have changed a bit in nature, there are still those who know how to get us active and alive. In that sense, I do feel like there is hope that the scene will change and assimilate these artists into the pack. This is something I have also covered quite a bit but I do think there are very few artists out there who can get you happier and move the body. To me, music is at its strongest when we are lifted up and can feel better about ourselves. I do think there is a little too much gloom around right now and we are not producing enough music to lift the soul. Whether that comes from Pop, Indie-Rock or another genre, I wonder what has happened. I shall move on from this point right now but it is great that there are artists such as Nadia Sheikh who can step away from the predictable and obvious and create something with some physicality. Now, more than ever, we need music that can unite us and make us feel better.

Yesterday was a big day for London because we had the march against the Brexit vote; the right to stay in Europe and Article 50 to be repealed. There was a lot of protest and people on the streets and, whilst I did not go myself – it would have been so crammed and hectic out there – everything went off peacefully and there was a lot of passion to be found. I caught photos from the day and people were keen to express their support and solidarity. There is a mood percolating and enduring that is tense and afraid. Even though we have seen this strong army take to London to show their anger at the state of politics right now, we are all uncertain and not quite clear where things are headed. I do think that this country is as fragile as it has ever been. I feel there will be improvement and hope but it will take a while longer before we get that stability. Look ahead and where do we go from here? Is there going to be another general election and will we see another leader guide the country? In any case, it is clear that Brexit is going to be delayed and we are heading for another period of debate and clashes. All of this happens around us and people are getting involved. Nobody wants the country to be divided and tense and, at the moment, it is hard to break from this fog and stress. Right now, we need music to play a big role and, whether it is political or not, I feel we can all get some solace and comfort from musicians and what they have to offer. There are more politically-driven bands/artists emerging at the moment and those keen to have their say regarding the country. In my view, we need more music that provides a sense of escape and energy.

PHOTO CREDIT: Will Ireland Photography

Although Toxic does not sound like the cheeriest song out there, there is a general aura that gets you in a better space. That is an interesting observation in itself. How many songs, whether it is the lyrics or music, have a genuinely positive aspect? Every song I have reviewed for the past few weeks – with few exceptions – have had some sort of negative aspect. It seems to be a default position and, whilst not a slam against artists like Nadia Sheikh, I wonder whether artists are capable of finding light and writing music that does not have a negative edge. Luckily, when it comes to Sheikh, her punch and passion makes up for slightly unsettled moods that comes from a darker place. I listen to her music and do feel better after listening to it. There is a definite catharsis and, whist the lyrics are not exactly up there with a Beatles love song from the 1960s, one comes away with a warmer heart and more energy coursing through their veins. This is what we want from music and, at a time when we are sort of crumbling and separated, I feel music has a big role to play. We do all need that hope and connection and I think music can step up. If artists could more positive with their themes then that would be even better – maybe this side of music is something that is resigned to the past? I will conclude by looking at where Sheikh can head this year and develop but, before then, a look at headliners and arranging festivals. This year’s biggest festivals have already announced their biggest acts and it is another case of the boys taking the top slots. There are a few exceptions regarding female headlining but, largely, it is men at the summit. I do not understand why this keeps happening and why we need to fall back on the same old artists. The fact that The Killers are headlining Glastonbury when there are so many great female artists who could provide a more popular and fresh is a bit baffling.


Not only do I want more positive and energised music to come out but, when we see female artists like Sheikh plugging and producing great stuff, there needs to be this guarantee that, in years to come, there will be a possible headline slot. I do not think changes are coming in so far and we are pretty slow to progress. I am a bit annoyed that there is not enough room for women when it comes to headliners. I do worry that we are denying so much great talent. Look at the best albums of 2019 and they have been released by women. There are some great female Punk/Rock bands who have definite verve and I feel like they could headline a festival in years to come. Right now, there is this solo dominance but, in terms of genre, not a lot regarding Indie and Rock. Definitely, when it comes to songs that have a swagger and fire in their stomachs, there is a definite gap. I shall move on from this topic now but there are great artists like Nadia Sheikh who need to know that the industry will recognise them. The industry needs to be more receptive and open and we cannot just keep booking men for the headline slots. Maybe it is too complex to unpack and solve right now but we need to sit back and make some changes. Rather than get too hung up on the inequality around us, it is time to look at Nadia Sheikh’s latest track. I do not usually review songs that have been out a while because there is not much point. I look for the new tracks that everyone else is looking at. The fact Toxic came out in January would usually mean I look for something fresher but, as its video arrived this week, I have taken it on – possibly the last review I will accept when it comes to songs that have been out there for a fair bit. Regardless, it offered me the chance to look at an artists I have not featured before and a style of music that needs to be embraced more.

The sheer rouse and sense of fun that opens Toxic hooked me right in. I watched the video as I was listening to the track and, even from the off, you are put in a better frame of mind. Sheikh and her crew create a sound that has some old-school glisten and some modern touches. It is a nice brew that is quite simple but has so many different aspects and sides working away. It is like the introduction is a conversation and dialogue. When the heroine comes to the microphone, she talks about people talking but nobody really listening. There is not a lot of understanding and people taking the time to hear. Whether she is talking about her own words being ignored – or is looking at the world in general – I am not too sure. There is something bubbling and itching under her skin and, whilst the heroine is dealing with some personal struggles, the composition keeps things buoyant and positive. Listening to Sheikh and it seems like people are dismissing her concerns and words. They say everything is in her mind and she is getting carried away. Maybe there is this feeling that people are unwilling to listen regardless of what is happening and thinking about themselves too much. She does not reveal too much about the exact origin of this ignorance and conflict but one assumes that Toxic is about a general feeling of isolation. When we come to the chorus, there is this burst that combines modern Indie and the U.S. Pop-Punk style. It is a satisfying blend and will appeal to those who want a nostalgic rush but also those who desire their music modern and fresh. You get caught up in the rush of the song and are helpless to resist its physical push. I was wondering, throughout, whether there is a particular event that has triggered the birth of the song. You need to listen a couple of times but, slowly, the truth starts to come out a bit more.


The band is definitely pretty tight and they have this sense of intuition. The connection and chemistry between them makes the song really strong and electric. You dive into the words and try and get a picture of what is happening. Sheikh does not want this bitter pill and she is trying to get away from a bad situation. I instantly thought about relationships or a love that has broken down but, the more I considered, the more I looked at other avenues. There might have been some passion-heartbreak but I think the heroine has been receiving some bad vibes from other areas. The system is overflowing with poison and it is filling her mind. Even though I have suggested artists like Sheikh can uplift and unite us, one cannot help overlook the fact that, at its heart, Toxic is a song that deals with some pretty tough times. The sound and the passion the entire band puts together can definitely make us all feel better and, in a way, I think the song is more of a release than anything. Rather than dwell on the words and make people feel stressed, Sheikh is venting and getting all of this toxicity out of her system. It seems that she has faced her fair share of negativity and pain but now, in this moment, it is all flowing out. Her voice has a nice balance between sharp-toothed and calm. She never truly explodes but there is definite potency in the vocal. Mixing a sense of teenage rebellion – in a good way, rather than immaturity – and the need to be taken more seriously, the catchiness of Toxic overtakes any feeling that we are listening to quite a heavy song. As I have said, the track seems like this release and moment to shed some old skin; get rid of those doubters and start from fresh. It is inspirational in that sense and I am not hearing too many artists like Nadia Sheikh. If you listen to cooler radio stations then you might but look at the mainstream and it is still Pop-heavy. There are a lot of songs that are written by committees and seem to fit into this formula. There is a lack of naturalness and personality that seems to dominate. With Sheikh and her band, one feels this song that means a lot and will resonate with people. I recommend it highly and hope it leads to more material. There will definitely be demand for more of the same from the talented songwriter.

I hope there is a lot more coming from Nadia Sheikh because she has a sound that is instantly appealing and engaging. There are not that many artists we can say that about. I love what she is producing and think she can go a long way. She has her band behind her and, whilst they definitely make the music pop and shine, it is Sheikh who leads and strikes the hardest. I forgot to ask whether she has an E.P. out and other plans but I am sure there will be news coming up. I feel like there are opportunities ahead of her so keep an eye out when it comes to her social media channels. She is a great live performer and has played at some big festivals in her time. That experience feeds back into the music and you get a sense of someone who is completely tight and focused. The music is exceptional and I’d like to think there is more arriving pretty soon. I would suggest, like I do with a lot of artists, to get some more promotional photos onto her pages. There are a few but not that many from the past year. A few portrait images – rather than landscape – would definitely add something. There are some good live shots of her but it would also be cool to see more of the artist away from the stage. Music is a very visual medium so I do like artists that have quite a stock of photos. That is the only real suggestion I would offer as, apart from that, there is nothing really to gripe about. Sheikh communicates with her fans and we have this artist who is very hungry and excited to see what comes next. Many will wonder whether there are festival dates and plans for new material – keep your eyes set on her channels. I am a new discoverer of Sheikh so not really sure whether what she is producing now is an evolution from her older sound. Listening to her past work, one can see she has grown more confident and ambitious. The music seems to have more nuance and passion and, in terms of her writing, I think that has sharpened too. One gets a nice blend of sounds and cultures; lyrics that are relatable and we can all identity with and a sound that gets the body moving. Toxic is a song that, on paper, sounds quite harsh and unforgiving. Whilst there is some truth in that, the abiding impression is of this musical moment that makes you feel better and stays in the mind for all the right reasons. Ensure you follow Nadia Sheikh and discover what comes next. She is an engaging and appealing artist and someone who can go quite a way. I will leave things there but, if you need a bit more boost and clout in your day then make sure you head the way...


OF Nadia Sheikh.


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TRACK REVIEW: Jenny Lewis - Wasted Youth



Jenny Lewis


 PHOTO CREDIT: Autumn De Wilde

Wasted Youth





The track, Wasted Youth, is available via:


Los Angeles, U.S.A.



The album, On the Line, is available here:


22nd  March, 2019


Warner Bros.


THIS is where I get to study an artist who is...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Pamela Littky

nearer the mainstream than a lot of the music I look at. On this occasion, I am looking at Jenny Lewis’ music and the song, Wasted Youth – from her terrific album, On the Line. I will talk about a few things but, among them, I will address age in music and how we perceive artists of a certain age; women and the fact they are creating the best albums this year; subjects that can make an album standout and resonate; relationships and how they can affect the aspect and dynamic of your writing; artists that stand out and can inspire – Jenny Lewis and how her career has developed through the year; where she can go from here. Lewis will probably not forgive me for mentioning age and starting with that but I have been thinking about it a lot. There are radio stations who, when an artist reaches thirty or thirty-five, they stop playing their music. Even though Jenny Lewis is in her early-forties, there is this sense that one is only relevant and cool when they are in their twenties – even getting into your thirties seems like a bit too much! Artists have spoken out against this a lot but, the more I think about music and the finest words out there, they are coming from artists who are not in their twenties. By that, I mean a little more world experience and maturity makes for the best music. On the Line deals a lot with family, addiction and change but it is not an album I could ever expect from someone younger than Lewis. The Rilo Kiley star has been in the industry a long time and I think where she is now, and what she writes about on her current record, is her strongest work. Why is it that the industry deems artists insignificant or not as cool when they get to a certain time in life? Maybe it is a problem more common here but it is a shame that some would reject Lewis’ music before they even hear a note – knowing that she is in her forties.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Wendy Redfern/Redferns/Getty

The album cover, in a way, acts as a sort of sign that she is as stunning as potent as ever. Her last couple of albums have not featured her face but the fact there is a shot of her cleavage, in a sense, is her showing that age does not matter and that she is still very young. It is something I wanted to mention because so many of the fantastic albums I have heard the past couple of years have come from artists who would be considered a bit past-it by the ‘cooler’ stations. That is not to say young artists are irrelevant but, when it comes to music, every station and outlet should judge people on their talent and sound rather than their age. Now that On the Line is out in the world, it is picking up fantastic reviews and amazing fans. Lewis has tackled some hard subjects on the record but there is light and plenty of charm underneath something a little more affecting. I feel it is Lewis’ maturity and time of life that makes her latest album so strong. I listen to her work and feel that, strangely, the best work might still be ahead of her. I will come to look at another subject but consider the career Lewis has experienced so far. She is on her fourth album but has worked in other bands and made such a huge impact on the industry. I love how her sound keeps evolving and the fact she seems to get stronger and more striking with every release. Lewis, as I shall explore, has experienced some loss and change recently and that all goes into On the Line. The fact Ryan Adams worked on the album – the maligned and controversial artist is in the news for the wrong reasons – does not add any sour tones at all. Lewis, in fact, has revealed in interviews how she felt uncomfortable around Adams and was never really that happy in his company. His contributions are not that evident and, fortunately, it is Lewis’ voice and tones that stand out the most.

I want to address some Lewis-specific things in a bit but I am amazed by the quality of albums that has arrived this year. From my experience, the best and most ambitious albums usually come out towards the second-half of the year. I wonder whether it is a planned thing but we tend to see things improve by the time we get to summer. Look at the albums already out and it is clear that 2019 is a very big and exciting year. I have raised this subject before but it is women, in my mind, who are creating the best work around. We have not even heard what Lizzo will give us with her upcoming album, Cuz I Love You, but it has the potential to be a year-defining record! This week has also seen Lucy Rose release, No Words Left. It is her most affecting and stunning work and is picking up four and five-star reviews – the British artist has grown through the years and, like Lewis, seems to get stronger with every release. Other huge records from the likes of Julia Jacklin, Little Simz and Sharon Van Etten have surpassed most of what the men are putting out there. All of the albums have a sense of the personal and depth to them. Artists are starker and more revealing with their music; willing to explore themes beyond the mainstream’s lust and create something challenging. I do wonder, as I keep saying, whether this quality is going to be mirrored with some festival bookings. This year, in the U.K., there is a sense of the predictable: a gender imbalance and most of the headliners are men. I do wonder why the same tired and inferior acts get booked and why women are being ignored. It is something that needs sorting out but, looking at this year’s best, how long can the industry look away? I do hope that the likes of Jenny Lewis are considered for headline slots next year because she would be a really popular choice.

Women have always been treated differently to male artists but I am noticing a split between the genders. Aside from a few male acts here – I think about IDLES and The 1975 – the subject matter addressed (by women) is a lot more stirring. So many male-made albums are not really breaking from the conventional or offering depth. I find the best female singers more nuanced and captivating whilst their lyrical approach has more heart, variety and intelligence. All of this combines into music of the highest order indeed – 2019 is very much the year of female music. It would be foolhardy to assume that men will completely suck-out this year but I can see this female dominance continue for the rest of the year. Jenn Lewis has also created an album that could be, already, considered one of the very best of the year. I love what she is putting out into the world and I am amazed (but not surprised) by the incredible quality women in music are creating. I shall move on in a second – as we need to dig deep into Jenny Lewis’ world – but she is this human that is very inspiring and brave. She has not long ended a long-term relationship and experienced the death of her mother. In interviews, she is charming, open and engaging and she is a definite role model for generations to come. It makes me angry when we promote men above women without reason and tend to ignore the best artists around. The passionate reviews Lewis is already accruing for On the Line should give pause for thought and, let’s hope, 2020 is the year when artists like her are rewarded with headline slots and industry aplomb. I have been scanning a few interviews she has provided and, when probed about the album’s themes, Lewis is quite frank and willing to share her story. Rather than being this very personal and dark record, there is a lot of character, story and light.


Whilst there are some great positives regarding On the Line – she collaborated with Ringo Starr! – Lewis had to channel tragedy and loss into her songs. She had to deal with the end of a twelve-year relationship with musicians Jonathan Rice and discovered her mother was dying. Little White Dove relates to Lewis visiting her mother in hospital whilst other moments address the moments after. In this interview with The Independent she revealed her feelings regarding a rather challenging relationship with her parents; how her mother’s death affected her:

When you get the call that someone’s not well, you have a choice to be there or not,” she says now. “I decided to be there, and I’m so happy that I did. You feel their true essence in that setting, where they can’t get up and bounce. In those moments, you just see people for who they are, and they’re just like you. They are you. They’re just souls in a body that’s done. They’re just humans. They’re your parents. They tried their best.” There’s a long, heavy pause. “They weren’t great at it,” she adds with a husky snigger. “But we all have our issues with our folks”.

Despite the fact that ending a long-term relationship is, in a weird way, an achievement – Lewis noted how she had never been in a bond that lengthy! – there was the obvious heartache and pain:

You think it’s never gonna end, you wanna erase the memory of the person, you’d do anything, you’d take a pill, you’d get surgery, you’d move away… and then one day you don’t think of them all day long. And the next day, you think of them less. And then you’re better. And you forget what it feels like to be heartbroken. And you like someone else. Hopefully. And certainly you can experience that in your twenties, but I think thirties heartbreak has a whole other level of weight. It hurts. It really hurts. Physically. I wonder if men feel the same heart hurt in that way”.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ali Seib for the Los Angeles Times 

I do feel 2019 is a year when the best artists are being a lot braver regarding personal loss and relationship struggles. Lewis’ music is never too hard and oppressive. Instead, she can mix funkiness and energy but does not shy away from the realities. In this interview with The Times, she was very candid:

“We all go through it. And it’s beautiful to witness life and death — it’s incredible. But it’s heavy shit too, man. I hadn’t seen my mom in years. And there we are, hanging out, and we have the same sense of humour. We laughed at the same jokes. The same facial expressions. We were just... the same. Nothing else mattered. All that time and space, and we thought the same things were funny”.

Relationships, physical and familial, are important and play a huge part in On the Line. Lewis is never too flippant about her mother’s opiate addiction but there are moments when she sighs and feels like a lot of her time has been wasted coping with the chaos around her. It is obvious her mother’s death hit hard but one feels like the years living around an addict took a lot from Lewis. Lewis also – when speaking with journalists  - states how she has not had many boyfriends so the fact she was with Jonathan Rice for twelve years was very new. That separation caused a lot of heartache and Lewis takes all of these pains and puts them into her music. One might feel like On the Line is a dark and suffocating album but it is more about Lewis being honest and never being too heavy. There is humour and light, as I say, in her music and you get this nice clash of the uplifting and heartaching. The music is so eclectic and the compositions so deep and rich. Lewis’ voice is a weapon that continues to strike and get right to the heart. She has been in the music industry for decades and, I feel, is stronger than most of her peers. It is amazing how many standout moments there are throughout On the Line.

Reviews have been great and it is clear that many people have been affected by Jenny Lewis’ latest album. I do not usually bring in other reviews – as it seems to detract from what I am writing – but NME offered their feelings:

“‘On the Line’ frequently throws up surprises. Taking the piss out of the West Coast’s reoccupation with horoscopes as she scours the house for Bourbon, Lewis taps into a droll and dark humour. Amid the sadness of ‘Party Clown’, Lewis invokes a surprising source of metaphor: When I cry like Meryl Streep, when I crack my head wide open, I wanna be next to you,” she sings. And ‘Heads Gonna Roll’ ends on a particularly searing couplet:A little bit of hooking up is good for the soul / Heads gonna roll”.

‘On the Line’ toes many tightropes. Hedonism is liable to osmose its way into escapism at any cost. Comic relief is a close bedfellow of total desperation; the darkest, bleakest moments in life can often arrive coupled with a strange kind of laughter. On her fourth solo record, Jenny Lewis skewers all of these tensions with astonishing ease. It’s up there with her greatest work to date”.

There is that dark humour and instant sense of relief throughout the album. One moment you might be laughing and bowled over by great line; the next, you might get caught out by a bit of searing emotion or something quite dark. These contrasts are wonderful and it makes On the Line such a rewarding and fulfilling album. The Las Vegas-born, Los Angeles-based artist has dealt with a lot over the past few years so I do wonder where she will go from here. Let’s enjoy Lewis’ current album and, trust me, you will need quite a few listens for everything to settle in. I have heard a lot of great records in 2019 but very few have matched the beauty and revelations of Jenny Lewis’ On the Line. A remarkable and utterly engrossing album from one of the finest songwriters in the world right now.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Ismael Quintanilla (Getty Images for SXSW)

Wasted Youth is the second track from On the Line and begins with a rather waltz-like rhythm. It is charged and open-chested and then, before too long, sort of goes into Folk/Country calm. Such a fulsome and intriguing introduction gets the mind working and you start to wonder what the song will relate to. Lewis talked about “slidin’ down a bong” and recalling her father – when her dad used to sing her songs but now he has gone. Whether talking to her sister – a sister is mentioned – or a message to her mother, too; there is this sense that things used to be pretty tough. Lewis wasted years on “a poppy” – referring to her mother’s opium addiction – and there is this stark mix between honesty and a rather causal sing-along style. After talking about drug addiction and seeing a broken home, Lewis projects these wordless coos, almost child-like and like a nursery rhyme. Lewis has grown up around drug addiction and a home that was not as stable and loving as it should have been. Maybe she was subject to waste and drugs herself but it seems like the younger Lewis had a rather tough road. She had to watch her family split and there is this balance between innocence and this little song – when things were easier and settled - and the realisation that things have been out-of-whack for a while. Lewis’ voice remains composed and sturdy throughout and there is so much depth and nuance in every line. Her vocal is packed with emotion and passion and the tone alone captures you and get into the heart. I mentioned how the composition started life as this twisting and unusual thing but, throughout the song, it supports Lewis and creates its own story. There is an odd sense of catchiness in Wasted Youth as Lewis does not want to make it too heavy and bleak. The melody and rhythm hypnotises and gets into the bones but you are moved by the story and its emotions.

It is clear that her mother’s addiction and downfall denied Lewis a proper youth and upbringing. There is not really anyone to blame – as addiction is complex indeed – but one gets a sense of anger and fatigue from the heroine. Things have been wrong for a while and one can only imagine the daily scenes and clashes at the Lewis household. It seems like her father’s departure and absence added to the instability and tension. Lewis never drags the listener into how but neither is she pretty casual and remiss. Wasted Youth is a stunning song that brings you into Lewis’ world and gets into her soul. I love so much about the song but the combination of composition and vocals is exceptional. There is this mixture of the joyful and striking; the band drives Lewis and her vocal responds and adds to the composition. A lot of singer-songwriters deal with topics like addiction and family strife with a rather dark tone and lack of energy. Jenny Lewis injects some passion and energy into the music and its gives it an extra layer. It means the song is accessible but never throwaway. Indeed, the story Lewis tells comes from a very bad time but I feel Wasted Youth will give other songwriters inspiration and bravery when they want to talk about similar things in music. There are many more moments like this (on) On the Line. The album gives us a glimpse into Jenny Lewis’ life: the pains and relationship woes; her familial troubles but, above all, there is hope and a sense of moving forward. Wasted Youth is a definite standout and a song that continues to amaze me. I love the way she adds these wordless vocals that clashes against these visions of isolation, pain and addiction. There are not many songwriters who would take this approach and it is fantastic to see. By the end of Wasted Youth, you want to go back and listen again and again. Lewis herself has this addictive quality where she gives so much of herself to the music but holds a little something back. If anyone is new to Jenny Lewis then Wasted Youth is actually a great place to start. Make sure you also listen to the rest of On the Line and let it seep into the bloodstream. Every album from Jenny Lewis is marvellous but On the Line is particularly strong and rewarding. Although songs like Wasted Youth are challenging and serious, Lewis’ incredible emotional blend and songwriting keeps you invested and never appears too stark. Such a fantastic and incredible blend from a truly amazing songwriter!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Autumn De Wilde

As is common with my reviews, I do not get the time to assess an entire album – as I would have to give each song a few words; that would do them a disservice – but you need to hear every moment. I selected Wasted Youth as I feel it is the best distillation and representation of On the Line. Most songs are around the four-minute mark but nothing feels too long and expendable. Lewis packs so much into songs and you definitely want more by the time you reach the finale, Rabbit Hole. I do feel this year will see some great band-made music but it is solo artists who are releasing the best work right now. I have mentioned how women are leading the charge and, whilst Lewis would not exclusively want to be labelled a female artist – get rid of the label; be more gender-fluid, perhaps – there is no denying her and her female peers are producing the best music of 2019. It does make me wonder how long it will take artists like her to be recognised wholly. I have already mentioned age and how there is ageism at some stations; how festivals seem to headline men and ignore the women – all things that need to be challenged and remedied. I would love to see Jenny Lewis play a U.K. festival and I know she holds love for the people here. I think she would make an amazing headliner has so has this glorious back-catalogue from which to take guidance from. On the Line comes off of the back of relationship termination and dealing with her mother’s death – in addition to coping with her addiction and declining health. One would see Lewis as this rather lonesome figure that has been abandoned, whether through death or separation, but there is so much wit and strength in her music. She uses On the Line as a form of release and therapy but, as with all her albums, there is plenty of wit and strength.


It is another astonishing record and one that will continue to pick up impassioned reviews. Check out her social media channels regarding tour dates and footsteps. There are U.S. tour dates happening right now – she is in Long Beach tonight – and it looks like she has a full diary until later in the year. In fact, Lewis looks to be booked and occupied for the foreseeable future. I do hope she gets time to come to the U.K. and, importantly, time to chill and reflect. She might want to think about another relationship and a new bond; she will be thinking about personal space and her next move and I do wonder whether there are plans regarding new music projects and bands. I shall move on and let you get about your day soon but I want people to gravitate towards Jenny Lewis and On the Line. Her new album is great but I would advise people to search through her previous albums and see how this exceptional artist has grown and blossomed. I hate to bring up age again but, at forty-three, Lewis is providing more wisdom, glory and quality than most artists half her age. One needs to pay more attention to artists like Lewis: those who have had more life experience but she have a lot to offer. She is still a young woman and who knows what the future will hold. In some ways, her latest album is the end of a rather challenging period in her life. One can feel a catharsis when listening to songs throughout On the Line. The album will give guidance and hope to those experiencing similar woes but, above all, there is that hope and beautiful bouquet that gives us wit, brilliant stories and some fantastic songs. Another stunning record from Jenny Lewis, expect On the Line to be among the frontrunners when it comes to the best albums of 2019. I shall leave things there but I would urge everyone to get hold of On the Line and listen to it the whole way through. Jenny Lewis has proved, even this far into her career, that she is full of surprises and you can never really predict she will head. I know we will get many more years of staggering music from...

THIS sensational human.


Follow Jenny Lewis

TRACK REVIEW: Elles Bailey - Little Piece of Heaven



Elles Bailey

Little Piece of Heaven





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


Bristol, U.K.




13th March, 2019

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


8th March, 2019


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


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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Hobson

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Berger

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

A very bright future.


Follow Elles Bailey


TRACK REVIEW: Billie Marten - Betsy



Billie Marten

PHOTO CREDIT: Katie  Silvester








The track, Betsy, is available via:


London, U.K.




13th March, 2019

PHOTO CREDIT: Katie  Silvester

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



Sony/Chess Club Records


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


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

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Liz Seabrook

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

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


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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Victor De Jesus

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


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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Katie  Silvester 

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Katie  Silvester

MAKING the same mistake again!


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TRACK REVIEW: Freya Roy - Midnight Train



Freya Roy

Midnight Train




The track, Midnight Train, is available via:


Norwich, U.K.




20th February, 2019


ON my Sunday review...

I step away from the mainstream and the bigger artists and look at an act that is rising and approaching the bigger leagues. On this occasion, I will speak about Freya Roy and her latest single, Midnight Train. I want to discuss female artists and their potential after International Women’s Day and the discussions we saw; artists based outside of the capital and, again, why ears should be more ambitious; styles like Neo-Soul and Jazz; taking a gap from music and recharging; receiving funding and using crowd-funding – I will end by talking about Roy and where she can head in the coming year. We have just celebrated International Women’s Day and, aside from sneering men wondering when they have their own special day – there is actually an International Men’s Day! – it was a good opportunity to talk about women in music and why we need to see change happen faster. I agree, as I keep mentioning, there is progression but I think there are fantastic women making great music not quite getting the same acclaim as their male peers. Freya Roy has been a little quieter than normal the past few years but look at the strength of her work and how she continues to press forward. She is a talented producer too and I think that is one area where we could focus. A lot of artists self-produce but we do not often have discussions about women as producers. The studios are still quite male-heavy and I think a lot of women are not being encouraged in. Maybe it is education and the fact we need to start at school-level; I know there are great female producers around who do not get the same focus as the men. In the case of Freya Roy, she is a fantastic artist and someone who is planning her next steps. It is hard to keep an eye on all artists and celebrate all the fantastic examples but there are so many male bands and solo artists who get pushed along and so many female artists overlooked.

It is a subject I raise quite a bit but I think that, following International Women’s Day, we need to take a look at how we judge women in music and whether there is enough improvement. From the stage to the studio; the radio through to the boardrooms – are we creating enough awareness and trying to redress imbalance? I don’t know but I feel like there is this crop of extraordinary female artists coming through that will take longer to get to festivals and headline stages because many promoters do not consider them. I think Freya Roy is the complete package and someone who is growing and blossoming. Maybe a few more photos would be cool… – she has a great style and look and could come up with a few neat concepts – and that would add to her terrific music. The photos out there are great but I know the visual side of music is important. Freya Roy, as I shall explore, has had a changeable few years and has taken a bit of a step back from the music industry. She is definitely back in force and I feel, very soon, she is an artist we need to talk about in very fond terms. I feel the style of music she is playing separates her from the pack. I do like Pop and Folk artists but it can be quite samey and there is not a lot of difference to be found – that is my impression. I do feel that, after International Women’s Day, we need to correct our visions and take more time to respect and appreciate the great female artists and those who make the music industry shine. I shall move from this subject but I feel it is important to mention it once more. One of the things that attracted me to the music of Freya Roy was the fact she is not based in London. I am always curious whether we give enough focus to those who are not in the capital.

Freya Roy is Norwich-based and many might feel there is not a lot going on outside of the capital. Norwich has The Waterfront and Karma Kafe and it is actually a city that gets overlooked. Maybe one would assume that Norfolk is a bit uncool but, in fact, Norwich is a very diverse and fascinating part of the U.K. I am not sure whether Roy will be moving to another part of the country in time but I think she is in a great place. If people like Stephen Fry rave about Norwich then it is good enough for me! I have not been myself but I know there is actually a rising music scene and a lot of great artists based there. I think Norwich is somewhere that promotes diverse music and true characters. Let’s Eat Grandma are the teenage duo who released their sophomore album, I’m All Ears, last year. They were overlooked for wayward and I feel they deserved a lot better. Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth are fantastic and create such buzzing, colourful and exceptional music. It is Pop but not like you have ever heard. Maybe there are few pressures living outside London and busy cities and artists are not as likely to be stifled and restricted. I feel the best music coming from London right now is Rap and Hip-Hop and, looking at somewhere like Norwich, there are different styles and genres being fused. I shall come to that a little bit later. What I wanted to discuss was artists based away from the major cities and how they are perceived. I stated (or speculated) Freya Roy might relocate but I feel there is no need. I do feel like there is this tendency, as I have talked about in the past, for artists to come to London or Manchester because they feel they are going to be ignored. Maybe that was the case a few years ago but the rise in digital blogs and websites means that there are networks and ears all over the place.

I do think the mainstream media needs to do more and have a look at the rich and stunning music being made all around the U.K. Freya Roy is someone who will definitely be in the minds of many pretty soon and I kind of like the fact she is in Norwich and not in London. That is not to say she is not welcome here: I feel her career and sound could be taken to heart by the people of the capital. What I mean is she has a different landscape and scene around her. I do feel like it is hard to shine in cities that are packed and, even though there are loads of great venues, there is so much competition that it can be daunting. Instead, being based in a city that is not quite as ram-packed might be a bonus. Consider the fact areas like Norwich are producing great new acts and they have a variety of venues to support those coming through. Maybe there are not that many classic acts we associate with Norwich but the new breed such as Freya Roy and Let’s Eat Grandma suggests there is plenty of unique talent to be discovered. I think we need to be a bit more ambitious with our tastes and look beyond the obvious. It is tricky to get a handle on all the great music around – one of the burdens of the modern age and streaming culture – but the East of England does not get as much love as it deserves. I can sense a change and, as I say, there are a lot of new blogs where writers can report from all over the U.K. and bring the world these awesome acts. Let’s have a look at Freya Roy and her last few years. I will talk about genres and the style she plays but I wanted to look at how she has come back into music and where she will go.


After a five-year hiatus from music, Freya Roy is stepping back into music with the crowd-funded album, AHLKE, and has a new track out. Roy has been honing her craft and working on her music through the years. Even though she actually has another single coming soon, I wanted to look at Midnight Train and what it is all about. As Freya Roy says herself; it has been a bit of an odd time in many ways:

I was always creating new music but I felt that there was still more I could do to everything I made. I needed the time to experiment and develop my writing and thankfully being in the college-bubble enabled me to safely create and do just that. I decided to take down all my previous releases and start afresh as an artist. I was lucky enough to be tutored by Abstract Orchestra’s musical director, Rob Mitchell, and he gave me the space to really explore the hip-hop and contemporary R&B elements of my sound, whilst maintaining a strong focus on melody and jazz harmony. During the very beginning of this journey, I did, however, experience trauma to my wrist and had to take time out from studying, playing and everything in between. So for a good few years, I pretty much went silent on the music front and people thought I had given up on the idea. I am back on track now, but unfortunately, I have had to take a step away from the physical intensities of jazz guitar training, putting my energy into other creative spots such as my production and my label, FCR Music. It’s not until now that I have found a balance between all of these things, whilst still feeling creatively fulfilled, enabling myself to move towards getting this whole album project off the ground – something I didn’t think would be possible a few years ago. I really do think this whole process has been nurturing and has played a huge role in shaping and developing my sound and as an artist”. Those quotes are from her press release and, why I do not usually copy them into reviews, it was essential to tell her story and get word from her mouth directly.


Now that she is back, we can see the sort of music coming through and its fantastic blends. I am more used to reviewing genres like Pop and Alternative but it is great to discover something that has some Soul and Jazz elements. There is a sort of Pop breeze in Midnight Train but a sense of freedom and expression you do not get in Pop. Listening to Freya Roy sing and her voice is more nimble and breathy; it has such power and it reminds me of the great artists of Neo-Soul. You do not hear it too often in the mainstream and maybe that is a good reason why we should look at cities like Norwich and ask whether the best out there are from outside of London. I do love Jazz and Neo-Soul because there is that sublime balance of textures. It is hard to describe but I love the fact artists such as Freya Roy paint these incredible pictures and do so in such a dreamy and calming way. There is power to be found but the music has this relaxing effect and gets right into the bones. I do feel like a lot of Pop either has too much force and is over-produced or it lacks any real soul and depth. With Freya Roy, you get someone who can translate into the forefront of music and be a success but has this more diverse and appealing blend. I love what she is doing and cannot wait to hear her album. It is wonderful hearing this great artist growing and producing music this way. I am not sure what Roy’s influences are but I get a hint of the Neo-Soul legends but, really, it is her own voice that bursts through. I do wonder whether the mainstream is a bit rigid and we are not exposing genres like Neo-Soul. Perhaps this is what is commercial right now and Pop is what sells. I do think there is a lot more nuance and brilliance to be found in other areas of music. Freya Roy is an example of a young artist who can write songs that, lyrically, are quite similar to a lot of what is around already but deliver it in a very original and enticing way.

I shall move on from that subject because I will talk about it more when reviewing Midnight Train. There has been this hiatus and it is good to see Freya Roy back. She was definitely not wasting her time away and has been busy crafting and working on the next steps. She raised over a grand through crowd-finding and was one of twenty artists to receive support and round-two funding from the MOBO’s Help Musicians Fund. Although she is based in Norwich – she marks her current location, on social media, as Suffolk so might have moved since – she has spent time in Leeds’ thriving Jazz scene and got involved with what is happening in Yorkshire. She releases her album under the independent label, FCR Music, and it is one she founded in 2012. The idea of the label was to create awareness and highlight women and minorities. This is impressive to see and I would like to see more artists set up labels for this reason. Maybe there are some out there but Roy has just released, for International Woman’s Day, the documentary, FCR Music Presents: Women & the Creative Industry. It is impressive to see a young artist with that business mind and somebody who has set up this great label. It will help expose and promote great artists that might not otherwise get such a platform. It will be interesting to see how it progresses and whether it brings other artists onto the roster. The fact Roy’s upcoming album has been crowd-funded and received support brings me to that issue of finance. I think it is really tough in music and can be difficult getting something off of the ground. Consider the fact you might need to hire musicians and the studio; there is a lot of work that needs to be done and, before long, you have quite a big bill. I think many are being put off from recording albums because of the sheer cost and realities.

Roy releases the album in April and there is another single in the next couple of weeks – keep an eye out for that. I do feel like music is becoming more expensive, even though there is more technology and the potential to be D.I.Y. Even if you record at home, there are still costs involved and it is quite hard to record something quite cheaply. I have seen cases of crowd-funding and artists getting that boost and I think it is a wonderful thing. Some say artists should fund themselves and not rely on crowd-funding but I disagree. If people are happy to back an artist and help get an album to fruition then it is a very positive thing and can bring people together. It is clear Roy has backing and fans behind her and is getting nods from bigger names in the industry. She has worked hard on her music and, whether she is based now – whether she is in Suffolk, Norfolk or just down the road from me! – she has produced something truly special. We have Midnight Train out here now but lots is coming in the next month. I am excited to see where she can head and what her album will contain. She has learnt a lot from Jazz musicians and immersed herself in that scene. You can tell her musical upbringing was exceptional and I guess she would have been raised on some truly diverse artists. You can hear a curiosity in what she does and how her music connects with people. It is hard to stand out from the pack in modern music and it can be tricky remaining. That is just the reality of things. I have seen a lot of great artists fade but that will not be the case with Freya Roy. She has spent a long time working on AHLKE and I will be curious to see what the other tracks on the record sound like. Let us move onto Midnight Train and get to grips with its meanings and shades.


There is a lot of activity and energy in the opening moments of Midnight Train. We hear some percussion clatter – almost like a hollow tree being hit – and there is this great balance of sounds. Things are never too heavy and intense but we get this nice sense of dance and movement. I like how artists operate in Jazz and Neo-Soul because you get something truly different. There is a groove and locomotive thrill that opens the eyes and makes you curious where the song is head. The heroine comes to the microphone and talks about being awake in the middle of the night. One wonders what keeps her awake. Maybe there is this restlessness that is plaguing her mind but she is awake and it is too dark to see the time. Her heartbeat keeps her alive and awake and that is something that gets to me. Maybe there are anxieties around her mind and she is being troubled by something. Rather than a literal image of a train, I get the sense the heroine is wrestling with doubts or she has someone on her mind. Roy is backed by that hollow percussion sound and her beautiful voice paints images in the mind. I have heard a lot of great singers the past few months but there is something in Freya Roy that stands aside. She has a way of delivering words that gets under the skin. Again, it is hard to explain but I love her voice and how it makes one feel. Roy talks about something being one-hundred miles wide and I wonder if there is this image of a gulf or piece of geography. It is great there is this oblique nature where you are not quite sure if we are seeing a physical movement and the heroine on a train or whether she uses these images to talk about emotions and struggles. The midnight train is about the pass by and, whatever your perceptions, it is definitely an arresting song.

I was thinking more about emotional unrest and being kept awake by something troubling. There is this sense of being lost or needing answers but the midnight train in question might be answers and a sense of safety. The heroine, as she says, carries these colours of happiness and they are kept with her; she carries them with dignity and I get the feeling the midnight train is less an expression of doubt and just a general waking feeling. I would love to know the exact origins of the song but I hear a sense of heart and hope in her voice and that changes my perception. A beautiful and velvet-smooth incorporation of horns – apologies as I do not know the name of the trumpet player – adds this sort of dreamy and entrancing quality and adds new layers to the song. Many Pop songs might add processed beats and too much force but here we get a relaxed and very well-composed song. You have this rather sleepy feel but there is definitely passion and potency coming from Freya Roy’s voice. There is a solo from the brass; a clattering beat coming through and some soothing electronics. It is a rich blend and, coming in are some subtle guitar strings. It is a wonderful cocktail that adds as a pause and transition. As I hear the brilliant composition and all the colours entwine, I wonder whether this feeling that keeps her away is a sense that bad things are exiting and there is more positivity coming through. Things are passing by – that becomes a mantra – and you feel like there is this evolution from the darker days and struggles to something more hopeful. Maybe I have completely misread but one hears Midnight Train and, after some initial doubts, there is this uplift and movement. I love everything about the song but it is the way the composition and vocals mingle to create this sumptuous, evocative and exceptional song. The lyrics are brought to life fully and there is room for interpretation. I feel, if other songs on AHLKE are like Midnight Train, it will be an album you definitely do not want to miss out on! It is great to have Freya Roy back and I hope lots and lots of people get to see her perform live very soon. She is one of those artists who does things her own way and can create the sort of music nobody else is. Keep your eyes out for this very talented, exciting and fresh artist. I will be sure to follow her progress and see how far she can go. I know Freya Roy has a very bright future ahead of her.

Freya Roy is, as I have said a few times, going to launch the AHLKE and she will have tour dates as well. Keep an eye on her social media channels but she has dates confirmed in Leeds, Sheffield; Manchester and Suffolk and it will be a chance for people around the country to hear her music. I think the Leeds and Manchester dates, especially, will be cool but it is great see gets to take her new material on the road. She will be touring solo and with a band and it will be intriguing to see how the two different sets sound. To conclude the tour, Roy has a headline set at London’s Servant Jazz Quarters on 23rd May and it will be a big chance for possible labels and backers to see her in the flesh. It is definitely a very exciting and busy time – coming from a bit of a hiatus, I bet Freya Roy is pleased to be back and active! She has spent time crafting her album and I would recommend people try and catch her on the road if you can! I love her sound and it will be interesting to see the differences between her playing solo and what a band brings to the table. In any case, there are many reasons to back Roy and what she is doing right now. Here is a wonderful young artist who has her own label and is always looking to help other musicians. She has a very determined, ambitious and compassionate mind and that sort of blends into her music. So rich and rewarding is the listening experience that you will come back time and time again to get that sweet hit. I shall end things in a bit but keep a look out for new Freya Roy news and go and get her album when it comes out in April. She is hitting the road – so you might catch her there – and I wonder where she will head next. It is clear she is back with us and determined to make music on a more regular basis. Maybe there will be tour dates further afield or she might need some time to recharge before embarking on any new quests. Get behind this great artist and witness music that can get into the brain and...

TRANSPORT you somewhere wonderful indeed.


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TRACK REVIEW: Dave - Screwface Capital





Screwface Capital




The track, Screwface Capital, is available via:


London, U.K.



The album, PSYCHODRAMA, is available via:


8th March, 2019


I do like my Saturday review...

because I get to head into mainstream territory – or artists with a bit more clout – and, on this occasion, review a style of music that I do not get to focus on a lot: Rap. I will talk about the main man Dave in a bit but, before I arrive at his feet, I want to look at British Rap and how it compares to the American style; how, in these fraught times, the most powerful albums of the moment are laying it all out there; London right now and why I am genuinely worried (and what music can do to help); whether there is true equality when it comes to race in the music industry – I will look ahead and see where Dave might head. I am stunned by the sheer quality and passion of 2019’s best music so far. We are only just in March but have already seen albums that could be crowned as the year’s best by the time we get to Christmas. Not only has there been this incredible output by female artists such as Julia Jacklin and Sharon Van Etten but there are these artists shaping up that, well, are taking Rap and Hip-Hop in new directions. Perhaps our two leading names right now, Little Simz and Dave, have both released potential 2019-defining records. I covered Little Simz recently and was blown away by her album, GREY Area. It is an amazing album filled with some of the finest lyrics and most powerful songs you will hear in a very long time! When we talk about women in music and their place, it is flabbergasts me there is not equality and better understand when you consider we have artists such as Little Simz. I have always been a little ho-hum regarding British Rap because, when it comes to power and substance, I remember when artists like The Street came out; when Dizzie Rascal ruled Grime and the invention in their music. Such young artists were producing, on their debut outings, music so rich and full of life they were leagues ahead of the competition.

I like Grime artists like Stormzy but I feel like the genre is not quite as arresting as it once was – at a time like now, we need some sort of response and rise. I feel, right now, British Hip-Hop and Rap are making a charge. I do not think we will ever have the same capacity and strength as the U.S. when it comes to Rap. Look at how they have ruled through the years and we often struggle to come up to their standards. I think Dave represents a new breed of Rap artists who are mixing sonic diversity and ambition with lyrics that cut to the core. Alexis Petridis, in his review of Dave’s album, PSYCHODRAMA, felt it was a bold and landmark accomplishment. I have listened to the album – and cannot do it full justice with a brief bit about each song – and I can get behind that assumption. What amazes me about rappers like Dave – and Little Simz for that matter – is how they can talk about such important and controversial subjects like race and have to shout against it. There is a more complex and eye-opening sound coming from these artists – I think British Rap has struggled a bit the past few years. Dave looks at racial identity and he, on his record, examines why people have a problem with black artists talking about their race; why there is institutionalised racism and what problems we need to address. He also tackles issue in his community and is aware that there is not only a problem with ignorance and race – we are seeing such hatred and division in estates and communities that we cannot control the surge of violence and offence. I think our sound is a little different to the U.S. when it comes to theme and composition. It is hard to identity but I think our Rap music cuts deeper and has greater nuance. Maybe I am bias but I amazed by how hard-grafting Rap artists in the U.K. are. Many self-release singles and put collaborators in the mix; they pound the promotional circuit and work endlessly to get their music to the masses. I guess many artists do that but I think Rap artists have to work harder to get their voices heard in a scene that is still dominated by generic Pop.

There are many reasons why Dave’s album is turning heads and seen as this revelatory thing. I think our nation, right now, is more tense that it has been in living memory. In terms of the political mess we find ourselves in, many wonder whether this country will ever be the same and what our place in the world is. Where is the U.K. going to be in a few weeks and months? What will become of the Brexit horror and how will this affect us in the long-term? There are some big questions to be answered and, alongside that, we are seeing a rise in knife-related deaths – I shall come to that later. I think the reason why 2019 is already shining brought is because there is an honesty and real sense of ambition. Whether it is the openhearted and emotionally-raw albums we have already heard from Julia Jacklin and the eclectic brilliance of Self Esteem; the best and brightest albums of this year have laid so much out there and not flinched away from being pretty raw. That might sound like something that would cause one to run and look elsewhere but I feel it is a reaction to the fast-forward, skip-a-track culture of modern society. We have all these amazing artists out there but so many people are handpicking tracks and not investing in records. Little Simz and Dave, as spokespeople for Britain and the biggest voices we have, are making sure people focus and are gripped. Dave can throw together quite bleak tracks and longer numbers and you do not want to turn away. Maybe, on paper, it sounds like a recipe for commercial disaster but his songs, like his best peers, do not shirk responsibility and are self-aware and hugely eye-opening. I mentioned, when reviewing Post-Punk bands like IDLES, how it is great bands can stray away from commercial and cliché themes to actually take the country to task.

There is still a risk and hesitancy in Pop when it comes to being brave and speaking about what life, beyond love, is actually like. The news presents, for the most part, the facts but it can be pretty grim watching. I look to music for escapism but I also want to see artists who are bold enough to talk about this country and what matters to us – and not hide like politicians do, mired in lies and subterfuge. Dave is one of these artists who can turn the spotlight on himself and be honest about his shortcomings but also is keen to purely and openly document a lot of things we hear about on the news; he does it in a way that is much more luminous, cinematic and hugely memorable. I have mentioned race and how Rap artists like Dave are tackling it. The racial spectrum is broader than ‘black’ and ‘white’ and many people are pretty uncomfortable when they hear a black artist discuss their identity and what it is to be black. How often do we hear such songs that take this approach and keep a cool head? Dave and his peers have faced discrimination and ignorance all their lives and, through music, they are challenging racial prejudice and a lack of understanding. The music that will inspire, last through the ages and stay in the heart is that which grabs your mind and gets into the soul. On PSYCHODRAMA, Dave gets under the skin because of how honesty and fearless he is. One of the other pleasing aspects of the album is how he manages to balance the serious and weighty songs with spoken passages and this sense of concept. Whether you see the concept as being about race and violence in the nation or something more personal, it is not a normal album: ten tracks, a few big hits and nothing much past that. PSYCHODRAMA is an album for modern times; for a Britain that needs to open it eyes and take action – leaders like Dave are challenging those who turn a blind eye and those who do too little.


There is a lot of soul-searching on the album and some less serious moments – Dave, on Screwface Capital (which is the track I will review soon) starts by boasting about his sexual prowess. The reason, actually, why I want to address that track and not something more political and potent is because it shows another side to an album: PSYCHODRAMA can mix traditional Rap and Hip-Hop codas (a sense of boast and sexual confidence) with its awareness of things like race, violence and society’s ills. One other reason why I think British Rap is at its peak right now is because it is reacting to the spate of knife deaths we are seeing right now. Every genre can talk about it but there is something about Rap that makes the words sound purer and more urgent. Think about this year and how many knife-related deaths we have seen. This report shows how knife crime has risen and why we need to take action. It seems like every day brings news of a young person being stabbed to death. What is the reason for these crimes? Is it gang-related and a sense of dislocation in communities? Are these deaths related to random violence and a sense of displacement or are they are a reaction to the way the country is divided and how many are not listened to. It is a complex brew and I cannot claim to have the answer. In many cases, I get the sense many of these attackers are struggling to find education and work and they are isolated. That is no excuse but our Government are not aware of the realities in poorer communities; areas where violence is a staple. The statistics make for grim reading and I fear there is no end in sight when it comes to these deaths. Knife crime is, of course, not just a black problem – many get the impression it is and do not read the facts. The after-effect of this assumption is a lot of stop-and-searches being carried out on black youths. It is a real mess right now and banning knives – or offering tough sentences for those carrying them – is not an easy thing to achieve.

I am worried about the country as a whole at the moment but I am especially concerned about London and what is happening in the capital. One can say there is more inter-gang rivalry and hatred but I do not think one can blame gangs and disenfranchised youngsters entirely. As we have seen recently, there are random attacks that take innocent lives – look at Jodie Chesney’s case and how, as she was relaxing with a friend in a park, she was stabbed in the back for no reason whatsoever. It is a bad time for the nation and, like gun crime in the U.S., it is hard to police and rationalise. This takes me back to artists in Rap and how, in a way, they are providing a bigger voice that many politicians. Dave does address knife crime in PSYSHODRAMA and, on the final track, Drama, he has this phone conversation lauding his success but the person we hear speaking is the rapper’s brother – he is calling from prison where he is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the murder of Sofyen Belamouadden in 2010. On tracks like this, the pain of losing a sibling in such a manner has caused emotional torment. Dave has been directly hit by knife violence and the personal aspect gives that track such weight and conviction. It is worrying times right now but I do feel that music is playing its part. Maybe it will not help reduce knife-related deaths but I think a lot of these youngsters who carry out such heinous attacks listen to artists like Dave and respect what they say. In many ways, the message put out on albums like PSYCHODRAMA act as a stark remind what knife crime can do to a family and how they can tear people apart. It is a horrible time but I am pleased we are seeing such immense and staggering albums from the likes of Dave. It is remarkable to see someone so young sound so assured and accomplished this early in his career.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Fisk for The Observer

I will conclude in a bit but I have talked about race and misconceptions in society. Many people think as ‘black’ as being singular and narrow. There is, as I said, a racial spectrum and the nature of being black is complex. Artists need to address this and strike against those who judge them and overlook them. I think there is still a problem in music where black artists are not given as much attention as they should. We cannot ignore what artists here such as Dave and Little Simz are putting out; what Solange and Cardi B are doing in the U.S. Look at big festivals and it is only now where we are starting to see evolution regarding black artists being booked. I feel there is a way to go but many assume that the best music from black artists is restricted to certain genres. There is a lot of stereotyping and ignorance and it is important we have conversations and change perceptions. Dave tackles race and judgement but it should not be solely down to artists to do this: everyone has their part and I think we need to all be more responsible and aware. I wonder whether the big reviews PSYCHODRAMA is courting right now will translate to headline slots in the future and more focus. It might be too late for Dave to get a big Glastonbury slot but, as Stormzy is one of the headliners this year, surely Dave’s name must be in the hat for 2020?! I look around at festivals and still see too many white faces; there is this gender imbalance and I do feel that black artists are not getting their voices heard. These are changing times and, to me, the best and most important music being made right now is coming from British Rap. Artists like Dave and Little Simz are releasing albums so powerful and important. We cannot ignore their voices and, in a larger sense, we need to look at the way black artists are perceived and whether there is true parity – I do not think there is.

I wanted to highlight Screwface Capital because it seems like a bit of a departure to the rest of PSYCHODRAMA’s songs – in terms of themes and composition. The song opens with some gentle piano work and some background voices. I am not usually a fan of processed, machine-fed vocal effects but they work here. Dave comes to the microphone and, if he were backed by beats and heat after the tender beginning then it might sound a bit jarring and misguided. Instead, the vocal is definitely top of the mix and there is very little intrusion. It gives us the chance to concentrate on the lyrics and the brilliant delivery. Dave talks about wealth and a certain lifestyle that he has enjoyed. Maybe there is a lot of fact in the words but I sense there is a bit of fantasy mixed into the pot. We hear about eating out and having this great life. I feel a lot of the worst Rap can be quite lazy when it comes to language and wordplay but Dave’s penmanship and style is incredible. He does not need to aggressively deliver the words: you are captured by intelligence and originality of his thoughts. Dave’s location changes quicker than the gears on a Porsche Cayman – see what I mean about his wordplay?! – and I get the sense of this bold and confident young man revelling. The song switches between a sense of anxiety and a definite confidence. On other songs, Dave talks about crime and hatred; a need to find some common voice and stop the madness. Here, he is aware of sharks and dangers at the door; the way fear is never too far away but we get an insight into his personal boasts. Maybe it is a trope one more commonly attached to Rap: sexual prowess and a sense of braggadocio. Dave is never puerile and offensive when he talks of conquests. There is a naturalness to his words and, although wonders why the girl – his latest conquest – is still in his flat, I feel the slightly urgent and aggressive tone is less about coldness and more about nerves and fear.

In many ways, Dave is trying to live a normal life and have fun but he knows that there is a dark beat and pulse that threatens to derail things. Whether that is violence outside his door or a sense of never being safe, Screwface Capital is more complex than one might assume. There is, as I say, little accompaniment and anger from the composition. A lot of Rap relies on beefy beats and drive but Dave lets his voice guide the song and, when talking about him and his friends being hassled and not feeling safe, it instantly switches from the bedroom to the streets. Because of the violence in the ends, there is debate and confrontation at the gates; his mates are fearful of going to the shops or hopping the bus because of what could await them. Dave sees a lot of violence and waste around him but he is turning these curses and losses into lessons and blessings. There is this cold realisation that things are bad but he is not walking down that path. Composition dips in and out. At one moment, you just hear Dave’s voice – which gives the song a stark focus and sobering tone – and then it swoops in. There is a real physical sense and tangible scent that transports you into the song. Dave is not resting and, more and more, his focus is on sex and conquest. Maybe this is to distract him from the horror around him but there is this signal we have a bold young man who is aware of his assets and is not exactly modest. It is good to see this against the starker and more frightening words. Dave has starved himself to make ends meet; he has kept his siblings safe and lived in Streatham – somewhere that features on other moments on PSYCHODRAMA. Many people do not know the realities of his life and have not gone through the same things.


Dave talks about his childhood and losing his dad young; his mum not being able to take the stress – there is this personal revelation against the sexual side. Words sombre and stark weave around boasts and this sense of confidence; almost without a signal of warning and pause for breath. Screwface Capital is an amazing track that sort of tails out in terms of lyrics and ends with a beautiful, calming refrain. It is almost like exhaustion and violence has got the better of him and he has no more words to say. The pace and flow of the song packs in a lot of words and you get this really vivid and packed story in a short time. I listen back to the song and new aspects come to life. Many might think of Screwface Capital as a track about sexual success and sowing seeds; others might look at it as a very raw and personal song. There is a bit of both in the song but it so much richer and deep than that. You almost get the life story of Dave and how he has seen family crumble and had to face violence in the streets – as well as pleasure between the sheets. It is a wonderfully diverse song that packs a punch and delivers potent messages. Other tracks on PSYCHODRAMA are more ambitious and big but this is a fantastic track that attracted my eye. I love the fact we get this ending coda that leaves the lyrics behind. Few can deny, after one listen of Screwface Capital, that Dave is one of the best rappers and lyricists we have right now. He never wastes a word and his language is incredible. You need to listen to his songs a few times through before everyone reveals itself but, when it does, the effect is profound indeed. If you have not discovered Dave or given his music a go then you really need to. In a sea of manufactured artists and meaningless words, here is an artist with a lot to say – and he makes sure every word strikes and hits its mark!

Dave is taking PSYCHODRAMA on the road and some dates are already sold-out. Check out his social media channels and, if you can, go and see him live. The album might sound incredible through your headphones but it steps up a whole new level when delivered from the stage. I concentrated on a single track because I do not feel it right to give a few words about each track without focusing in. PSYCHODRAMA has collected some incredible reviews so far and I would not be shocked if it was named the best album of 2019 later in the year. The eleven tracks are all essential and there are some truly ambitious and long numbers – Lesley (ft. Ruelle) is over eleven minutes. There are a few collaborations (including J Hus) but it is Dave’s vision and voice that shines hardest. This album is a true revelation and sign that Dave is on a golden path. I know many will catch him tour and it makes me wonder where he will head next. Dave has put out singles and E.P.s previous to PSYCHODRAMA but this is his debut album. There has been a lot of anticipation and build and Dave has exceeded expectations! There is a lot of pressure to top a successful album and deliver a quick turnaround but Dave will be busy touring and will not want to rush a sophomore record. He is one of the most important voices in British music right now and I cannot wait to see where he heads next. It is a big time for him and he has delivered an album that will stop many in their tracks. It is very much an album for modern Britain when it comes to its declarations, confessions and questions but, in many ways, it is a personal record that comes from Dave’s heart. I cannot do it mere justice with the words I have written so I would urge people to listen to it as soon as they can. It is a remarkable achievement from a singular talent. Many might be new to Dave – his rather Google-unfriendly and ordinary name does not do him justice! – but that will all change. It might be reckless to declare an album like PSYCHODRAMA as a possible album-of-the-year frontrunner but, like Little Simz’s GREY Area, you cannot deny the genius. In any case, London’s Dave is releasing the sort of music that will be...

TALKED about for years.


Follow Dave


TRACK REVIEW: Stealth (ft. The Dap-Kings) - Black Heart



Stealth (ft. The Dap-Kings)


Black Heart





The track, Black Heart, is available via:


London, U.K.




15th February, 2019


THIS time around...

I get to look at some new themes and subjects to bring into this review. I wanted to start by speaking about Stealth himself but, then, look at collaborations and how the best ones stand aside. I will then talk about genres like Funk, Blues and Jazz and how they are under-used in music; artists embarking on a new chapter and able to be flexible with their material; supporting other artists and how online success can aid and boost a career – I will then look at Stealth and where he might head this year. It has been a busy last few years for the artist. In 2015, Stealth started carving his path into music with the E.P., Intro (he produced other work before then but Intro was the greater realisation of his vision and talent). That initial cut was influenced by artists such as Howlin’ Wolf and Hozier. I would not, as some have done, compare him with James Bay as that does him a disservice and I find Bay’s music incredibly boring and generic. The reason why his early work captivated was not because he was trying to be someone like James Bay; rather it was about the way he could project this powerful vocal and match things with edge and a forceful heartbeat. After the success of his early work, he started to turn heads and really got onto the live trail. People were talking about his shows in impassioned tones and he was receiving incredible reviews. There are artists today who have that deeper tone and style – such as Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and Hozier – but Stealth is a much more credible and talented artist. I often have a reason with people comparing newcomers to mainstream stars in order to give them some sort of credibility and boost. I find, if you listen to Stealth closely, he (I hope) is not trying to follow those artists and is looking at a much more original and less chart-based path. I think there is a lot of emphasis on support artists who are quite bland and uninteresting and, after Tom Walker won at the BRIT Awards recently, I do worry the industry is not looking hard enough for the next big thing.

Stealth has the ammunition and variety to stand well aside from the rather limited and mundane artists who seem to get a lot of focus. We often look at a slightly brooding male artist with a bit of cool and get this impression of who they should be and what they are like. Stealth is not someone who is going to fall into traps and you can lump in with the mainstream newcomers. Stealth is, as he will say, an insomniac with a flair for music. He takes inspiration from Jazz and Blues legends and funnels that influence into a big vocal performance and arresting style of music. There are dark tones in the music and a powerful voice but there is light and relief that can be found. I do feel there is a tendency, for modern artists, to go for something a bit personal and unsettled. I can understand why it is important to talk about your life but so much modern music pretty downbeat and lacks energy. I look for artists who can be personal and open but have a bit more power and flair. This is what you get with Stealth. He has built this promising career penning songs that have a real potency and power but there is a certain grace to be found. That might sound odd but I listen to his music and can hear so many different strands and colours. Rather than follow the lead of some of the less interesting artists currently playing, Stealth is a more eclectic, original and interesting artist. I do sometimes get worried regarding collaborations and, after some solo success, whether artists are making the right choice. I say this because I hear collaborations that are stuffed with people and things can get rather cluttered. There is a tendency for big artists to work with each other and it seldom leads to anything worthwhile or needed. It is a risk stepping alongside someone else but, when the chemistry is right, it sounds brilliant.

The reason I say this is because, on his Black Heart single, Stealth has united with The Dap-Kings. Many might associate The Dap-kings with the late Sharon Jones. Together, they created some of the finest music of the past few decades and we still mourn her loss. I think it is rare for popular artists to have a sort of backing band. It seems like a very odd thing where icons used to have extra vocalists and musicians. Smokey Robinson has his Miracles and, if you look back through music, there are examples of these big artists having this crew behind them. Now, we have Florence + the Machine but, like so many artists who hint at support, it is just a name and something intangible. I miss the days when you did get bigger vocal groups and the nature of being a solo artist was not literally performing on your own without any vocal support. Maybe it is me but a lot of the finer elements from music’s past have escaped. I do worry the solo realm is becoming less interesting and it is tougher for artists to make an impression. I am wandering off the course a bit because I wanted to talk about collaborations. Stealth has worked with other artists before but this is quite a big move. Performing with such a well-known and making it work is a hard thing to realise. Stealth has previously worked with Netsky and Metrik and this is very different for Stealth. I think this is the most appealing and striking collaboration from Stealth and it is great to see these two worlds come together. I hear a lot of collaborations in music and some of them work quite well and it is a good union. If the voices mesh well and you can get that rhythm clicking then it is great to hear. I feel so many of today’s collaborations are there to boost Spotify playlists and to stuff as many major artists together as possible. I cannot really think of a collaboration from the past few years that has truly struck my mind.

That might sound grim but, when it comes to Stealth and The Dap-Kings coming together, this is what I am talking about. They are a natural union and an interesting brew. Stealth has a more varied background regarding sounds and genres but you have the professionalism, history and assuredness of The Dap-Kings. It is hard to follow someone like Sharon Jones but Stealth is a different artist and someone who has his own voice. What we have is a great coming-together that has that distinct sound of The Dap-Kings with the powerful voice of Stealth. He recorded with them in New York and, in many ways, it must have been a dream come true. Even though Black Heart is not the most original song you’ll hear in terms of lyrical themes – the anticipation before a break-up – cliché is avoided with terrific vocal performances and great production. A lot of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings’ music was about heartache but I am finding so many artists talking about the same thing – maybe writing a song that is less about heartbreak and embraces happiness and something more joyous? That is a minor bug but it is no shock to hear an artist inspired by Jazz and Blues to open the heart and reveal a painful experience. The Dap-Kings worked with Amy Winehouse and Charles Bradley and have this experience working with these fantastic, if departed, artists. It can be hard making things click and having this sort of harmony. As I said, there have been some wasteful and average collaborations but it seems like Stealth and The Dap-Kings are in-step and perfect together. Let’s hope they work together again because their combined sounds are fantastic, rich and memorable. Black Heart is the sound of experienced artists aiming to create something wonderful and evocative and, for the most part, it is a big success. I wanted to move on and talk about genres that do not get enough exposure these days.


There are great Funk, Jazz and Blues radio shows where we can find the best of the genres but, listening to modern music, how often do we hear this sort of music? I feel like there is a tendency to promote Pop and we only often hear Funk and Jazz in the context of big hits – integrated rather than fully standing out on their own. By that, I mean we do not have the same Funk and Jazz legends as we did and I think these genres still fight for recognition. I am especially interested in Funk and Soul and wonder why more artists do not perform in these genres. The funkiness and uplift you can get is exhilarating and the mainstream could do well to bring more Funk to the fore. It can be hard predicting what people want to hear but I do feel like there is too much of the same thing being produced and, when you hear the mainstream best, it all sort of blends into one. Maybe Jazz will take a while to bed into the public consciousness and it will struggle to grab everyone – it is still a type of music that many turn their noses up at. I love a good bit of Funk and Jazz blended together and feel it can really lift the senses! I wonder whether artists are ignoring these genres because they are not steeped in its history and unsure how to pull it off. The Dap-Kings and Sharon Jones amazed the world with their insatiable and gripping music and, as we lose icons like Jones and Charles Bradley, music is becoming weaker and less interesting. I am not certain whether Stealth will remain in this territory but it is a style of music he excels in. Do we follow playlists and what tastemakers say too much and neglect music? I feel we do not really go deep enough and brilliant genres are overlooked.


Look through the back catalogue of Stealth and he has tackled many different styles and sounds. His potent and impactful voice is the common key but he is someone who is always experimenting and keen to try different things. I do hope we get to see a resurgence of Funk and Jazz because they are side-lined too much. We need to bring the fun and positivity back into music and, whilst Stealth’s latest single has some woes and pains, the general mood is more positive and fresh than you’d imagine. I often look at music for some sort of enrichment and lift and, largely, I am left disappointed. I do feel we are becoming more negative and less energised as people and music is reflecting that. We still have mainstream Pop and some sprite songs but I tend to find many of them lack soul and any sort of nuance. The reason why I want us to become more adventurous is because we can look back and see the artists who helped change music. How many people know about Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and their contemporaries? There is so much room to provide a modern interpretation of their music and add something thrilling to the mainstream. The core is so homogenised and is not stretching its imagination. I wonder why there is this sort of reluctance to revitalise genres fully and be more adventurous. I know there are artists who can get funky and utilise Jazz but it is a lot rarer than you’d think. Maybe Stealth will lead this charge and get other artists to follow his lead. I will move on but the most appealing songs I am discovering right now are those that break away from convention and have that beautiful, vintage edge. Listen to Stealth and The Dap-Kings getting together on Black Heart and you will definitely want more. Before I move onto the song itself, I shall talk a bit about Stealth and his rise to success.

He has been releasing music since about 2015 but I feel last year was when he really exploded and took a big step. The fact he has worked in different genres means his music is much broader and interesting. He has worked with Jamie Woon, Zella Day and Tigga Da Author during their U.K. tours and has performed overseas. Opportunities are coming and, the more he puts himself out there, the more accolades come his way. His music has been used on T.V. and he has done well on the iTunes charts. His songs have received support from the likes of BBC Radio 1, 2 and 6 (Music) and there is no stopping it. It is impressive when your music can reach a wide audience and make its way onto such broad stations. The flexibility he shows and the diverse nature of his music means he has this broad fanbase and popularity. Last year was a great one for him this year and, as I shall end on, it seems like this year could be bigger! I think many solo artists do get into a rut of performing on their own and do not really play alongside anyone else. They might be quite rigid regarding sounds and what they are speaking about and this can only lead to a slightly limited and predictable progression. If you have a sound that is solid and honed then that is fine but taking risks and being eclectic is a great thing. I love most types of music but I have found that there are few artists crossing genres and able to get their music to a range of demographics. Stealth is somebody who has always operated in a way that means his music gets out to the people and has no barriers. He is one of these rising artists that will keep on succeeding because he hooks up with other artists and writes songs that are genuinely interesting and new. I do wonder why more artists are not following his lead because, as he has shown, success can come your way and your music can get out to a huge amount of people. I am not one who features artists because of their streaming figures and all of that but, in the case of Stealth, you see the numbers and it is very impressive.

Black Heart begins with a strut and cool that is led by some funky-ass bass and great intention. I like how there is a bit of a fuzz and we get this very catchy and physical opening. Before a word comes in, we have this lovely introduction that adds its own weight and ground. I was excited to see where the composition led but, before I could get to that, Stealth came in and asked what is on the mind of the girl. This seems to be the beginning of the end for a relationship and one feels something has happened to cause this friction. Maybe things have run their course but this bond is going sour and the hero is asking for answers. You get a load of songs that talk about the same thing but very few have the blend of Funk background and quite testing, serious lyrics. It is a nice brew that works well and, with his voice firm and sensitive, Stealth lets his words out. With some cooing and backing from The Dap-Kings (and some incredible Jazz blasts) we have this song that rolls and strides with intention. Stealth, inspired by the composition and energy from The Dap-Kings, lets his voice strike and swagger. It is raw and exciting and definitely sucks you in. As things reach the end of the line and things are falling apart, the hero is seeing that black heart emerge and knows things are almost over. The background is great and we get nice horn blasts and rousing percussion. Vocal input is fairly sparse but adds a beautiful contrast to the deeper sound of Stealth. It is rare to hear a song that deals with a failing relationship have such energy and boldness. Even if the lyrics are tense and there is a bit of stress, you never sense that in the composition and performance. The chorus has this great mix of The Dap-Kings’ past work and Jazz-Rock bands like Steely Dan.

Our hero talks about a heart beating for someone new and one wonders whether it is him or the girl who is focusing on someone else. I get the impression his sweetheart has let him down but the hero is looking ahead. He wants to know why things have broken down but I get the sense this has been coming for some time and the break-up is no surprise. There is great catchiness and delight when you hear The Dap-Kings play and add to the mood. The darker words are elevated by this stunning and rousing coda. I love the composition and how it makes you feel. I do not hear many songs that incorporate horns and Jazz elements and, together with a Funk mandate, you get this deep and rousing song that brings a smile – even though the foreground is getting more tense and anxious. He compares himself to a cannibal being eaten alive and the girl being like this dirty waterfall. At one point, Stealth delivers a line and there is this call-and-response aspect. It is great to hear the song take this turn and it provides Black Heart with this extra level. At one point, when the music rises and the vocal gets bigger – as Stealth searches for clarity and tries to make sense of things – we get a glimpse of Stevie Wonder in the mix! The sheer force of Black Heart is impressive and I love how much is packed in. Our man is asking what has happened and he can see this once-loving heart is empty. Even if the central story and theme is nothing new, the images and wordplay gives new light to the trodden path of heartbreak and deceit. The song builds and then goes low to allow the bass to come in; the brass brings it back up and the percussion gives the songs its spine and discipline. The merry and dizzy blend gets into the head and you do wonder how the relationship worked out. It seems like this girl is a poisoned chalice and it would be foolish to go back to her. She seems to have her eye on someone else and Stealth was not given much of a chance. It might have been scary joining with The Dap-Kings and being able to make it work but the collaboration is wonderful. Stealth’s strong voice is given new potential and life by the band and they bring a lot of party and hope to a song that has a dark heart. It is amazing, in 2019, there are not more songs like Black Heart because the effect and reaction is amazing – after one listen you are stunned and want to go back! I shall end things here but urge everyone to check out the song and let it put you in a better mood. I hope things worked out with Stealth in the end but, having listened to a seriously funky song, you sort of know he will move on and find some peace.

He has already won hearts and minds and had his music shared on some of this country’s biggest radio stations. Having supported artists like Nothing But Thieves and Jamie Woon, that gig experience and new world has bled into his music. Stealth takes a little bit of everything and stirs it into this boiling pot. Stealth has a brand-new E.P. out later this year and big gigs. He is headed to SXSW and will play Parker Jazz Club, in Austin, on 14th March. It is an exciting year for Stealth and one where he can win the American audience. Black Heart is the latest step from him and one that will get him into new markets. Stealth is always looking to broaden his appeal and he has previously worked with Dance and Electronic names. Now, in Funk and Jazz, he can spike new minds and it makes for an interesting E.P. I wonder whether it will be this free-for-all in terms of sounds or whether there will be more focus. I welcome the possibility of having this work that ventures into different genres and takes in a lot. There is not enough of this happening in modern music and it needs to change. I feel like Stealth can go even further and add even more spark into the music. Black Heart has some wistfulness alongside the energy but I can detect an artist who has so much energy that is waiting to come out. Many have compared his voice to artists like Hozier but I think we need to start thinking about Stealth in more promising and better terms. Not that there is much wrong with the likes of Hozier and James Bay but, to me, they are quite boring and write songs that seem to be aimed at those who do not like to be challenged and want something really simple.

Stealth’s deeper voice might put one in mind of those acts but his music is much more interesting and he has greater promise. It is a hard time for male solo artists: female lone stars are providing more stunning music and they have an edge right now. The best male artists are those who break away from the mainstream sound and provide something much fresher and unique. Even though Stealth’s lyrical themes do not stray too far from love and relationships, he has a lot in his locker and should not be easily predicted. I will wrap things up now but keep an eye on the social media feeds of Stealth and see what he has coming up. I love the fact he has worked with The Dap-Kings and hope it is not this one-off thing. They fuse beautifully and there is a real sense of mutual respect there. Looking forward, there is a busy gig schedule for Stealth and he will be preparing for his E.P. later in the year. If you are a bit wary of embracing a song that seems a bit unusual and not like anything out there – as Black Heart has its own beat – then give it some time and let it do its work. If all collaborations can be this accomplished and fine then I will drop my reservations and welcome them in. These artists who cram loads of random names together and produce something pretty weak will do well to listen to Black Heart how how a collaboration should sound! Keep your eyes on Stealth as he is someone who will go a long way and continues to evolve. If people can shake off the easy comparisons – he might like them but I definitely do not – then he can genuinely appeal to a much broader sect and gain greater critical acclaim than those names. There is no denying his talent and the fact he is an artist with great potential. It is still fairly early on in his career but there are clear signs Stealth is about to drop a bomb. His beginnings were impressive and promising but, the more he produces, the more I feel the young man...

CAN go a very long way.


Follow Stealth

TRACK REVIEW: Little Simz - Venom



Little Simz

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Bridgland for CRACK 






The track, Venom, is available via:


London, U.K.



The album, GREY Area, is available via:


1st March, 2019


I like this part of the weekend because...


it gives me the chance to review a bigger artist who I know I will have a lot to talk about. With her album, GREY Area out, I am interested in Little Simz and what she is putting into the world right now. I am focusing on a single track from the album – to allow me to go into detail regarding the track; this review would not give fair attention to all the tracks – but I wanted to talk about Little Simz in the context of British Hip-Hop/Rap and how the scene has changed; wordplay and how a dexterous lyrical approach is very rare these days. I also wanted to look at artists who are direct and are unafraid to document something important, darker and less commercial; what type of sound/artist will define 2019 and albums that are busy with sound and innovation – I want to end the piece by looking at Little Simz and where she might head. I have been a bit wary of British Hip-Hop and Rap the last few years. I put these genres together because they often overlap and it is hard to distinguish between them a lot of the time. In the case of Britain, I feel we have always lagged behind the U.S. – this is true when you look back a few decades. Consider the golden age of Hip-Hop – around 1986-1991 – and the magic that was emerging there. Tomorrow is the thirtieth anniversary of De La Soul’s debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, and that arrived in a year that also saw Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique come into the world. Those albums were less political and charged than a couple released the previous year: N.W.A. and Public Enemy delivering sermons and songs that stuck in the brain and have inspired generations. Music coming from Hip-Hop around that time was keen to talk about harder subjects like political corruption and the plight of the black American and, since then, the U.S. have spawned some truly great artists.


In this country, we do not really have the same pedigree. Maybe it is because of the subject matter and how our Hip-Hop artists write. We do not have the same experience of U.S. artists and there hasn’t been the same legacy. We do Grime pretty well but I am seeing a breed of new Hip-Hop artists emerging that are defining modern Britain. Maybe it will not be as extraordinary as the best we saw in America decades ago but Little Simz is leading the charge here. She, in a way, seems to have an element of the U.S. masters from the 1980s and 1990s but is adding fresh flow and personality. I think the British Hip-Hop scene will grow and expand but it has not really had a leader that can compel a revolution. I think Little Simz is the best Hip-Hop voice we have and able to challenge the very best in the U.S. right now. Look at U.S. artists like Kendrick Lamar and Cardi B and it has been a long way since we have mounted a credible opposition. Little Simz’s career has been blossoming and she has been growing with each album. I can make bold declarations because her latest album, GREY Area, has scored big reviews and is full of wonderful songs. I love her confidence and how there is not a weak moment to be found. A lot of Hip-Hop artists can be a little lacklustre at times or place the vocal above lyrics. It is not often you get this complete and near-perfect artist who ticks all the boxes and strides into their own league. When it comes to Little Simz, she is honest and herself on the page but she has her eyes open and is talking about what is happening around her. There is this varied and extraordinary sound that you cannot resist and holds so much power. I shall move onto a new subject but I wanted to talk about Little Simz’s role in modern Hip-Hop and how she is changing the game.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Bridgland

I have mentioned lyrics and how some Hip-Hop artists are a little inferior. Hip-Hop is a genre that has always been noted for its amazing sense of wordplay and flow and, in the U.S., they have always done it better than us. Again, this might go back to history and the fact they can do certain genres better than we can – the U.K. is stronger when it comes to Folk and other genres. I do think a lot of conviction can be sourced from having lived in a tough situation or being surrounded by bad legacy. A lot of modern U.S. Hip-Hop artists are reacting to their neighbourhoods and what is happening around them. There are racial and economic struggles here but the experience is different in America compared to here. In the U.K., we have plenty of problems that can be addressed but I think Grime and Drill music is talking about it more. Hip-Hop, here, is not quite as sharp and broad as in the U.S. but I think Little Simz will start this resurgence and growth. The reason I say this is because of her wordplay and how she attacks music. There are two modes when it comes to Little Simz. She switches between these firm and confident raps that are bristling and cutting and then she has a more tender and revealing side that allows the tone to change and a different side to emerge. Sometimes, that switch can be felt in a single song and there is no predictable and premeditated template when it comes to her music. She has this energy and sense of unpredictable lust that makes her music so exciting. I love how she can name-drop artists like Jay-Z and put him in the same verse as William Shakespeare (Offence). There is cheekiness and humour that can combine with this confidence and real sense of self. Whether you call her a Rap artist or Hip-Hop innovator, it all leads to the same conclusion: Little Simz is one of the finest artists we have in the country at the moment.


A lot of the more potent and ‘real’ songs coming out right now are being made by Post-Punk bands. We have Drill and Grime music but I do not feel they get as much attention as they deserve. A lot of times, the music is confined to certain radio stations and it means the messages do not spread as far as they could. Maybe there is an intensity and sense of anger in the delivery that means many are put off or they only give it a brief listen. The most powerful and resonating tracks are those that can give power and potency but they are accessible and there is a degree of calm. Little Simz creates music that has these wonderful phrases and ideas wrapped together; music that brings different genres together and a broad palette that allows listens to investigate, wonder and get involved. If she were to create a more straight-ahead and brutal sound then her words would not be heard as much and they would lose their gravity. Little Simz can be accusatory and call out those who deserve it but a lot of her quality and appeal comes from the way she looks at herself and how far she has come. She is confident and unapologetic but she looks at music icons who died young and understands mortality is never far away and there is always a sense of the unpredictable around. These two mindsets create sensational music that has depth and soul but there is that youthful confidence and ambition. Not only do the lyrics strike and resonate but there are great hooks and compositional elements that elevate the words and brew their own wonder. There are few Rap/Hip-Hop artists who put as much care into the compositions but Little Simz shows great musicianship. Because of that, her music can appeal to those who are not usually fans of Rap/Hip-Hop and want something more accessible. That word might seem quite damp but accessibility is important today. The reason Hip-Hop gold of the past survived and created such heat was because of that mixture of powerful and striking words and music that had a richness and depth. Back then, there was a lot of sampling but modern artists like Little Simz are using cross-pollination and genre-splicing more. Because of that, I feel GREY Area will be one of these Hip-Hop records that gets talked about in decades to come.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @tamcader

I am always fascinated by the classic age of Hip-Hop in the U.S. and whether things have evolved from there. It is harder to sample music and create big albums like It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Public Enemy) which is a shame. There is enough inspiration from political avenues so modern artists have a lot to work from. I feel Little Simz is a natural lead and voice because she has a confidence of who she is and how good she is. There is never any arrogance; more a sense she has come a long way and is not going to be cowed. Having felt a bit of isolation and strain living in London, she has taken some time to breathe and I think her current album is her most natural, ambitious and nuanced. The twenty-five-year-old Simbi Ajikawo amazed with her 2017 concept album, Stillness in Wonderland, and many asked how long it would be until she got the same mainstream credibility as many of her male peers. There is still this issue with gender-equality in music and how there are small and gradual changes – not as fast as one would like. Being a black woman in music is not an easy thing to handle and I feel we all need to do more. Little Simz is letting her music do the talking and she knows where she wants to head. The fact she is so confident and proud of what she is doing means people cannot ignore the music and there must be more opportunities at her feet. It cannot be long until she headlines festivals and, at the very least, she has to be seen as one of the best artists we have right now. Little Simz is someone who can talk about herself and her struggles but, like so many Rap/Hip-Hop artists, straying away from commercial avenues is important. I hear too many Pop records that take few risks and are following a formula. Listen to Little Simz and, on GREY Area, she talks about fallen idols and she sends out these barbs; she has a quick wit and has a hugely impressive flow. The combination is exceptional and the music busy and mind-blowing.      


I feel 2019 is already shaping up to a more interesting and diverse year than 2018. We had some great albums last year but I feel, more and more, modern music needs to change its tone and stray away from the commercial mainstream. New albums from Little Simz, Julia Jacklin and Solange have impressed because they are a lot more striking and mature than so much of the mainstream best. Each artist is open and revealing but they do not merely focus on themselves and their own problems. Artists that look at the outside world and tackle issues head-on are to be commended. In Little Simz, we have a young woman who knows she has a role in music and will do what it takes to get there. She understands her brilliance but there is always this sense that obstacles are around and the path is not always clear. That sense of understanding, intelligence and maturity is another reason why Little Simz can lead a Hip-Hop revolution and define 2019. This year is very young still but female artists are making more of a stand. Perhaps it is a reaction to the comparative lack of attention they get and how hard they have to struggle. I like to think the reason why female-made artists are stronger is because of greater emotional depth and a finer sense of innovation. The men are ambitious when it comes to music but there is something about female artists that makes them more daring and exciting; a mentality that pushes music beyond the ordinary and a lyrical style that is both personal yet universal. Maybe that is my personal opinion but there is something in it. I do think there need to be big changes made and the industry cannot deny great female artists much longer. Small steps are being made but there is a long way to go before we see any real improvement and parity.

Before I come to review Venom – from GREY Area – it is worth looking at the albums that have received huge reviews this year and, for the most part, they have been made by women. There are many reason why female-made music is stronger this year and I feel the industry needs to react. Festivals are still imbalanced and I get the feeling artists like Little Simz have always been confined to genre-specific festivals. Her music appeals to those who love Rap and Hip-Hop but it is broad and eclectic. She could make a great headliner at any festival and I hope she achieved that next year. If we want music to progress and inspire generations then we need to give spotlight to artists like Little Simz. She has released so much incredible music and I feel a lot of her inferior male peers are given chances ahead of her. I am genuinely excited about the new wave of British Hip-Hop/Rap artists and what they are saying right now. I still think the U.S. has a stronger scene right now but we are spawning so many hungry and exciting young voices. This will continue and I think, at the forefront, are women. Perhaps I have said enough but it is important to put these thoughts out there and not let them stand. The industry needs to do more and it needs to recognise how good artists like Little Simz are. She has created an album that could well walk away with album of the year prizes – it is hard to see too many records beating GREY Area this year! The reviews are celebratory and ecstatic and it is wonderful to see a British artist getting so much respect in a genre that, in my mind, has always been dominated by U.S. artists. Her new album boasts so many wonderful songs but, rather than give each a small review, I wanted to focus on one that I feel stands out and deserves greater affection: Venom is a natural standout and sensational moment from Little Simz.

It was hard selecting one song to highlight from GREY Area but I wanted to look at Venom because it lasted longest in my mind. It is the shortest track on the album but that does not mean it is the least significant. In fact, its opening is the most stirring and unusual. We have these haunting and Hitchcock-like strings that sting and spook with their creep. It is a strong and unexpected opening that definitely opens up your eyes and makes you wonder where the song is heading. Maybe it is appropriate that a song called Venom would start with such a stir. I feel a lot of Grime and Rap music can be a bit boring and samey because the musical dexterity is not there. It is all the same beats and electronics and it seems like the music is there merely to act as a guide for the vocal. When it comes to Little Simz, she understands the important role the composition plays and how much power can be exerted from an original and exciting sound. She manages to conquer when it comes to lyrics, music and delivery. There are not many artists who achieve that and, before a word has been delivered on Venom, you know you are listening to someone who is leagues ahead of the competition. After the uneasy and tense strings, Little Simz comes in with a fast and unexpected delivery. She is not standing still and the heavy sound that introduced the song makes way for this very focus and top-of-the-mix vocal. She looks at mental-health and suicidality – “Minds fucked even more than I realised” – and there is this black and tense situation. A lot of artists are tackling mental-health right now and Little Simz does so in a very direct and urgent way. She can see the turmoil around her and, soon, she turns to misogyny and the fact she is not given her dues. Using words like ‘ovaries’ and ‘pussy’ to describe the discrimination is fresh and will turn heads.

Little Simz is direct and wants people to listen. At a certain point, the vocal quickens and it is almost impossible to keep up with Little Simz. It is amazing how she manages to keep her breath and deliver the words without breaking concentration. The words tumble to give the song more tension and urgency. Little Simz is falling and going down and she is asking someone – maybe those who attack her – to follow her. She does not want to hear apologise and she is looking for answers. She is not sure whether she is going insane and what is happening right now. At every stage, there are these scenes of violence and threats. A lot of times, one wonders whether the fear is psychological or physical. Little Simz talks about having a gun pointed at her and this danger lurking around every corner. Having talked about mental-health, I wonder whether a lot of these images are part of her imagination or the realities of the streets are being laid out. The heroine sees struggle behind doors and people losing their minds; she is finding men willing to attack her and take advantage and, in life and music, misogyny raising its head. It is a song that will get everyone thinking and you need to listen to it several times just to get on top of everything said. Venom is the most exhilarating song on GREY Area and delivers so much in a short period of time. Those new to Little Simz might favour songs such as Selfish to get their feet wet but I think Venom is a stunning offering that everyone needs to hear right away! She has created this masterclass in delivery, lyrical power and musical dexterity. There is nobody out there like her right now and festival organisers everywhere should realise what a talent we have in our midst!


  PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Bridgland for CRACK 

She knows she is overlooked because she is a woman and she also understands how good she is. Little Simz spits and raps with such speed and directness. The words tumble out and, apart from the strings trying to keep pace in the background, it is Little Simz’s exceptional flow that captivates. She discusses bleak mental states and how she has never got that low – not one who will take herself out or let the world bury her. The venom coming from men and their oppression seems to weight the heaviest on her mind. After delivering this frantic and stunning passage, her voice cuts out and the song enters a new phase. Having heard lighter songs on GREY Area – such as Selfish (ft. Cleo Sol) – having this edgier and grittier sound is, in my mind, where she shines. The strings are replaced by a more booming drum (?) sound and the mood shifts once more. Whereas lesser artists might keep the same sound and show a lack of sophistication, Little Simz keeps the song snaking and, with each verse, brings in a new sound. She talks about things she has seen in the night: the dark crawl and the danger around; how it has affected her mind and why it would alarm other people. One of the biggest weapons in Little Simz’s arsenal is the fact she can be quite direct and bold with her language. There are expletives to be heard but they are never thrown in to cause shock at all. She is reflecting a true voice and is proving she is someone not be messed with. She talks about guys wanting blood and she is looking for the same. Whether she is being sexually harassed or there is violence on the street, the heroine is facing it down and warning she is not to be messed with. She chants the word ‘venom’ as a deeper voice also does the same – whether it is her voice processed or a man, I am not sure. The strings come back in and are less tense than in the introduction. I love how the violins add this sense of terror and gothic horror. It allows Venom to be a much more variegated and cinematic song than it would have been if it were just beats and electronics.

The juggernaut has been rolling and GREY Area has rolled out to the masses. The reviews have been four/five-star and I have not heard anything negative said about the album. It is rare when you hear an artist talked about in such fond terms with nobody offering even the slightest bit of constructive criticism. That is a sign you are doing something right and at the top of your game. Little Simz is far stronger than her male peers but she has also, on GREY Area, reconciled with a difficult past and you feel like she has addressed some issues that were troubling her. I get the sense of this young woman finding her feet and maybe feeling buried by the city and the people around her. She has not long entered the twenty-sixth year of her life and many could forgive her for having worries and fears. If the young artist feels strange at times, you would not really sense too much of that from her latest record. The sheer confidence and boldness throughout means you are always hooked and standing to attention. Her sound is not simply attack and pummel without range and emotional variation. She is someone who can switch between a more openhearted sound and rising and striking without too much notice. It is a heady brew and great mix that will appeal to the Hip-Hop/Rap elite and those who are new to the genres. It is hard to ignore Little Simz and I urge people to catch her perform. She is still giving interviews and busy spreading the word when it comes to her album. I know it is hectic but she seems to love every moment. It is wonderful hearing her talk about her music and how it came together. When she has chance to hit the road then I would recommend you watch the songs come to life on the stage. She is a fantastic live act and someone who can win every heart. I am not sure what her touring plans are like but look at her social media channels and she will keep you updated. There are few artists who are as sharp, lyrically, and have such a confident voice. It is exciting to think where Little Simz could head and what comes next for her. She is still so young and being this developed and assured this early, to some, could be a danger. In Little Simz’s case, I feel she can grow even stronger and her music can get even better – which is a scary thought when you think about it! We have one of the world’s best young artists performing in the U.K. right now and GREY Area is the album to beat this year. I do not think there will be anyone who can topple Little Simz’s masterpiece this year but, as others try, play the music and realise why many people are calling her...

A genius and innovator to watch.


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TRACK REVIEW: Leah Nobel - This Pain Will Be Useful



Leah Nobel

This Pain Will Be Useful





The track, This Pain Will Be Useful, is available via:


Nashville, U.S.A.




The album, Running in Borrowed Shoes, is available via:


8th February, 2019


MAYBE it is a bit mistimed on my part...


but I am heading to Nashville twice within the same weekend! Whilst I cannot cover the same ground I did with Country artist Maren Morris, I can provide a new spin regarding Leah Nobel. I wanted to talk about the city in general and its variation; bending styles and how her new music is among the most interesting about; concepts for albums and why hers is especially arresting; artists who progress and build from small foundations; diverse talent who can step into different realms and make it work – I will end by seeing where Nobel might head this year. It is rare I get to talk about Nashville so it is not too bad I am back there again. It is a part of the world that is producing some incredible music and we associate it heavily with Country. Whereas Detroit used to be the centre of American music once upon a time I think, more and more, Nashville is shaping up to take its crown. New York and Los Angeles are huge but I think there is something special happening in Nashville. There is a lot of great Country music there but, as with Leah Nobel, there are Folk blends to be found. I have never been to the city – as I explained yesterday – but I am attracted by the richness of the music there and the quality coming through. I always love discovering fresh sounds and Nashville is a lot broader than one would think. Many of its Country artists splice genres together – Nobel is someone who is keen to experiment and not stand still. What strikes me about Nashville is the sense of togetherness and community in Nashville. I associate bigger areas like New York with a certain facelessness and lack of spirit. There are small communities that work together but I see (New York) as daunting and a little disconnected. Is it easy for an artist there to find like-minded people and a group that will support them? Maybe so but it seems like Nashville is a lot more stocked with a warm bunch of people who will support musicians.

I think environment and background can really influence music and dictate what an artist sounds like. If you live in a very busy and packed place then you are going to feel that strain and stress. Maybe the music might have a bit of light but I tend to find there is a correlation between the nature of your backdrop and what you will produce. Nashville is a busy city but there is a lot of beauty and space to be discovered. I do think there is more attention given to New York and Los Angeles and we often overlook Nashville. It is a wonderful climate for music and, as we can hear with Leah Nobel, you cannot define Nashville by a single sound. I will move onto a new subject soon but I wanted to recommend people check out Nashville and the music coming from there at the moment. I do think there is a case to be made for Nashville becoming the centre of American music. I feel the Country music scene is growing and there is this raft of great artists who are mixing genres together and standing out from their peers. In years to come, I envisage the city will continue to recruit musicians and more people will move there. Nashville has some great venues already but more will come through and the most popular there already will survive and grow. I feel Country music needs to address its gender inequality but there are some powerful female artists striking hard. Leah Nobel is someone to keep an eye out for and follow. She has adopted a lot of the elements of Nashville but brings her own shades and personality to the music. I feel she can make a real impact on the city and inspire a new generation coming through. It is exciting discovering these keen artists that have a fresh and wonderful sound at their disposal. It is the way Nobel bends sounds together that thrills me the most.

I will talk about her album, Running in Borrowed Shoes, in a bit but, right now, I wanted to talk about her music and what it contains. There are Folk tinges and suggestions but it is hard to define her in terms of a single genre. Her distinct voice shines through and does not change that much but the music around her changes up and adapts. This is a great balance because we get a singularity but this altering climate. Nobel can put together Folk and Pop together with little bits of Country. It is a heady brew and blend that definitely stays with you. I love all the different elements of the music and how rich it is. This is, as I will explain, apt because Nobel is telling different stories and inhabiting different personas. What amazes me is how accomplished and natural everything sounds. There are too many artists who produce the same thing and they tend to repeat themselves all of the time. Those that offer us something more varied and interesting definitely stand out. Nobel has always worked this way but her latest album is her most expansive and interesting work yet. I love how the instrumentation is not second to the voice. There is a great balance between the voice and composition and one experiences something filmic and gripping in each song. I feel artists do tend to hone their sound too much and you listen to albums and often feel uninvolved. Maybe the songs are too similar and that creates a weariness and predictability. Going forward, I feel Nobel will keep on pressing and bringing new sounds into what she does. I am a fan of the way she works and, in a busy sea of female songwriters, her voice and talent is essential. Is it easy to blend sounds together and make things work? Can it be a risk if you are quite ambitious and varied?


There is something said to being safer and not throwing too much into the mix. I have seen artists who have taken things too far or lost focus. If you do that then it can be hard to come back. Similarly, there are dangers regarding having too narrow a sound and that can create its own problems. I think ambition is great in music but it needs to be teamed with focus and a sense of balance. Nobel manages to put her heart and soul into everything she does but the songs never seem too cluttered or random. Everything has that personality and Nobel sound but there are so many colours and contours that take you by surprise. I mentioned how Nashville is known for its Country music but there is a mentality in the city that wants artists to push things forward and be who they are. Maybe Berlin is the only other city that comes to mind when it comes to that approach. Maybe the German country is bolder regarding sound but both Berlin and Nashville cater to the open-minded and provide music of all different tastes and angles. I do think artists such as Leah Nobel will help bring more people to Nashville and urge new artists to be ambitious with their music. Running in Borrowed Shoes has to be eclectic but it would have been easy for Nobel to lose herself or fail. It is a big and impressive album but she holds everything together wonderfully. Many might be new to genres like Folk and be unsure whether to investigate Leah Nobel. I would say she is one of the more accessible artists and provides these songs that take in so much and appeal to everyone. It is her warm voice and distinct lyrical style that elevates the tones and compositions to dizzying heights. There are not that many artists who have the same skillset as her so, for that reason, I urge people to have a listen and explore her new record fully.


There is something wonderful about Running in Borrowed Shoes. One looks at the title and assumes it relates to a sense of empathy and having to identify with someone else. Rather than walking a mile in someone’s shoes, Nobel has conducted over one-hundred interviews and brought them to her music. I think this is a really great idea. The idea of a ‘concept’ album can make people shudder and recoil but, in many cases, the concept is quite loose or very interesting. I agree concept albums can be a nightmare but Nobel’s endeavour relates to real human beings and their stories. Nobody can object to that and we get these wonderful songs that are more real than anything out there. I do feel a lot of songwriters write about themselves a lot and that can actually drive people away. You tend to find the material is rather focused on love and heartbreak. Not only is this quite depressive but you never get a true sense of who an artist is. A life is about more than relationships and getting your heart broken. We get a fraction of a life represented in music; a side that is very deep and quite revealing. Maybe many feel talking about their upbringing or a specific event is quite limiting and tough but there is not enough variety and challenge in music. I want to listen to a young Pop artist who is tackling something unique or talking about a specific time in their life. Right now, we have this scene that is saturated with the same sort of sounds and themes. I am getting tired hearing the same songs that discuss love or cheating. It is meant to relate to a young demographic but, again, teens are not all about love and relations. They have rich lives and their stories are not being told right now. Leah Nobel’s album subjects might be a bit older, in general, than teenagers but she has drawn tales from all walks of life.

What Running in Borrowed Shoes does is act like this empathetic and open interview series that is translated into music. The singing is from Nobel but she manages to transform these tales into something that is her own. It is hard to turn personal stories into something that resonates musically but she has managed to do it. I do love the range of people she talked to and what come through. It is for that reason you cannot only listen to the one song and leave it at that. I wanted to look at This Pain Will Be Useful as there is a video out and it seems quite fresh. There are ten interesting stories on the album and every one of them has its own gravity and appeal. You might think an album that deals with human experiences and different people might seem to be a bit depressive or lack any sense of connection. Maybe it is hard to empathise with people you do not know and it might be challenging to understand their plight. It is strange to hear an album that is not about the songwriter’s own life but I think this approach will lead others to do something new. I will move on in a bit but I think Leah Nobel has created something that is inspiring and fascinating. These people we do not know get their tales heard and, given the fact she conducted so many interviews, one wonders whether another edition will come out. How often do real and normal people get their voices heard in modern music? There is so much attention around what music should be and how songwriters should compose. The mainstream might still be geared towards the commercial side of things – the same songs that address love and heartache – but there is room for manoeuvre on the outskirts. Leah Nobel is on an upward arc right now but, looking back, she started on modest foundations.


She is signed to Big Yellow Dog Music now but, looking back, she was raised in Arizona. Growing up in Phoenix, she would play open mic nights and acoustic shows in colleges. It seems extraordinary she has grown from this ambitious and keen songwriter to someone who is turning heads in Nashville. Every artist has to start with a slightly less-exciting life and career but Nobel has taken some big steps in a few years. I guess all of those open mic nights and smaller gigs helped when it came to songwriting and her career. You can hear the confidence in her material and, as a live performer, she has grown a lot. She is one of the most striking performers around and her written material and live sets blend. You can tell she picks up a lot from the road and sprinkles it into her songs. Since 2016, Nobel has come a long way. She had a diverse year in 2016. She created an Alt-Pop alter ego, HAEL, as a way to experiment with a beat-centric sound. That persona was featured in adverts and she had numerous T.V. placements – including Grey’s Anatomy. It was around the same time she began working on Running in Borrowed Shoes. I do like the fact Nobel was balancing this more Pop-themed act that was being heard in adverts and T.V. shows and working on an album that was very different. She has always been very busy but I do prefer the sound and flavour we get with the album. I do like Pop music but I think Running in Borrowed Shoes is a more interesting and promising project and one that will captivate so many people. Maybe she will be the first to admit she has achieved an awful lot since the earliest days. Not many artists take such a leap and create so much success for themselves. That is because Leah Nobel is one of those people that takes music by the horns and does not rest.

She is always looking to be different and create something that is unlike anything around. Maybe this is Nashville and the way it urges its artists to be more interesting but it is a blend of her upbringing, her morals and the sounds of Nashville. There are a lot of great female artists around that are not getting the credit they deserve. I am not sure whether Nobel has faced the same issue as Country singers on the radio there: being overlooked in favour of men and seen as a less appealing option. There are issues that need to be corrected but, in general, Nashville has this spirit and flair that inspires musicians to be better and reach further. From the bright-eyed singer from Arizona to the on-the-cusp-of-the-mainstream star right now, it has been a productive and fascinating last few years. I do wonder where she will head from here and what will come next – I shall cover that in the conclusion. I wanted to review Leah Nobel because it affords me the chance to step away from London but also look at an album that takes the listener somewhere special. I like this approach where a songwriter can talk to others and interview them; bring these stories into the music and create something available to all. You do wonder what happened to the people we hear about and what the actual interviews were like. I would be interested to know whether Nobel kept the recordings and they are available to hear. It is fascinating wondering how these conversations went down and why they inspired music. I have not had the time to review the entire album – as I do not review albums – but I have selected one of the ten tracks; the one I liked the most and is a great starting point. Make sure you investigate all the tracks and take the time to digest everything being delivered. Running in Borrowed Shoes is a rich and rewarding album that is very different to anything around. You will be hooked after one listen and it makes me wonder whether there are more stories as-yet-untold from Leah Nobel.

The opening notes of This Pain Will Be Useful are stern acoustic guitar strums that seem to represent a sense of hurt and urgency. Certainly, one feels this tangible force and drive that might be a lost memory or a current pain. I saw the song title and was instantly drawn to ideas around illness and a definite ache. Nobel has said how this pain can be useful; how a seed can grow from a dying tree and blossom into something. We do not hear who the character is – in terms of the inspiration – but it seems like there is tis rather inspiring message. The pain might be emotional or physical but there is never this sense that things are lost and it is useless. Instead, Nobel sings about pain being something constructive that can lead to be better things. We hear of the subject/Nobel liking a song in their lungs and you start to picture this distinct scene. I feel like we are hearing about a woman and someone who might be slightly older. Maybe I am off the mark but that is the sense I got listening to the lyrics. This Pain Will Be Useful keeps a steady pace in terms of the composition and vocal but that means it is easier to capture everything and understand what is being said. That striking guitar sound keeps a certain physicality and heart alive whilst Nobel sings in a very passionate yet soft way. I do wonder who inspired the song and whether their pain was a serious one or something they could recover from. In any case, the message is one of hope and not being defeated by something dark. It seems, whoever we are hearing about, they have been written off and not given a fair chance. They are defiant and determined to make something of themselves. They will rise and take something from that doubt and cynicism. The way Nobel sings it gives the story this very stirring yet compelling tone. She sounds completely committed to the song and like she is singing about herself.

Maybe things have been bad in the past but there is this renewed spirit and direction. Nobel lets her voice swoon and fly and you get a lovely sense of classic singers and a past era. The fact there is little compositional intrusion allows the vocal to shine and tell the story. I do like the pace of the song and the sense of swoon and sway. It gets into the blood and mind and relaxes you. It makes me wonder which person compelled thing song and where they are now. It is clear they have had to tackle a lack of respect and faith and have been maligned. Now, for some reason, there is a sense of inspiration and this new lease of life. This Pain Will Be Useful is a song that will resonate with many people and seem familiar. Many people will have gone through the same experiences and been written off. Instead of letting that pressure get to them, they would have taken a stride and proved people wrong. I get the impression of this older person who has struggled a lot but, at this later stage, managed to make something of themselves. The idea of pain being edifying and useful is one that is not offered explored through song. In terms of tone, there is a little bit of First Aid Kit and Lana Del Rey fused together: a dreaminess and softer voice that has so much grace and allure. We hear about bird singing and brighter skies coming through. I am not sure what has compelled this transformation and betterment but Nobel delivers her words with such conviction, it is almost like she is talking about herself. Nobel sings of songs being sung in cars and parking lots; men making house and all sorts of things. You project these images and scenes and, as I said, there is this cinematic aspect. By the end of the song, you do wonder who this is about and what became of them. I know Leah Nobel has explained some of the songs on Running in Borrowed Shoes and it would be good to know who the subject of This Pain Will Be Useful is. I had to listen back and get another perspective. On the second listen, I was focusing on certain words and trying to piece things together. It is hard to get a clear view of who the person in the song is but Leah Nobel inhabits it herself and makes us curious. Songs that make you dig deeper and wonder about their origins should be celebrated as it is very rare in the modern time. The album is full of these wonderful and interesting songs that all come from interviews and personal tales. I think a lot of modern artists should take this approach to creativity and actually go out and chat with different people. Leah Nobel has shown how deep and intriguing the finished results can be.

Knowing that she conducted so many interviews and met myriad people suggests there might be more to come from her in regards personal stories. Running in Borrowed Shoes is terrific and the fact there is just ten tracks means it is quite tight and focused. You get different blends and angles from each song and a chance to connect with real people – even if we do not know them personally. There has been a lot of love for the album and so many people have related to it. I feel you can only get so much from a record that talks of love and the perspective of a songwriter. It all starts to blend together and is not that different to anything else. Modern music is in danger of becoming this mass of similar-sounding songs that offer nothing new. I love the fact Leah Nobel has done something new and spent time collating interviews with people. It was a time-consuming project and one that would have involved a lot of passion and commitment. I think that is what puts off a lot of artists: the fact they might have to spend time working on something and it would not be instant. I like musicians who can take a different approach and know there is more to music than relationships and personal woes. By turning the lens outwards and bringing other people to the music, Nobel has crafted something that has this unique D.N.A. In years to come, when the subjects are not around, their stories will be preserved for generations to come. That must be rewarding and should inspire other songwriters to do something similar. I wonder whether Leah Nobel is touring soon and will bring these songs to the U.K. It might be expensive to come over here but I am sure there are loads of people who want to hear the songs live and find out more about her. She is a popular artist in the U.S. and I know there is huge demand there. This is good to know and I like the fact that this very special artist has produced something wonderfully original and interesting. Let’s hope this rubs off on other artists and they take guidance from Leah Nobel and...


TAKE the breath away.


Follow Leah Nobel


TRACK REVIEW: Maren Morris - The Bones



Maren Morris

PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Nelson/Courtesy of Sony Music Nashville

The Bones





The track, The Bones, is available via:


Nashville, U.S.A.




22nd February, 2019


The album, Girl, is released on 8th March, 2019. Pre-order here


THE advantage of doing a review of someone...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @papermagazine

who is pretty well-known is that you have a lot of information to go off of! I will speak about Maren Morris and her music in a bit but, before then, I wanted to address Country music and why we do not hear it so much here; why there is a gender imbalance in the U.S. and how radio is to blame; why Morris is someone who is capable of bringing Country to the masses; how we are all a bit reserved about music and not as adventurous as we should be; bringing a bit more kick and excitement into music – I will end by looking at Maren Morris and how she will develop this year. Many of us tend to avoid Country music because we feel it is quite cheesy and does not hold a lot of weight. Maybe we have the impression of artists like Billy Ray Cyrus and those sorts of acts. Even if you do not like performers such as Dolly Parton, you have to admit that she – and peers like Tammy Wynette – transformed the scene and have made a huge mark. Modern artists are not quite as limited as Country stars of the past. I do not overly-love what came before and feel there was a tendency towards the bleeding heart and twanging guitars. I like Country music that is more energised and optimistic and, as such, you have to tread carefully through the archives. There are, I admit, a lot of cheesy older artists who one might be wise to avoid but today there is a new breed adding something new to Country. I have a lot of respect for the Country legends but I think the genre is more accessible today. Artists such as Maren Morris are splicing together Pop and Country and creating these polished and memorable songs. Look at success stories like Kacey Musgraves – who recently scored big at the Grammys – and we cannot deny Country music today is a different affair. Despite the fact it is popular in the U.S., we do not have the same scene here.


There are Country acts in the U.K. but nothing like you get in America. Whereas U.S. Country fuses genres and is quite ambitious, I tend to find we are more limited here and our brand is not as potent. We think of Country and Nashville, Tennessee comes to mind. It is the Mecca of Country and provides so much history and inspiration. The city is teeming with great venues, players and beautiful visions and, as such, artists feel completely relaxed and influenced there. This supportive network of Country artists means the genre is growing and attracting new musicians by the day. The fact Country is more varied and accessible now is enticing some from Pop and, if anything, showing how much stronger Country is. I feel artists such as Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris are able to create sharper, more nuanced songs that do not rely on processed vocals, the same beats and tired lyrical suggestions. In this country, we are inspired by Country for sure but I could not really name many successful Country artists. We do not have anywhere like Nashville here and it seems rather tragic in comparison. I could not even think what our equivalent would be and we do not have the same venues and labels that can support artists. Our Country scene is more underground and, whilst it has some interesting acts, is nothing like the U.S. I do wonder why and I think we still have this misconception about the genre. Many have impressions of cowboys and line dancing; something really awful and a type of music that is reserved to true fans. Maybe we need to embrace U.S. sounds and encourage more of our new musicians to embrace Country. We do Pop music very well but Country is still pushed to the outskirts. Many claim we have a great Country culture here but I would disagree. I do think we have a long way and need to change opinions regarding the genre. Maren Morris and her peers are showing what can come from Country and how good it can really be.

Although there is some great Country music in the U.S., there is a big problem regarding radio and playing female artists. The problem is that many Country stations do not play female artists back to back as they feel listeners would rebel and complain. The explanation is that male artists are more appealing and popular with the listenership. There have been calls to change this policy and play more female artists on Country stations. Last year, Rolling Stone provided some alarming stats:

In radio’s top 50 for the week of Oct. 1, as compiled by industry newsletter Country Aircheck, only six songs are from women. Were it not for Maren Morris’ slow-rising “Rich” finally edging up to No. 9, the top 10 would be devoid of female artists entirely. Elsewhere Carly Pearce comes in at No. 13, followed by Sugarland (17), Kelsea Ballerini (28), Danielle Bradbery (a duet with Thomas Rhett at No. 46) and a just-released Carrie Underwood single (47)”.

Morris is one of the artists making up for a shortfall - but consider how musicians such as Kacey Musgraves and Carrie Underwood are succeeding and their tales are not being told. It is alarming seeing how ignorant Country stations are in the U.S. and why they constantly ignore female artists. There is no shortage of talent out there so one wonders why women are being overlooked. In the Rolling Stone article, more information came to light:

RJ Curtis, longtime board member of Nashville’s Country Radio Broadcasters, counters, “It’s an easy thing to say, that women only want to hear hot-looking guys and not other women, but research people I’ve talked to say there’s no data that supports that.” He agrees that most stations won’t play two female artists in a row, but in his view, the reason is that they’re so scarce, programmers are forced to spread them around. “I know women would hate being referred to as inventory, but we don’t have enough female artist inventory coming down the pipeline, and I don’t think country radio is responsible for that,” Curtis says, defending radio against its bad rap in the ongoing controversy. He estimates that 20% to 25% of the adds at radio in a given week are women performers, “and if you go look at the artist rosters at country labels, it’s very proportionate.”

 PHOTO CREDIT: @papermagazine 

There is this vicious cycle where many labels are not signing women because they feel they will not get played. I feel like radio is the most influential source and is creating this issue. Many listeners prefer male artists and feel like females do not have much to say. Maybe this is born from an age-old sense of discrimination and narrowness. There have been some iconic Country female artists but the story is different today. There is talent to be found, for sure, but they are not being given a platform and a voice. The chart positions, as the article continues, is quite worrying:

But the percentage of women achieving half-decent chart positions is well below 20% — and Curtis faults some programmers for allowing records by female stars to stall out, like Ballerini’s underperforming “I Hate Love Songs,” which he was sure would be a smash. He thinks Morris also merits more play. “Maren had one of the biggest records of the year. Unfortunately, it was on Top 40 [‘The Middle,’ with Zedd and Grey]. Maren has had to struggle getting traction, and other formats are taking our artists. Now you have Kelsea making a [pop] record with the Chainsmokers, and I feel like country radio should take a look at that and go, wait a minute”.

We do need to change things because, as it stands, radio bosses and labels are stubborn and refusing to budge. There is an outcry and call for change but these calls are not being heeded at the moment. I wonder whether it is even possible to break the cycle and appeal to the bosses and D.J.s who continue to play men above women. Even the major success of artists like Maren Morris has not turned the tide. She, along with her great peers, is helping strike a conversation and raise more awareness. It seems the only way we will get change is if artists like Morris continue to grow and, before long, there will be no choice but to feature them more.


The article above mentioned Morris and how she is one of the most successful artists in Country. Her chart success and great music is striking a chord and bringing Country music to more people. In this interview Morris claimed she is not really a Pop star and is more Country. The fact is that Morris is fusing Pop with Country and maybe that is a reason why she is able to resonate and succeed. I am not suggesting the Country scene, at its purest, is for the die-hards and true fans but a lot of the more successful artists of the moment are uniting genres together. I do feel like Maren Morris has this determination and knowledge of the scene. She is savvy and smart; she has duetted with Alicia Keys and knows the business inside out. In fact, when Morris moved to Nashville and started writing songs for others, she got a note sent back – from a label or promoter – saying that the song was uniquely her. It was hard, maybe, for Morris to write for someone else because she had this singular talent and sense of who she was. Morris was listening to the radio and hearing male-focused songs talking about love in a very staid and cliché way. She was going to address love in its reality: concentrating on the ugly moments and the heartaches. Artists such as Taylor Swift moved from Country to mainstream Pop – one feels that might be a reaction to the radio stations not playing many Country women. Morris is comfortable playing Country and, whilst she does inject Pop into the brew, she looks up to her female peers and the icons of the past. She wants to change attitudes and the culture and I feel she can create a genuine revolution.

Think about the scene right now and there are so many interesting Country songs/albums around. I feel the women are producing more interesting and realistic music. Morris is one who likes to talk about love and relationships in a very personal and real way: many of her male peers are not being as honest or seem to following some rather dull rulebook. Not only is Morris’ determination and talent going to help make a difference but she knows the realities of the current scene. When speaking with Laura Snapes of The Guardian in 2017, Morris discussed the male-heavy ratio and how there is this bias:

Country remains fairly dude-centric. In 2015, “bro country” reached its peak in a critical mass of male artists for whom a hot date entailed fishing and drinking “Bud” with a girl in tiny denim shorts, romancing her in the aisle of a convenience store, then adjourning to the back of his sweet truck. That summer, prominent radio consultant Keith Hill used a bizarre analogy when he advised stations to avoid playing female artists if they wanted to get ratings. Female artists were “just not the lettuce in our salad”, he said. “The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban… The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” Inevitably labelled saladgate, “it threw a brighter spotlight on the fact that there are far more limited spots for women than men on country radio playlists,” says leading country critic Jewly Hight. “There’s only room for one woman artist of each ‘type’.”

It’s a dispiriting revelation, but Morris sees a silver lining. “As a woman in country, you’re sort of this rare diamond,” she mocks. Her boyfriend is also a writer-artist. “He’s starting out, and I think it might be harder for guys now because there’s so many of them. You listen to the radio and there’s 10 dudes and they all sound the same, but when the girl comes on, you probably know who it is because it’s so distinct. There are guy artists that instantly get No 1s because someone heard it on the radio and thought it was a bigger artist because they sound so alike”.


Morris is definitely someone who is bringing excitement and personality into music. I feel Nashville and Country music allows more freedom and sense of expression. So much mainstream Pop is guided by labels and market demand. I do wonder how much flexibility artists have and what they can write about. Listen to the way Maren Morris writes and you know she is doing it for herself. She is a success already so can command a sense of independence and trust. I am excited because, unlike so many modern artists, there is a real pop and memorability to be found in her music. One can listen to a track like The Bones and remember it instantly. Every track has a different skin but they are sound distinctly like Maren Morris. I think Pop has a real problem right now regarding its appeal and longevity. How many mainstream Pop songs stand in the mind and sound as good as they did in years past? I do not think there is the sense of ambition and originality there once was and many people are embracing other genres. One of the big problems is a rather processed and downbeat feel to Pop. Morris does write about love in a very earnest way and takes her voice down low but there is this sense of naturalness. She never sound overly-processed and can always bring something positive and exciting to the fold! I do hope Country stations understand that artists like Maren Morris are not going anywhere and they represent the future. Maybe Morris will move more into Pop territory in years to come but I think, right now, she is providing a huge voice to female artists here. Nashville is in her soul and a tattoo she is unwilling to move. She embraces her surroundings and has a definite goal for the future. If you have not heard Morris – and are a bit wary about Country music – then I would encourage you to seek her out and chart her rise.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Alec Kugler

Whether you spell the album Girl in upper-case or not (some do, some do not), there is no debating the sense of boldness and exclamation you can hear throughout. Morris has said how this album is lighter and less angry than her debut. Maybe she was working through transition and relationship pains then but, now, she is embracing something more hopeful. Despite there being a lot of excitement on her album, I wanted to focus on a song that starts off a bit calmer and more emotional. The heroine talks about being in the “home stretch” of a bad run and she can see the end. The song starts with a delicate fleck of electric guitar; a riparian trickle that beckons images of home, the calm scenery and something quite tender. Morris delivers her words with syncopation and takes breaths between each line. She portrays a sense of passion and emotion that makes the song sound instantly real and pure. The chorus is undeniably the work of a modern Country artist like Morris. Maybe not as electric as something from Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour; The Bones’ chorus has that hook, kick and instantly sense of memorability. If the bones are good then nothing else matters. Things can go wrong – including, as she sings, “the glass could shatter” – but it does not matter. There is this motif as the heart being a home. Morris sings about the paint peeling and glass breaking. So long as the ‘bones’ – maybe the structure or foundations – are strong then she can withstand anything. One gets the impression these images reflect hard times and outside forces – the paint peeling maybe acting as a metaphor for there being arguments and harder nights. Morris sings with such passion and skill that every word and line stands out and settles in the mind. Morris is an artist with her own spirit but she makes sure her lyrics are accessible and can be translated easily. The idea of using weather as a metaphor is nothing that new.


Look back through music’s past and we hear of storms acting like break-ups; the rain being tears and the winds blowing like changing fate and circumstance. Morris, here, knows she and her man can tackle any storm and the house will not topple over against the wind and the storm – so long as the bones are good. Morris is backed by simple beats and the main focus is her voice. Many artists crowd music with electronics and too much production. Here, we get something that is fairly polished but has a sense of space and flexibility. Morris is free to interpret and stretch her emotional range; take her voice where the song goes and change her dynamic when the mood calls for it. There is a sense of structure and stability about the song that makes it such an instant and familiar thing. The Bones is one of the tracks on Girl that might not get the attention it warrants but I felt it needed some focus. What I love about it is the sense of calm and control in Morris’ tones matched against lyrics that promulgate strong weather and a couple who have messed things up. This relationship has swayed and been threatened but they are still standing. Written with Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz, Morris packs a lot of big imagery into the song. After the storms threatening their house, wolves have been at the door baying for blood. Whether a threat from other lovers or outside climates challenging this love, there has been this strength that has vanquished the mightiest of foes. There are moments of sensuality and we get some multi-tracked vocals; the chorus strikes and keeps coming back up – this indelible pleasure that is the mainstay and mandate of the song. Morris and her companion are tackling every negative and obstacle and are keen to survive. It is rare to see a love song that has that positive stride and happier façade. Not as bright as some other songs that will appear on Girl, The Bones is a more rich and mature track that does not wag its figure or call another girl out: instead, the anonymous pains and problems are tossed away and there is this steely focus from Morris. I am not sure who her sweetheart is – and whether she is talking about a sexual situation or a friendship – but you get the sense these two have seen a lot and faced some bad times. Whatever happens, so long as their heart and determination (the bones) are strong then nothing else can defeat them. This is a theme that runs through her album: determination and strength against challenging waters. Whether that is sexism or personal pressures, Morris is always open, honest and brave with her music. In a very mixed and divided time, this is just what we need to embrace!

Her album, Girl, is out on 8th March and it is the second album from the Texas-born star. She has progressed since her 2016 debut, Hero, and added new elements to her music. The title of her album, in a way, comes from the observation that a lot of Country songs have the word ‘girl’ in them. In many cases, it is a man talking about a woman and doing so in a very ordinary way. Morris noticed this and wanted to buck the trend. She is a girl – or woman – and wanted to write about girls. There is so much of this spirit and sense of progression in the album. She is currently touring right now and it is a busy time for Morris. When journalists were reviewing her debut, Hero, they noticed how canny and strong the songs were. Regardless of genre, there was fun and hooks to spare; a sense of boldness and an artist who had already found her feet. I have no doubt Girl will get the same sort of love and, judging songs like The Bones, it is going to be a spectacular thing. The record has fourteen tracks and there are some interesting titles in the fold – Gold Love and To Hell & Back stand out! The success of Morris and award s nods to artists like Kacey Musgraves should tell people Country music is really strong right now and women have a crucial role. Listen to the fusions and incredible songs from Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves and these are two women taking music by the scruff of the neck. There are many more women in Country right now – such as Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood – who are, in my opinion, stronger than their male peers. I feel the tide can turn but those who are responsible for making changes are holding back.

Radio stations in the U.S. are still favouring men and we do not really have a solid enough Country scene here to offer some support and needed backup. Maybe it will take longer for equality to occur and it is artists such as Maren Morris who will make this a reality. Ensure you get a copy of Girl when it is released soon as it is not what you’d expect from a typical Country album. Many of us still have cliché impressions and think Country is a rather corny genre. There is so much variation and brilliance to be found and, if you are not a big fan of mainstream Pop but like Pop in general, then new Country music is for you! In a recent interview with Billboard, she was asked about the new album and writing with Greg Kurstin (who has worked for the likes of Beck):

This album is really about self-acceptance and partner acceptance. The first half of the album is very self-reflective, and it's more about me. Then the second half of the record transitions into me being the counterpart to somebody else. I didn’t have any love songs on Hero, so there are a lot more on this one, and I think that’s been a really beautiful side to being a touring musician: You never see the person, you miss them all the time, and he’s a musician as well, so we’re constantly writing with each other or about each other. A lot of these songs reflect that. He actually wrote a couple of songs on this album with me. I feel like I’ve grown up more in the years since I released that album. And this is the timestamp of that”.

As timestamps go, Girl is a pretty impressive one and I would not be surprised if the album was placed quite high in the albums of the year lists come December. We need to be more aware of Country music and the great female artists who are doing something genuinely exciting and different. Maren Morris is leading her peers and sending out a message to Country music stations: there is nowhere to hide; recognise us now! I hope these calls are heeded and, rather late, women in Country get the respect and attention...


 PHOTO CREDIT: Austin Hargrave

THAT should have come years ago!


Follow Maren Morris


TRACK REVIEW: Gold Complex - Homegirl



Gold Complex







The track, Homegirl, is available via:


Toronto, Canada




8th February, 2019


THE way I am doing things with reviews now...


is that I am focusing on one popular/well-known artist to start with at the weekend and then looking at someone new the next time around, on Sunday. The reason I am doing that is because, to be truthful, there is not a lot of distinction between the requests I get. I get ones like this that are distinct and give me new angles to explore but too many are very samey and there is nothing much to be said. Having to repeat myself every week can get very boring and frustrating so I find it is easier if I go after a bigger artist who I know will provide me with some fresh aspects. Today, as I look around, I get to look at Gold Complex. To be fair, I will be repeating myself a bit with regards some of the topics raised but they have some elements that are different from everything else I have featured lately. I will talk about recommendations for the band and strengthening their social media core; a bit about Canada and Toronto when it comes to music; fusing different worlds and getting something exceptional at the end; vocal harmony groups and larger acts – I will end by looking at Gold Complex and where they might head. I have featured the band before – back in 2016 – but can’t recall what I said and whether it was an interview or not. It was a long time ago so I am not being too harsh on myself but there has been quite a bit of time since then for the guys to build and put new stuff into the world. They have been very busy and developing their sound as they go. I think they are in a really strong position right now and they will only continue to grow bigger and more confident. The guys have a great sound and sensation and they are doing their very best to promote that and ensure they keep the material coming – and that it is of a very good quality.


I think they could definitely have a few more shots out there. I say this with every act – or most of them – but there is this scope for visual expansion. Gold Complex is an octet and, as such, they have various different angles they can take regarding photos. If they want to do all group shots then that is cool but they can split into smaller groups and try some concepts. I think they have some very good photos out there but a few extra ones on their pages – with different concepts – would be great. The reason I say this is because, when you have groups, they tend to do very similar photos and it can be a bit samey. The boys have a great bond so having some individual shots or some different concepts would be good. They are popular in Canada but I think there is a big market waiting for them in the U.K. Maybe it is hard to get the music heard here unless there are regular performances but hitting up the U.K.’s best stations and putting their music this way would get new fans their way. I know they have fans in the U.K. but I think there are a lot of new ears waiting to discover them. If they can get some radio stations here to play their music then they can get some gigs here and I think there would be big demand. Maybe they have a bit of a base here but there is a big opportunity here. I will move on to a new subject but I know Gold Complex take good care of their social media and always trying to get their music to fresh faces. I am not surprised they have such an interesting sound because, when I think about invention and originality, I am taken back to Canada. It has been a while since I ventured there and got to review a great Canadian act. Toronto, especially, is an area that always seems to produce results.


Most of my recent investigations have concerned U.K. and U.S. artists so I am glad I get to go back to Canada and have another look. Most of my Canadian-based reviews seem to focus on Toronto but I have looked at Montréal and Quebec. I think many of us overlook Canada when it comes to music and assume it will be inferior compared to America. I think there are vast differences between the nations. There seems to be more commercial pressure in the U.S. and fewer underground artists taking risks. That might sound incorrect but I think there is more boldness and bravery when it comes to Canadian music. Canada does have its mainstream and Pop core cut I think its new artists are fusing sounds more and providing something fresher and more exciting. Toronto has produced great bands such as Broken Social Scene and Crystal Castles and there are no signs the city is slowing down at all. When I interview people from Toronto, they always tell me there is a friendliness and sense of community that musicians are drawn to. There are great venues to be found and plenty of opportunities for artists to see different acts and get inspired. Having a core and solid live scene means local artists can cut their teeth and get that recognition. From there, they have the chance to move up and attract ears from other parts of Canada. Many Toronto natives are being retained and feeling no need to live anywhere else. Maybe it is the community and togetherness that keeps musicians where they are. I think it is the combination of history, great live venues and eclectic music that makes it such a fantastic place to be. As more people are looking away from London and seeking out other cities to inhabit, I think Toronto is a possibility for many – if you do not mind especially chilly winters! I do think Canada, as a whole, gets overlooked and has to fight too hard for focus.


Maybe that will change in time but, if you look at cities like Toronto, there is ample gold. I have not been there myself but I know there is a hugely eclectic scene forming. Canadian acts, unlike some other big nations, are still very keen on older technologies like cassettes – with many artists releasing music on this format and keeping it alive. What I do find (regarding Canada) is that there is this genuine sense of ambition and dare that means the music is rarely boring and formulaic. Toronto is at the forefront of this inventive streak but Canada is definitely a nation to watch! I am not sure why this is but Canadian artists are bolder regarding splicing sounds and adding new ingredients to the pot. Look at previous Gold Complex songs like Driver – the song I was going to review but, as time has passed, I felt it better to review their newest track – and you can hear it is not like anything else really. This is not unusual at all: Canadian artists are known for their skill and intelligence when it comes to original expressions. Sure, there are some mainstream and Pop-heavy acts that do not stray far from the norm but I think Canada boasts so many interesting and curious souls. It does make me wonder whether there is a channel whereby journalists in the U.K. and U.S. can connect easily. I think we tend to concentrate too much on the U.S. and U.K. and Canada does not get as much of a look in. I love the way Canadian artists work and think the rest of the world needs to take notice! I shall move on and talk about something else but do some research and see what tremendous diversity there is in the country. Canada, I feel, is right at the forefront and should be respected accordingly. Let’s think about Gold Complex and how they approach their music; mixing together sounds and ideas that create this harmonious and evocative whole.

Every one of the songs from Gold Complex has a sense of funk and drive. You always get energy and a degree of freedom that gets you moving and makes you smile. Even when the guys are thinking about something more emotional and personal, that does not mean the music has to suffer. That is what I am talking about when it comes to their music: even when they are getting serious, they like to have fun and create something quite alluring. In terms of their music, you get this horn parts and blasts of sound; you have the harmonies that run riot and an immense amount of power. Gold Complex mix genres but, largely, one experiences a bit of Funk, Soul and R&B. Maybe there is some Pop in the mixture but I think Gold Complex are stronger than that. They have been seen, by some, as similar to Red Hot Chili Peppers in the way they melt these genres and the energy they project. Think about harmony-rich bands of the past like All-4-One and Boyz II Men and it has been a long time since we have seen anything like that. Whilst Gold Complex are slightly different to those American bands, the vocal strengths are very similar. I was thinking about larger bands and why they do not really exist right now. Bands as a whole are becoming less popular so the days of having these larger bands must seem strange. I do remember, back in the 1980s and 1990s, enjoying the all-male/all-female crews who could have so many members and had so much vocal firepower at their disposal. I would like to see this come back because, when you think of bands, the voice is not top of the agenda. In fact, when it comes to the sounds being produced, there are still more Rock and Alternative bands around than anything else. Gold Complex intrigue me because they have this tight bond but they can go in any direction they please.


I love what they are throwing out right now. It is so different to anything else and it is the way they can splice genres together that gives them such a fulsome and rich blend. Maybe I am being nostalgic but I loved the days of Boyz II Men and the fact bands did not necessarily need to focus on instruments to elicit response. I hope Gold Complex keep playing together in the way they are because there are few groups like them right now. It makes me wonder how the eight members of Gold Complex got together and started life. It is interesting to envisage how eight guys all started recording and when they realised they sounded great together. There is a danger, when it comes to male bands like this, they can descend into cheese territory and be a bit like a boyband. I have nothing against that type of group but it is not something I am interested in. Gold Complex are more like the respected and quality groups you had decades ago that could combine this many bodies and not seem unwieldy at all. Have a listen to the vocals on display when Gold Complex get going. Look at the genres they put together and how they sound. It is hard to compare them with anyone else and think of any like-minded groups. There must be others out there but is rare to see an eight-piece group playing and making music like this. I think, in time, there will be more bands like Gold Complex coming along. Think about the effect the vocals have and what the music does to you. This inspiring and colourful blend definitely makes you feel better and there is that clash of the modern and classic. One gets touches of the older-days male groups but you get something very much of this time. It is probably worth moving on and thinking about the latest track from Gold Complex, Homegirl. It is another exceptional and assured cut from the Canadian troupe.


Homegirl sort of comes up in two different stages. To start, we have this slightly Jazz-like calm that provides gentle percussive elements. There is this kind of sensual and calming mood that draws the listener in and gives you a distinct viewpoint. There is romance to be found and this rather calming aura. I was imagining a passionate scene or a quiet room. They may sound unconnected but one definitely gets a feeling of relax and release, even though the opening moments are quite calm and undramatic. Then there is a kick as the percussion steps up and the horns come through. It is not an explosion but more of a rousing little rise that takes the song up a gear and changes your mindset. I do like the way the introduction sort of builds and the fact you cannot really predict where it might head next. Underpinning the song is this sophisticated and smooth composition that jigs and jumps. One feels a definite energy and kick but the focus is on a sexiness and caramel smooth. It is a gorgeous sound and one that, to me, fuses Jazz and R&B. I like the horns and the way they add to the mood. When the hero comes to the microphone, he talks about this new girl being interesting and bold. She is not like anyone he has met before and, within a few weeks of their courtship, she is calling him ‘baby’. The vocal has a soulful and passionate tone and it is a great accompaniment to the composition. In many ways, there is this fusion of the older R&B groups and something modern-day. The track never gets into the modern boyband situation where the lyrics are quite cliché and the song holds little weight. Instead, the chorus has this accessible nature and sound but one definitely gets vibes of the better days – when you had these vocal groups that produced luscious and scintillating songs.


The chorus talks about this new girl sort of being converted. Maybe the lovers are tentative at first but, soon enough, they are fused and a lot closer. The hero wants her to be his homegirl and hang with him. Maybe there has been past relationships that have not worked out too well but here, it seems, there is more hope. I feel this girl is someone who naturally clicks with the hero and there is this excitement. The chorus flecks and sparks with a serious bounce. You find yourself nodding along to its alacrity and catchiness. Although I have mentioned other sounds and eras, I do not think it is easy to compare Gold Complex with anyone else. There is almost a Michael Jackson-like feel (his Off the Wall period) to the song that is pleasing. I have been looking around for songs that have that 1980s Pop and Soul but have modern production values. Gold Complex are always great when it comes to big choruses and this is no different. I do love the constant sense of movement and delight that the song offers. I am thinking about the heroine and wondering what she looks like. The entire group add their elements and create this fulsome and vibrant mood. One might say an eight-piece band would struggle to remain focused and provide any real depth. How many people will sing and how many will be playing instruments? In the case of this track, there is a focused lead vocal but some great backing; the composition allows new light and elements to come in and Homegirl is this nuanced and fascinating song. The lead vocal looks at this girl and how chilled she is. There is no need for any sort of probation period and seeing how things go. It seems, right away, she is on the same level and someone that is perfect. The guys are paying testament to her and I wonder whether this woman is less a romantic fixture or someone who is just hanging with the guys.  Maybe, strangely, there is a bit of a Fall Out Boy tone in the lead vocal but I love the different tones and flavours the group provide.


I love the track and how it keeps on stepping and jumping. There are not many songs that have a constant energy and make you feel a lot better. The horns are great and they give this idea of vibing and chemistry. If the foreground and vocal suggests something more Pop-based, the composition and lyrics hint at R&B and Rock. It is a nice blend and concoction that rewards repeated listens. I have heard the song a few times and get something new from each experience. The chorus remains this huge and catchy thing but I was thinking about the central figure and who she is. On one level, I think there is a slight romantic yearning and desire. She seems to be pretty cool and someone that is naturally in step with the guys/hero. On the other hand, she seems like a really interesting person that Gold Complex feel is similar to them. Many will have their own interpretation of what the song is about but few can resist the intensity and pleasure of the mood. I am keen to experience music that makes me feel better and, in the modern scene, that is becoming harder. Homegirl is a fantastic song that bodes well for the album. I wonder where it will sit in the pack and whether many of the other songs will have the same sort of flair. I do hope so and, knowing Gold Complex’s work, they are unlikely to put too many piano ballads in there! If you have not heard Gold Complex before then this is a great song to begin with. It is easy to appreciate but there is so much going on that will intrigue. I do wonder who the lead figure is and whether she is based on someone real. It appears there are some deep feelings going on and this heroine seems too good to be true. Homegirl is an original spin and take on romance and friendship. It is another fantastic offering from Gold Complex – a group that continues to evolve and strengthen with everything they do. The chorus has that classic sense of giddiness and memorability and I am a big fan of songs that work this way. Because of that, you will want to return and experience that joy over and over. I shall end the review section here but I have been blown away by the energy and instant appeal of Homegirl. It is an incredible cut and makes great use of all the members of Gold Complex. There are few groups that can create such a sensation and feel but Gold Complex are assured and astonishing in everything they do. Homegirl is a perfect song to bring the heat and sun; brilliantly smooth and romantic or, if you just need to dance and unwind, then this is the track for you! I have very high hopes for the Canadian group and feel they are a lot stronger than most of their peers right now...


Gold Complex are going to be pretty busy in the coming months. They have the new single out and, on 22nd February, they release their debut album, New Soul. The guys released an E.P. back in 2015 and, since then, have unveiled a couple of singles. In fact, the group were a little quiet between 2015 and 2018 and I did wonder whether they would release anything else. Perhaps they needed more time to get the songs right but it is a relief Gold Complex have come back and they have been working on that album. There is a lot of pressure for artists to release music all of the time and remain visible. I know, given the complexities and layers you hear on a Gold Complex song, there needs to be focus and patience. They are naturally harmonised and bonded but one does not experience something simple and throwaway with Gold Complex. Instead, there is this music that gets into the brain and makes all the senses tingle. The vocals are exceptional but the compositions are equally fabulous. It takes a while to make sure that is right so one can forgive a slight gap between releases. Keep an eye on the social media channels of Gold Complex and make sure you snap up their debut record. The group have been around a while now and have made a name for themselves in Canada. There is still a long way to go and new areas to conquer. I do wonder whether they will get to the U.K. and we will hear them over here. Given the fact they are turning heads in Canada, it cannot be that long until we get to see them over here. I am not sure what their plans are regarding an international tour but they might be focusing on Canada at the moment. That would be understandable but, if they do get the chance to travel, there are people and venues over here that would be very interested.


I will end the review very soon but I wanted to recommend people check out Gold Complex. It has been a while since I’ve been able to talk about a new act in a different way. I get a lot of similar requests and it can be tricky finding fresh words to say – and the sounds do not always stay in the mind. The band has those incredible vocals and harmonies but I do love the fact they switch between R&B, Rock and Pop. Some might say they have a commercial sound but that would suggest they are mainstream and chart-bound. I think Gold Complex are stronger than that and they remind me more of the classic R&B bands of the 1990s. However you view them, it is clear this year will be a successful one for the group. I intimated they might want to get a few more photos online. I think they have a great chemistry and visual side. It would be good to see that displayed more perhaps. If you have not experienced Gold Complex then Homegirl is a good place to start. It is one of their strongest offerings yet and shows, with every release, they are strengthening and discovering new levels. I wonder how the band will grow and where they head next. There will be Canadian dates and demands and I am sure there will be requests from the U.S. too. I shall not get too ahead off myself but it would be good to think Gold Complex will come over this way. There are so many groups out there and there is definitely something different about Gold Complex. I love the sounds they put together and the effect their music has. Let me end things here but I am pleased Gold Complex have new music out and I look forward to seeing where they go now. I am always excited when a genuinely inventive and original proposition comes my way and I just know the Canadian eight-piece will go a very long way. Congratulations to the guys on a brilliant single and the best of luck for the future. The New Soul L.P. will do great business and see their stock rise. If you get a chance to see the group live and up-close, make sure you do. That is likely to be an experience...

FEW people will forget.


Follow Gold Complex

TRACK REVIEW: Lizzo - Cuz I Love You





Cuz I Love You





The track, Cuz I Love You, is available via:


Minnesota, U.S.A.




14th February, 2019


THE reason I have selected Lizzo...


and not gone for someone less-well-known is because, well, the requests I am getting are all very similar and there is not a lot to differentiate the artists. That might sound cruel but there is more variation and choice outside of the underground. I can pick a track I really want to go after and know there is a lot of new stuff to talk about. In the case of Lizzo, I want to talk about female artists who have spark and can be considered headline, leading acts; those that raise important issues and powerful messages through their songwriting; adding a sense of fun and vitality back into Pop music; whether newer acts like Lizzo can complete and equal the icons of the past – I will end with a little but about why Lizzo stands aside and how she is unique. For now, I wanted to chat about Lizzo because she is someone who always gives her all to the music! Look through her previous albums and you can hear someone who has come a long way but, right from the start, she was producing these bangers that got into the head and made the body pop. She is one of these artists who wants to have fun and show some sass but deliver a potent message at the same time. Lizzobangers arrived in 2013 and instantly set out her stall: a record packed with big songs that had confidence and her special D.N.A. I love that album and instantly bonded with it. I think we look out at the mainstream and assume artists there must be good and memorable because they have made it that far. What I find is that there is this division between those who are genuinely great and worthy and many who have an overly-commercial and tired sound – appealing because their audience do not really have the imagination to look elsewhere. It is necessary to look through those at the top of music and listen closely.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @gaytimesmag

Lizzo is an artist who has been playing for a little while now but is growing and adding new elements to her sound. I think she is special when it comes to the fizzing and body-moving jams that have ounces of confidence and energy. There are not that many artists in Pop who have positivity in their bones and continue to stamp out these classics. The past few months has seen Lizzo cut these great gems that are instantly addictive and exciting. I think music needs more artists like Lizzo and we need to embrace this type of music. Listen to everything else out there and can one truly say there is anyone else like Lizzo around? Cuz I Love You is not as fiery as some of her other songs but it has so much working away and is a brilliant thing. I only discovered Lizzo a few years after her debut in 2013 and am glad I did. I wanted to highlight her today because, whilst she is popular and known, there are some who do not know her music. If you are unfamiliar with Lizzo and wonder whether she is worth exploration then I would say her main assets are the energy, the big hooks and the lyrics. She has a fantastic voice but her words stand out and truly shine. I wonder whether many consider Lizzo too new to be a festival headliner. She has been going a little bit now so I am not sure why festivals are not lining up. You want these artists who can get people moving and have some great songs in their locker. Lizzo fits the criteria and I can easily see her on a headline stage getting the crowds whipped up and singing along. Lizzo’s songs have that anthemic quality and will endure for many years to come. I think, maybe next year, we will see Lizzo headlining and it is about time really – as she already has proven herself and should be getting those bookings.


I think it is rare to see artists around that have genuine spark and physicality. So much modern Pop is quite muted and does not have the same spirit as it did back in the 1980s and 1990s. I mention this point a lot but I see no reason why Pop has sort of turned in on itself and gone a bit soft. It is still good but does not have the same attack as the classics. Lizzo is part of the new generation who knows how important it is to have movement and something fun in the music. I wanted to talk about Lizzo because of her energy and memorability but I love what she talks about and how she approaches things. In the press, she has chatted about body confidence and how proud she is of her curves. I feel there is a bit of hesitancy from some quarters to raise these kinds of issues but Lizzo is proud of her body and it is brought into her music. I do love how Lizzo speaks her mind and she is not afraid to be bold and controversial. She is a very real person and talks about sex and love in a fresh way. Songs like Juice are filled with great lines and expressions that you would not get from any other artist. Lizzo has brought body issues and confidence into her music and discussed gender inequality; she has spoken about big themes and is not afraid to tackle them. We need more artists who are actually using music and the press as a way of getting big messages out there and doing something different. Think about most of the popular artists around and do they honestly have something about them that stands aside?! Maybe they have a slight edge but Lizzo seems to be in her own field. One discovers this very fine and accomplished artist but the woman behind the songs is remarkably open, funny and interesting. This all leads to a complete package and, going back to my headliner point...why isn’t Lizzo on top of festival bills?!