TRACK REVIEW: Declan McKenna - British Bombs

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Declan McKenna

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PHOTO CREDIT: @citizenkanewayne 

British Bombs

 

9.3/10

 

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The track, British Bombs, is available via:

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

GENRE:

Indie-Rock

ORIGIN:

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

LABEL:

Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited

RELEASE DATE:

19th August, 2019

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MAYBE this contradicts what I was saying yesterday…

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

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

HUGELY impressive.

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Follow Declan McKenna

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TRACK REVIEW: Bat for Lashes - Jasmine

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Bat for Lashes

Jasmine

 

9.4/10

 

 

The track, Jasmine, is available via:

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

GENRES:

Indie-Pop/Dream-Pop

ORIGIN:

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

LABELS:

Bat for Lashes/AWAL Recordings Ltd.

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

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

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EVERY big artist I review…

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Dewe Matthews

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

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

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

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Legato

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

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

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

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

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

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

What switched you on to music?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Dewe Matthews

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: David Levene

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

WHERE she heads next.

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Follow Bat for Lashes

TRACK REVIEW: The Murder Capital - More Is Less

TRACK REVIEW:

 

The Murder Capital

More Is Less

 

9.5/10

 

 

The track, More Is Less, is available via:

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

GENRES:

Indie/Punk

ORIGIN:

Dublin, E.I.R.E.

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

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

RELEASE DATE:

16th August, 2019

LABEL:

Human Seasons Records

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ON this occasion…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie MacMillan

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

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

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

But the city is still home.

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

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

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

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Emma Swann

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

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

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Neelam Khan Vela

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Molly Keane

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Neelam Khan Vela

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Imogen Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie MacMillan

THIS incredible band.

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Follow The Murder Capital

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TRACK REVIEW: Michael Kiwanuka - You Ain’t the Problem

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Michael Kiwanuka

You Ain’t the Problem

9.5/10

 

 

The track, You Ain’t the Problem, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yEeF65NnyI

GENRE:

Indie-Rock

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

13th August, 2019

The album, Kiwanuka, is available from 25th October. Pre-order here:

https://michaelkiwanuka.lnk.to/KiwanukaPreOrderWE

LABEL:

Polydor Limited

__________

THIS year has been a pretty…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jodie_canwell

eclectic and wonderful one for music. I have loved the sheer scope and brilliance of what has come and, with a few months to go until the end of 2019, there is plenty more on the horizon! Before I look at Michael Kiwanuka’s new track, You Ain’t the Problem, I want to talk about the artist as someone who has developed and evolved since the start; soulful and powerful voices that get into the soul and can summon huge emotion; inspiring figures who are sending out great messages that make you think; albums of 2019 and why Kiwanuka will be in the running; shifting the focus back on London and the music coming out of here – I will end with a bit on Kiwanuka and where he might be heading. Every artist goes through development and change but, for Michael Kiwanuka, there has been this definite shift. I love his debut album, Home Again, from 2012 and it is an album that gives his wonderful and rich voice a lot to get its teeth into. The songs, I guess, nodded to 1970s Soul music and it is a very pleasant and warm album. One of the things that critics picked up on was the lack of urgency in the music. I guess there was this feeling (in the songs) that the mood was quite calm and the album as a whole was a personal thing. By that, I mean Kiwanuka was writing from the heart but there was not the same sort of awareness and urgency he would display on his follow-up album, Love & Hate. Actually, the change between albums is similar when we look at Leon Bridges. Like Kiwanuka, the American artist showed promise on his 2015 debut, Coming Home, but it was seen (by critics and some) as a bit underwhelming in places and lacking that real spark. He stepped up for last year’s Good Thing and Kiwanuka created this wonderful step forward on Love & Hate. Unlike his debut album, Kiwanuka was writing with more energy and though-provoking sentiments.

Four years from his debut, Kiwanuka was writing about his own life but doing so in a more socially conscious way. Songs like Cold Little Heart are stunning and it runs at over ten minutes in length – what a way to start an album! Black Man in a White World is the hero looking at himself as a black man in a world that seems strange and lonely. A lot of critics responded to the improved and bolder Kiwanuka and, in the space of a single album, he really came into his own! His music is becoming more strident and striking with every release. His debut has personal touches and strong songs but I think it was Kiwanuka taking from his influences and the music he grew up around. Now, he is reflecting the wider world and stepping away from pure Soul and splicing Indie-Rock and other genres to create a much more exciting, passionate and memorable sound. I know every artist changes and goes through these dips and rises through a career; Kiwanuka has vastly grown and strengthened and is still purging forward. Kiwanuka (or KIWANUKA) is released on 25th October and shows signs of being a real contender for album of 2019. You Ain’t the Problem shows Kiwanuka is one of the strongest songwriters in the country and someone whose can make an huge impact with his voice alone. I think it is amazing to see how far Michael Kiwanuka has come and just what he can achieve. He is only on album three so it is amazing to think where he can go from here! I shall allude to that in the conclusion but, before doing so, I need to cover a few more subjects. It is still wonderful looking at Kiwanuka and this determined young man who wants his music to touch lives and inspire people. He is definitely doing that and is someone who has a lot of years ahead of him. I do think a lot of artists have great songs but, perhaps, their voice lacks the sort of prowess and nuance you desire.

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When it comes to Kiwanuka, there are no such problems! I guess it all comes back to his influences and some of the classic Soul heroes. I am not sure exactly what sort of artists Kiwanuka grew up around but you can hear embers of the legends; a soulfulness that gets into the bones and Gospel touches that take you somewhere special. As his latest track, Money (a collaboration with Tom Misch) showed, he can also do a bit of Disco. Kiwanuka is a stunning singer who can make his words come alive and stay in the memory. I am trying to think of another vocalist who has the same sort of palette and range as Kiwanuka. I do think a lot of today’s more urgent music relies on lyrical meaning and force and, whilst this is great, I am not as captivated by the voice as I used to be. A lot of my favourite albums and songs are defined by incredible vocal performances and there are not quite the same singers as you had in the past. There are some fantastic singers coming through on the scene right now – Anna Calvi is a particular favourite – but very few that leave such a lasting impression. Michael Kiwanuka is an artist who can buckle the knees and leave you wanting more. His voice was rich and enticing on Home Again but, as some noted, he was holding back a bit. Listen back to that album and you sense this beauty and immense promise but it was not until Love & Hate when everything sort of came to the fore. Maybe it was the fact there was a gap between albums and Kiwanuka had time to hone his voice. He toured a lot off of the back of the debut and it all shows on the sophomore release. Love & Hate is a tremendous album and one that displays the full extent of Kiwanuka’s voice.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Ian Laidlaw

I am not sure how many of today’s artists Kiwanuka is influenced by but I get the sense older artists are more important. What affects me most about Kiwanuka is the fact he can mix the classic Soul sounds but has this real edge and fire. When he is digging deep and talking about his place in the world, you are sort of startled and moved by the passion coming from him. It is a revelation listening to this singer sort of unburden himself and call out. I will not go as far to say it is a prayer but you sort of get this spiritual element from his work. Kiwanuka is an always-growing artist who is adding layers and qualities to his voice. Not to say his lyrics and music lack but, when it comes to Kiwanuka, it is the voice that really gets to me! I can hear one of his songs and keep coming back because the vocal performance has that balance of complexity and directness. That is a blend you do not often hear and I do think, if you have not discovered Michael Kiwanuka, you need to get behind his music. He is an amazing artist and I feel like he has many more albums under his belt. Today, there are very few singers who you feel could be considered future legends. That is not a shot at them but, when we think of the best voices ever, we often cast our minds back quite a few years. I feel Michael Kiwanuka, in years to come, will inspire other generations and have his voice studied. You get so much emotion and different colours when you hear him sing. I can listen to a track such as One More Night (from Love & Hate) and get all these feelings; a sort of effect that you do not get from other singers. Kiwanuka puts his all into everything and that really tells. I feel Kiwanuka’s work has become more conscious of the world around us and important things we need to consider.

His debut was quite a personal work but I feel it could have been a bit more stirring and outward-looking in places. As I said, this was rectified by Love & Hate and it seems like his upcoming album is going to be another triumph. It is a bit early to call the best albums of 2019 but, when Kiwanuka is unveiled to the world, I feel it will be in the chasing pack. Before moving on, I actually want to bring in an interview Kiwanuka conducted with NME very recently where he talks about subjects like social media and how it can be toxic – NME looked at the eponymous third album and what it is going to say:

 “Michael Kiwanuka self-titling his upcoming third album is more of a statement than most make when releasing an eponymous record. His is a name that was constantly mispronounced at school in North London’s Muswell Hill. Then, when his music career was kicking off, people asked him what name he was going to release the songs under. From the man whose first big hit came in the form of a song called ‘Black Man In A White World’, it’s something that’s coloured his entire career. Stepping out, then, with the follow-up to a chart-topping, Mercury-nominated second album, and naming it after his ‘difficult’ surname, means a lot. He’s even written it in all-caps, too, as if to hammer the point home even further. ‘KIWANUKA’.
To outsiders, it would seem like this big step should’ve arrived years ago for the celebrated songwriter, but the lack of acceptance he received (and then consequently gave himself) from childhood means it’s a significantly longer road to this kind of revelation. As such, ‘KIWANUKA’ is a record that feels like a vivid, proud exhale, created with the energy of an artist who can finally be himself, with nothing filtered out.
“Comparison is really dangerous,” he says, reflecting on the process of learning to celebrate and accentuate his flaws rather than cut them out and head towards a more homogenised version of himself. “I think we’ve underestimated it, and because of the internet and the resources we have, it’s really prevalent. With things like anxiety and depression – things that are becoming epidemics, especially within young people – a lot of it is coming from filters and Instagram posts, and the idea of ‘living your best life’.

“It’s fun, and it’s part of the world, but I think we need to find a way to balance it, and know that what you see on the internet is such a small fraction of the story. We need to learn to take care of ourselves a bit more. That’s not to become narcissistic,” he continues, “but to realise that we’re made how we’re made, and it’s amazing. Humans are really great things, and we’re all different and made in different shapes and sizes, and that’s something to be celebrated, not filtered out and diluted”.

The fact that KIWANUKA (although I am going to use lower-case as one can write it both ways) is going to be in bold lettering – a lot of artists are doing this and I guess it is meant to convey passion and power – shows Kiwanuka himself is keen to get out some big songs. He is still going to be reflecting his own life and feelings but, like Love & Hate, he is looking at the world around and asking some questions. Looking at some of the interview above and, when Kiwanuka talks about the difference between social media and real life, it does inspire. There are artists speaking out against social media’s damaging effects and how it can cause depression and anxiety. I like the fact Kiwanuka is raising awareness and knows how the modern world can give a false impression. Many of us live through social media and rely on filters and misleading perceptions. Kiwanuka is sort of saying the Internet can be good but there is a danger of being sucked into a rather dangerous space. The world itself has a lot to offer and I think we all need to get out there more and explore. I am not sure how much of modern culture and social media will be dissected on his upcoming album but it is clear Kiwanuka is concerned out topics like this and wants us to rethink. I will be interesting seeing how all his passion and inspirations manifest themselves on this third album.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jodie_canwell

I did say how it is early regarding album predication and what defines this year but there has been nothing like Michael Kiwanuka in music recently. A lot of this year’s best albums are from women; many are from popular young bands but there is a definite gap for Michael Kiwanuka. Maybe it all comes back to his voice and what it can do but I feel like there is an opportunity for the London-born songwriter to strike hard. He has been away from a few years in terms of albums but Kiwanuka has been honing and building his voice; he has been looking at the world around him and bringing this all the fore. I love You Ain’t the Problem and what is suggests. Kiwanuka has brought in new lyrical and compositional touches and it is fascinating seeing this brilliant young songwriter explore and evolve. Although there is a couple of months left before we get Kiwanuka’s third album, I feel like there will be more material out; a chance to see what direction he is moving in and what we might get. With a definite sense of purpose and passion (sorry to keep using that word) in his heart, I think Kiwanuka is going to release this huge, year-defining album. I think Love & Hate is a magnificent record but Kiwanuka will be even bigger and better. That is a bold proclamation but I do sense this tremor coming. Before we get to the album, there is this great song out. I have been a fan of Kiwanuka since the start and this review gives me a chance to talk about a London artist. Hailing from Muswell Hill, Kiwanuka is London through and through. I have sort of tried to distance myself from the capital in terms of reviews because I think a lot of media spotlight comes the way of London – so many other areas do not get a look in. Whilst there is terrific music coming from Manchester, Brighton and Glasgow, one cannot ignore the brilliance emanating from London.

From artists like Kiwanuka to poetical forces such as Kate Tempest, it is clear London is vital and the centre of British music. With the nation so divided and things being pretty strained right now, I do think London music has a very big role to play. Kiwanuka lives in a city that is changing and going through some tough times. There is a lot violence and division and, whilst there are a lot of positives, one cannot help but notice a change in the air. That is not to say Kiwanuka’s forthcoming album will be political but he is an artist who takes from what is around him and reflects the lives of people he sees. He will walk the streets and notice a different vibe to the one he grew up around. London is still proud and strong but I myself sense a slight fear and sadness in places that is hard to stomach. Rather than become downbeat and rejected, Kiwanuka is actually writing some of the most uplifting and inspiring music of his career. Even when he is in reflective mood, Kiwanuka is capable of stirring the soul and summoning something deep-down. I wonder how London will change in the next few years and whether Brexit will damage the diverse ecosystem and climate. It will be interesting to see but I am finding so many fantastic artists from the capital reflecting this shift and the feeling that is lingering. I shall move on to You Ain’t the Problem in a second but, before then, I want to get people to think about Kiwanuka as a future legend. If you have not heard a lot of his music then rectify that. I think he is very special and is a unique wonder that we need to treasure. Having heard interviews with him, Kiwanuka is very grounded and personable; he is very warm and someone that is as accessible as he is inspiring. It is about time I get to focus and work my way through Kiwanuka’s amazing new song, You Ain’t the Problem.

The build-up on You Ain’t the Problem is fascinating. Rather than go straight in there or have the vocal swoop, there are background sounds and percussive groove. It is almost like you are listening to a big conversation through a door; maybe the distant sounds of the street or something else. It is hard to describe but there are lower-volume voices and a sense of chatter that gives the track a busy and evocative start. There are percussive patters and beats that has this sense of cool and groove and, together with the voices, it is such an interesting start. Kiwanuka is a master of the intriguing introductions and allows songs to breathe and inspire. You get this real sense of scenery and life before a single word is uttered from the hero. Before you immerse yourself in the soft voices and a sense of calm, this vibrating and electric-shock blast comes through that definitely bucks you up and takes you by surprise. Having moved from this street-level sound to a lightning blast, you are starting to wonder where the song might head next! The composition is thrilling indeed and has a real energy that is hard to ignore! There are backing vocals and raw guitar which gives the song a huge weight and punch. It is a fantastic blend and sound that really does blow you away. There is so much life in the music that you are filled with a sense of strength and awe. When Kiwanuka comes to the microphone, his words are delivered with definite meaning and speed. He is asking who he believes in and posing these big questions. It is interesting seeing the combination of oblique and direct lyrics. Early on, Kiwanuka living in the trouble and someone not believing him. I get the sense that he is referring to a personal pain or, maybe, a relationship that has ended. With all of Kiwanuka’s songs, there might be this reference to the wider world and how he is seen. Kiwanuka talks about time healing the pain and this person not being the problem.

 PHOTO CREDIT: yardmanflo

Whether, again, it is a sweetheart or a larger figure, I am not too sure. With every song, Kiwanuka’s voice holds this incredible power and stir that really does affect you. When he sings about not needing to die and not needing to play himself, you get this feeling and emotion from the delivery that other singers would not be able to project. Kiwanuka is someone who can change from the direct and clear to the more oblique and, here, we get someone who is sort of twisting words and phrases. You get a directness but actually there is room for interpretation; some of the lines leave a mystery and every listener will have their own conclusions. After delivering these curious and interesting words, we get another blast of horns, electronics and voices that punctuates the song beautifully. In some ways, Kiwanuka is combining some of this debut album with Love & Hate. The chorus bursts have elements of 1970s Soul but the lyrics are definitely more familiar to what we heard on Love & Hate. You Ain’t the Problem is a wonderful song that reveals more and more the more you listen. It seems this person – whether a lover, friend or a larger entity – is the one doing all the talking whilst the hero is trying to fix things. He points the gun and ‘they’ shoot for fun – one wonders who that refers to; some very striking images come to mind. You need a few listens to get inside the lyrics and immerse yourself in the flow. Later, Kiwanuka talks about how he used to hate himself and how someone has the key. Maybe he referring to his very early life or earlier in his career but there is this breakthrough and realisation. Kiwanuka definitely has some pains and weight on his heart but it seems like things are improving. I do wonder who is referring to through the song and where the lyrics stem from. Many of us will be able to relate to what he is saying but there is this room for guessing and interpretation. You Ain’t the Problem is a mighty song that proves Kiwanuka will be a very interesting album. I have listened to the song a few times and it grows more interesting and illuminating. I do sense Kiwanuka is tackling relationship issues but there is this essence of a man speaking out and looking at the world as a whole. In any case, make sure you check out this class song and pre-order the Kiwanuka album.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jodie_canwell

The next few months are going to be very busy for Michael Kiwanuka. He is preparing himself for a new album and there will be the usual promotional duties. If you want to catch him perform live, then check out where he is heading. I suggest you go and see him if you can because Kiwanuka is a fantastic force and someone who can seduce and overpower from the stage. He is one of the best live acts we have in the U.K. and it will be exciting seeing some of his new material come to life on the stage. Kiwanuka comes out in October and many will wonder how he has changed and developed since Love & Hate. In terms of subject matter, I do think there is going to be that same blend of the personal and universal. Kiwanuka will address his place in the world and the realities of that; some of the problems we all face and, as the NME interview suggested, there will be mentions of social media lifestyles and how many of us live through machines. The fact his album is (semi)eponymous means there is a lot of the personal and meaningful. I wonder whether relationships and matters of the heart will feature. There is definite anticipation and excitement growing because, as I have mentioned, there is a void in the industry that only Kiwanuka can fill. He is one of the best artists around and always brings something golden and memorable. You Ain’t the Problem is a fantastic song that gets right into the mind and does not shift. Looking ahead and it seems there is no stopping the tremendous Michael Kiwanuka. He has so much determination and passion in his heart and I feel like he will continue to search and move forward. I shall end things there but I want to point people the way of Kiwanuka and his tremendous music. Make sure you grab a copy of Kiwanuka and let the sensational music do its thing. There are some simply staggering artists around but none that have the ingredients of Michael Kiwanuka. His music is motivating, illuminating and, at a tough and divided time…

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VERY valuable indeed.

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Follow Michael Kiwanuka

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TRACK REVIEW: Slipknot - Red Flag

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Slipknot

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Red Flag

 

9.7/10

 

 

The track, Red Flag, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7WRH5TN4Jk

GENRES:

Metal/Nu-Metal

ORIGIN:

Iowa, U.S.A.

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The album, We Are Not Your Kind, is available here:

https://open.spotify.com/album/754RY5WpZ2LTUZsk8kDBju?si=TMGqgwVwQ1yTKCmWQm3ftw

RELEASE DATE:

9th August, 2019

LABEL:

Roadrunner Records, Inc.

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ONE might notice a bit of a shift…

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from yesterday’s review to the one today! One cannot say there is a lot in common between Slipknot and Lana Del Rey but, to me, both artists are equally worthy. Before I review a song from Slipknot’s latest album, We Are Not Your Kind, I wanted to talk about the band from a number of different angles. I want to look at Metal and how it gets a bad reputation; the fact the genre is pretty broad and its fans are among some of the very nicest. I also want to explore the endurance of Slipknot and why their music remains relevant and urgent; a bit about taking gambles in music and getting out of that comfort zone; music that provides a release and can actually calm the senses, despite being pretty intense; a look at why Slipknot can continue to endure and what the future holds for them. I do think that people look at Slipknot and think that their music is going to be offensive, disturbing and a complete racket. There have been some controversies in the Slipknot camp over the years and some tragedies. One of their beloved members, Paul Gray, died in 2010 and there have been accusations Slipknot’s lyrics have provoked violence and killings. So many artists have to answer questions around their music and whether it is safe. It seems absurd but many media sources attack bands like Slipknot because they feel they are encouraging violence and sending messages to their fans. Rap artists like Eminem used to cut the same flack and many hear Metal bands and feel they are a force for evil. I have been following Slipknot since the late-1990s when they released their debut album and they have remains hugely important and intriguing. There are some genres of Metal that rely on screaming and noise and, whilst that is okay for some, that is not what Slipknot are about. Even since their eponymous debut in 1999, the group have provided actual songs and structure; a lot of nuance and depth.

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There is, sure, anger and aggression but that is never aimless and a means of brainwashing listeners. Before I continue on, I want to bring in an interview Slipknot’s lead Corey Taylor gave to The Independent where he discusses misconceptions around the band:

 “Music is an easy target because [people in authority] don’t understand it,” Taylor says. “There’s a complete lack of effort to try to understand it, and a lack of willingness to take any portion of the blame for these events.

“If you’re looking for a certain kind of rhetoric, whether it’s hating black people or gay people or whatever, there are thousands of sites with people posting about it,” he continues. “We’re seeing the repercussions of a failure to address that.

One of the biggest misconceptions about heavy metal – particularly a band like Slipknot, with their terrifying masks and relentless, thundering sound – is that they’re scary people. Speaking with them proves otherwise: Taylor and Clown are friendly – dare I say cheerful – over the phone; Taylor laughs uproariously when I refer to his self-confessed “horrible” attempt at an English voice on new single “Solway Firth” as “Cockney screamo”. Their attitude towards the band is one of a family that extends to the fans, fondly known as “Maggots”, where no one is judged for their gender, skin colour or sexuality. And they appear to share a brotherly affection for one another – as Taylor’s interview reaches its end, he instructs me to tell Clown that he’s a “s**thead”, with all the childish glee of a younger sibling.

The Slipknot guys are actually pretty nice and personable and they get written off as bad influences. Slipknot’s music has brought so much meaning to young people and direction; the band have managed to influence a lot of other groups and, whilst they will always court negative press and face questions, I do think there is a lot of misunderstanding around them.

Maybe this all ties into the Metal genre in general. You cannot label any genre easily and assume that it is going to be the same. Look at Country music and how that has evolved; the way Hip-Hop has developed through the decades. The same is true of Metal. The genre has grown and expanded since its inception and earliest days. There are so many sub-genres and options for fans. Those who think Metal is all about intensity and chaos need to do some investigation and discover there is a lot more than meets the eye. In the case of its fans, there is a wide spectrum to be found. Again, like bands such as Slipknot, the fans get a pretty short shrift. People will assume Metal fans are hard to like or they will be angry; maybe they are going to unpleasant and not the sort of human you want around. In fact, polls have shown that Metal fans are among some of the nicest out there. I am not saying that a Slipknot gig is a love-in and everyone is hugging throughout – there is going to be moshing and sweat flying, that is for sure! – but one gets wrong impressions when they consider Metal fans. I know quite a fair few myself and, whilst there is an image that comes with the genre, the focus is on the music. When I listen to Metal, I want that sense of release but I also want to be moved by the force of the music. I know a lot of Metal fans who feel angered or misunderstood and, when listening to bands such as Slipknot, they feel like someone gets them; they have this source of defiance and anger that speaks for them. Again, this is not about Metal bands inciting violence: conversely, bands like Slipknot are peace-loving but they know their music will stir up controversy and debate all of the time.

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Metal fans and bands will often have to face prejudice and judgement but I feel we need to reassess our outlook. In fact, not only are bands like Slipknot a lifeline for many fans but they are in touch with what is happening in the world. Slipknot’s new album, We Are Not Your Kind, might not be explicitly political and about what is happening in America but, as Corey Taylor explained in the interview with The Independent, he realises things are in bad shape:

While there are no explicit references to the state of the world on this new album, Taylor pays plenty of attention to politics in the US and the UK, claiming he “f**king called it” before Trump was put in office.

“I caught so much hell for that,” he says, “because people thought I was trying to stir up s**t. I was like, ‘this is gonna get way worse before it gets better. Next year I’m going to vote like everybody else, and hopefully we won’t have another four years of that f**king douchenozzle.”

He compares the way Trump uses rhetoric to Boris Johnson, and finds similarities in the way they were written about in the months before they came to power.

“Boris Johnson is very much your Trump,” he says. “I’ve watched Boris for 15 years, and he has never been someone that people have taken seriously – even when he was mayor of London.” He heaves a sigh. “And now he’s the f**king prime minister”.

I would suggest that, if you are one of these people who snubs Metal and thinks it will all sound the same, do some digging and you will be pleasantly surprised. I would suggest you start from Slipknot’s 1999 debut and then work your way forward. You will see the way the band have evolved and strengthened through the years. I shall come to the new album in a bit but, to many, the band have created their most intense yet gentle album yet – they have the aggression and speed notched up but there are moments of genuine calm in places.

A lot of Metal bands flail and fall by the wayside because they either repeat themselves and fail to ignite or they follow a commercial path. I remember the dreaded rise of Nu-Metal back in the early-2000s and how groups like Limp Bizkit ruled. I am not sure whether they are still going but, to me, Nu-Metal is not as interesting and quality-laden as other areas. It is hard to categorise Slipknot because they are not pure Metal or Hardcore. They have stepped into Speed Metal and they have moments where Groove Metal can be applied to them. I think it is the eclectic nature of Slipknot that means they keep attracting new fans and remain relevant. Back in 1999, the scene was changing in music and there was this new burst of Metal and Nu-Metal. Artists like Eminem were rising and bands such as Rage Against the Machine were producing immense work. It is clear that a definite sense of physicality and release was demanded and, rocking along, Slipknot provided something familiar yet new. Fellow bands such as Opeth and Neurosis were adding to the Metal cannon in 1999 but Slipknot topped them all. For a start, the fact that they are masked and had that mystery around them – since then, most members of the band have been snapped without their masks on – was interesting and I was taken about at the sheer rush of the music. Whilst the band came in hard on their debut, there was definite structure and layers to their music – rather than it being about shock-and-awe. Some fans did not like the fact that, after the 1999 debut, the band sort of moved away from their roots and tried new sounds. Again, it was not like Slipknot were going Reggae and aiming for a slot on Top of the Pops but they were employing darker elements and, after 2001’s Iowa, there were new shades and complex rhythms in the mix. What has remained key and essential since the debut is the sheer physicality of the music.

Slipknot have always been more than a band intent on screaming as loud as possible and making their guitars crunch harder than anyone else’s. I do think Slipknot have stayed popular and hyped because each album offers something fresh. Fans can relate to them but, with each album, you notice little touches and angles that beckon you in. I do think that the dynamic in the band now is stronger and more engaging than it has ever been. Look at some of the reviews for We Are Not Your Kind and this might be the most celebrated and highly-reviewed album of their career. It is getting five-star reviews all over the place and many have noted how the band is articulating an anger that many people feel. There is a feeling that songs are attacking President Trump and the hatred he is stirring. There is personal disconnection and aggression in addition to, yet again, new sonic twists and turns. Like I said, the anger always remains and the fire seems as intense now as it did back in 1999. There are a number of reasons why Slipknot remain compelling and popular. They are a band who has a close-knot relationship and you can tell how much they mean to each other. I think the band will continue to make music for years to come and, unlike so many Metal bands, Slipknot continue to push forward and find new avenues. I do think there are Metal groups that rely on a single sound and think that one-dimensional anger will sustain them. Slipknot have always been more intelligent than that. One only needs to listen to We Are Not Your Kind and discover so many different stories, contours and possibilities. It is an album that will relate to their faithful but it is one any non-fan can appreciate. I especially love how there is this energy and creative gold flowing. The band rejected quite a lot of songs for the album and it is clear they are in inspired form.

I will move on to a song from We Are Not Your Kind that I wanted to focus on but, right now, I want to get back that idea that Metal bands like Slipknot are here to encourage violence and disruption. Oddly, I think the music of Slipknot can calm the senses and actually release a lot of burden. Good Metal can get you fired-up and pumped but it goes much deeper and can actually be medicinal. I am not suggesting Slipknot are a form of therapy but there is a lot to be said for their music and how it can make you feel. The anger they articulate is something many of us want to express. We all want to scream and rage at the moment and hearing it through the prism of Slipknot can be cathartic and a big relief. There are so many different sides to Slipknot’s music and they manage to evoke so many emotions from the listener. I do feel people get stuck with this stereotype of Metal and the feeling that it is basic. Listen to the music and lyrics on any Slipknot record and there is a lot of musicianship and skill. Even when they are thrashing and pulverising, you can detect a lot of different elements working away in the music. It is a fascinating blend and one that compels you to listen again and again. I am not sure how many of their peers have survived since 1999 but I do think Slipknot have endured longer than most. Now that they have released one of their best albums, who is to say how long they have left. The once-fresh-faced band might be a bit older but I think they have grown wiser and more extraordinary as the years have gone on. Some might still be wary of Slipknot but I would encourage people to get out of their comfort zones and explore the band.

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I am one of these people who can be a bit reserved when it comes to certain genres and unwilling to take a plunge. I am not a huge fan of genres like Drill and Trap but, having dipped my toes into the water recently, I have discovered artists and tracks that have started to change my mind – although I am not a convert, it is clear one cannot judge and write off entire genres. There has always been this battle in Metal between misconceptions and reality. Fair enough, if you are not a fan of harder and accelerated music then Slipknot might not be able to hook you in. If you do like your music with firepower but plenty of depth, do listen to Slipknot and absorb as much as you can. We all get a bit lazy with our tastes and fall back on the same sounds. Maybe it is time to move on to reviewing a track but, in regards to the We Are Not Your Kind album, there is this great mix of the personal and political. I do like the fact that (the album) has the traditional and reliable Slipknot ingredients but there are new stories and sounds that have sent critics into overdrive. The band always knows how to surprise and push forward. I love what they are doing and one can only imagine how their music translates onto the stage! I have never been to one of their gigs but, as you can probably figure, it is quite a memorable and vivid experience! The mix of sounds and effects on We Are Not Your Kind are spellbinding. Slipknot build sound collages and there is this blend of the more mechanical and experimental. The band turns universal disgust and anger into something genuinely hopeful and meaningful. They have turned their own heartache and loss into something constructive and, in the process, are connecting with so many different people.

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It does not take long for Red Flag to spark into life. Whereas some Metal bands would throw as much volume into the mix as possible, there is a satisfying grumble and groove working underneath the noise. The band make sure there is enough force and charge right from the off but you get this nice little grumbling groove that has rumble and grit. The combination is exceptional and the lyrics provide plenty of curiosity. “Past just saving, this is like escaping/Running wild in the middle of weeds” is an interesting opening and you wonder what the words relate to. “Eyes can’t see me” declares our hero and, when that is uttered, you get an intensity and sense of conviction that takes you back. One could attribute the words to be about personal dislocation and a relationship burning out but, in a wider sense, maybe there is a feeling of being adrift in a world that is spinning out of control. The pace, rhythm and structure of the song is fantastic. It is never too intense and loud but there is this determined anger throughout. The band is exceptionally tight and potent and, as you’d expect from Slipknot, their music and lyrics dig deep. I would suggest people listen to Red Flag a few times because there is so much going on. The composition is a perfect cocktail but I was drawn to the lyrics and possible meaning. There are words about suffering and, if you want a reason to suffer, there are plenty around. Again, I was thinking about this possibility that it might be personal; relating to love and a relationship that has hit the skids. There is redemption and hope as the hero suggests that, if you want to live to be better then you can be. This sense of motivation and positivity against the torrent is inspiring. Of course, it is the frantic heartbeat and feeling of anger that makes Red Flag one of the most urgent and powerful songs on the We Are Not Your Kind album.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: REX

There are electronic glitches and the avalanche mixing together in the chorus as Slipknot talk about people – whether the governments or someone else – getting you alone so they can steal you; smothering you and eating you alive. The imagery is quite stark and explicit but, actually, I was wondering whether this was a nod to politics and the state of the world. Into the second verse and there is a line that stands out: “I won’t allow this to happen”. This straight and powerful line arrives in the middle of a verse that looks at cattle and vultures; a feeling that we are being cheated and displaced. The imagery throughout Red Flag is eye-opening and vivid and Slipknot show that they are incredible skillful when it comes to words. You can tell how much the power of language means to them and I like the fact Red Flag is not easy to unpick and predict. As the song progresses, the words become more appealing and intriguing. In the bridge, there is a lot to unpack and interpret: “Don't believe the riddle that confuses you/Bitch, so manic/I can see the light that exposes you/So dramatic, now I'm so empathetic/Means the bigger the mouth that I can eat you with/Force of habit/God, you reek of your havoc/But consider the sources you've been tampering with”. I was wondering whether these lines referred to the pain of a break up and the complexity of emotions or a view of modern America and how it is being led down a dark alley. You might need a few runs of the song to get to its core because it is pretty deep and complicated. One can never accuse Slipknot of being basic and uninspired because, here, they massage the mind but project these very striking and stirring images. There are some truly standout moments in regards the composition. From some squalling solos to a deep-down growl, the band sound completely thrilling and enflamed throughout. Red Flag is a jewel in an album that is stuffed with treasures and treats. I am not suggesting Slipknot are at their most accessible here but I do think people who have been unsure of their music before should check out Red Flag and the We Are Not Your Kind album.

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Slipknot are coming to the U.K. next year and they are going to be pretty busy in the meantime. With a new album out, they have even more material to bring to the stage and it will be intersecting to see how their new songs mix with the classics! Right now, they have American dates to get through and I am sure their faithful will flock to see them. It is amazing how much devotion Slipknot inspires and how they have remained so popular since their earliest days. Many wrote them off on their debut as being a novelty of designed simply to shock. The band proved everyone wrong and, not only have their remained to this day, but they seem more essential and fantastic than ever. I do think We Are Not Your Kind is one of the year’s best albums and it seems, as I said earlier, to react to the anger felt around the world. So many artists go purely for the personal when it comes to writing tracks but Slipknot have a more universal and wide-ranging vision. There is so much to enjoy on their new album. In terms of sound and compositions, they can range from the truly epic to shorter bursts. What’s Next runs at under a minute whilst Critical Darling is over six minutes; there are songs that build to a fury and others that start the explosion right from the off. Long may the brilliance of Slipknot continue and I do suggest that people listen to their latest album. Many have impressions of Metal and it will take a lot of convincing to get them to change their minds. Maybe it is this feeling that bands like Slipknot are there to upset people and promote violence. That has never been their way and I think some press sources have distorted what Slipknot are about and what their music concerns. Listen to what they are doing and you will find yourself intoxicated and hypnotised.

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We are living through times that are strange and stressful and I feel Slipknot are much-needed. Whether you want to release some anger or feel like you need some direction, We Are Not Your Kind can offer that. I wanted to focus on Red Flag because it is getting a lot of positive press and it is one of the most immediate tracks on the album. Appearing at the middle of the album, Red Flag is a perfect distillation of all Slipknot’s elements. It is raw and unleashed but there is plenty of depth and nuance. That might sound strange when talking about a Metal band but, as I keep saying, one should not assume and judge. I shall leaver things there but I would encourage people to get behind Slipknot and their latest album. I have so much respect for them and have always loved what they put out into the world. I hope they carry on making music for years to come because there are so many people who rely on their music. I shall end it here but, after listening to Lana Del Rey yesterday for reviewing purposes, it has been quite a shift today! The joy and sheer variety of music is what makes things so interesting and, with Slipknot, you never truly know what you are going to get. Twenty years after their debut arrived in the world, this Iowa-formed band remain one of the most interesting, enduring and compelling… 

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IN all of music.

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Follow Slipknot

TRACK REVIEW: Lana Del Rey - Looking for America

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Lana Del Rey

Looking for America

 

9.6/10

 

The track, Looking for America, is available via:

https://open.spotify.com/track/31FBEeTXpaeCncCbCmS7ax?si=hKldPHZmQfqe1fx6wcbCVA

GENRES:

Baroque-Pop/Dream-Pop

ORIGIN:

Los Angeles, U.S.A.

RELEASE DATE:

9th August, 2019

LABELS:

Universal Music Operations/Polydor Records

The album, Norman Fucking Rockwell, is available from 30th August. Pre-order here:

https://shoplanadelrey.com/products/norman-fucking-rockwell-lime-green-lp-digital-album

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WHEN thinking of my review subject…

for today, there are a few subjects that spring to mind. I will talk about Lana Del Rey’s new song in a minute but, for now, I want to discuss dreaminess and mixing urgency into the pot; the state of America and why it is great a mainstream star is tackling gun violence; expectation and the sense of wonder that comes with Del Rey’s music; why this year’s music is beyond all expectations, especially when it comes to female artists – I want to end by talking about Lana Del Rey’s future and why I think she can get even bigger and more popular. I will bring in a couple of interview snippets that show different sides to Del Rey and ask interesting questions. When I hear Lana Del Rey’s new track, Looking for America, there is this beguiling mix of breathy and raw. It is almost too hard to put into words but one need only listen to Del Rey’s past work to see what I mean. Even from 2012’s Born to Die, one could tell here was an artist that was different to everyone around. There are artists who can do the seductive and pack some punch behind that but Lana Del Rey almost seems like a singer from the past. I am reminded of voices like Julie London and a rather classic and sophisticated tone that one does not really hear now – given the fact a lot of Pop artists pine for processed vocals and a load of energy. I do really love that mixture of the 1950s and the modern-day. Lana Del Rey captivates you with her voice. It is a sound that is romantic and open but there is a lot of grace, power and potency behind her words. Rather than be a Lounge artist who discusses love in a very ordinary way; an easy and uncomplicated sound for any listener, Lana Del Rey has all these different nuances and colours stirring and colliding.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Nodland/Shore Fire

She has this wonderful voice that can drop the knees with its tenderness and beauty but she is a really interesting writer. I do think artists either provide something important and urgent without providing any sort of balance and softness or they are pretty gentle and gorgeous but there is nothing in the way of importance and any real depth. Of course, a few artists are exceptions. Lana Del Rey is a striking and inspiring artist who can project these images of highways and classic America but she has this raw and edgy side that I really like. There is a lot more to her music and success than that but I have seen Del Rey mature and evolve as a singer. I will, as I say, bring in a few interview passages but I want to nod to an interview Del Rey conducted with Harper’s Bazaar earlier this year. She was asked about her incredible album, Born to Die, which came out in 2012 and was a critical success:

HB: BORN TO DIE JUST TURNED SEVEN YEARS OLD. HOW DO YOU THINK YOU'VE EVOLVED SINCE THEN?

LDR: I feel pretty lucky that I'm still making music and that people are still listening. I was singing and making records maybe six, seven years before that, and when that record even became visible and people were buying it, I was definitely in disbelief because I knew my sensibility was a little eclectic and different. When something hits, you just can't believe it. Everyone always said it was so weird when I was doing my first meeting when I was 21, 22.

For people to still be listening and to have gone on different tours was not something I thought I would be doing into my thirties. That is really awesome for me. Also to meet new collaborators, I definitely wasn't expecting to make a whole new record with somebody like Jack Antonoff. I think the recording process has been very dreamy and very easygoing. I always try to keep [my record releases] as quiet as possible and barely promote my stuff, just because that's the way I like it [laughs]”.

Lana Del Rey has evolved through the years and albums such as Born to Die sound different to later work such as Honeymoon (2015). Maybe darker threads have come into her work or she has become braver as a writer. Here is an artist who is not beholden to commercial needs and being told what sort of album to write by a label. I get the feeling Del Rey is this curious writer who is always absorbing what is around her but also dipping into film, fantasy and her imagination to concoct the most stirring album possible.

I will introduce another question from that quoted interview in a bit because, when we consider Looking for America, we need to reflect on the mass shootings that occurred in the U.S. recently – including Dayton, Ohio where ten people were killed and many more injured. Sadly, it seems there is this regularity of tragedy in the nation. We listen to the news and, whether it is at a high-school or outside a bar, how long do we have to endure massive tragedies and senseless killings like this? President Trump seems resolved to do nothing and I cannot imagine anyone will actually create discussion and look for change. There is this divide between those who feel gun massacres are the results of men with mental-health issues taking it out on people – therefore we need to look at background checks and, as Trump ineloquently stated, not give guns to loose cannons and crazy people (not exactly his words but it was not far off the mark). In reality, one cannot blame mental-health issues – there are thousands who have mental-health problems but do not shoot people! – or television and film. One can blame Trump and the fact he promotes this white supremacist rhetoric; an ideology that suggests pure, white America is best and everyone else should go home. People are hearing these words, looking around their neighbourhoods and deciding the best way to limit those foreign faces is to eliminate them. There is no other explanation and reason. Lana Del Rey was moved and affected by the shootings in her nation and, rather than taking to social media or sitting quietly, she hurried to the studio and penned a new song. All the proceeds from Looking for America are going to charity. In previous songs, Del Rey has talked about harsh love, dark subjects and some really tough things. I do feel Looking for America is one of her most affecting and challenging tracks. There is so much emotion running throughout and, as she says, a need to see a better America; one where the flag can fly free and people can feel safe.

Before moving on, I will bring in another exert from that interview where Del Rey is asked what provides her with hope at a rather changing and difficult period:

HB: ON THE TOPIC OF HOPE, WHAT IS GIVING YOU HOPE AT THIS TIME?

LDR: Knowing that it's okay for the culture to be in a bit of disruption, and that if we can just lean into that and try to find a uniting factor in it, that's the big takeaway. Things have been confusing for a long time, whether it's politically, culturally, personally. Down the ages, everyone's had their own trials and tribulations. So any time I get stressed, I just remind myself it's kind of supposed to be stressful. Life is stressful.

I am writing a feature later on today relating to gun violence and whether artists should be more involved. I do think it is tough for bigger artists to weigh in and write songs like Lana Del Rey did because of their fans and the labels. There is an expectation and image artists project and will that be broken? Will fans feel upset or different if their favourite artist talks about gun violence and politics? It is a hard line to walk but I do feel artists have a duty to get involved and speak out. Taylor Swift has just recently started talking more about politics and that side of things: before, she was a little hesitant and maybe there was a feeling her fans would speak out and she would not look good. I don’t know. It seems like a lot of artists are scared by commercial pressures and what their labels think. Del Rey went to the studio, recorded this great song and, in a heartbeat, has reacted to the senseless shootings we have seen. Not only has Lana Del Rey produced this thought-provoking and brilliant song but, as her album, Norman Fucking Rockwell is arriving later this month, there is a lot of talk around.

There are artists where you get a lot build-up and excitement when they announce albums. In the case of Lana Del Rey, people never really know what to expect. Her albums are always different but I do think the impact of her voice and music hits harder than so many others. Maybe it is the dreaminess and beauty of her voice or the fact Del Rey seems to be more than a mere artist – she has this film-star quality and inspires so many people. I am not sure what the rest of Norman Fucking Rockwell will contain but it does seem like we will get a usual blend of strings and classic images and this ever-evolving artist letting us into her heart and mind. Lana Del Rey’s sixth studio album is one of the most anticipated of the year and I do think it will go down as one of the year’s best. Maybe it is the fact there are very few artists like her but Lana Del Rey fills a gap and provides something others cannot. Lust for Life (2017) was her last album and one that was applauded. I do think Lana Del Rey gets stronger with every release and grows in confidence. Many reviewers – when reflecting on Lust for Life – stated how Del Rey is an antidote against the banal and flavourless songs that permeate the charts. I would agree with that because, when it comes to subject matter, Del Rey steps way beyond the commercial and dull. In this recent interview with Vanity Fair she was asked about her upcoming album and what inspired it:

Vanity Fair: The title of your new album brings to mind a certain classic vision of America. What was your headspace like for this record?

Lana Del Rey: It was weird how that actual title came to me. I was riffing over a couple of chords that Jack [Antonoff] was playing for the title track, which ended up being called “Norman Fucking Rockwell.” It was kind of an exclamation mark: so this is the American dream, right now. This is where we’re at—Norman fucking Rockwell. We’re going to go to Mars, and [Donald] Trump is president, all right. Me and Jack, we just joke around constantly about all the random headlines we might see that week, so it’s a slight cultural reference. But it’s not a cynical thing, really. To me, it’s hopeful, to see everything as a little bit funnier. The chaos of the culture is interesting, and I’m hopeful that there’s room for there to be some movement and excitement within it”.

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I will move on and talk about Lana Del Rey’s latest track in a bit but I wanted to discuss the year in music and why it is such a big one. I do feel like social issues and politics have compelled a lot of the best records of the moment. Maybe artists are seeing their nations divide and splinter and feel a bit helpless. Whilst I can detect a lot of anger and anxiety in music, there is this motivation to see change; the open people’s eyes and get things happening. I am one of those people who feel music has the power to incentivise change and discussion. Not only have we seen some really important and bold works but there has been a crop of albums that rank alongside the best of the decade. One cannot deny the fact 2019 has been especially strong and artist from various genres and corners have stepped up. It is hard to define 2019 in terms of sound and direction because, actually, there is such a wide array of music out there. I know I keep coming back to the subject of women dominating 2019 but, with every passing week, that is proved. Marika Hackman has just released her Any Human Friend album and it is gaining big reviews. Lana Del Rey brings her album out in a few weeks and Sleater-Kinney have an album out this month. Of course, I love what male artists are giving the world but I feel it is female artists who are making the biggest impression this year. I am not sure why – as I have mused before – but I do feel the industry sort of needs to recognise that. Lana Del Rey is, as I said, someone who comes with this aura of wonder and excitement. People are fascinated by what she does and how her music makes you feel. You cannot help but drift and slip into her music and let your mind take you away. One cannot deny Lana Del Rey is a very attractive singer, in terms of her sound and lyrical prowess, but has this accessibility and openness that you do not get with everyone. In many ways, she is a role model and, no doubt, has inspired so many other artists.

Looking for America is under three minutes but I think that is great because it never overstretches and lives past its natural welcome. Instead, the listener is left wanting a bit more but, over the course of the track, a lot is packed in. I do feel Looking for America is a bit if a red herring when it comes to Norman Fucking Rockwell’s themes. Maybe there will not be too many political songs but I feel Del Rey, as usual, will be looking back and to a time when things were simpler and more evocative. Rather than go into a song attacking those who allow killings to happen, Looking for America is more a reflection on simple scenes and purity. By that, Looking for America is a reaction to what is happening right now but it does not overtly mention attacks and call for gun control – instead, Del Rey projects these scenes of friends driving and embracing the road. There are no complications and burdens and, as they all pile into the car, they cannot decide which direction they are heading in. This scenic route is quite a trip and one instantly sees these young faces smiling; cool threads and maybe a cigarette or two as they pile into a classic car as the sun beats down. Del Rey’s voice is smoky and hazy as she opens up this scene of the open road and children playing in the park. Del Rey says how we only used to worry about children after dark but, at these dark times, the daylight poses as much threat and insecurity. The heroine is looking for her own vision and version of America. Maybe Del Rey has a romantic notion of America but one cannot fault her longing for something better than what we have; a nation that is together and can feel optimism. The chorus is a gorgeous thing that swoons, sways and melts. Del Rey dreams of a sky with fireworks; where there are no bombs and, when she and her lover/friend collide, there is that bliss and sense of freedom – rather than a feeling that America is a hostile and violent place.

 PHOTO CREDIT: i-D

The delivery is sumptuous and, with very little accompaniment and compositional intrusion, her voice really does cut to the core. Del Rey talks about this dream that she had in mind; this rather far-fetched ideal that wants to bring America back to a golden age. She flies back to New York and goes past all these sights that seem unfamiliar and tarnished somehow. Maybe her mind wanders but the reality of the present scored against the bliss of the past jars and moves her. It is hard not to feel a sense of emotion as you hear this woman unable to recognise her country and feeling like things are slipping away. Looking for America could have ramped up the drama with strings and percussions but, instead, Del Rey’s voice is the main focus and instrument. The emotion she manages to summon is more powerful and personal than instruments and I really like the sparseness of the song. There are backing vocals (Del Rey’s voice is tracked) and a little suggestion of percussion here and there but, apart from that, here is a naked and raw song where you can feel that urgency and sense of the personal. Rather than adorn the song with melodrama and too much force, Del Rey is caught in this dream where she sees better times but is unable to reconcile what is happening now. It is difficult to listen to Looking for America and feel unmoved. One can hear the song and think about those who have lost their lives recently; a real fear in the air which is hard to see. Looking for America is a song you will listen to time and time again as it has this dreamy quality that gets under the skin. The lyrics are both stirring and evocative and you picture these hopeful young people revelling in a past America. Maybe I am taking the words too literally. When Del Rey was discussing road trips and detours, maybe that was a metaphor for modern America and the fact that the road to safety and familiarity is not straight and quick – or I might be reading too much into that! Looking for America will not feature on Norman Fucking Rockwell but one feels special editions of the album might include the track. In any case, it is a fantastic offering from one of the most intriguing and brilliant artists we have. If you are new to Lana Del Rey then make sure you investigate her music and acquaint yourself with an amazing human. Grab a copy of Norman Fucking Rockwell and spin it good because I think, when the end-of-year lists are announced regarding the best albums, Lana Del Rey is going to be in there.

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I know Lana Del Rey is busy getting Norman Fucking Rockwell ready for the world and she will be promoting that pretty heavily. When the album comes out and we get a chance to experience the songs, we will get a sense of how Del Rey has changed since 2017 and what is on her mind. I do think politics and the state of America weighs heavy. With such madness happening right now, she is trying to make sense of it and, as Looking for America outlines, she wants to return to this better time when people could feel secure. Maybe this all feeds back into this older-days element and vintage sound that Del Rey produces – perhaps her world vision is decades ago and the modern world is not as romantic, balanced and safe as it should be. It is that clash between the past and present that makes Del Rey’s music so deep and interesting. You can catch her touring next year and I would urge people to go and see her. Here is an artist who has been providing sensational music for years and she does not show any signs of slowing anytime soon. Some might say that Lana Del Rey’s style of music might grow weary and familiar over time but I actually think there are nuances and contours that mean one can never get bored. Every record brings new themes to the surface and I do love the way Del Rey keep changing and moving in new directions. You get more than music when it comes to her. Her album covers are great and there is almost the sense of this film unfolding before your eyes. Del Rey is masterful when it comes to delivering these mini epics that range from tales of lost love to the state of the nation. One cannot help but become part of the songs and surrender to Del Rey’s command, beauty and sumptuous voice. I will end things here soon but I want to round off by urging other artists to get more involved in politics.

That might sound vague and unwise but, by that, I mean not being blind to what is happening. I do think so many are afraid to speak out because they think that will damage their popularity and there will be a backlash. We are all living through a time where there is massive violence and corruption; where powerful nations are being ruled by idiots and, whilst some might say this has always been the way of the world, things have gotten a lot worse and we have a lot to figure out. From climate change to gun violence, music has a role to play regarding awareness and change.  So many people fear for the next generation and the sort of world they will be growing up in. That is a fair concern and I do think we all need to act. Lana Del Rey is one of these artists that watches the news and sees what is happening but, rather than remaining passive and silent, she is motivated to put her feelings into song. Looking for America is a really powerful song but one that makes you feel emotional and lost. Lana Del Rey wants her country to return to a time when there were fewer cases of gun violence and there was a degree of sanity. Right now, America is suffering and it does not look like there will be any sort of improvement at all. Music has the power to open eyes and I do feel Lana Del Rey can help bring about discussion and evolution. She is an amazing artist who hits all the senses and stays in the mind. I would not consider myself to be a huge fan but I respect her music and know there are a lot of people who look up to her. Let us end things here but, before going, I want people to listen to Looking for America and close their eyes. Really experience the song and feel every line. It is a really powerful song that, once heard, will be in the head for a very long time. Lana Del Rey has produced a fantastic song that bodes well for her album. I think, as I mentioned, Norman Fucking Rockwell will be among the best of 2019 and another leap for her. Until we get the record, cherish this wonderful song: one that calls for action and discussion in order to restore America to its previous best. Maybe perfection and a dream-like nation is not possible but, with Lana Del Rey stirring the soul and inspiring the heart…

ANYTHING is possible.

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Follow Lana Del Rey

TRACK REVIEW: HAIM - Summer Girl

TRACK REVIEW:

 

HAIM

Summer Girl

 

9.4/10

 

 

The track, Summer Girl, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjuA_o6Jzyo

GENRES:

Soft-Rock/Jazz

ORIGIN:

Los Angeles, U.S.A.

RELEASE DATE:

31st July, 2019

LABELS:

Universal Music Operations/Haim Productions Inc.

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THIS time out…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

I get to talk about a band I have not covered before. I will get to HAIM’s new track, Summer Girl, very soon but, until then, I want to bring up a few themes. To start, I will discuss siblings in groups and the connection they have; summery songs and something more positive; the variety of Pop music out there at the moment and why HAIM are causing excitement; music videos and why this band are always interesting in that respect; sexism in the music industry and how HAIM have faced that; a bit on where they will head next. Este Haim (bass guitar and vocals), Danielle Haim (vocals and guitar) and Alana Haim are the stunning group and, since their 2013 debut, Days Are Gone, they have caught the critical ear. It is not always the case brothers and sisters in bands are better and more connected but I do think there is that understanding and connection that makes the music more interesting and tight-knit. There are some great bands around right now but I do find that there is something lacking. Maybe it is a lack of communication or the fact one or two members are in the background. Whatever it is, I think I tend to stick with solo artists and duos because they provide that emotional hit that I need. Maybe IDLES are an exception of a band who have that closeness and ingredient that sends their music over the top. Of course, there are siblings in bands who did not really get along (like the Gallaghers in Oasis) but, when it comes to HAIM, there is that simpatico and love between them. Before I continue on, here is an interview from NRP a couple of years back when the sisters talked about being in a band together:

On the bond between sisters

Este Haim: It's hard to keep secrets with these two. They can see it on my face — the second I get off a phone call, they're like, "What happened?" No matter how hard I try, or how much of a poker face I have. I could be in my house in the Valley and I can feel that Alana or Danielle is not having a good day, or they're having a great day and I'm like, "I need to call these two. What's going on? Something's off!"

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On being from a musical family

Este Haim: Some of my most vivid memories [are] coming home and my dad playing drums. And I don't remember a time in my life when I wasn't playing drums. It was the same thing as when I came to the realization that not everyone was in a family band. Because I was in a family band from the time I was in elementary school, I just assumed that's what families did. And then when I would talk to my friends about it, I'd be like, "So, when's your rehearsal?" And my friends would be like, "For what?" And I'd be like, "When does your band rehearse with your parents?" And they would be like, "I'm going to the mall this weekend, Este." [Laughs.]’.

Those two questions raised some interesting points. I love the fact that the Haim sisters would have been growing up around one another and in that musical household. It is possible for band members from different families to join one another and have a definitely spark; a similar taste in music that is instant and effective. When you grow up around one another, you already have that certainty and there is a sense of trust and closeness that, I think, makes the music stronger. One does not see too many siblings in bands these days and there is something charming about HAIM. I do really like the fact they are always on the same page and, when one of the sisters is having a bad time or needs that boost, she has the other two siblings there. Maybe that is what makes the HAIM brand so appealing but I just wanted to raise the point as it is great to see a familial link in groups. There are downsides relating to keeping it in the family – squabbles and the fact that, when there is an argument, it can be pretty big – but I think that sense of togetherness and understanding is key. You know HAIM will continue to make music for years to come.

HAIM’s music has changed since their debut. Their second album, Something to Tell You, was released in 2017 and, whilst less summer-ready than their debut, it was well-received. There are bands producing something warm and effusive at the moment but I do tend to feel that the air of positivity and light that we all crave right now is not being catered for. Consider all the bands out there and how many of them make you feel more positive and lifted. I can name, maybe four or five from the current scene, but it is hard to get past that. I do think we require a dose of optimism and hope in these strained times and that should not be taken for granted. HAIM’s upbringing surely had an impact on their material and you can hear mixes of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles in their work. They mix styles and lace together sounds seamlessly and it is fantastic to witness. I think a lot of bands who mix Pop and Rock can strike that balance between sunny and hard-hitting. HAIM are definitely not all about surface with no depth: their music digs deep and, in the case of their latest track, it was inspired by a cancer diagnosis Danielle Haim’s boyfriend received. The song is a message of hope and, although there is darkness, it will be okay. One of the biggest issues with modern music is the lack of real energy and escape that we need. HAIM send out big messages and have a lot of layers but you can play their music and feel less heavy and stressed with things. As the sun is out and the weather is warm, they are the perfect group you need in your lives. I respect artists who talk about politics and modern-day concerns but there is so much aggression and blame that is can be a bit overwhelming and tense. One does look for something a bit more relaxed and breezy.

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I will move on to another subject but I think it is important to promote artists who make of smile and have a positive vibe. Sure, Summer Girl has a bit of a heartbreaking start but you listen to the song and are put in a better mood. I wonder whether this is all leading to a third album because HAIM have been pretty busy on their road since their last album came out. Some have said Something to Tell You was a weaker effort than Days Are Gone. Maybe it was the fatigue of touring but there were fewer hooks on Something to Tell You; a sense that the songs were a bit samey and it was a more straightforward album. For those looking for big explosions, brashness and a freewheelin’ lyrical touches might have been disappointed. I think their latest effort returns more to their debut in a way. There is always that pressure when it comes to the second album and, perhaps, HAIM felt a bit of expectation that meant the songs suffered a bit. I actually really like the album but it is not quite as bright and unexpected as their debut. With talk of a third album buzzing, I do feel like there will be more of Days Are Gone’s themes and sounds. We shall see what HAIM come up with but I think Summer Girl is a great track and one can find little fault with it. If some critics were a little critical of HAIM’s previous album, many agreed that the optimism and energy was pretty infectious. I do feel like simpler music can be more effecting. HAIM can pen these catchy choruses and beautiful vocals but, rather than forget about the song the first time you hear it, you’ll come back for another go. It seems like, as I will explain later, HAIM are using their debut as a springboard and sort of working off of that for their new work.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Vogue Russia

I have discussed some of the influences regarding HAIM’s music. I could picture the three sisters at home and listening to their parents’ records. You can detect California and the open road in the music of HAIM but I can also hear some 1980s stuff and Disco. I think HAIM started out life playing covers; their mum and dad enlisted them to play Motown tracks in the family band whilst they plated in the San Fernando Valley. Earlier HAIM songs had a mix of Rock and Roll guitars and 1990s R&B but they mutated into a more straightforward Pop group. Perhaps people assume that the family connection and the fact that the sisters have been playing together since they were children would lend some dysfunction to the ranks. Maybe there would be problems and cracks forming soon enough. The clear love and connection the sisters have means that there is this rock-solid foundation. In terms of their sound, HAIM can do polished and carefree but also ensure that their music stands out and they have their own voice. If some have been too ready to compare them to Fleetwood Mac and highlight the vocal harmonies, you only need to listen closely to HAIM and realise that they have their own course. Their debut album was lauded because it has a bit of polish but the songs stood up to repeated listens and scrutiny. The passion and energy in every song caught the imagination and built a huge fanbase. Look at some of the best and most engaging Pop of the moment and you will name artists like Christine and the Queens and Lizzo. These artists deal with big themes but, in terms of the music and vocals, you get something pretty intoxicating, inspiring and pumped. I do think there are a lot of great Pop artists but so many are either pretty dark or they are far too commercial – the same processed beats and production values leads to a lot of dull clones.

I think HAIM’s latest track actually takes them in a slightly different direction. Reviews of Summer Girl have compared them to Loud Reed and his track, Walk on the Wild Side. There is sparseness and cool that is less about the bright harmonies and production shine and more about something a little more developed and mature. That is not to say HAIM have lost that cheer and distinct sound but they have pared it down a little; maybe signalling where their third album might go and reacting to some critics who felt they lacked real promise and range on their sophomore album. I maintain a lot of critics were a bit harsh when it comes to Something to Tell You. Maybe some were looking too closely at the lyrics and felt they were a little generic. HAIM’s strong point has always been the vocals and music and, whereas they could turn phrases on their debt, maybe there was something missing the second time around. I do feel like there will be a leap on their third album and, whenever that arrives, we will see a group revitalised and repurposed. If the music has faced some backlash from certain quarters, I feel the videos make up for any shortcomings. There seems to be a common theme with HAIM videos. If some acts like to be in the studio when it comes to recording videos, HAIM are very much about getting outside. Summer Girl sees them casting off clothing and moving from the studio into the street. They have previously worked with Paul Thomas Anderson on Night So Long, Little of Your Love and Right Now and it is a great partnership. I think it was Anderson who directed Radiohead’s Daydreaming and, there, we saw Thom York being tracked as he moved through doorway and through various scenes. There is a sense of openness, movement and geography when we look at Anderson’s videos. I do feel a lot of music videos are too much about flashing lights, constant cuts and lazy storyboards.

 PHOTO CREDIT: London Evening Standard/eyevine/Redux

HAIM’s sunny and coast-seeking music, I guess, begs videos that find them striding and swaggering but one could easily make these boring videos that have no real purpose. Although HAIM’s videos don’t rely too much on plot and effects, I think their strong suit is that outdoor feel. That is a weird sentence but the camera walks with them down the street. The sisters are always moving and, even on a more emotional song like Summer Girl, you are soon brightened and smiling. I really love HAIM’s videos because you get that style and distinct touch but they are always different. Have a look at Summer Girl and another brilliant video from Paul Thomas Anderson. How often do we talk about music videos these days? MTV recently celebrated its thirty-eighth anniversary and it made me think about the classic days of music videos and how effecting they were; many remain with me now. That is not suggesting artists lack that magic now but I think there are fewer standout videos these days. Maybe there are too many around or we have too much technology and choice. What makes HAIM’s videos brilliant is that lack of technology and complication. They bring us into their world and lead us through the streets. They can captivate and entice easily and there is something about their videos that is utterly engaging and fresh. I shall leave this subject because, before I move onto the song review itself, there is s subject I want to broach.

Although reviews have not directly mentioned gender and used sexist terms, HAIM are a group who have had to face sexism for years. I will bring in an interview they gave in 2017 where they discussed their experiences. I do wonder whether woman in bands face sexism a lot. Definitely, when some people see women in bands, they get this impression and feel that they will be weaker and not as impressive as the men. Maybe, if they have instruments with them, they get withering and patronising looks. When they talked with NME a couple of years ago, HAIM tackled sexist attitudes:

 “That, and they’ve got more important things to talk about – such as rampant sexism in the music industry. Even now, they still suffer from its toxic effects. They’re still asked ‘Who writes the songs?’ and have been mistaken for girlfriends of bands at “every festival we’ve been to,” says Este. “I literally have to say, ‘We just played behind you’”.

“We still have to fight this s**t,” bristles Alana. “The other day, I was told at a radio station, ‘You don’t need headphones. I’m sure you don’t want to mess up your hair.’” She continues: “I feel like the one thing that’s happening is we’re all banding together and not letting that s**t get us down. Like f**k that s**t! I’m f**king over it! Like, no one is going to make me feel anything other than a powerful woman because I love playing music and I love being onstage and if these f**ks want to do that s**t, the only way that will change is if we don’t stop”.

It is a shame HAIM have had to face this kind of crap but it doesn’t surprise me. There is still a big problem with sexism in music and I hope we see attitudes change. The fact that HAIM are great songwriters and musicians, one feels, should silence sexist tongues but we are still seeing toxicity raise its head. It is such a shame.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP

Rather than rush in with layers, harmonies and big production notes, there is something a lot groovier and more interesting that greets Summer Girl. The drums trip Jazz-like and they have a definite swagger and punch. The bass is quite sparse but it guides the song forward and has this elasticity. Few would expect a HAIM song to start like this but, as with a lot of their previous work, they have that love of the 1970s. Comparisons to Lou Reed are fair enough but, rather than the song walking on the wild side, there is something more emotional at heart. “L.A. on my mind/I can’t breathe…” opens the track and gives proceedings a real sense of heart. Knowing the inspiration behind the song – Danielle’s boyfriend and his cancer diagnosis – one cannot help feel a sense of sadness and tenderness. The lyrics discuss him being there when she (the heroine) closes her eyes; a smile being forced but that being turned into tears. There is this rawness and loss; a feeling that things are strained but, when he closes his eyes, his summer girl will be there. The HAIM heroine is there for him and, whilst things are bad right now, she is a support and here to make things better. There is actually a bit of Tracey Thorn, oddly, in the vocals; something Massive Attack might have made in the 1990s because, as the song progresses, we hear some smooth saxophone and these nice little touches. Fans of HAIM might be expecting harmonies and sunniness from the off but the group build up and there is this beginning which is quite soft and evocative; a sense that someone is struggling and times are hard. Look at the video and the sisters are on the street; they are literally peeling the layers from one another and sort of turning the gloom into a less suffocating warmth. With a nice wordless chorus – and removing their jumpers in the video – HAIM ease the mood and let the hero know that things will get better.

One can look at Summer Girl and apply it to other scenarios. Although there is a personal story and something dear to HAIM, everyone can relate to the song and get something from it. I do love the smoothness of the song and the fact that it sounds different to other HAIM songs. There is definite optimism and sun in the song but, rather than this being projected through harmonies and big choruses, a general mood exists that makes you feel calmer and better. The nice little saxophone interjections give the song a definitely niche that not many Pop bands are incorporating into their work. If other HAIM work has put us in the 1970s, I do feel like, as I said, there is a bit of 1990s Trip-Hop and Jazz this time around. It is impossible to listen to Summer Girl and not look at that video. HAIM are no stranger to walking down Ventura Blvd. but, this time, I love the fact that they keep on removing layers. It seems like they have a never-ending supply of clothes and I know it is a metaphor. Removing the struggle and weight; creating something lighter that can breathe. It is a clever technique and message and I love the fact HAIM have a sort of standard video style. They can make strolling down the street look really fascinating and cool. The video gets pretty interesting – have a look to see what I mean – but I think one of the biggest steps HAIM have taken since their latest album is the lyrics. “From over my shoulder, I need you/I need you to understand/These are the earthquake drills that we ran/Under the freeway overpasses/The tears behind your dark sunglasses/The fears inside your heart as deep as gashes/You walk beside me, not behind me/Feel my unconditional love” are wonderful words and lines that get into the mind and projects images. I keep coming back to Summer Girl because the lead vocal is so smooth, cool and rich that it has this great nuance. The lyrics are deep and make you think and the composition is really great. More subtle and relaxed than previous HAIM offerings, some fans might need to readjust but I think it is a really great move from them. You can hear some distinct influences but, like all HAIM songs, they put their own stamp on things. I do hope there are more tracks coming along because I am really intrigued. It is a brilliant song and one that deserves a lot of airplay. If you are not familiar with HAIM and what they are about, I suggest you start with Summer Girl and then go and check out their two albums. A brilliant song that, actually, ranks alongside my favourite from the year so far. You will come back to Summer Girl again and again because it has that really alluring sound that is hard to resist.

It has been a busy last few years for HAIM. After album releases, there is that touring blitz and there is rarely time to stand still. At the moment, HAIM are busy promoting Summer Girl and the song has been getting really good press. It is a different sound to what they have come up with before and suggests, if there is another album brewing, they might strip back some of the layers and adopt more Jazz influences as opposed Pop and Rock. The sisters have played a few gigs recently and I hope they get a bit of a rest before they are back out again. One does feel like an album is coming soon enough and that will be interesting to see. Many will be excited to see what HAIM have up their sleeves and whether they change direction on their third album. I feel there will be the same blend of harmonies and polish but, as Summer Girl suggests, that optimism will be more stripped back and the sound is a bit different. If you can see HAIM live this year then do so as their shows are incredible. Their songs come to life on the stage and almost sound liberated and released compared to the album versions. That is not a slight but I think one can only do so much in the studio and it is hard to give that live feel to a song. HAIM are fantastic live performers and they are really crowd-pleasing. I know the rest of the year will be pretty busy but, as I say, I do think we are gearing up for another album soon enough. I do really like everything they have put out into the world and have followed them since their debut. Maybe Something to Tell You was not quite as strong as their debut but it did have some golden moments – Want You Back and Walking Away are definite highlights. Let us wind up in a minute but I suggest people check out Summer Girl and that amazing video. I have read a lot of reaction on social media and people are getting primed for more HAIM music. I cannot wait to see what they come up with but, when it comes to tight-knit groups who make infectious and bright music, there are few to rival HAIM. The group have had a successful and busy career so far but many of us are excited to…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan (via Getty Images)

SEE where they go next.

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Follow HAIM

TRACK REVIEW: Sleater-Kinney - Can I Go On

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Sleater-Kinney

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Can I Go On

 

9.4/10

 

 

The track, Can I Go On, is available via:

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

GENRES:

Punk-Rock/Pop-Punk

ORIGIN:

Washington, U.S.A.

RELEASE DATE:

31st July, 2019

The album, The Center Won’t Hold, is released on 16th August, 2019 through Mom + Pop. Pre-order here:

https://www.banquetrecords.com/sleater-kinney/the-center-won%27t-hold/7790842

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THESE are interesting times for…

IN THIS PHOTO: Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein/PHOTO CREDIT: Rozette Rago for The New York Times

the tremendous Sleater-Kinney. I will talk about their new single, Can I Go On, in a minute but, when you look at how their music and line-up has changed recently, it warrants some discussion. I wanted to look at artists who evolve and go in a different direction; Annie Clark in the context of Sleater-Kinney and why she is a good force for them; this year being dominated by women and why I feel change needs to happen; artists that endure for years and continue to influence and inspire the generations; where Sleater-Kinney go from here and, indeed, why a lot of gossiping press around them is quite damaging. I have been a fan of Sleater-Kinney since the 1990s and, back then, they were seen as a great Riot Grrrl band; this potent and amazing force that formed in Washington D.C. and were destined for big things. They were indeed to go on and become a world-straddling wonder and their 1997 record, Dig Me Out, remains one of the best of the decade. Its raw look at survival and heartbreak might seem despairing on paper but (the album) is full of optimistic and guidance; brilliant sounds and this incredible band interplay. It was the debut of drummer Janet Weiss: she came in and added something to the band’s dynamic and gave them possibilities they did not have before. Maybe there was more energy and a different type of beat but Sleater-Kinney upped their games and hit new heights. Influenced by Blues and bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, their success has continued to this day and it is amazing to see Sleater-Kinney still performing. The forthcoming album, The Center Won’t Hold, is a bit bittersweet as it is the last one featuring Weiss. This New York Times article shows how the sound has altered slightly since their earlier work:

Weiss, 53, declined to comment for this article. In the statement announcing her choice, she said, “The band is heading in a new direction and it is time for me to move on. I will never forget the heights we reached or the magnificent times Corin, Carrie and I shared. We were a force of nature.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Rozette Rago for The New York Times 

They wanted the album to sound “really gross,” Tucker, in contrasting lacy white, said, as her collaborators mmm-hmmmed in affirmation. “Like, disgusting, dirty, gross, dusty.” She went to a Depeche Mode show and got absorbed by synths; Clark and Brownstein saw Nine Inch Nails, and heard industrial.

The three or so weeks they spent in the studio with Clark were, to hear Brownstein and Tucker tell it, transformative. Choruses and bridges were revised; major keys were introduced; Tucker, whose raging vocals have helped define the group’s sound, sometimes sings two octaves higher than normal”.

Every act is going to alter and try something new but, in the case of Sleater-Kinney, they are getting some flak from certain corners. One cannot call their new music ‘Pop’ but there is definitely something new in the fold. Maybe the vocals are higher-pitched or the music is a little different to what we remember. I think any criticism levelled at them is wrong because people expect artists to sound the same all the time and scold them if they dare to do something new. Janet Weiss actually suggested working with Annie Clark (St. Vincent) – she has produced their new album. Clark, as a hugely successful artist, has brought some of her own ideas in but the core is very much the same Sleater-Kinney we all know and love. I do like the fact that they have broadened their sound and tried something different on their ninth studio album. The single Hurry on Home has been named one of the best Queer Rock tracks of 2019 and there is a sexiness/coolness that was missing from some of their past work. The band wanted something quite intense and scuzzy and, actually, I think their music sounds dirtier and more gravelled than their classic albums. The production is not as raw as it could have been but I think Sleater-Kinney have mixed experimental steps and new layers with their reliable foundation to create something incredible exciting and nuanced – the songs, I guarantee, will stay in the head and come back to you time and time again.

 IN THIS PHOTO: St. Vincent/PHOTO CREDIT: Jenna VonHofe

Annie Clark has been mentioned a few times when talking about the departure of Janet Weiss. I, like many, was very excited when it was announced Clark was working with St. Vincent. I am a big fan of St. Vincent and I feel she is one of the finest artists of our generation. The amazing songs from Annie Clark have thrilled and excited but, as a producer, how would that work? It is interesting when one big artist works with another like this – I mooted we need more of these high-profile collaborations. Not many people can complain about St. Vincent’s current material and I know The Center Won’t Hold will get some great reviews; rank alongside the best albums from this year and please fans old and new. There was this theory that, when Weiss announced her departure, that it was because of the addition of Clark as producer and her role. In fact, as Weiss suggested her and it would be silly to do that and get bothered by Clark’s presence, I think it was a natural end for her – having been in the band for a couple of decades. The sessions with Clark were really productive and she brought something fresh into the camp. It was not a case of Clark making Sleater-Kinney sound more like St. Vincent; she added her own vision and dimensions but allowed the band free reign. The Center Won’t Hold might sound political but there is more of the personal in there; discussions about sexuality, gender and empowerment. This interview from The Guardian talked about the themes explored and what it was like having Annie Clark in the studio.

But Broken aside, The Center Won’t Hold isn’t explicitly political. “If people thought Sleater-Kinney was gonna put out some loud, anti-Trump record, they would be misguided,” says Brownstein. The restaurant has closed, so we perch outside. Sleater-Kinney have already written those songs, she laughs. “We’ve been addressing the #MeToo movement and shitty patriarchal systems of injustice and subjugation since 1995!”

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Sexual empowerment is in a state of hyper-evolution: now it would be the writer decrying Brownstein’s knickers who would be considered a traitor. “Gender as a construct is now like a mesh bag,” says Tucker, with relief. “It used to be so rigid,” says Brownstein. “The queering of the culture and the deconstruction of gender identity has freed up a lot of things for women.” She thinks her queerness challenges the idea that middle age is a sexual wasteland.

It’s all in the album’s best lyric: “There’s nothing more frightening and nothing more obscene than a well-worn body demanding to be seen,” Brownstein yelps on the euphoric Love, a love letter written by Sleater-Kinney to themselves, and to resistance through collaboration. It sounds a bit different now that Weiss has left – rallying cry turned eulogy.

But the criticism was misplaced. It had, in fact, been Weiss’s idea to work with Clark, who says she felt no fear about pushing Sleater-Kinney even though she was once a teenage worshipper of the band, whose posters were on her bedroom wall. After their 2006 farewell gig in New York, Clark was “so amped up that I kicked over a newsstand in excitement”. “Now,” she thinks, “there’s a lot of ways to move people’s hearts and make them wanna kick things over and scream.”

The group abandoned their original plan to work with multiple producers after their trial week with Clark in Los Angeles really took off. After that, Weiss didn’t return until the last two days of recording. She was busy, Brownstein laments in Portland. (Weiss works as a film and TV location manager, a career that started on Brownstein’s Portlandia.) There is a personal cost of being in a band, especially when each member has a very different economic reality: Brownstein a celebrity, Tucker a working mum, Weiss developing a new career”.

I do not believe Clark had anything to do with Weiss’ departure from Sleater-Kinney and, rather than see the former as a bad influence, let’s recognise her production talents and the fact she has created something new and exciting. Nobody can say Sleater-Kinney have abandoned their roots or sound foreign. They are still hitting hard and true to themselves but I think their palette is broader; their performances more rounded and the result deeper and more varied.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Jonny Cournoyer

I will talk about Sleater-Kinney’s future very soon because, right now, they have tour dates and they need to get a new drummer on board. I want to side-step and look at women in music this year. This is something I bring up in a lot of reviews – as I am reviewing more women than men at the moment – but I feel it deserves repetition. Not only have the best albums of 2019 been made by women but I feel they are displaying greater range than the men. I am not dismissing male artists and feel they are vital but I am hearing female artists of the moment and they are more eclectic and original. Little Simz is one of Hip-Hop’s biggest names whilst there is great Folk from Julia Jacklin; some passionate anthems from Lizzo and, with Sleater-Kinney releasing new material, some great Punk/Pop-Punk. I do think this year has been especially strong for women and I am not sure why. It is no bad or strange thing but, compared with previous years, we have seen this explosion. The year is not yet done and I just know there are going to be other titanic albums from female artists. Sleater-Kinney’s The Center Won’t Hold will be among the best releases of this year and there is a lot of talk about Lana Del Rey’s forthcoming record, Norman Fucking Rockwell. Maybe it is this determination (from female artists) to be taken seriously or show that, in an industry where there is sexism in every corner, now is the time for change. I am not sure but I am amazed by the sheer quality coming through. I think this will continue for a few years and there are so many great new female artists emerging. I do believe 2019 is one of the strongest years for music we have seen for a very long time indeed. Women are definitely leading and it is high-time the industry reacted and actually made some big steps.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Bands like Sleater-Kinney are discussing inequality and imbalance but I do not think the messages are resounding with the bosses and festival organisers. One will forgive me for repeating myself here but I do feel like the quality we are seeing from female artists is not being translated onto the stage and rewarded. Maybe next year will be the year when equality is closer and we will actually see change. I will move on to a new subject in a minute but I want to stay with equality and women in 2019. Sleater-Kinney are at the front of the charge and they are proving why we all need to be aware of the fantastic women in the industry. Maybe it will take a bit of time before there is true equality but we are still in a position where women are overlooked as headliners; their music is played less on the radio and we have to have these conversations. Maybe the next couple of years will get us on an even footing but I still have that fear things will be as they are now then. The rest of the year looks like it will be pretty special in terms of releases but, so far, we have seen this bounty from women in all genres. There are albums to come, as I said, from Lana Del Rey and Sleater-Kinney but take a look at the best albums so far this year – articles from various press sources – and you will see the embarrassment of female riches. I wanted to get that off my chest again but, moving on, one should be excited about new Sleater-Kinney material. They are a band who have inspired so many to get into music and will continue to do so for many years to come. There is always a danger, when you have played for years, that you’ll lose that touch and the spark that made you. So many acts go off the boil and they seem far less relevant as the years go by.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Sleater-Kinney have grown and changed since their start in the 1990s but one cannot accuse them of settling and waning. They have remained incredibly relevant, powerful and daring. St. Vincent’s Annie Clark has ensured that fire and intensity remains but she has brought new elements into the mix and given them a new lease. I do hope she works with them again but, at the very least, I know there will be many more albums from Sleater-Kinney. They are amazing and influential and we definitely need Sleater-Kinney in music right now. I think all the speculation and gossip that is around them right now is quite upsetting. Not only do we know Annie Clark has been a positive force and not the reason Janet Weiss is leaving the band but their upcoming album promises to be very special and interesting. All the rumours and chat threatens to overshadow the album and I do hope people listen to The Center Won’t Hold and not think about Weiss’ split and look for reasons why; listening to the songs and thinking Clark had anything to do with it. The band has set the record straight but I do think a lot of press outlets will mention the album in terms of Clark’s introduction. She has done a stellar job and I feel other musicians will be keen to have her on board as a producer. Sleater-Kinney are this magnificent force of nature and one has to respect them. To many of us, they are shining examples of artists who can transition through the decades and remain true to themselves yet willing to evolve. At their centre, as I said, is that true sound that has lasted for years, but they have mixed in something new. I will get to the new song from Sleater-Kinney, Can I Go On, in a bit but it is worth finishing on the point regarding Sleater-Kinney and their longevity. I loved them in the 1990s and they represented something illuminating, thrilling and wonderful. Look at the reviews their albums have accrued - and here is a group who have not lost a step through the years. They seem to get stronger as time goes by and that is down to their unwillingness to stand still and copy what is around them.

PHOTO CREDIT: Konstantin Sergeyev

The opening of Can I Go On is fascinating. There is this lovely combination of guitar and bass; a tapestry that has a sense of groove and brightness but there is a rawness underneath. The production allows the notes to shine and pop but there is a murkiness lingering underneath. When the vocals come in, one notices this sharp contrast. The electricity and potency of the delivery is a lot harder and sharper than the introduction. Our heroine talks about everyone she knows being tired and wired up to machines. There are toothy and growling strains from the electric guitar; some nice wordless backing vocals and Weiss at the back leading the song on and producing this steady heartbeat. You do need to spin the track a few times because it is quite busy and full. The composition is exciting and brings out emotions of its own. The song talks about friends being happy but, ironically, they are napping; the heroine cannot find her thrill and half the day is wasted away. When I listened to the song the first time around, I was thinking about the Internet and social media. Perhaps we all seem happy online because we are hiding behind screens and it is hard to tell. Perhaps we do waste a lot of time on computers and that creates social dislocation, anxiety and fatigue. I am not sure what the exact inspiration behind the song is but that is what I thought when listening. The chorus is this fulsome and catchy thing that asks whether they want to go on and whether, given these contrasts and themes being tackled, there are clear answers. Many have stated how Annie Clark has brought some St. Vincent to Sleater-Kinney and, in a way, she has. By that, I mean the chorus has a Pop edge but there is something there are major keys and something lighter. Sleater-Kinney still sound pumped and alive but there is one can detect a slight change in sound.

One can dance and sing along to the chorus but there is ample power and drive that will please the existing fanbase. Our heroine talks about everyone being funny but, as it seems, jokes do not make us money. There is still this sense of us being trapped and things needing to change in the world. Sleater-Kinney have said The Center Won’t Hold is not political but I cannot help but link their latest single with the state of affairs. We are living through a time when there are gulfs around the world and so much to be done. The severity is pronounced in America and, led by President Trump, one cannot help but listen to Sleater-Kinney and think some of their anger is directed at him. In a wider sense, one feels this tiredness and the observation that many people are floored and lacking energy. That might be a reaction to political situations or the way we conduct a lot of our daily deeds online. Modern life, it seems, is a bit rubbish and the band wonder whether they can go on and what the point is. That might sound grim and defeatist but it is not really. The vocal is incredible strong and impassioned throughout; this sense of defiance in the face of hardship and a strength that gives Can I Go On a definite buzz and appeal. The band sound incredibly tight throughout and I do love the fact there are nice little touches throughout (the buzzsaw guitar and some straining strings; backing vocals and nice little breaks here and there). The song is very busy, as I said, so you will want to come back and give it a listen after the first spin. Sleater-Kinney have kept their heartbeat traditional and reliable but, with Clark offering guidance and new elements, they have injected all these strands and sounds into their blend which is exciting indeed. Some purists might not like the new direction but I think songs like Can I Go On are phenomenal. If the rest of the tracks on The Center Won’t Hold sound like this then few can have complaints; the reviews will be strong and it will be another triumph for Sleater-Kinney. Maybe one listens to the music and wonders why Janet Weiss left the band and whether she was unhappy – I have already stated how, when it comes to Annie Clark, that appointment was one she endorsed. If you have not heard Sleater-Kinney’s latest jam then make sure you check it out. It is a wonderful thing and shows that they are one of the most important and enduring bands of the past couple of deacdes.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Suki Dhanda

It seems like Sleater-Kinney will be heading to the U.K. early next year to play but they are busy with U.S. dates at the moment. The Center Won’t Hold is out in a couple of weeks and it will acquire a lot of debate, interest and fondness. I do hope people can get beyond the changes in the ranks and the fact Weiss has left. I think Annie Clark has done a terrific job on The Center Won’t Hold and we have to give her respect for that. She is an amazing producer and has uncovered something new from Sleater-Kinney. I do know there are gigs but, without Weiss, it means there will be this transition. It is sad the long-serving drummer is not with Sleater-Kinney anymore but we cannot overlook her time in the band and how much she gave. It will be strange not seeing her on the stage but it is an opportunity to add someone new to the line-up and that will give Sleater-Kinney a new impetus – as Weiss did when she joined in the 1990s. Not all change is bad and, whilst it seems odd at the moment, it will be okay. Of course, there are no immediate plans for Sleater-Kinney to slow down or split so one can expect to see them releasing material for years to come. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker are still leading from the front and I know they will be okay. It is an eventful time for Sleater-Kinney none the less and we all need to look forward to The Center Won’t Hold. It will be, as I have predicted, among the best-received albums of this year and the reaction to their new material has been very strong. I shall end things in a minute but I wanted to encourage people to get behind Sleater-Kinney and listen to their new track. Go and pre-order their upcoming album (the link is at the top of this review) and follow them on social media (the links are at the very bottom).

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rozette Rago for The New York Times

Even if you did not grow up around Sleater-Kinney, you have to admit that they are among the very best and most relevant acts around. Since their eponymous debut in 1995, Sleater-Kinney have provided stunning songs and, to many, a voice. So many have been caught up in the gossip and rumours regarding Janet Weiss and Annie Clark and forget about the music. We need to respect Sleater-Kinney because they have inspired other artists and their music has enriched and empowered lives. There are not too many artists who can make that sort of difference so, in ending, let us salute this wonderful group. The future will be very different for them and things will settle down soon enough. I do know they will be alright and their new drummer will settle in fine. Fans might need some time get their heads around it all but that is something they’ll have to do. Now, Sleater-Kinney are priming a new album and we should all look forward to that. Maybe The Center Won’t Hold is not the political explosion some were hoping for but it is rich with interesting songs that discuss empowerment and the personal. The compositions are broader and different to what we experienced on the last couple of Sleater-Kinney albums but I actually think there is a richness and nuance that was not there before; perhaps something more accessible to those not familiar with Sleater-Kinney. I love everything they do and it has been great reviewing Can I Go On. Some might look at the title and think it is a declaration from Janet Weiss but, no, it is not! Make sure you buy The Center Won’t Hold and show Sleater-Kinney a lot of love. They are a band who have experienced a bit of loss and separation but, even though they have lost a sister, they will carry on and continue to make inspiring music…

FOR a very long time.

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Follow Sleater-Kinney

TRACK REVIEW: Taylor Swift - The Archer

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Taylor Swift

The Archer

 

9.3/10

 

The track, The Archer, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=154&v=8KpKc3C9V3w

GENRE:

Pop

ORIGIN:

New York, U.S.A.

RELEASE DATE:

23rd July, 2019

The album, Lover, is released on 23rd August, 2019 through Republic/Taylor Swift Productions. Pre-order here:

https://taylorswift.lnk.to/LoverTw

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THIS is a bit of a departure for me…

because I do not often review a mainstream Pop artist. Taylor Swift is more than pure Pop but, when it comes to commercial artists, I tend to stay away. The reason I wanted to review her latest track was that, when one considers Swift, there is a lot to recommend. She may divide some in terms of her sound but, as an idol and someone asking for change, there is a lot to applaud her for. Before I react to her latest single, I want to talk about Swift as a huge star and how there is a lot of pressure on her shoulders; the fact that, just recently, she has started giving interviews after a three-year gap. I also want to move on to her role as a role model and how she will inspire the next generation; her brand of music and how it mixes in Pop, Country and other genres – seemingly more rounded than a lot of the mainstream music we hear at the moment. I will also discuss her role as a potential future headliner and icon and, also, whether we put too much expectation on bigger artists and whether we can separate the music from their personal life. I will discuss Taylor Swift and the fact she is giving interviews (after a long pause) but, when we think of the biggest artists in music right now, Taylor Swift must be near the top of the pile. With her, it goes beyond the music itself. Swift is not just an artist; she is a businesswoman and philanthropist who gives a lot to charity and is a big supporter of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community. Maybe I should start with that. There are a lot of big artists out there but I do wonder how many use their platform for good; to raise their voice for causes and people. So often, one hears their music and they promote that but things rarely go beyond that. I do think that a lot of the biggest stars around are not really being vocal enough.

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For a while, Swift kept her political views away from music but she has spoken out. She is someone who is disgusted at the way America is going and what is happening. Even if you are a bit sniffy when it comes to Taylor Swift, you cannot deny that she has a certain power and charm that is hard to ignore. Her songs are varied and interesting and she is someone who puts messages into her tracks. You Need to Calm Down is about homophobic and her critics. ME! boasts a video that is glittery and extravagant whilst the aforementioned You Need to Calm Down is one of her most vivid and talked-about videos. She is a fantastic entertainer and has this incredible passion that one is sucked in by. Taylor Swift goes beyond merely music and performing. For so many out there, she is a guide and idol that is speaking for them and fighting their corner. With that, there comes this pressure and demand. I guess you can say the same for any big star but, with Swift, it seems like her every move is tracked. She is barely allowed a moment to relax and, one suspects, the reason she did not do interviews for a long time was because she needed some privacy and space. Many artists and young girls will want to follow in Taylor Swift’s footsteps but they will be seeing the media scrutiny and obsession and wondering whether it is such a wise move. For someone as popular and exposed as Swift, it is hard to lead an ordinary life. I know she has tackled criticism and pressure in her music but one wonders what happens behind closed doors. I do feel for a lot of Pop artists who have such a following and, whilst they inspire devotion, there is that downside where you can never get a breath and have time to yourself. This has been the way of music for decades and I do think there is this problem that we need to tackle. Not only do artists like Swift have to fight for their right for room and privacy, but there is that impact on their physical and mental well-being.

Swift has just begun conducting interviews again after a few years. I have not researched the reasons why she stopped doing them but one suspects that she was a bit tired of being picked apart and misrepresented. It is always interesting reading interview from Swift because she seems to be a lot more accessible than a lot of her peers. Rather than being someone in the business for fame, she genuinely does want to touch people and make a difference. In this interview with Elle, she talked about connecting with her fans and the nature of social media today:

 “So often with our takedown culture, talking sh*t about a celebrity is basically the same as talking sh*t about the new iPhone. So when I go and I meet fans, I see that they actually see me as a flesh-and-blood human being. That—as contrived as it may sound—changed [me] completely, assigning humanity to my life.”

And when it comes to social media, Swift considers it to be both a blessing and a curse because of the way people can be judged and treated, for better or worse, based on what they post.

“Our priorities can get messed up existing in a society that puts a currency on curating the way people see your life,” Swift began. “Social media has given people a way to express their art. I use it to connect with fans. But on the downside you feel like there are 3 trillion new invisible hoops that you have to jump through, and you feel like you’ll never be able to jump through them all correctly. I—along with a lot of my friends and fans—am trying to figure out how to navigate living my life and not just curating what I want people to think living my life is."

Swift has also had trouble figuring out where to set boundaries between her private and public life, how to be open enough on social media that she doesn't seem fake without compromising her privacy. "I’m not always able to maintain a balance, and I think that’s important for everyone to know about," she said. "We’re always learning, and that’s something that I also had to learn—that I’ve got to be brave enough to learn. Learning in public is so humiliating sometimes…."

But for now, things are going well, and she's enjoying that moment. "Do I feel more balanced in my life than I ever have before? Um, probably yeah," she said. "But is that permanent? No. And I think being okay with that has put me in a bit of a better position”.

There is, as I say, so much assumption from the media; they do like to fabricate stories and, when they are not doing that, the glare on big stars is immense. It is unsurprising that someone like Taylor Swift would need a break to reflect and relax. When speaking with MTV, she discussed the reason behind taking a gap from recording – between 1989 and Reputation – and how the album-making process is always different:

Believe it or not, she's speaking from personal experience. While discussing what keeps things "fresh" for Swift after all these years, she admitted that she doesn't always feel inspired and happy from making music. As fans recall, there was a three-year gap between 1989 and reputation, and according to Swift, it was because she needed to take time for her mental health.

"It's not always fresh for me," she conceded. "There have been times when I've needed to take years off because I just felt exhausted or I felt really low or really bad. You never really have the same process making an album. Right now, thankfully, I feel really energized, which I'm feeling really grateful for. It's not something that I take for granted, that I feel this energized and this excited about this new music".

I just wanted to bring in a couple of interviews because it reveals a bit about Swift and the fact that she is relatable. Many of us do not really talk about musicians and their health and I think we need to do it more. Social media, pressures of modern life and musical expectations can all weight heavy and I do think that the likes of Taylor Swift are going to help raise awareness by speaking out and being open. I do think many people feel Pop artists are always happy and have this perfect life. For some, that might be true but the realities of modern music are quite stark. I am glad Swift is in a good headspace now and she is positive about making music.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Valheria Rocha

It is good Swift allows herself some time to breathe and step away from music because so many artists through the years have succumbed to the pressure or they have gone off of the rails. Let’s leave that aside because, when I was talking about popular stars speaking out more and discussing big issues, they could take a leaf from Taylor Swift’s book. She, for so many, is a role model and champion. She is a big supporter of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community and she is keen to promote messages of togetherness acceptance and progression. She knows there is not the equality and understanding there should be but, for so many who feel isolated and alone, Swift is a light in the dark. For young girls and women out there, Swift is an advocate and inspiration. A few years back, there was a rise in girls playing guitar and it was traced back to Swift. The fact she has encouraged more girls to take up an instrument and get into music that way is fantastic. Swift is someone who has earned a lot of money through her work but she is a charitable individual and someone who wants to share her wealth in order to fund great causes. Recently, she donated a large sum of money to the Tennessee Equality Project and, again, it is an example of her standing with the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community. Swift is one of the most generous stars in music and is always happy to support causes she believes in. Rather than being this wealthy artist who throws money at charities to make themselves look good – it does happen -, Swift wants to make the world a better place and she wants to see greater acceptance and harmony through the world. So many people will look up to her, at the forefront of music, and be moved. There are artists who release music and not a lot else but Swift is always busy using her power and wealth to help improve lives.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @ashleyophoto

Not only is she charitable but she involves herself in other areas. As this article explores, Swift has used her personal experiences to help raise awareness for women who are sexually assaulted:

Many of Swift’s fans and anybody who reads the news are probably familiar with at least some of the details of her lawsuit against Denver DJ David Mueller. The pop star accused the DJ in 2013 of groping her during a photoshoot, an accusation that eventually caused her to be sued by Mueller for defamation, after which she countersued.

Swift was eventually vindicated in court when the jury ruled that Mueller did, in fact, grope her.

Swift took an active role in these trials, using them as a public platform to bring awareness to the issue of sexual assault against women everywhere. “My hope is to help those whose voices should be heard,” Swift reported in a statement delivered in the courthouse. She tied her case in with other victim’ by thanking “anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault,” pledging afterwards to make donations to organizations who assist those affected”.

I have talked a lot about Swift as a humanitarian and someone who wants to make a difference in the world and I know she will go down in musical history as one of the most inspiring artists ever. Swift is still only twenty-nine and she has decades more in the industry. So many people her age are just sitting around and watching others help change the world but Swift is at the front; always looking to make a difference. It is inspiring for everyone and for someone like me – who is not her usual target fan demographic – you get this very different impression about mainstream stars. I think many of us just assume they are obsessed with social media and fame; they have quite an easy life and are keener to line their own pockets rather than give something back. Taylor Swift is a very different type of artist and a human who has influenced so many people around the world.

It may be surprising to some to see I am reviewing Taylor Swift. I am not usually a big fan of mainstream Pop because it can be quite processed, overly-energetic and vague. I do think there is this core that put in generic lyrics and sound exactly the same. It can be depressing to hear that and, every year, people ask whether Pop music has gotten worse and why the older sounds were the best. I do think there are some great modern Pop artists around but the more commercial side of the market lacks real quality and longevity. Taylor Swift is not a straightforward Pop artist. She is someone who, on her eponymous 2006 debut, was a lot more Country-Pop then she is now. That album gathered some great reviews because, not only did Swift co-write all of the songs, but there was this huge maturity from someone so young – she would have been a teenager back then. The songs had elements of Country heartache but there was the youthfulness and slight naivety you get with Pop. It was a great blend and she built from there. On albums like Fearless (2008), she created something mature and accessible. Blurring the lines between Country music and Pop, Swift released an album that was very personal and accomplished; much more accessible and appealing than a lot of the mainstream fare – artists having teams writing for them and being more concerned with streaming figures as opposed the quality of the music. She kept her Country roots for 2012’s Red but that album was a bigger and more experimental thing; she talked about toxic relationships and, to many, Red was her most affecting and personal album. By 2014’s 1989, Swift released an album that was broader than her previous work and stepped from Country-Pop to Synth-Pop. This was a turning point for her and showed that she was not someone who was repeating herself and doing the same as her contemporaries.

1989 was the first album not to take shot at lovers: it was a more hopeful album and one full of self-discovery; although there were more emotional moments, it was a very different sound from Swift. Maybe it was a change of personnel and people around her but, with each album, she stepped into new ground and did something completely different. 2017’s Reputation is a much bigger and bolder record than anything she released until that point and it was another step forward for the Pop mastermind. So many modern artists do repeat themselves and bring out the same album time and time again. Swift is always keen to venture forward and, whilst relationships and heartache are never that far away, she documented something darker and deeper on Reputation. Her seventh album, Lover, is out on 23rd August and one suspects that this record will be a lot brighter and more optimistic than her previous one – maybe it will be quite dark but I sense something with more colour and positivity. I know Taylor Swift has her detractors and critics and, whilst her music is not for everyone out there, one cannot deny she is always evolving and experimenting. Her tracks are big and celebratory; she has a deeper side and is one of the most personal and intelligent Pop lyricists around. I do feel like the modern industry is harder than ever and it is so difficult getting a foothold and staying relevant. Swift has managed to transcend from this hopeful and appealing debutante to this blossomed and powerful mainstream artists who has not compromised her direction and independence. She does write with others but her voice is at the forefront; she calls the shots and she wants to make music that actually means something. Again, perhaps I am not who she is singing for – like a lot of Pop, there is a rather tight and particular demographic at work (unusually those under eighteen, let’s say)-, but I can appreciate her songs and the fact that she is changing people’s lives.

I have talked about expectation and the fact that we do heap pressure on artists. For someone like Taylor Swift, she is not afforded much quiet and privacy. Every move is watched and every song is pulled apart in a way you would not get with newer, less-popular artists. Swift handles the pressure with maturity and grace and, rather than rally too much against critics, she keeps pushing on. I do wonder whether were will see Taylor Swift headline a festival in the U.K. I believe she has headlined festivals around the world but when it comes to somewhere like Glastonbury, will we ever see the day? Ed Sheeran has, unfortunately, headlined Glastonbury and I feel Swift is a much more appealing and inspiring artist. Newer talent like Billie Eilish played Glastonbury this year and showed, in doing so, that there is headline worthiness there. I think Swift has been in the business long enough to warrant that sort of stage and I wonder whether there is reluctance to put a Pop artist on as headliner. It does happen but, more often than not, bands and other genres are favoured. Perhaps this will change over time but I do think that Swift has earned her striped and would make a genuinely popular headliner at one of our festivals. I do not hear her music often on the radio because, like everyone, I have my favourite station (BBC Radio 6 Music). It is ignorance on my part but I should listen to her music more; I think a festival appearance would make more people aware of her music; those who would otherwise avoid it. Swift is a fantastic live performer and I do think, at a time when Pop is still being criticised and compared with the past, festivals here need to book her. I have not mentioned Swift’s new song, The Archer, yet so I should probably get around to it! I know Lover is due to feature eighteen tracks – more than any of her other releases. It is clear Swift is in inspired mood at the moment and she has a lot to discuss.

It is clear The Archer is about cruelty in love and, as the title suggests, getting shot in the heart and avoiding the cruel slings and arrows of heartache. The opening notes of The Archer are quite calm and romantic. There is dreaminess and sense of composure as Swift comes to the microphone. If previous songs have been pretty buoyant and fired, this is quite different. Her voice reminds me of a cross between Lana Del Rey and Cyndi Lauper. Swift’s delivery is breathy and affected as she talks about combat; she is ready for combat and it seems like she is in the midst of a breakup. Swift observes that “cruelty wins in the movies” and she has thrown out a hundred speeches she was going to say to the guy. I have mentioned how Lover is an album with a more optimistic bent but I do think there will be more introspective tracks. Rather than attack her lover, Swift is discussing how capricious love is and how passion can come along easily and then leaves. She is leaping on the train and has this rather solitary nature. Maybe Swift has always been that way: someone who never stands still and cannot imagine herself with someone. I do think The Archer will get a remix at some point because its lyrics have a flexibility that suggest they could translate into Dance. Swift’s delivery is tender and delicate and, whilst never really blaming her sweetheart, you can tell there is an ache and sense of disappointment.  The chorus brings in this idea of the lover being an archer who is shooting arrows. Swift has been an archer too and, as the lyrics unfolds, you get these vivid images of the bond. Swift is one of the most original lyricists around and she documents and paints her plight in a very interesting way. With some 1980s synths backing her, there is this vintage sound that seems separate from the rather plastic and ultra-modern vibe of modern Pop today.

I know a lot of artists are bringing the 1980s into their music – such as Bat for Lashes – but Taylor Swift’s music seems a lot more mature and interesting than a lot of the modern Pop scene. Swift asks who could leave her and who could stay; she has cut her nose off to spite her face and beat herself up. Swift is hard on herself and not, as I keep saying, attacking her lover. So many artists jab at their lovers – and Swift has done this before – but Swift is looking at this situation/strain from different sides and looking inside herself. One might think The Archer is quite depressing and heavy-going but it actually a pretty accessible song. You can involve yourself in it and never feel like you need to be Taylor Swift to understand its words. Those expecting beefy chorus sounds and processed vocals might be in for a disappointment. Swift has created one of her most personal and evocative tracks to date. Her vocals get layered to create this ghostly sound and, when it comes to the spectral, she talks about waking at night and feeling like a ghost; she is wants to be held on to – the room is on fire and Swift notes how all her heroes died alone. Not only are the lyrics clever and illuminating but you cannot help but feel impressed by the poetic nature. So many modern artists rely on tropes and clichés but Swift does not go there. She sings how all her enemies started at friends and how she is broken right now – all the king’s horses and men couldn’t put her together again, it is said -; how she needs this protection and togetherness but something is getting in the way. It is never revealed why things have turned bad and how she has got to where she is. Perhaps it is a pattern she cannot get out of or a particularly tough time. The honest, emotion and maturity one hears throughout the song and, whilst The Archer is a lot cooler and slower than songs like ME! and You Need to Calm Down, it demands repeated listens and, I think, is more appealing. Because it is not a bold and colourful song, I do think it has the potential to cross over to a number of different radio stations and hit a wider demographic. Taylor Swift has always been a broad artist but, on Lover, she is mixing so many themes and sounds together. The Archer is a fantastic song and one that holds a lot of depth, intrigue and personal exposure.

On 23rd August, Taylor Swift will release Lover. Three singles have been released so far so it is hard to get a grip on the overall theme and sound of the album but, according to Swift, there is a more romantic gaze (than previous albums). We can find love in loneliness and hard times and it seems like Lover will be a pretty positive and potent album. We shall see what comes around but The Archer is a song I was eager to review. On every album, Swift adds something different into her sound and she, to me, is one of the best lyricists in modern Pop. With a new album, there will be tour demands and new expectation. I was keen to include new interviews from her because it shows a human side that often gets buried in all the glitz and promotional cycle. Swift is someone who has experienced pressure and had to take some time away from music. It seems like she is in a more positive place at the moment and I do hope that this continues. I am not interesting in the gossip side of things and her romantic life but I believe she is making plans for the future and, as she hits thirty in December, children are on her mind. I can imagine life is anything but normal and easy for one of the most influential artists in the world. With millions of followers online, Swift has a huge army behind her but I can imagine it is hard to just switch off and be a normal person. Her music has enriched lives and she is inspiring so many other artists. I guess songwriting is autobiography and she can get a lot of her emotions, feelings and angers out that way. I don’t know. It is a hard balance I guess but Swift is one of those people who seems indefatigable and incredibly strong. If you have not listened to her music or have been a bit reluctant before, take a look at The Archer because it is a genuinely great Pop song. Swift has such a varied career and it is impossible to label and define her. Not only is Taylor Swift one of the most varied and accessible artists in Pop but she is, as I have explored, someone who gives so much to others. It is not often we talk about Pop artists in terms of being an ambassador-like figure but, when it comes to Taylor Swift, she is…

A definite role model.

___________

Follow Taylor Swift

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TRACK REVIEW: The 1975 - The 1975

TRACK REVIEW:

 

The 1975

IN THIS PHOTO: Greta Thunberg and Matty Healty/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/The 1975

The 1975

 

9.5/10

 

The track, The 1975, is available via:

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

GENRE:

Spoken Word

ORIGIN:

Manchester, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

25th July, 2019

LABEL:

Dirty Hit

__________

IT might be a bit unfair to claim that…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Anders Hellberg

this new track from The 1975 is entirely the work of The 1975. Although it is called The 1975, it is an essay/speech read out by environmental activist, Greta Thunberg. She is the central aspect of the song but, before I get there, I want to talk about bands that expand and grow hugely over time; why environmental issues are at the fore right now and we should be taking more notice; how bands like The 1975 are going to inspire others to talk about big themes in their music; role models and artists that we should be looking up to; a bit about Pop and how some are helping to redefine it – I will end by stating where The 1975 are heading and what lies in their future. Let’s start by talking about The 1975 as this act who have really blown up through the years. I remember when they released their eponymous debut back in 2013 and how different it sounds to what they are producing now. The band consist lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Matthew ‘Matty’ Healy, lead guitarist Adam Hann; bassist Ross MacDonald and drummer George Daniel. They have come an awful long way in a few years but I do like how they started. Maybe their self-titled album was not as ambitious and original as the work they are producing now but there were some hits and memorable numbers on the debut – no less Chocolate and Sex. They sort of upped their game by 2016’s I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It and, whilst that titled annoyed many people (it is a bit stupid!), it was another evolution for a band becoming more confident and experimental. I think The 1975 really developed their sound and became a lot more ambitious as time went on. Maybe few would have expected them to survive after their debut but, lo and behold, they continued on and last year’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is their finest work. It has just been nominated for a Mercury Prize and many are tipping it to win.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

This is a group who have come a very long way since the start of their careers and they seem to be growing stronger by the release. Listen to A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships and it is a very different beast to The 1975. They are less reliant on pure love songs or straight numbers that have great hooks and make you sing along. They are introducing new sounds and formats; stretching what an album can be and are becoming more socially conscious and bold as they go along. That will lead me to their latest song but one only needs to listen to what they have released recently to see The 1975 are one of the biggest bands in the world. This is a time when solo artists are dominating so it is nice to see bands like The 1975 around. I would hate the music industry to become too reliant on solo artists and, as there is not the same level of Rock bands as we had years ago, maybe it is harder for bands to succeed. The 1975 are leading the way and are proving what can be achieved; how bands do not need to sound the same and I do think we will see a lot of new bands form that are inspired by The 1975. I wonder how far The 1975 can go because, very soon, they are bringing out their album, Notes on a Conditional Form. In fact, I think the album is coming out next year but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pushed forward, given the momentum they have created. I am not sure what their upcoming album will revolve around but, if it is anything like A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, then it is going to be a smash – that album was one of the best-rated of last year. Touring and adulation on the road has helped when it comes to The 1975 growing and expanding their horizons but I think they are looking around them and writing the types of songs we need to hear right now.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/The 1975

That brings me to the environment and other subjects that are not necessarily documented in music all that much. I know artists like ANONHI (4 Degrees) have talked about the changing climate and how serious it is but, largely, the mainstream still consists of artists talking about themselves. What this year’s list of Mercury-nominated artists shows is that we have some great British acts that are getting urgent and starting to talk about what matters. From Grime and Hip-Hop albums that investigate modern Britain and the realities of the street to artists tackling toxic relationships and gender imbalance, it is great to see something serious being injected into music. I know this is not new but I still feel like there is too much personal heartache and commercial sounds at the forefront. Given the fact the world is changing and the environment is under threat, I do think artists have a responsibility to talk about it and open eyes. I doubt there are many of us who want to experience too many days like we have done recently – especially the heat of Thursday! It was really unbearable and it is quite worrying to realise that this sort of heat will become more common. The problems with the environment are manmade and we need to do all we can to try and reverse climate change. Maybe it will be impossible to undo all the damage but it is imperative that we do all we can. It might be a bit scary talking about environmental changes in music and hard to articulate something moving but I feel more artists need to try. The 1975 are one of these bands who are not shying away from the big subjects and want people to react and take action. I do feel, as climate change takes hold, musicians have a very important part to play. I am not suggesting they can lead to revolution and solve all the problems around but I do not think the Government are doing enough.

If the Mercury shortlist shows anything it is that the best music at the moment strays away from the strictly personal and has a political edge. I do love artists that discuss their own lives but, as the world becomes more divided and there are so many problems around, artists are leading the way and doing what politicians should be doing. The 1975 are a fantastic band and, no doubt, will inspire people to make changes. The money raised for their new single is going to Extinction Rebellion – an environmental charity – and I do hope that our current Government are moved to take action and introduce measures…although that might be a bit of a stretch! Music is fine as it is right now but how many tracks open your eyes, move you and actually make you think?! There are not that many, I bet, and I do think that artists around the world need to start talking about big subjects. Many do already but I think we need a lot more recruitment and a louder voice. I am not surprised The 1975 have brought out this song that puts Greta Thunberg at the front because she is someone who is inspiring many. Only sixteen, she is an activist who is making speeches and calling for change. The 1975’s new track is less a traditional song and more Spoken Word; Thunberg delivering this impassioned and striking speech that calls for action and revolution. Some have claimed the messages are quite irresponsible and will provoke violence but it is clear what she is saying: we are being let down and the planet is in real danger at the moment. If we let things carry on as they are, it will mean extreme heat will be the norm and future generations will suffer. I am a bit worried how things will work out and what state the planet will be in (in) about twenty years. We all need to take action because we are reaching a point of no return – somewhere we do not want to be at all!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jordan Hughes

I want to bring in a couple of interviews The 1975 gave last year when promoting A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. I do not think there are many bands out there at the moment you can call iconic or role models. I feel The 1975 transcend mere band status and have a much bigger role to play. Matty Healy, especially, is someone who speaks out against gender inequality and wants balance; he is concerned about the planet and wants to see changes there. So many musicians remain quiet because they fear the label will object or fans will turn away but music’s huge platform is not necessarily being exploited by popular artists. More and more, issues big and small are cropping up and I do think musicians have a duty to bring them up in their work. In this interview with DIY, Healy talks about how tough it is being a human and the fears he has:

 “Instead, ‘A Brief Enquiry…’ looks set to beat with a far more human and fallible heart than these early technology-infatuated movements might suggest. Of course, there’s an overly complex explanation about the renouncing of his previous postmodern songwriting tendencies (“always referencing myself, always referencing another song”) to explain it all, but really it boils down to a far simpler point: “Everything is so ironic because the idea of sentiment is more difficult to deal with. Being human is more difficult than being ironic.”

At a time where society is more politically polarised than ever, and a fear of being publicly burned on social media has the world treading on fearful eggshells, The 1975 want to tap into the real, human feeling at the centre of it all. “You look at the Right, and the Right has got Nazis in it, so we put that in a box and we know that’s not a good place to go. And then you look at the Left and you’ve got this whole group of people who just won’t stand for any nuance.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/The 1975 

So everyone’s scared. I’m scared. I think that people are scared to feel, and they don’t know what to say. So I think that going deeper is where this record’s come from,” Matty explains. Later in our conversation, these fears manifest themselves in a way that’s echoed by many conscientious males in the public eye right now. “Let me ask your opinion on something,” he cuts in. “I can be quite tactile, so am I deluded or paranoid to think, would it be good for me to always have a chaperone in interviews if the journalist is female?” he questions. “I’m worried about being myself and just chatting. I know that women are made to feel uncomfortable by men, so is it my moral duty to say, would you like another person around? Or does that make me seem guilty? I’m not a bigot, and I’m not a racist and I’m not sexist, but what if there was some ridiculous scandal that was not true but managed to really discredit me?

There are very few leads who are as open and revealing in interviews and, whilst someone like Matty Healy is quite accessible, there is also something pretty amazing about him. He is a bit of a role model but his path has not always been clear and straight. Healy has had to overcome problems and challenges but, as he explained to GQ, excess and addiction is not a good path – almost eschewing the traditional mantras or Rock bands and that idea life:

 “He starts to tick them off, “Sex, drugs, done all of them, that’s not a path to salvation. Not that I don’t have a good sex life, not that we need to get personal about it, but art, drugs, sex, religion... Religion, unfortunately, [is] not an option, especially if you live in England. They’re all just forms of losing yourself and I think I see that at shows, kids having that moment of freedom. That’s one of the only times I feel really free, when I’m on stage, not because people are looking at me, but because I’m fulfilling my purpose.” He adds, “I’ve learned more from artists who signpost toward utopian ideals as opposed to politicians and leaders that actually try and create them and fuck them up. Artists have taught me way more than anyone else really”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jordan Hughes

Healy is a cleaner and more focused artist than he once was and many people should be looking up to him, I think. There are too many artists around with very little to say but The 1975 are almost like their own political party. They can craft music that is catchy and radio-primed but there are deeper messages and important themes being tackled throughout. In many ways, The 1975 are part of a movement who are redefining Pop and what it stands for. Even though there is a lot of commercial Pop flying about still, The 1975 are showing what direction it should be moving in. They are discussing themes around sex, politics and social issues but are pairing that with compositions and vocals that stick in the heart and has a lighter touch. Other artists like Billie Eilish are also taking Pop in new directions and it is pleasing to see innovators around who are not just following everyone else. I know other bands are compelled by The 1975 so it will not be too long until we see them make their way to the mainstream. Music is in a good state I think but there is still an absence of the biggest artists using their voice to actually talk about stuff that matters: still, there is this reliance on the commercial and personal. It is a bit sad to see but I guess it will be hard to override that. As we are made more aware of problems around climate change and the environment, I feel musicians will react and we will hear more songs that call for action and change. I shall move on in a second but I am glad The 1975 are riding high right now and delivering these very stirring and inspiring songs. I should probably stop with the gabbing and actually get down to reviewing The 1975’s eponymous track.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Campanella

The opening of The 1975 is soft piano and something quite tender. We hear a couple of voices (one of them belonging to Greta Thunberg) chatting and there is this delicate and tender piano line. It never really gets to the forefront but brilliantly scores Thunberg who comes to the microphone and, with a serious tone, she talks about what we are experiencing right now. Rather than get angry and fire the words out, there is this stern feeling but she never shouts or forces the issue. Instead, Thunberg talks about how we are living in an environmental crisis and we cannot hide from it. Many governments around the world are not calling it what it is and we need to start accepting that there is a huge problem that we need to face and rectify. We do not have all the solutions yet unless, as Thunberg says, we simply do nothing. It seems that there is this general apathy and inactivity that means the world is being destroyed needlessly. Nobody can ignore the facts and harsh truth and so, with that in mind, what are we to do? Thunberg states that the “older generations have failed” and this current climate battle is one we are losing. These words seem quite haunting and perilous but, rather than scare and put you off, they are designed to make you think and inspire. I do like the fact the composition is very much at the back and the attention is on the voice. Some artists, if they tried a song like this, would have electronics and all manner of sounds getting in the way. Thunberg outlines how political movements are failing but we as humans have not yet failed – and we can still turn this around if we want to. We need to recognise the failings of our systems and, if we do not do that, then we stand no chance. This sort of disaster has not befalling the world and we have seen nothing like this before. Now is the time to speak clearly and not be polite about things.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Thunberg recognises that this is a huge issue but we need to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases; it is a simple fix but so many of us are passive and ignorant. Maybe the track is not providing information we did not already know but, in this context, it sounds much more powerful and moving than it ever has. So many people are talking about the danger of emissions and the fact that nothing is being done to cut that down. One of the most emphasised and memorable parts of the song is the nature of black-and-white. Thunberg says that we are told nothing in black or white but, in the case of the planet and whether we continue, it very much is – we can either choose to go on or not. There are no grey areas regarding survival and the preservation of the planet and we can take transformational action to safeguard the world for future generations. Coming from the mouth of a teen, these words sound more moving and emotional than, say, an older person. It is almost like we have this girl who is fearful she will not live long enough to see old age because of the climate crisis. It gives The 1975 this very sad edge but, rather than drag the listener down, Thunberg is building us up and saying that we can make changes. Rather than sit around and accept that things are lost, we all can make that change and help keep this planet safe. Strings stir and build in the background and there is this symphonic quality to the track. Thunberg knows that individual change alone cannot redress the balance and reverse the damage done. There needs to be this systemic and widespread movement that pledges action and brings in laws. Cutting down on emissions and making sure we reduce pollution is key. Thunberg wants us to wake up and make the changes required because we can all do it and we have that power inside us.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Penguin

It might only be small changes – using public transport more and being more conscious of our environmental impact – but it needs to start now. There is clear emotion in her voice as the tracks nears the end. It might seem impossible but the facts are before us and we cannot ignore them. We are using so much oil and that alone is creating a huge impact. If we can recognise where the problems are starting and the main causes of climate change then we know what to do; how to make those changes so that we can start to make a difference. The final lines of the song are the most effecting. When it comes to keeping that oil in the ground, there are no rules and polices. Governments and big companies can do what they want and, because of that, greater intensity needs to happen; this is a moment to revolt and take to the streets. In the rather calm context, that sentiment hits you and it seems very extreme. Many will debate whether street-level protest can achieve that much but Thunberg is advocating something more extreme: it is time to rebel and create civil disobedience. The song ends there and you have to sit back and think. We need to take action today and, really, is the best way to see fast improvement and betterment hitting the streets and creating unrest?! It seems like all other methods have failed and maybe we have left it too long – revolution is the only solution to the problems we have caused. The 1975, with Thunberg, have created a track that will affect many people and let’s hope that there are people in power who have heard it and will be compelled to act. I do think we are in a situation where we cannot afford to wait and we do need to think about the next step. Whether it is making huge personal changes or civil disobedience, The 1975 is a song that you will not forget in a hurry.

The 1975 have been shortlisted for a Mercury for A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships and they must rank as one of the favourites right now. Others are tipping Dave, Little Simz and Anna Calvi for their albums but I do think The 1975 have a lot of momentum at the moment. Make sure you follow them on social media to see where they are heading but the next few months are going to be very busy for them. Not only do they have to prepare for the Mercury Prize ceremony in September but their album, Notes on a Conditional Form, is coming along. There are touring demands and it is going to be pretty hectic for a little while. I do hope they get time to chill and relax at some point because they have been pretty full-on for a while now. They are, debatably, one of the biggest bands in the world and they seem to be on their own level. I still look back to where they came from and how much they have developed since their debut. They almost sound like a different bands and it is quite amazing matching their debut album to their latest. Maybe it is just a natural evolution but The 1975 of today are far more essential and urgent than the band of the past. They are on top form and you can never predict what they will come out with next. A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is an album very much of this time. Tackling some big issues and deeper subjects, bands like The 1975 show that you can mix the thought-provoking and serious with something more fun and catchy. The 1975’s new track will turn many heads and it will inspire some younger listeners. I do not think our current Government are truly aware of climate change and how serious things are now. I doubt they will take action and get involved like they should so, really, is it down to musicians to take their place?! That seems quite sad and alarming but I do know the likes of The 1975 and Greta Thunberg will compel many people out there to speak out and demand change. I shall end things here but it has been an unusual and great experience reviewing a track that is less musical as it is a stirring speech. I do not get to do that often so, when the opportunity arises, I am always keen. The 1975 is a song that will stun everyone and Thunberg really delivers this evocative and powerful statement. It makes me wonder whether other songs on Notes on a Conditional Form will be as original and bold but, as a potential first taster, it is stunning indeed. A track that gets into the head and stirs the blood, it is yet another arresting cut from…

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ONE of the biggest bands around.

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Follow The 1975

TRACK REVIEW: Leon Bridges - That Was Yesterday

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Leon Bridges

PHOTO CREDIT: John Midgley

That Was Yesterday

 

9.6/10

 

 

The track, That Was Yesterday, is available via:

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

GENRES:

Soul/Neo-Soul

ORIGIN:

Texas, U.S.A.

RELEASE DATE:

19th July, 2019

LABEL:

LisaSawyer63, Inc. (under license to Columbia Records)

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ON this outing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Rambo Photography

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rambo Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Oldham

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

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

WE have right now.

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Follow Leon Bridges

TRACK REVIEW: Shura - the stage

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Shura

the stage

 

9.7/10

 

The track, the stage, is available via:

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

GENRE:

Pop

ORIGIN:

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

RELEASE DATE:

15th July, 2019

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

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

LABEL:

Secretly Canadian

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I am enjoying reviewing bigger artists…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @ChacinEsteban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Whitton

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

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

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

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

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

UTTERLY engrossing and uplifting.

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Follow Shura

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

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Matt Corby, Tash Sultana

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 Talk It Out

 

9.5/10

 

The track, Talk It Out, is available via:

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

GENRES:

Blues/Alternative/Neo-Soul

ORIGIN:

Australia

RELEASE DATE:

10th July, 2019

LABEL:

Communion Group Ltd

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I am going slightly off the usual track…

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Johnson/LNWY

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Dara Munnis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Dara Munnis

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Aaron Crossman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Dara Munnis

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Johnson/LNWY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILL work together again.

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Follow Matt Corby

TRACK REVIEW: Beyoncé - Spirit (From Disney's The Lion King)

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Beyoncé

PHOTO CREDIT: Walt Disney 

Spirit (From Disney's The Lion King)

 

9.6/10

 

 

The track, Spirit (From Disney's The Lion King), is available via:

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

GENRES:

R&B/Gospel

ORIGIN:

U.S.A.

RELEASE DATE:

9th July, 2019

LABEL:

Walt Disney Records

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I do not get the chance to review Beyoncé

often but, with a new track out, I could not pass on the opportunity! Beyoncé appears in the new version of The Lion King as Nala - Simba's childhood best friend – and the film has been gathering some positive reviews. I have not seen it myself but I have heard a lot of people rave about Beyoncé’s performance and, as she sings on the soundtrack, it provided me a chance to review her in a different light. Before coming to the song, Spirit, which was written by Ilya Salmanzadeh, Labrinth and Beyoncé, I will talk about Beyoncé and how she remains this musical role model; the different sides to her art and why I think a new, almost-Gospel direction would suit her; the trailblazing women this year and why a full return for Beyoncé is needed right now; artists appearing in films and how that will provide inspiration to people and the legacy Beyoncé has already created; a little on her future and where she might be headed over the next few months. Let’s get down to business because, with Beyoncé, there is a lot to unpack and investigate. There are these modern artists that are able to project a strong message and act as a role model to people out there. There are articles explaining why Beyoncé is a role model and, in this one from Her Campus, it is obvious Beyoncé is keen to support others:

She supports other women.

After the infamous MTV Video Music Awards in 2009 when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s speech after she received the award for Best Video of the Year, Beyoncé called Taylor on stage to finish her speech and allowed her to have her moment.

She is unapologetically black.

“I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros,” she sings in her song “Formation.” The music video for “Formation” features significant events for African Americans, such as the emancipation of enslaved people, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Black Lives Matter movement.

She promotes positive body image.

Beyoncé has always been proud of her curves , but in her music video “Pretty Hurts” she explores negative body image issues that girls and young women struggle with, such as eating disorders and addiction to plastic surgery. “Perfection is a disease of a nation,” she sings.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images 

She supports the LGBTQ community.

She supported the Supreme Court’s ruling for gay marriage by creating a remake of her 711 video, #LoveWins.

She has an amazing relationship with her daughter, Blue Ivy.

Her song “Blue” is dedicated to the love has she for Blue Ivy. Beyoncé’s Instagram is full of adorable videos and pictures of her and Blue.

She’s charitable.

Her organization, BeyGood, provides school supplies for underfunded schools an supports gender equality and environmental awareness”.

There has been some debate as to whether Beyoncé is a positive role model and whether she sets a good example – especially to young girls. The division has come when it comes to her music and money. Her songs, sure, have other writers on them and Beyoncé’s messages of empowerment have been highlighted when it comes to her own material and whether there is irony there. The fact that Beyoncé is wealthy has been highlighted – does this make her inaccessible and is she slightly submissive regarding her husband, Jay-Z? Some criticised her feminist stance after her 2016 album, Lemonade, came out and wondered whether it was all a bit of an act. She has had to face this sort of criticism a lot and it is perplexing. She does vocalise her love for her husband in her music and I think many expect her to be more independent and write the sort of material she was performing with Destiny’s Child back in the 1990s and early part of the last decade – the strong single woman who did not need anyone and could make her own way in life. I do think Beyoncé is a great role model, not just when it comes to feminism and body image but music as well. She is a strong lead for girls out there; someone who is an advocate for L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ rights; support black rights and really ensuring those who do not have a voice have one. Beyoncé will always face criticism and attacks but one cannot deny the fact she has inspired many and continues to do so.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Tyler Mitchell for Vogue

Her music, through the years, is especially powerful and influential. When she was performing with Destiny’s Child, we got these tracks of strength and independence and that inflamed and united women around the world. This strong and beautiful role model was definitely emerging and that continued as Beyoncé went solo. If a sense of subservience has been highlighted, that is because Beyoncé is a mother and wife; someone who has settled down but has definitely not betrayed her principles nor take any sh*t; she does not rely on Jay-Z or take her wealth for granted either. She has worked hard for what she has earned and cannot be accused or selling out or being a different person. It is the music that has thrilled and compelled the masses for decades. To me, it is the way Beyoncé changes and the fact her music is not rigid; someone who keeps moving forward and explores new territory. Her R&B smashes with Destiny’s Child were great but it is when Beyoncé struck out alone that her music broadened and she matched the fiery anthems with something more sensitive and pure. I do feel like Beyoncé, as she has matured, has not settled and slowed. That might be understandable as she is in her thirties but a lot of artists, when they have been in the industry for so long, tend to compromise or go in a whole other direction. With THE CARTERS (the moniker of her and Jay-Z), again, we got another direction and layer. Lemonade was a seismic album because of its political edges and powerful messages; the way she talked about infidelity and betrayal but also wore her heart on her sleeve. The role model Beyoncé was formed from this Destiny’s Child notion: the young black woman who was still making it but showing that she was a future star. A lot of the division regarding Beyoncé as a genuine role model has shaped up as her solo career has progressed. I think her music has grown a lot and she is much more interesting and layered than she was back in the beginning.

Take what she is doing now and the fact that, once more, she cannot be predicted and labelled. Spirit is less an aggressive statement and anthem but, instead, it has more heart and passion to it. There are Gospel touches but it retains a bit of R&B. It is an interesting song and, whilst it forms part of a soundtrack, it does make me wonder whether Beyoncé’s next phase of music will see her tackle Gospel or do something different. She is someone who never stops and is always exploring new realms. Any artist out there who feels you need to be pretty static and commercial with your work in order to succeed should look at Beyoncé and what she is doing. I know she has a lot of writers and producers who help craft her tracks but one has to consider the fact that, at the centre and calling the shots is Beyoncé. She is not an artist, like we see so often, who is a cog in the machine and just blindly follows what is put before her. Instead, we have a genuine and tireless role model who campaigns outside of her music and, when it comes to her art, there is nobody like her! I have talked about evolution and how Beyoncé moves into new areas and, to me, that is the secret to her success – or one of them at the very least. If she continued to make Destiny’s Child-like music after she left the group (or they disbanded), then that would grow tired and it would not reflect her life and how she has changed as a woman. Those who wanted Beyoncé to keep writing about being independent, shrugging off cheats and lying men and rallying the troops need to remember that she has a family and is not going to be writing about that still – even though it is important and she is still a spokesperson for strong and sassy women around the globe. I do think that Beyoncé is an icon and has the promise to be a legend; someone that is spoken about for decades to come.

One only needs to recall her performance from Coachella back in 2018 – I shall actually nod to that a bit later – to see why one cannot dismiss her. I will chat about Gospel first and the fact that there are touches of that on Spirit. Tomorrow, I am investigating Aretha Franklin as an icon; someone who has changed music and was vitally important. In terms of inspirations, one can tell Franklin means a lot to Beyoncé. I am not saying Franklin inspired Beyoncé’s latest track but I wonder whether we will see Beyoncé become a bit more Aretha Franklin on her next album. I think Beyoncé is at a stage right now where she is content with her family and life but sees so much divisionism and struggle around her. I know she is stable and comfortable regarding finance and her lot but that does not mean she turns a blind eye to those around her.

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From the poorer black communities to the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community being marginalised and alienated, Beyoncé wants to raise awareness and lend her support. In terms of music, she has always been this inspiration (I think) and her words cannot help but resonate. I do feel like, when we see another Beyoncé album, it will have Gospel and Soul flavours. This is not to say this will be a new, permanent direction for her but it all comes back to evolution and the fact Beyoncé is not one to be pigeon-holed. Her music is always fresh and unpredictable so I am excited to see where she goes next. Spirit is a fantastic track that works in the context of The Lion King but also stands alone. I do hope we get another album from her very soon because, since 2016, there has definitely been a gap. Beyoncé has been busy but there will be many who wonder where her music will go next and what we might get. I do think politics and the state of the world right now will be on her mind. She will not want to ignore that and, rather than attack it with both barrels, she might go in a more soulful direction.

In any case, I do think that we need someone like Beyoncé in music. This year has been defined by strong and talented women and, from Lizzo (who reminds me a lot of Beyoncé) to Sharon Van Etten and Little Simz, there is so much to get excited about right now. I cannot say for certain how many female artists now take a lead from Beyoncé but one cannot deny her influence and how performers like Lizzo and Janelle Monáe do take the lead from Beyoncé to an extent. I mentioned her performance at Coachella last year and, to me, that set was one of the most powerful I have seen in many years. It is, perhaps, one of the best we have seen in a generation and make sure you get the album. It was Beyoncé running through a selection of her hits and showing why she is one of the most captivating artists in the world. The reviews for the performance and the live album that followed (earlier this year) speak for themselves. This is how Pitchfork judged the HOMECOMING album:

The album sounds communal, like a revival meeting in a small, sweaty tent that leaves you lifted and fortified. It’s as much about Beyoncé as it is about the people who made her and the people who sustain her. As I was listening, my upstairs neighbors, two young black women, were also listening at full volume. My friend in Miami was texting me hot takes, while my sister, who’d attended the show on the second weekend, was tweeting about how much the white people in the audience seemed to just not get it. Every Beyoncé event is a gospel you want to tell somebody about, but this one doubles down on this feeling of communion. She’s singing songs you already know, and connecting them to other songs you remember, too. She’s drawing on her past, looking back, but also looking squarely back at us.

Black women and rock’n’roll pioneers like Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Etta James, and contemporary queens of rhythmic music like Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott have not received sufficient credit for their innovations. Beyoncé, famously, was the first black woman headliner of the nearly 20-year-old festival. In a space where she was not obviously welcome, she made an enduring impression. A home. Then she made it about something other than herself. She brought an entire lineage into the room”.

Beyoncé is still in her thirties so it is slightly scary imagining how far she can go and what more she can achieve. Her legacy already is clear, both as a role model and an artist. She is one of modern music’s true stars and, years from now, a legion of new artists will pick up her words and music and take them to heart. Not only is Beyoncé inspiration to women and girls around the world but she is someone who compels everyone; an artist who is fascinating to watch and is a very strong and undeniable role model. One can debate the merits of Beyoncé and whether she is as honest and genuine as her music suggests but, to me, one needs to stop assuming and judging. It is a bit maddening seeing these articles that question Beyoncé’s integrity and whether she is a good role model for girls out there. Anyway, I shall put that to bed for a minute. Now that Beyoncé has appeared in The Lion King, I do think other artists will follow her. There is nothing new about musicians getting into film and, as Lady Gaga recently proved in A Star Is Born, one cannot assume artists are not strong actors – she proved people wrong and delivered a knockout performance. In Beyoncé’s case, I actually feel she has a long acting career ahead. I think she has appeared in bits and pieces here and there but one thinks of Beyoncé and wonders why she has not done more film and T.V.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Tyler Mitchell for Vogue

I think she is a naturally talented actor and could inhabit so many personas. Beyoncé is a strong artist and businesswoman; she has her own brands and is a very busy person. I think she is inspiring people in different areas and different ways but, when it comes to an area relatively unexplored, I do think film and T.V. is somewhere she could clean up. Whether it is producing documentaries about black lives or strong women or appearing in front of the camera in a gritty drama or a comedy, I think Beyoncé could be a real success. Look at her acting credits and you can see most of her work has been in music videos. Look at artists like Lady Gaga and Eminem (in 8 Mile) who won plaudits for their honest portrayals and I do think Beyoncé could follow them. Maybe that is something she has planned but I can imagine her easily stepping into film and T.V. and succeeding. Not that Beyoncé has anything to prove but lending her voice to stunning dramas and putting something inspiring on the screen could see her reach and touch new lives; conquer new areas and cement her reputation as an icon.

I think her performance in The Lion King is great and it will have provided pleasure and wonder to many children. I like the fact she did it and, whether it was to please her own children or something she really wanted to do, other artists will see what she has done and go into film. I keep coming back to the idea of Beyoncé as an icon and how many areas she has conquered. We can leave aside the ethical debates and whether she is the real deal because, to me, there are few that have such passion for change and equality. I think Beyoncé could bring this to the screen away from music. We live through a time when the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community are not as respected as they should be and there is needless poverty and division. Beyoncé alone cannot cure these problems but I do think she has a chance to bring her talents to the screen. I could imagine her fronting a powerful drama where she is a mother in a tough neighbourhood and has to face prejudice. Maybe a film where she is an aspiring politician but is put down and overlooked could make for a compelling piece. I am spit-balling here but one could easily picture these possibilities.

 IMAGE CREDIT: Walt Disney

There are African vocals that lead in Spirit and give it a very evocative and stirring start. One would expect it in terms of The Lion King and the context but, as a standalone song, it adopts this new meaning and nuance. One can check out the song here and see the credits regarding background vocals but, when Beyoncé comes to the microphone, her voice is settled yet hugely arresting. She talks about the wind talking for the very first time. After that potent and rousing beginning, one sees the song develop and takes the word ‘spirit’ to mean a number of different things. To me, one can apply it to The Lion King and a sense of pride and fortitude but, in a larger sense, there is this nature of freedom and growth. I pictured scenes of a figure growing and battling the elements; letting their spirit roar and not being tied down. Beyoncé’s voice is graceful and soulful throughout and she delivers these powerful messages with composure. The messages in the song are strong and moving without descending into cliché and the obvious. Many artists would approach a song like Spirit and make it too saccharine and formulaic. Instead, one gets a real sense of personal meaning in the song. Beyoncé definitely pours her heart out and her always-stunning voice bring the words to life. In the chorus, she talks about this spirit and the heavens opening (and whether we can hear it calling). Again, one might frame the song in terms of The Lion King and her character’s arc but, to me, I was intrigued by wider implications and possibilities. There is a defiance and power that extends beyond film and actually can be applied to so many situations. One can extrapolate guidance and fortitude from a song that asks (us) to keep heads above the waves and fight the water; to see the stars gathering by your side and know that there is a sense of hope out there.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Shutterstock

Many songs, as I say have and could have descended into treacle and not resonated but Spirit captivates because of Beyoncé’s voice and the fact that the track has so much depth. The earlier vocal introduction gets the listener engaged but there are tribal beats and the chorus is typically defiant and affecting. Beyoncé’s voice has grown and strengthened through the years and I think it holds more weight and depth than it did on her earliest solo albums. Beyoncé talks about the light shining and having your heart lifted; your destiny coming close and, against the struggle, standing tall and proud. If the song were too Lion King-centric regarding its lyrics and sound then I would probably not have reviewed it but, as I keep explaining, Spirit is a song that can be taken away from the soundtrack and interpreted in so many ways. That sense of defiance and keeping strong cannot help but register and stir the blood. I have listened to Spirit and a few times and am always moved by its power and meaning. I do not think Beyoncé has sounded as engrossed in a song for so long and, whilst that might sound a little dismissive, I mean this track really means something to her. I have talked about the modern world and how Beyoncé acts a role model to various communities; those who struggle and have to fight for their rights. Spirit is a call to those who are feeling the pain and are alone to see that there is a hope in front of them and a path that leads to better things. Many talk about Beyoncé in terms of her moves and anthems but, in pure vocal terms, I do not think her voice gets as much credit as it should. It would be premature of me to rank her alongside the great Soul singers like Aretha Franklin but that sheer power that comes from Beyoncé cannot be ignored; the way she can convey a range of emotions and put her everything into every song. It is emotional hearing a voice so strong break through and get into the heart. I shall leave things there because I think people need to check out Spirit and let it do its work. It is an amazing song and one that, I hope, leads to some more Beyoncé material soon enough.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Tyler Mitchell for Vogue

I shall wrap things up in a bit because I know we are all busy! I have covered a number of different subjects when it comes to Beyoncé and, if you want to experience more, keep your eyes open. It has been three years since her last solo album and, even though she released EVERYTHING IS LOVE with The Carters last year, there are going to be people out there hankering for more Beyoncé material. As a live performer, she is always in demand and I do feel like there is something imminent. Beyoncé is a mother and wife but, living in modern America, I do think she will have a lot of fuel for a new record. One cannot help but notice how President Trump has affected the U.S. and what he is doing. He is one of the most maligned leaders of the U.S. ever and I do think artists like Beyoncé will want to express that. There are no album announcements or plans in the fire right now but keep your eyes peeled and watch her social media feeds for more details. Spirit is a great song and one that, as I said, stands alone and does not need to be reviewed in the context of The Lion King. I am intrigued by the sound of the song and the fact that she can conquer and succeed in genres like Soul and Gospel.

PHOTO CREDIT: Robyn Beck

Beyoncé has blossomed as an artist since the 1990s and she has plenty more years left. I am excited to see where Beyoncé goes next and what her future holds. I shall bring things to a close now but, when it came to this Saturday’s review, I could not pass up the chance to assess Beyoncé’s latest track. It is a stunning thing and very different to what she has done in the past. It projects powerful messages and it is a song that stands up to repeated assaults. I really love it and can imagine Beyoncé keeping that type of sound close to her chest on a future album. It goes to show that, when it comes to predicting Beyoncé, few can keep up and define her. She is, despite what some people say, a genuine role model and guide for so many out there and, with so much trouble in the world now, there are few artists who can make as big an impact…

AS the amazing Beyoncé.

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Follow Beyoncé

TRACK REVIEW: Skunk Anansie - What You Do for Love

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Skunk Anansie

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PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Barnes

What You Do for Love

 

9.2/10

 

The track, What You Do for Love, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kvg88K6JshI

GENRE:

Alternative-Rock

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

5th July, 2019

LABEL:

100% Records

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I have not got a lot on today…

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and, rather than put out a lot of work, I thought it would be good to consider a few great artists and things happening in music right now. That might sound pretty vague but I mean I want to take a bit of time to ponder the new single from Skunk Anansie. There is a lot to cover when we think of the band because they have been on the scene for so long. I want to discuss their legacy and why they are a favourite band of mine; why Skin is a particularly inspiring figure and why she is a role model to many; why bands like Skunk Anansie will remain in the heart and how they are compelling newcomers – a bit where they might head next and what is in their future. I have been checking out Skunk Anansie and their movements recently and, sort of coming between their gig plans and excitement is a story involving them and Stormzy. We all know Stormzy was the first black rapper to headline Glastonbury – and he did so last weekend in true style! There was a lot of anticipation when Stormzy was announced as the headliner and many wondered whether he would be able to pull off such a huge gig. By all accounts, he smashed it and the dust has just about settled. There was a bit of an error on his part when he claimed he was the first black British artist to headline Glastonbury. Sky explains more:

Ahead of his history-making Glastonbury set, Stormzy was understandably proud to share its significance with the world.

However, while he is the first black British male solo performer and rapper to headline the festival's famous Pyramid Stage, he actually got it wrong when he said he was the first black British artist - as Skin, the frontwoman of 1990s rock band Skunk Anansie, has pointed out.

Skunk Anansie, famous for hits including Weak, Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good) and Brazen (Weep), were Glastonbury headliners in 1999, along with REM and Manic Street Preachers.

After realising his error, Croydon-born Stormzy, real name Michael Omari, has now apologised to the singer for his mistake.

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He tweeted: "Skin from the band Skunk Anansie was actually the first black artist to headline glasto she done it with her band in 1999 no disrespect intended and MASSIVE salute to you - my apologies! @skinskinny."

She wrote: "Sorry Stormzy but we beat you to it in 1999! 20 years ago! And while we're on topic, I was the first black Woman too! @beyonce Wishing you an awesome nite tho, Kill it! You're amazing and we're all very proud. ps. Real question is why it took 20 years!"

It is only write Skin corrected him and, as the lead of Skunk Anansie, she was the first black British headliner – the first black woman to do so, too. I think things between Stormzy and Skunk Anansie are okay and, to be fair, it was an honest mistake. It is great that Stormzy made history but one wonders whether festivals like Glastonbury are doing enough to put black artists higher up the bill. Certainly, strong black artists like Lizzo, Janelle Monáe; Dave, Stormzy and Janet Jackson provided these incredible sets and newcomers like Grace Carter showed they were definitely worthy of greater exposure. I guess there is still a problem in music regarding race and whether black artists are given the credit they deserve. Modern icons such as Beyoncé have helped pave the way but there is still so much to do. I looked at that Twitter interaction between Stormzy and Skin and it sort of struck me how few black artists have headlined festivals. Skin was the first black woman to headline back in 1999 but, apart from Beyoncé a few years back, there has been a surfeit of black women appearing as a headliner. The same can be said for the men. Both Skin and Stormzy are pioneers, in a way, because they have helped raise awareness and open eyes. I have mentioned a few brilliant black artists but, to be fair, there are so many more who could headline a major festival.

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Next year is Glastonbury’s fiftieth and I do wonder we will see another black artist headline the Pyramid Stage. Maybe Beyoncé will return or we will see Stevie Wonder play; perhaps Lizzo will be promoted and get to headline or there might be a new act that gets the same sort of platform as Stormzy. In any case, there is a real issue I think regarding black artists and a relative lack of support. This is something I want to cover in more detail at a later date but I think it is interesting to see Stormzy and Skin, without knowing it, discuss race and how rare it is to see a black artist headline. I will talk more about it in time but I do think more needs to be done to facility greater racial balance. Before I come to look at Skunk Anansie’s  latest track, I want to raise a few other points. I have been following Skunk Anansie since they started out in 1994 and, right now, they are touring Europe to celebrate twenty-five years together. Albums such as Paranoid & Surnburnt (1995), Stoosh (1996) and Post Orgasmic Chill (1999) followed me through my school years and I was awakened to this wonderful band. I especially love Post Orgasmic Chill because tracks such as Charlie Big Potato and Lately were huge tracks. Listen to the early work of Skunk Anansie and it still sounds so fresh and exciting. I think the band were a bit of a revelation in the 1990s because, when they arrived, Britpop was still raging. They offered something alternative and harder-hitting for those who wanted to experience a more thrilling and visceral form of music. Of course, emotion and vulnerability was always part of Skunk Anansie’s make-up and they have continued that to this day. I was especially captivated by Skunk Anansie because they were mixing Alternative sounds of America with British Pop and making it sound so natural and effortless. With a strong, black female leading the band, one could not help but notice this band that were inspiring others and captivating a generation.

Some might say that is a strong statement but there was so much love out there for Skunk Anansie. There is still that affection and, the fact they are embarking on this anniversary tour shows there is so much love out there for them still. I think, when Skunk Anansie arrived in the 1990s, they helped bring Britrock more to the fore and gave guidance to a lot of bands coming through at the time. Now, we listen back and there is such a rich catalogue of material that, as I said, sounds completely wonderful and original. I can listen to albums like Stoosh now and I am taken back to a great time but I also listen to music now and wonder whether there is anyone quite like Skunk Anansie. For sure, there are many bands who have been inspired by Skunk Anansie and have followed them closely but, at a time when there is still too much Pop and not enough proper Rock around, I feel Skunk Anansie play an important role. We are in a difficult time right now and, whilst great Post-Punk bands such as IDLES and Fontaines D.C. are providing some release and guidance, I do think there is a place for bands like Skunk Anansie – those who can provide political anger but also emotional outpouring. There is a definite gap in the market and the fact that we have the original band still putting out music will, I feel, compel bands in the underground to come through. Skunk Anansie are Skin (lead vocals, guitar), Cass (bass, guitar and backing vocals); Ace (guitar, backing vocals) and Mark Richardson (drums and percussion) but, to me, Skin is the standout member. That is no disrespect to the rest of the band but I find Skin utterly engrossing and fascinating. At a time when there are not that many black women at the forefront, she is someone who is still talking about imbalance and the need for change.

I do feel things need to change in the industry as a whole and it is great we have artists like Skin opening up and laying it down. I will bring in an interview she conducted this year with VICE where she discussed her sexuality, twenty-five years of Skunk Anansie and her relationship with anger through music:

Skin – and her signature rasp, as blared out of many a CD player – is punk not only through her words, but in her very presence. As an openly queer black woman heading a band that thrived in the whiteness of the 90s English rock scene, she stirred up a cocktail of vulnerability, anger and a refusal to conform that spoke to her fans across age groups and time zones.

When you look back at 25 years of Skunk Anansie, which challenges are you most proud of overcoming as a band?

I think that the most challenging thing about being in a band, a rock band in particular, is maintaining it. There are moments when you’re having hit singles, but then when you don’t have an album out you almost disappear to people, you know?

If I stop and think about the most successful thing we’ve done, it would be able to maintain success over a 25-year period, even though we, for eight years, weren’t even on tour. We’re still here! And very few bands from the 90s are still relevant, making music, still liked and all those kind of things. Most British bands that came out in the 90s don’t exist anymore. Or if they do, they exist in a way that I find really cheesy and nostalgic.

There’s been a lot of different labels given to your sexuality over the years. How do you identify?

It moves. Sexuality really moves. At one point I was very bisexual: one minute I was with a guy, the other minute I was with a girl. Now I feel much more lesbian, because I’ve been in a relationship with a woman for two years. But guys are still cute; I still fancy them. I see myself as queer, because I think sexuality is much more fluid. I feel like I don’t need to sexually identify with one thing or the other anymore. The term ‘queer’ is much more honest and gives me some space to manoeuvre. If I say I’m bisexual then that’s me defined. if I’m say I’m a lesbian then, “what are you doing snogging that guy?” I feel like I’m not entrapping myself if I just say I’m queer.

What’s your relationship with anger in your music?

Anger is very good for you, it’s a very powerful thing. Aggression isn’t. You can be angry and it can be quite forceful, because we’re living in a world that needs anger to get things done. You need to rile people up and get them angry to get things done. That’s the intellectual use of passion. But when people just get aggressive and violent, I feel like you’ve lost.

I’ve always tried to use anger as a positive force – it gives you a bit of a shiver up your spine when you read certain things and think, ‘That’s not right.’ I never go, ‘That’s not right, I’m going to write a song about it’ – that’s not really how I roll. Things just come out spontaneously, and as a consequence, they come out in your voice, in the right way. When you are truly angry about something and a song comes out of it, it’s really powerful and useful”.

I think Skunk Anansie have changed through the years and some can say that their modern material is a little calmer and not quite as fired as their earlier work. That is a natural progression I think but there is still plenty of grit and emotion at the heart. Skin has not changed a lot (thankfully) and I am so glad Skunk Anansie are still playing together. So many bands who have been playing for so long split up or they take long breaks but, whilst they did take time out between 1999 and 2010, it seems like the band are solid and continuing on. They are such an important part of my early listening experiences and I think the band will carry on motivating the new generation and inspiring those coming through. I shall move on to reviewing What You Do for Love in a minute but I amazed there is so much love out there for Skin and the guys. It is not surprising but, often, when a band has been performing together for years, the attention fades after a while. Skunk Anansie have retained followers who were with them in the 1990s but they are picking up new fans and have this great mix of generations at their gigs.

Skunk Anansie are a great band who helped change the landscape in the 1990s and, twenty-five years since their formation, I can hear their essence in others. Skunk Anansie are touring with Allusinlove and this is a band who takes guidance from Skunk Anansie. There are many more bands around who take inspiration from Skunk Anansie and that is humbling to see. I think Skunk Anansie have many more years left in them and, although they are slightly different to the band we knew back in the 1990s, their core principles and sounds remain true. If they were to change too much then they would risk alienating fans but I do think the band have kept a lot of that rawness but are bringing in new maturity and themes. It has been a little while since we saw any album action. 2016’s Anarchytecture was the last album from them and I do wonder whether they have plans for a new album. I believe there are plans to release an album to mark twenty-five years of Skunk Anansie but, going forward, has that provided them fresh impetus? I am excited to see where they head and what their future holds. Right now, What You Do for Love is out and people are it is a pretty great track. It took me a few listens to adjust because, recently, I have been looking back and checking out the early albums from Skunk Anansie. There is that unmistakable Skin-led energy and physicality but there are new shades and colours, as I said, in their current work. That is a good thing because it shows the band are moving forward and not willing to trade on their past glories. It is about time I got down to reviewing their latest track because it is corking and shows that there is still nobody in music quite like them.

I have mentioned how the latest Skunk Anansie slice is less feral and wild than their classic work but, to be fair to them, the opening stages are pretty intense. The guitars squall and the percussion charges and it is clear that the band mean business. In terms of sound, there is actually a little bit of the Pixies and a sort of Grunge tone; a slight reworking of their Britrock/Alternative sound. When Skin comes to the microphone, she talks about someone in her life that, perhaps, is causing a bit of trouble. She asks them to step into her life; a life where they hold nothing but fire. It seems like the heroine has fire and rage in her heart and something has caused a bit of a rift. Her face is unfazed and there is no blame on Skin’s shoulders but there is still a sense of aggression and upset inside of her. It is interesting unpicking the words and trying to decode the background to the song. There is a sense of desperation biting and it appears this love is struggling. Whether it is based on personal experiences or comes from a slight sense of detachment, one cannot deny the conviction in Skin’s voice. She is presenting all these troubled visions and emotions and it looks like she is going through something quite rough right now. The chorus refers to this person and what they are doing for love. It seems like the two are on different pages and have different interpretations of what love is. There is a lack of trust and breakdown in communications. As the song progresses, Skin talks about someone trying to see the world from different sides; see things from his and her perspective. It got me wondering whether Skunk Anansie are talking less about a personal relationship and more about something wider. The band have always had a political mind and been conscious of the world around me – it got me thinking whether What You Do for Love is more an observation of the world right now and how change needs to happen.

The lyrics, to start, sort of steer you towards something personal and isolated; a sort of tension in a relationship that is threatening to bubble to the surface. As things move on, I sort of feel like something bigger is in focus. Maybe Skin is talking about love in general and how we all need to be more cooperative and sensitive. Maybe she is referring to the anger out in the world and how people in power have the chance to alter the world for good – and they are doing things to serve themselves and not the people. Everyone will have their own interpretations regarding the lyrical meaning but, to me, there is a mix of personal struggle and a call for action. It seems like the heroine is facing a bit of a challenging relationship and there are clichés flying all over the place. Rather than take time away and cool things down, she is asking for communication and wants things to be different. The band is still pretty impressive after all of these years and, whilst that sounds a bit harsh, bands that have been playing for as long as Skunk Anansie often soften and change their sound. It is a relief to hear plenty of force and meat in the bones of Skunk Anansie. This bodes well for the future and, if they have more material coming, I wonder whether it will sound similar to What You Do for Love. The chorus has a great heat and catchiness and the band are tight and focused throughout. I love how Skin’s voice has got a little huskier through the years and she sounds incredible. The driving force behind the band, she puts so much life and passion into the performance. The more you listen to What You Do for Love, the more you uncover. My interpretation changed from the first listen to the second and my perceptions changed. I shall end the review there but I would urge people to check out the new Skunk Anansie track. Those who are expecting something like Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good) might be disappointed but, in truth, the band has not altered that radically. At a time when we do need a bit of anger in music, it is pleasing to see Skunk Anansie have not reined things in and have gone all acoustic! The band are touring and gathering great reviews and I do hope there is more material coming from them in time. After twenty-five years on the scene, the band are still going strong and have that closeness that comes through in the music.

Skunk Anansie are in Europe at the moment and, with fans across the continent flocking to see them, it seems like there is so much passion and love available for the band. They have so many loyal supporters but fresh faces are discovering their music and are keen to see the band in the flesh. I know that there are a few more dates on the tour and you can keep updated if you head to Skunk Anansie’s social media pages. It seems like, from the photos and tweets, the band are having a great time and they are vibing off the crowds. The band still sounds tight and potent and it makes me wonder where they head from here. They are celebrating twenty-five years together and there are a lot of fans who are seeing them because of their past material. It is evident there is a lot of affection within the band and I have been wondering whether more studio albums will arrive. I mentioned earlier how there are few bands like Skunk Anansie and the band are very much a source of influence for many. They were a huge part of my teenage years and it was a revelation hearing their music for the first time. Their 1995 debut was an awakening to me and I was hooked by their incredible songs; they dug into the skin and stayed in the head. Naturally, the music scene has evolved and changed a lot since they were first around but I still think there is a general absence of bands who sound like Skunk Anansie. We do have Post-Punk bands and some great Pop-Punk acts but what about the sort of sound Skunk Anansie put out into the world? Maybe the band are true originals and it is never a good idea to speculate.

I have spoken a lot about the band but, as a role model, Skin is still hugely important. Apart from commenting on Stormzy’s tweet and bringing race at musical festivals to the fore, she is this incredibly strong and compelling lead that has inspired so many artists. I should leave things there and let you get about your day but, if you can, check out What You Do for Love and follow Skunk Anansie closely. I know the band are busy with touring at the moment but, when they are off the road, that will give them chance to plot their next move and decide what they want to do. Many will want another album but, actually, re-releasing some of their big albums on vinyl might be a good idea. It is definitely a fertile time for Skunk Anansie and I wish them all the very best. They are a terrific band who, twenty-five years after they came onto the scene, are still exciting and utterly wonderful. If you can see them perform live then do so but, as there is new material out, have a listen but also check back on their older material. It makes for terrific listening and will definitely open your eyes. I shall leave it there but, as I have shown in this review, Skunk Anansie are a very special musical force. They have been going for twenty-five years now and, let’s hope they will keep powering on…

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FOR many more years yet.

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Follow Skunk Anansie

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TRACK REVIEWS: ROSALÍA - F*cking Money Man (Milionària + Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero)

TRACK REVIEWS:

 

ROSALÍA

F*cking Money Man (Milionària + Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero)

 

9.6/10

 

 

The tracks, F*cking Money Man (Milionària + Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero), are available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQCpjOBJ5UQ

GENRES:

Flamenco-Pop/Art-Pop

ORIGIN:

Barcelona, Spain

RELEASE DATE:

3rd July, 2019

LABEL:

Columbia Records

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THIS is a bit of an unusual…

review for me because I am tackling two different songs. To be fair, both are pretty short and they form a sort of concept. ROSALÍA is a fantastic artist who has just dropped a double-video for a project entitled F*cking Money Man. The visuals are accompanied by two songs and, whilst I could not split them up, it does bring me to a few interesting subjects. I want to talk about ROSALÍA in the context of daring artists and female artists who are really starting to strike; the different flavours of Pop and why we should not instantly write the genre off; those fighting for equality and the artists who bravely pioneer; a bit about last weekend’s Glastonbury and why ROSALÍA is a potential headliner – I will end by seeing where the Spanish-born artists might head next. It is actually quite unusual to see a Spanish artist near the mainstream and being talked about a lot. That is no disrespect to Spain and its musical output but I do feel like, maybe, Spain still fosters U.S. and U.K. sounds and there is no quite the same proliferation of artists we have here. Perhaps it is because more traditional Spanish sounds are not as integrated into the mainstream as they should be – perhaps it is something else. I do think we look at nations outside of the U.K. and U.S. and feel they lack the same promise and scope. I recently wrote a review where I expounded the brilliant Australian artists around and I think there are more great artists in Spain that are waiting to come through – the likes of ROSALÍA will act as a guide and inspiration. It is no surprise we are a bit blind to other nations because I think, even in 20019, we are still too reliant on the same sort of music and sources. Maybe we get it into our head that Spanish music is going to be World music: we are not aware of the fact there is Pop, Rock and other genres in the country being represented by some great artists.

I think the industry does need to incorporate some new flavours and tones in order to make it more exciting and promising. I have strayed a little from what I was going to say but, when it comes to ROSALÍA, there is so much to investigate and unpack. She is an artist who, like her boldest peers, is turning heads right now. I do feel like there are so many artists around right now that lack the necessary drive and punch to really settle in the mind. I hear so much generic Pop and lacklustre music; it does start to get boring and you yearn for someone who has that passion and sense of independence. I still feel the mainstream is too generic and the less soulful and meaningful Pop music holds too much power. Consider what those artists offer to the world. A lot of the lyrics on display are pretty formulaic and staid; many of the compositions are plastic and processed and the vocals lack soul and requisite appeal. It is a shame that a more commercial and easy-going Pop vibe is still ruling over everything else. I am seeing some changes come through. The fact that we have artists like ROSALÍA making waves and coming though means, I hope, the scene will break up and diversify very soon. I will mention Glastonbury in a bit but, when watching the coverage from last weekend, it was defined by strong female artists who, before, had not been given the credit they deserve. I loved what Miley Cyrus was doing and Billie Eilish had the crowd spellbound. It was a festival defined by strong and bold women emerging and captivating. I do feel like, in future years, we will see this trend continues and, in terms of the sound of the mainstream, artists like ROSALÍA are ready to shake it up. I am going to bring in a couple of interviews she has given because, when you read the extracts, you get a sense of someone who does not follow guidelines and really wants her music to stand out.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Roger Kisby for Rolling Stone

Just look at her new piece: Is F*cking Money Man (Milionària + Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero) a suite of songs or a double A-side? Is it a political statement or personal revelation? I do feel like there is much formula and marketing with modern music. Artists are too keen to stick to a pattern and not break from that. Looking at ROSALÍA’s latest tracks and we have someone who is certainly doing her own thing! I think the most interesting and exciting music being made right now is coming from female artists. I confess there are some great male acts doing their thing but when I consider all the best new sounds around, they are emanating from women. Look at what ROSALÍA is doing with Pop music right now. I mentioned Spain and, as ROSALÍA is Catalan-born, it is inevitable that sounds and flavours of her upbringing and home are going to show themselves in the music. That is not to say that there is a cliché vision of Spain in her work. Mixing in Flamenco and other genres, we have this original blend that is both cool and fresh but it has definite heat and intensity. Consider, too, what I was saying about modern Pop and the fact it is quite stale and machine-like. I hear so many songs that sound exactly the same and it seems rather pointless when you consider it. There is nothing wrong with commercial Pop but, if artists are not bringing something new to the table, the mind is going to look elsewhere. ROSALÍA has that blend of her native Spain but there are so many different colours and tones working through her music. What we get is something both daringly strident and accessible. Like Billie Eilish, ROSALÍA is remarkably accomplished and confident for someone so young. There is not this feeling (with ROSALÍA) that she needs to write about love and the same themes to attract attention and get acclaim. Sure, she has experienced heartache but that is not what drives her consciousness. Her new project is about money and the different sides of it; the greed and corruption that come with it and a sense of extravagance.

I do feel like we all get this idea of modern Pop and what it is all about. I have said how we should not dismiss it and associate it with negative impressions. The commercial artists who seem unable to project any personality and talent onto the page are the ones who are keeping this stereotype alive. Listen to ROSALÍA and Billie Eilish; take a listen to Lizzo too. Whilst these artists bring other genres together, they are very much at the forefront and gaining universal acclaim. These artists are talking about serious and less commercial ideas; they are splicing sounds together and delivering incredibly powerful music. Pop has been in a dire state for a few years now and it has been a while since there was this incredibly rich and promising mainstream. I do feel like there is a revival happening. Being led by brilliant artists like ROSALÍA, there is a lot to get optimistic about! What I love about modern Pop is the fact there is variation coming in. There are many reasons to love ROSALÍA’s work but one has to admire the boldness of her sounds and themes. F*cking Money Man (Milionària + Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero) captures you because it is slinky and cool but there is this cutting edge that keeps the song brash and alert. One can lose themselves in the song and does not need to speak Spanish to appreciate the brilliance of the music. In fact, she is actually singing in Catalan on the songs. How many modern artists do we hear that are singing in Catalan? Definitely, in Spain there are many but do we have this fear that, if a song is in a foreign language, it will not resonate and remain in the mind? I will explain the songs in more details soon but it is clear ROSALÍA is doing things differently and is a step ahead of her peers.

There is a lot to love about ROSALÍA but I especially admire her determination and independence. I want to bring in an interview from THE FADER that sort of underlines what I mean:

Rosalía doesn’t like not being able to do something — and if anyone has said “no” to her in the last two years, it’s hard to tell. During that time, the 26-year-old has evolved from a budding flamenco vocalist in her native Spain into an international pop star and genre rebel, one who’s collaborated with James Blake, appeared on Kourtney Kardashian’s Instagram, taught Alicia Keys Spanish, and hung out with Dua Lipa at awards shows.

“I understand that a lot of people can’t connect with my music, because it’s a radical proposal and a personal proposal,” Rosalía says of her hybrid of flamenco elements and sparse electronics. “There will be people who can connect with it, and many that can’t. I understand the risk I take in making these decisions with my music.”

It wasn’t until Rosalía was 13 that the arrow of flamenco pierced her. It happened one day when she was hanging out by her school and heard a nearby car blasting a song with melismatic vocal runs and rhythmic palmas hand-clapping. “From the beginning, I knew,” she says, resolute and staring directly into my eyes. “I realized, This is my path.”

Rosalía knew very little about flamenco, a style of music and dance born out of the intermingling of Castilians, Moors, Sephardi Jews, and the Romani community in Southern Spain and codified in 19th-century Andalusia. She didn’t know about the sentimental howls of flamenco’s cante jondo style or its frantic zapateado footwork. But that didn’t matter. “It’s something I felt was important to my journey,” she says”.

There is no denying ROSALÍA is taking a few risks, I guess, in regards the personal aspect of her music and the fact that Catalan features. I feel she is being a bit hard on herself because, the more you listen, the more striking it becomes. Yes, the songs are quite challenging and new but it is quite easy bonding with them and admiring what ROSALÍA is doing.

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ROSALÍA is someone who fights for equality and does not want to rest until there is balance in the industry. This year has been defined by female artists and the music they are producing. I think there is still a way to go before there is equality but, in studios and behind the scenes, there is this disparity that needs correcting. I want to bring in another interview where ROSALÍA discussed her start in music and then talked about gender disparity in the industry:

How did you first get into making music?

Rosalía: Since I was a young girl, I have always felt a strong connection to music, in a natural way, without hesitation. I remember myself as a little girl dancing and singing around the house most of the time. When I was around ten, I decided I would devote myself and my life to music.

Barcelona is an open and multicultural city. It’s brimming with a very special creative energy. If you pay attention, you may be easily inspired by the places and people living there. I met my flamenco singing teacher in this city. He suggested I started a degree in music, and I had the opportunity to study and share eight years of my life with him in this city. El Raval, Poble Nou, or Gràcia have been essential spots where I have developed my music career.

For me, your music is about independence, especially from men. Is that how you see it?

Rosalía: The way I make music reflects the way I think. I’ll never get tired of fighting until I see equal numbers of men and women in a recording session, you know? In the studio, on the stage to companies. I’ll fight until all those women are given the same value as naturally as it is given to men”.

I do feel like 2019 is a year where female artists are speaking out more and looking to change things very quickly. In terms of music, the likes of ROSALÍA are pioneering and asking for improvement in music.

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ROSALÍA will act as a role model, not only for women in music right now but for the new generation who are looking around and wonder whether women will be on equal footing with men. I do think men in the industry are not doing enough to make changes and ensure there is balance in studios and in the forefront. Maybe this will change but it is women in music doing more of the heavy lifting compared to the men. I will come to the songs in question in a bit but, before moving along, it is worth tracking back to last weekend’s Glastonbury and the fact ROSALÍA performed a blinding set. You can listen to an example of her Glastonbury set here - and you can see the impression her music had on the audience. She was mixing Catalan with English and her set was a nice balance of the sensuous and the stirring. It was a physical performance but there was this accessibility that provides sunshine, coolness and something very alluring. The songs connected instantly and, in terms of performance, ROSALÍA proves she is fully able to handle the big stages. I do think she is a possible Glastonbury headliner. Some might say she is a bit new and it will not work out so quickly but consider the likes of Stormzy – who headlined the Friday at Glastonbury – and he pulled off a remarkable set. In any case, ROSALÍA is a fantastic proposition and there is a lot to unpack when it comes to F*cking Money Man (Milionària + Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero). Rather than release a conventional single, there is this pairing of songs that investigations money and greed. From investigating gameshows and that frantic grab for money the poisonous aspect of cash, these songs are very timely and highly-charged. One feels like she is taking a shot at the U.S. and the greed of Donald Trump but ROSALÍA is looking at the wider world and how money rules everything.

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From the first notes of Milionària, you are hooked and realise this is a very different artist to what is out there at the moment! ROSALÍA comes to the microphone and there is this instantly sense of authority and coolness. There is this big beat behind her and slinky electronics that gives the song a brilliant shake and rhythm! You are helpless to resist the fire and intoxicating sounds emerging but, it is ROSALÍA’s voice that resonates most. Before the chorus kicks in, ROSALÍA casts herself as this millionaire; someone who is traveling from Mumbai to Malta and, it seems, money is no object. She wants a couple of different Bentleys and there is this aspiration to be rich and not have to worry about things – she cannot have this until she gets a windfall. One might look at the song and feel like it is a young Pop artist yearning for fame and chasing something glamorous but, in reality, this is a look at vacant figures and the wealthy that do not see the struggle around and do not understand the true value of money. We hear plenty of songs where money is idolised and seen as this great thing but one senses ROSALÍA growing weary of those types who post snaps on Instagram and boast about their wealth. There are dollar signs in her mind and, whereas many of us are content with what we have, the heroine wants more and more riches. Every day, it seems, is her birthday and she can have leopards running through her garden; she can buy fine art and go wherever she pleases.

Whereas some artists might write about money in a very cliché and vacant way, there is a lot of nuance in Milionària. The coda of “F*cking money man” makes you wonder whether she means that in a rather casual and boastful way (put a comma after the ‘money’ and it has a more laidback vibe) or whether it is angered and bold – like she sees all this wealth and how it is corrupting people. That idea of chasing cash and having all this stuff you do not need builds very vivid images. Among the list of dreams/acquisitions – a yacht and star in her name; employing a kid to open her Christmas presents – there are so many big prizes and dreams that many people have. You feel that Milionària wags its finger at those who chase something empty and use their money to suit themselves and not change the world. In the song, ROSALÍA casts herself as the spoiled and money-chaser but one can tell that this life is something that she fears and hates. In terms of who the song is aimed at, maybe it is aimed at celebrities and those who so many people hanker after but, to me, it is a look at the world in general and how there is so much greed and wasted wealth. It is a truly fascinating song and one anyone can get behind. The fact the song is sung in Catalan should not put people off because, not only are there translations to the lyrics online, but the sound of ROSALÍA singing in her native song gives the song a romance and quality it would not have were it sung in English.

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After Milionària and its talk of big-money spenders and those who chase after needless purchases, Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero is a more cautious and fearful song. The former song is about greed and people chasing dollars but, on the accompanying cut, the singer is asking God to free her and the world from the grip of money and how it corrupts people. Not only do we get two different sides to money but the tone is very different between the tracks. The former is a more spirited and fired-up song where Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero has more sadness and emotion on its breath. The track is gorgeous and imploring and, whilst it is hard to source English lyrics online, one enjoys the performance and the sheer potency of ROSALÍA’s voice. It is such a mesmeric instrument that gets into the head and provokes images. No$ Libre Del Dinero is ROSALÍA at her peak, I feel. It is a very short song that lasts less than two minutes but it packs so much in. The vocal weave and sound is incredible and you are spellbound by this very graceful and beautiful sound. The lyrics, as I understand, are much more cautious and wary than the vocal would have us believe. ROSALÍA is concerned about money and how it seems to dominate people; how it can corrupt nations and lead people astray. I do feel like Pop music is too beholden to formula and tradition and few artists are breaking away from that.

In the space of two songs, we have two very different stories around money. One can listen to both songs at the same time – both are part of this F*cking Money Man theme/concept. I do love both tracks and feel like they are powerful, incredible moving and memorable works. ROSALÍA shows she is one of the finest and most promising artists in music right now. Even if you not behind the lyrics and following them, the music and vocals will definitely connect. From the sunnier and more rousing spirit of Milionària to calmer and more cautious sound of Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero, ROSALÍA covers all the bases. I cannot wait to see where she goes next and whether we will get more releases like this in the future. It is clear that, the more she performs, the more confidence she accrues. It is scary to think how far along she will be this time next year considering the progress she has made in the last couple of years. If you have not listened to ROSALÍA’s previous work then do go back as well and discover so many wonderful, instantly memorable songs that will be in your mind for a long time to come!

I love the fact ROSALÍA can write a song where there are dangerous spiders, dangers and weird gameshow obstacles in the way! So many modern songs are predictable and concentrate on love and relationships. ROSALÍA has presented something a lot busier, more exciting and deeper than all of that. We see money every second of the day on screens and advertising billboards. I do feel like the importance of money is causing a lot of misery and divisions around the world. We all want more money but we look at big celebrities and figures that have a lot and aspire to be just like them. In many aspects, ROSALÍA is sending a message to those who aspire to that sort of life. That desperation to be famous and rich; the money dominates is put in the spotlight. Whether directly attacking politicians and businessmen or taking a shot at money and greed in general, ROSALÍA has created a very impressive feat with F*cking Money Man (Milionària + Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero). There is a sense of exasperation and anger in her voice but, this being ROSALÍA, she is trying to change the world and raise awareness. I shall leave things alone soon but I recommend people go and see ROSALÍA is they can. Check out her social media channels and, if she is playing near you, go and catch her! ROSALÍA is a stunning live performer and her songs are amazing. Her 2018 album, el mal querer, was lauded because of its freshness and memorability.

I am not sure whether there are plans for more music soon but make sure you check out what ROSALÍA has produced so far. She is an artist who will go very far and has many years ahead. I am captivated by everything she does and think that, in a few years, she might well headline Glastonbury. ROSALÍA is a role model and an artist that is not following the pack. Her songs are so addictive and powerful that it is hard to turn away and pass them by. Not that you’d want to because, after one listen of a track like Milionària and you want to go back for more. My next review will return to the single song but, as I could not separate Milionària + Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero – and they are part of F*cking Money Man -, that is the way things have to be today. The fact ROSALÍA has released two videos and not just been beholden to a traditional single shows that she is always pushing ahead and doing what she feels is right. Check the video(s) and you can see how much the visual nature of music means to ROSALÍA. This is a complete artist and someone who is going to go a very long way. Do not pass her by and, with new cuts out in the world, ROSALÍA is going to be on many…

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