FEATURE: If You Have Some Pennies Spare… Albums to Look Forward to in June

FEATURE:

 

 

If You Have Some Pennies Spare…

IN THIS PHOTO: The Raconteurs/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Albums to Look Forward to in June

__________

I have just written a piece regarding…

gggfswefgjk.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna/PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna

my favourite albums of the year so far and, today, I am looking ahead to new month’s best releases. This year has been incredibly rich with challenging, stunning and instantly memorable albums. There is no denying the quality has been sky-high and, as we head into the second half of 2019, it looks like the momentum will stay strong and keep swinging. If you are interested in June’s releases and want to know which albums you should spend your spare cash on, I have compiled a rundown of the essential records you have to get. From a long-awaited return from The Raconteurs to Kate Tempest’s  hot new album, here is what you should be keeping your eyes out for…

yty.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: Hot Chip/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

IN June.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images

_____________

AuroraA Different Kind of Human (Step 2)

Release Date: 7th June, 2019

Producers: Various

Labels: Decca/Glassnote

Standout Cuts: Daydreamer/The Seed/The River

Key Cut: Animal

Pre-Order Link: https://aurora.lnk.to/ADKOHStep2WE

The Divine ComedyOffice Politics

2.jpg

Release Date: 7th June, 2019

Label: DC Records

Standout Cuts: Office Politics/Infernal Machines/I’m a Stranger Here

Key Cut: Norman and Norma

Pre-Order Link: https://thedivinecomedy.tmstor.es/

Kate TempestThe Book of Traps and Lessons

jj.png

Release Date: 14th June, 2019

Producer: Rick Rubin

Label: Fiction Records

Standout Cuts: Keep Moving Don’t Move/All Humans Too Late/Lessons

Key Cut: Firesmoke

Release Date: 14th June, 2019

Producer: Ron Aniello

Label: Columbia

Standout Cuts: Western Stars/Chasin’ Wild Horses/Hello Sunshine

Key Cut: There Goes My Miracle

uuu.jpg

Release Date: 14th June, 2019

Producers: Madonna/Mirwais/Mike Dean/Diplo/Jason Evigan/Billboard

Label: Interscope

Standout Cuts: Medellín/Dark Ballet/Crave

Key Cut: Future

Pre-Order Link: https://madonna.lnk.to/MadameX

Two Door Cinema ClubFalse Alarm

Release Date: 14th June, 2019

Producer: Jacknife Lee

Label: Glassnote

Standout Cuts: Talk/So Many People/Dirty Air

Key Cut: Satellite

Release Date: 21st June, 2019

Labels: Double Double Whammy/Ivy League/Heavenly Records

Standout Cuts: Her Own Heart/Secret/Kiss the Stars

Key Cut: Stay with Me

Pre-Order Link: https://hatchie.bandcamp.com/album/keepsake

Hot ChipA Bath Full of Ecstasy

ddd.jpg

Release Date: 21st June, 2019

Label: Domino Recordings Company

Standout Cuts: Melody of Love/Bath Full of Ecstasy/Clear Blue Skies

Key Cut: Hungry Child

v.jpg

Release Date: 21st June, 2019

Producers: Various

Label: Sony

Standout Cuts: Late Night Feelings/Don’t Leave Me Lonely/True Blue

Key Cut: Nothing Breaks Like a Heart

Release Date: 21st June, 2019

Producers: The Raconteurs and Joshua V. Smith

Label: Third Man

Standout Cuts: Bored and Razed/Help Me Stranger/Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)

Key Cut: Sunday Driver

iui.jpg

Release Date: 28th June, 2019

Producers: The Black Keys

Label: Easy Eye Sound/Nonesuch

Standout Cuts: Eagle Birds/Tell Me Lies/Go

Key Cut: Lo/Hi

FEATURE: On Top of the Vinyl Box: My Ten Favourite Albums of 2019 (So Far)

FEATURE:

 

 

On Top of the Vinyl Box

IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

My Ten Favourite Albums of 2019 (So Far)

__________

WE are almost in June…

tt.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: Fontaines D.C./PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

and it is sort of the mid-way point of 2019 - where we look forward to albums ahead but look back at the best of the year so far. It has been a fantastic year for music and I think, personally, women have been ruling – general more compelling and varied than the boys! From all over the musical map, we have seen some revelatory and wonderful albums arrive and, right here, I have collected together what are, in my opinion, the ten best albums of the year to date. It is still early days and there is a lot of great music ahead, mind. Everyone will have their own top-ten list - and it will be interesting to see whether you agree with any of my selections. You might be new to some of the albums on this list so, if you have the time, sit back and experience records that have made this year…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Julia Jacklin/PHOTO CREDIT: Gem Harris

AMONG the finest in recent memory.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images

_____________

Billie MartenFeeding Seahorses by Hand

Release Date: 26th April, 2019

Producer: Ethan John

Label: RCA

Key Cuts: Cartoon People/Blood Is Blue/Boxes

Standout Track: Toulouse

Review:

This collection of softly sung songs forms nothing short of a gentle and reserved masterpiece. It would have been easy for Marten to have made this record with the same restricted tool set she used on her debut, however she opted for a riskier route that has certainly paid off. Throughout the album Marten refuses to place restrictions on herself, but manages to never go too far, and add more to a track than it needs.

On Feeding Seahorses, Marten has managed to skilfully navigate a true artistic tightrope by developing and building on the sounds of her minimalistic debut, without losing any of its original essence. Nothing is lost, only gained” – The Line of Best Fit

Little Simz GREY AREA

Release Date: 1st March, 2019

Producers: Inflo/Sigurd/Astronote

Label: Age 101

Key Cuts: Offence/Selfish/101 FM

Standout Track: Venom

Review:

Grey Area would feel one-note, if Simz’s only mode was conviction: elsewhere, she contemplates her demons, admonishes her ambitions (“People are dying / Who gives a fuck about making hits?”) and grapples with the concept of seeing a therapist. Yet even as she’s mining her doubts, her bold delivery and precise, revelled-in flow underpin her growing self-belief. The features – Michael Kiwanuka, Cleo Sol singing the tender refrain of Selfish, among others – are sweet embellishments that complement Simz’s harder tones, as does the production from her old friend Inflo, who pairs fuzzy guitars and orchestral flourishes with pared-back, boom-bap soul. At once soft and hard, fiery and vulnerable, Grey Area finds Little Simz thriving in her multi-facetedness” – The Guardian

Dave PSYCHODRAMA

Release Date: 8th March, 2019

Producers: Various

Label: Neighbourhood Recordings

Key Cuts: Streatham/Screwface Capital/Voices

Standout Track: Black

Review:

It is a microcosm of Psychodrama’s refusal to contain itself as a work of art, instead reaching for emotional intimacy and therapeutic resonance. By its end, “Lesley” becomes a passionate call-to-action; as Dave puts it, “a message to a woman with a toxic man” who he is “begging… to get support if you’re lost or trapped.” In a world craving artists who use their influence for good, Dave offers a road map for inspired musicians and inquisitive listeners alike.

“Lesley” closes on the disembodied voice of Dave’s fictional therapist, who expresses relief as his client nears the end of the album’s psychodramatic course. “I’m just happy you’re at a place now where you feel you understand your emotions, and are in control,” he says. A different kind of hero’s journey through the musical mind, Psychodrama feels less like a platform for clout than a starting point for self-help and paradigmatic change” – Pitchfork

Julia Jacklin Crushing

4.jpg

Release Date: 22nd February, 2019

Producer: Burke Reid

Labels: Polyvinyl/Transgressive/Liberation

Key Cuts: Head Alone/Good Guy/Turn Me Down

Standout Track: Pressure to Party

Review:

Crushing is riveting right from the spare, noir-tinged opening track, "Body," which remembers the moment Jacklin decided to leave the relationship after her partner got them thrown off a flight. The humiliating scene is punctuated by her wondering if he might use a nude photograph he once took of her against her; she describes the aftermath as "heading to the city to get my body back." The album is full of similarly soft-spoken, candid, and seemingly timely narratives involving female autonomy ("I don't want to be touched all the time/I raised my body up to be mine"). Fragile, acoustic solo songs like "When the Family Flies In" and "Convention" are contrasted by full-band arrangements, including the defiant, alt-country-tinged "You Were Right" and the rollicking but highly stressed "Pressure to Party."

The final song, "Comfort," is a solo acoustic guitar tune that has Jacklin's quivering voice delivering a stream of affirmations beginning with "You'll be okay/You'll be all right/You'll get well soon/Sleep through the night…" before she reassures herself that her ex will be okay, too. It's this type of devastating emotional honesty -- one that admits both strength and weakness -- that, along with the performances, sets this record apart from others in its heavy-hearted category” – AllMusic

Billie Eilish - WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

5.jpg

Release Date: 29th March, 2019

Producer: Finneas

Labels: Darkroom/Interscope

Key Cuts: bad guy/when the party’s over/bury a friend

Standout Track: all the good girls go to hell

Review:

There’s little to plausibly fault on the record. Previous singles are included sparingly (2018’s ‘When The Party’s Over’ and ‘You Should See Me In A Crown’), and there’s a real level of intrigue waiting on every song, partly as only two new songs (‘Bury A Friend’, ‘Wish You Were Gay’) got a pre-release. It’s an album that moves with purpose and knows when to hold the listener tight, or grab them by the scruff of the neck and drag them into her world. That said, one nitpick is the pacing towards the end, with the final three songs – ‘Listen Before I Go’, ‘I Love You’ and ‘Goodbye’ – providing an melancholy end close to an otherwise thrilling album” – NME

Lizzo Cuz I Love You

Release Date: 19th April, 2019

Producers: Various

Labels: Nice Life/Atlantic

Key Cuts: Juice/Crybaby/Heaven Help Me

Standout Track: Cuz I Love You

Review:

Lizzo whoops and chortles through these beats with unnatural ease. Keeping up is like beating back the wind, like Jon Snow getting whipped through stony Winterfell peaks trying to ride a dragon. Gucci Mane can barely keep up on “Exactly How I Feel.” Lizzo is a joy, and Cuz I Love You is an impressive portfolio, showcasing the chops of a singer who nails all the notes, a rapper with alchemical control over words, and a songwriter holding nothing back. She can make lounging around in underwear sound revelatory. She can make masturbation seem like a political act. If you’re having a rough week watching the rule of law crumble, let Cuz I Love You rebuild your mettle” – VULTURE

Fontaines D.C. Dogrel

78.jpg

Release Date: 12th April, 2019

Producer: Dan Carey

Label: Partisan

Key Cuts: Big/Too Real/Chequeless Reckless

Standout Track: Boys in the Better Land

Review:

Whether on the softer, plaintive lament of ‘Roy’s Tune’ or the excitable, grinding riff of ‘Chequeless Reckless’, Fontaines DC are masters of when to pull back and when to let go. If it sounds like a basic comment to suggest that the music perfectly serves the words - building up the intensity and then cutting back to let Grian’s lyrics land with their fullest force - then trust us, it isn’t. In many ways, like a lot of good punk music, these are tracks that are fairly simple - a few notes, a lot of repetition - but there’s nothing plug-in-and-play about this lot, they’ve simply stripped things back for maximum impact. ‘Sha Sha Sha’ shuffles along like a pissed-off ‘Lovecats’ on the dole; ‘Liberty Belle’ is like the smartest, sharpest football chant in town, while old favourite ‘Boys In The Better Land’ still barrels along with the same excitement it did on first listen” – DIY

Jamila Woods LEGACY! LEGACY!

Release Date: 10th May, 2019                            

Producers: Various

Label: Jagjaguwar

Key Cuts: BETTY/FRIDA/MILES

Standout Track: ZORA

Review:

In his landmark 1903 essay “The Talented Tenth,” W.E.B. DuBois argued that the liberation of all black people would come from cultivating a handful of exceptional blacks through higher education. Over a century later, black artists and activists, poets and politicians continue to thrive across a spectrum of different mediums. Almost every predecessor conjured in and in-between Woods’ lyrics balanced their craft alongside an unending fight for total equality, whether they wanted to or not: “All the women in me are tired” becomes a running motif throughout the album. With LEGACY! LEGACY!, Jamila Woods positions herself to join the battle, bridging the gap, once and for all, between our unresolved past and the promise that awaits us all on the horizon” – Pitchfork

Loyle Carner Not Waving, But Drowning

reww.jpg

Release Date: 19th April, 2019

Producers: Various

Label: AMF/Virgin EMI

Key Cuts: Angel/Ottolenghi/Dear Ben

Standout Track: Loose Ends

Review:

Carner is intrinsically aware of his personal paradoxes, and also those of the country in which he lives. On “Looking Back” he thinks about his two fathers – a black man who shares his DNA but to whom he feels little connection, and his late step-father, a white man – and how “my great grandfather could’ve owned my other one…Above all, he is conscious of what family means to him, and so bookends the album with a poem from him to his mother Jean, and one from his mother to him. Carner would be the first to admit that he might not be completely “there” yet – wherever that is. However, Not Waving, But Drowning has an emotional intelligence that shows just how strong Carner is when he’s at his most vulnerable” – The Independent

Weyes Blood Titanic Rising

Release Date: 5th April, 2019

Producers: Natalie Mering/Jonathan Rado

Label: Sub Pop

Key Cuts: Something to Believe/Titanic Rising/Picture Me Better

Standout Track: Andromeda

Review:

Co-production from Foxygen member Jonathan Rado might explain the brightly blooming chamber pop arrangements, merging Mering's soaring vocals with orchestral strings and drum fills borrowed directly from the Beatles. This optimistic throwback arrangement is in full force on the infectiously bubbly "Everyday," with lyrics inspecting a confusing relationship over a track as bouncy as a rubber ball. Mering effortlessly switches gears throughout the album, slipping between the synthy melodrama of "Movies" and the cold coffee blues piano ballad "Something to Believe," as well as making space for acoustic folk numbers, ambient interludes, and chamber pop diversions.

Easily her most clear-headed set of songs to date, there's a directness here that sometimes got lost in the layers of earlier albums. She sounds driven and confident, asserting an intense control of the emotional flow of her songs without ever rushing things or letting some of the anxiety she sings about seep into the feel of the album. While all of Weyes Blood's albums leading up to Titanic Rising were good, even great, there's something that sets this one apart. Fantastic songs, meticulously detailed production, and a certain, hard-to-name spark of connection all gel into the near-perfect statement that every part of Mering's strange journey before this led up to” – AllMusic

 

FEATURE: Spotlight: Squid

FEATURE:

 

 

Spotlight

aa.jpg

Squid

__________

THERE is a lot of buzz and excitement regarding…

pooop.jpg

the awesome Squid right now – and quite right, too! My first exposure to them was through a common and trusty source: the cool waves of BBC Radio 6 Music. I know their new single, Houseplants, has been played all over the place but it sounds just right at home on BBC Radio 6 Music. In this article from The Line of Best Fit, they featured Houseplants and gave it a little write-up:

Their new single "Houseplants" is a prime example of that statement - erratic and playful, and delivers a relatable message. Vocalist and drummer Ollie Judge says the track is about "being able to afford a house and not having to have beans on toast for the week leading up to payday. Pessimistically, I don’t see that future happening, but I still catch myself every now and again thinking it could."

It is an excellent single and one that blows away the cobwebs and leaves a smile at the same time! It is rare that, in these times, you can find a song that delivers that dichotomy. Not only do they blow you away with this raw and uncensored clatter but there is nuance and variation – a song that twists and has various little stages. That sort of confidence and ability does not come easily: the fact Squid have not been around that long as a band makes their modern endeavours that much more impressive and standout! So, where did the band come from? When they spoke to Wonderland last year, we got to learn more about them: where they came from and, indeed, how they met one another:

Formed in Brighton, Squid – made up of Ollie Judge, Louis Borlase, Arthur Leadbetter, Laurie Nankivell and Anton Pearson – have already been making a name for themselves as one of the most exciting new acts on the scene.

Currently gearing up for their show tomorrow at The Great Escape’s First Fifty at The Macbeth tomorrow (more info on that here), we caught up with them over curry in North London to find out all there is to know.

How did you guys all first meet?

So it was a stormy night in Brighton…[Laughs]

Basically we wanted to make music together and we all had different influences, so we had an idea about creating something that just brought everything together, and it just had this transforming nature to it. That never really settled for like a good year or two, and it’s still quite unsettled in quite a beautiful way. That’s how we met really, making music.

We’d been doing lots of funny, silly electronic music in our bedrooms. House music that just still felt silly. We were making a lot of music individually, but obviously all of us were thinking that the idea of making a band would be really, really great, but none of us had really sat down and hung out.

You only need to read one of their interviews to understand that these guys are all about fun and have no ego. They are funny, brotherly and do not hold back when it comes to gold – in terms of their music and what they say in interviews. There are some really interesting bands playing at the moment and, with recent festivals such as Brighton’s The Great Escape, a lot of them have been turning heads. Brighton, in fact, is producing a perfect base for new artists: the sea air and warm vibes together with that proximity to London.

I can understand why artists favour Brighton - and it seems like the music coming from there is among the strongest coming through. To be fair, the boys are all over the place and one gets that impression of a band taking each day as it comes and not stressing over things. I love what they are doing right now and you should keep an eye out to see where they are heading. Catch them on the road if you can and experience this terrific band who are definitely on the rise. In terms of the artists who influence Squid, it is hard to drawn direct comparisons. In this interview with DIY , they gave some insight:

Who were some artists that inspired you when you were just starting out (and why)?

Anton: When we were first collaborating we all in love with a lot of German bands like NEU!, Can etc. I remember us listening to a lot of Esbjorn Svensson and ECM type stuff along with a bunch of ‘ambient’ and post-rock artists, really just a load of instrumental stuff too.

Louis: Unintentionally I think, we started taking more from the current music around us and putting it into our own writing. This seemed to give our set a much higher energy which felt really good - or maybe it’s just that we started standing up on stage. Right now we’re especially loving Baxter Dury, Black Midi, DUDS, Tirzah.

That is a pretty unexpected and impressive list of influences! I am not sure what their plans are regarding an album but many out there are priming their eyes the way of Squid to see what the band do next. There is a lot of buzz around them and they are picking up a lot of love along the way. I was bowled over by Houseplants and I cannot wait to see what is brewing in camp. There are few bands like them that provide such simple and effective music. Although there is usually a serious message behind their songs, you do learn from them but you also get this sense of relief and energy that is so important! The chaps are funny and self-deprecating and they have this amazing connection. I wouldn’t be shocked if I saw them getting to the top of festival bills very soon.  I have been a bit down on bands over the past couple of years – declaring solo artists as the best around – but there are some great groups emerging lately – making me feel that the tide is turning and we will see a return of guitar-based bands. I shall leave you with an exert from an interview the band did with NME earlier in the year. It seems to sum up their humour and how they view music:    

What’s your karaoke song?

Anton: Elton John – ‘Tiny Dancer’
Laurie: Elton John and Tupac – ‘Ghetto Gospel’
Ollie: ABBA – ‘SOS’
Louis: Sean Paul – ‘Breathe’
Arthur: Bach – ‘Prelude’ ft David Guetta

Scenario: We’ve given you a shit load of money to make a big budget video – what do you do with it?

“We’ll write a one man show for Jeff Goldblum meanwhile throughout the show Mark Kermode gives it a scathing review, but as a voiceover. If there’s anything left over we’ll take it out in cash, go to a island and burn it. £100,000?

If you don’t fall in love with Squid and embrace what they do; if you do not digest and adore what they are putting out right now then you might very well need…

YOUR head checked!

_____________

Follow Squid:

vcc.jpg

FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill

FEATURE:

 

 

Vinyl Corner

COVER ART: World B. Omes (David Gambale)

Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill

__________

IN future weeks...

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beastie Boys/PHOTO CREDIT: Lynn Goldsmith/Getty Images

I am eager to feature other Hip-Hop classics in this feature. I have already included Beastie Boys before but I have not dissected Licensed to Ill. It might have been more appropriate to include Paul’s Boutique here as, in July, it turns thirty. I have featured that album a few times so I thought it was a good idea to concentrate on another album that sounds great on vinyl. Make sure you buy a vinyl copy and let the magic take over you! Many prefer the expanse, sheer audacity and legacy of Paul’s Boutique because, as albums go, it did not fare that well at the start - and many did not expect the Beastie Boys to release a second. I recall listening to Licensed to Ill as a child because it had these great raps, fun songs and memorable lines. I was aware of other great Hip-Hop albums as a child but nothing quite like Beastie Boys’ debut. Depending on where you feel Hip-Hop’s golden age begun, you have to include Licensed to Ill in the beginning. I think 1986 was the start of things and, alongside Raising Hell by Run-D.M.C., there was something in the air – it would take another couple of years before Hip-Hop reached its true peak. The world was not quite prepared for these cocky and funny guys who were mixing juvenile humour with some of the slickest and most cutting lines around.

The boys’ experimental tendencies and crate-digging allure would materialise more explicitly on Paul’s Boutique but there were samples a-plenty of Licensed to Ill! There are so many great moments of the Beastie Boys’ debut. Kerry King (of Slayer) shreds it on No Sleep Till Brooklyn which, in itself; is a monster song. I think it is the best song on the record and sort of defines what Beastie Boys were all about. The trio released seven singles from Licensed to Ill and you can understand why they did that. Paul Revere has ‘single’ written all over it and how can one refute the allure of The New Style?! We also were treated to (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party) and its cool video; the exceptional Brass Monkey and the aforementioned No Sleep Till Brooklyn. I will come to look at reviews and the legacy of Licensed to Ill but, when you think about each song and how packed they are, it sort of takes the breath! The opening track, Rhymin & Stealin creates a conversation among Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Clash – When the Levee Breaks (Led Zeppelin) and I Fought the Law (The Clash) would sound unnatural spliced by other bands but the Beastie Boys made it work wonderfully! The New Style brings in Trouble Funk whilst one can hear Fat Larry’s Band and Steve Miller Band on Slow Ride; some delicious Matronix on Paul Revere and everyone from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and Kool & The Gang on the closer, Time to Get Ill.

One of the reasons why I love sampling so much is because you get the original song but they are augmented and made fascinating by hearing other artists’ voices on them. Look back at all the classic Hip-Hop albums and (the creators) dug deep into the crates and fused disparate voices to create something explosive, eclectic and sense-altering. I love how these pioneers preserved forgotten artists and reintroduced older sounds to new listeners through their visor. It not only means we get to hear unconnected artists/sounds spliced naturally and to great effect but it means you discover artists you might not have otherwise of heard. Beastie Boys ran into a bit of strife regarding copyright and clearance when they released Paul’s Boutique – overloaded as it is with sample – but that was an inherent danger when it came to sampling. A few Hip-Hop groups got into trouble for not getting clearance but one can forgive them because of the results and their intentions: not to rip anyone off but make this incredible music that sounds like nothing else. There are few more confident debuts than Licensed to Ill. One is blown away by the energy, confidence and sheer talent of the Beastie Boys right from the start on 15th November, 1986. There was not a lot of similar music around and, aside from Run-D.M.C. and Eric B. & Rakim – whose landmark debut, Paid in Full, arrived the year after – Beastie Boys were in a league of their own.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Levine/Getty Images

Some might write off a lot of the songs because they are quite juvenile and lack the sort of authority they would hone on their next album. Whilst the original title pitched for Licensed to Ill was scrapped because of its homophobic connotations – I shall not print it here – the band knew that was a mistake and they did sort themselves out soon enough. I think it is unfair to dismiss the debut album from the Beastie Boys as being a bit immature and slight: in actuality, it is a fantastic album that sounds more impressive and nuanced now than it did back in 1986. Contemporary reviews are largely positive and, as AllMusic wrote in 2011, there is a lot to love about Licensed to Ill:

There hasn't been a funnier, more infectious record in pop music than this, and it's not because the group is mocking rappers (in all honesty, the truly twisted barbs are hurled at frat boys and lager lads), but because they've already created their own universe and points of reference, where it's as funny to spit out absurdist rhymes and pound out "Fight for Your Right (To Party)" as it is to send up street corner doo wop with "Girls." Then, there is the overpowering loudness of the record -- operating from the axis of where metal, punk, and rap meet, there never has been a record this heavy and nimble, drunk on its own power yet giddy with what they're getting away with...

Pitchfork approached things from a slightly different direction when reviewing the album:

Okay, so it isn't the music or all the rhymes that translate beyond the scene of the crime. What, then? Probably just that the Beasties didn't give a fuck-- AND AMERICA DESPERATELY NEEDED TO BE SHOWN HOW NOT TO GIVE A FUCK. And it sort of still does. Licensed to Ill demonstrated that you could be "groundbreaking" and "important," and still have no goals beyond getting drunk before 6th period. Think about that. It meant that you could live life as one giant inside joke, speaking in tongues and making hilarious references to Chef Boyardee with no one outside your circle of jerks the wiser. Sorry ma, forgot to take out the trash, but that's okay because I drink Brass Monkey and I rock well. "What?" "Nothing".

I love the sheer brashness of the album and the sense that this self-confidence won over the public. There was a strange irony that Rap and Hip-Hop was pushed more into the mainstream by a trio of white guys – many at the time criticised the genres for being too black to be considered mainstream.

In this excellent feature from 2016, Medium celebrated Licensed to Ill and its many merits. They did, as it goes on to say, condemn the sexist language and homophobia that the Beastie Boys would later apologise for:

There is a sense of genuine discovery, of creating new music, that remains years later, after countless plays, countless misinterpretations, countless rip-off acts, even countless apologies from the Beasties, who seemed guilty by how intoxicating the sound of it is, how it makes beer-soaked hedonism sound like the apogee of human experience. And maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but in either case, Licensed to Ill reigns tall among the greatest records of its time”.

This seems obvious, but it’s important to not underestimate that this is still one of the best selling rap albums of all time, even 30 years later. Considering that so many naysayers in 1986 dismissed hip-hop as a novelty genre, this is incredible.

Hip-hop had been constantly increasing in popularity since its humble beginnings in the mid-70s, but it was Licensed to Ill that really shook up the culture and catapulted rap music to new levels of acceptance. It’s easy to group the Beastie Boys in with the rest of the closely-knit, Def Jam and Rush-affiliated artists like LL Cool J and Run-DMC. But at the time, Licensed to Ill stood out completely from the rest of rap music as a cultural phenomenon in itself.

With regards the frat-like behaviour of Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond (vocals, drums), Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch (vocals, bass) and Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz (vocals, guitar) back in the 1980s: Should we excuse them as being a product of their time and knowing no better?

Of course, this was the 1980s and there’s always going to be a debate around how much we should excuse antiquated attitudes for being a product of a different time. This is especially true of the Beastie Boys, who for the rest of their career made it a priority to apologize for their offensive lyrics during this period. The most notable instance of this was MCA’s now legendary verse on “Sure Shot,” where he publicly repented for the group’s earlier sexism:

“I want to say a little something that’s long overdue,
The disrespect to women has to got to be through,
To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends,
I want to offer my love and respect till the end.”

But if we look beyond the surface, Licensed to Ill was actually a really innovative album — only a few hip-hop artists like Doug E. Fresh and Mantronix were making such experimental hip-hop at the time. There’s the amazing “Hold it Now, Hit It,” one of the strangest hip-hop singles of the period; “Paul Revere,” a fake western origin story propelled by a backwards sampled loop; and “Rhymin’ and Stealin,’” which contains the legendary, yet super-random bridge that has the group screaming “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” over and over. This is by no means a normal hip-hop album.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Licensed to Ill doesn’t get looked at as a creative breakthrough because it’s unfairly judged against the rest of the band’s catalogue and not appreciated on its own terms. Of course, Paul’s Boutique was creatively groundbreaking, but that doesn’t mean that what preceded it is therefore generic. Both albums were extremely progressive in their own ways, but because hip-hop as a whole progressed by leaps and bounds between 1986 and 1989, Licensed to Ill looks basic in comparison. But they didn’t simply go from immature idiots to musical geniuses by the time Paul’s Boutique came out, like many would have you believe”.

Whilst this retrospective article from 2016 suggests that better things would come from Beastie Boys and a lot of the songs lack clout, they did have some positive things to say:

The Beastie Boys, at first, were just dumb fun. But they were about to become important—musically at least—by having the brilliance to, say, mix the soundtracks of Psycho and Jaws on Paul’s Boutique. Would Paul’s Boutique have been as astonishing if it hadn’t risen out of the bratty antics of the earlier record? Like you guys point out, sometimes it doesn’t even sound like the same band, but I don’t think they stumbled into their place in history “drunk and ass-backwards,” or that they were forced to evolve, Sean. I’m guessing a 1986 platinum record would ensure that the “Beastie Boys always on vacation” lifestyle would persevere for quite a while…

Still, they went back to the studio and amped everything up a notch in 1989, expanding on Ill’s prescient cuts like “She’s Crafty” and “Hold It Now, Hit It,” and continued to do so throughout their career. On the Beasties’ debut, if you listen to how excited they are, how cheeky, how out-and-out full of themselves, it’s almost like they knew what was coming”.

I have a lot of love for Licensed to Ill and, whilst it does not captivate in the same way as Paul’s Boutique, its importance and the way it acted as a catalyst cannot be diminished. It was lucky we got a second album from them because, as is stated here, there was great tension in the camp by 1987:

 “The Licensed to Ill-era came to a sticky end in 1987, with all three of the Beasties unhappy and barely speaking to one another,” Sawyer notes, pulling from the memoir. Reportedly, Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons gave the Beastie Boys an ultimatum to receive their royalties. The surviving members of the band do not address the reasons for not speaking in the interview. However, they do discuss the business at play with their label. “Russell [Simmons] was like, if you don’t go in the studio, then I’m not paying you,” Mike D reveals. “His calculation was that we would all be like, ‘Oh we want our millions. OK, Russell, we’re going to do it.’ But we were all immediately, ‘F*ck you’”.

It is a remarkable work that, yes, has some flaws – some of the lyrical content is hard to excuse and love – and they would make bigger statements but you cannot deny Licensed to Ill is fun, compelling and provided a sense of relief and fun at a time when Americans really needed it – look at what was happening in 1986 to get a sense of why music was a perfect distraction! If you want to see where the Beastie Boys started out and how they announced their arrival in music, snap up a copy of Licensed to Ill and let it do its work. It is not a perfect album (is there such a thing?!) but it is immensely fun and the samples are awesome; the raps and lines are, for the most part, funny and great and the guys put something into the world that helped get Hip-Hop and Rap to the masses. For those reasons alone, I feel Licensed to Ill deserves a lot of respect and has fought for its right…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Natkin/WireImage

TO party.

FEATURE: The Food of Love: Is Music a Way of Rekindling Britain’s Waning Sex Life?

FEATURE:

 

 

The Food of Love

PHOTO CREDIT: @tallierobinson/Unsplash 

Is Music a Way of Rekindling Britain’s Waning Sex Life?

__________

MAYBE it is not a shock to discover...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @nemanjao1/Unsplash

that there is a proportion of people in Britain not having a lot of sex. Perhaps it is shocking British people have sex at all: the rest of the world sees us as reserved, stiff of upper lip (and nothing else) and closed-off. Although we are not as ‘prolific’ as other nations and are more private regarding our personal lives and sexual habits, it seems like the pace of modern life is getting in the way. The Internet and social media are taking over and we spend so much time on laptops or on our phones. When we are not working, how many of us have the energy to go out and socialise, let alone engage in anything else?! Maybe the statistics do not apply to teens and the middle-aged but it seems like there is a sector of British life that is ignoring sex…or simply does not have the time. This revelation made the news earlier this month and, as The Independent reports, maybe our stressed lives and busy working hours is curtailing how much sex we are having:

 “British people are having less sex than in previous years, with scientists blaming the decline on the internet and the ”busyness” of modern life.

According to new data, fewer than half of Britons have sex at least once a week, and rates are dwindling.

The steepest declines were among people over the age of 25 and those who were married or living together, said researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

They analysed data for more than 34,000 men and women aged 16 to 44 who completed the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles in 1991 (Natsal-1), 2001 (Natsal-2) and 2012 (Natsal-3). 

The data showed a general decline in sexual activity in Britain between 2001 and 2012, with the steepest declines among the over-25s and those who were married or living together.

PHOTO CREDIT: @jaredsluyter/Unsplash

Overall, the proportion reporting no sex in the past month fell between the first and second surveys (from 28.5 per cent to 23 per cent in women and from 30.9 per cent to 26 per cent in men) but increased significantly in the final 2012 survey (to 29.3 per cent in women and 29.2 per cent in men).

The proportion reporting sex 10 times or more in the past month increased between the first two surveys (from 18.4 per cent to 20.6 per cent in women and from 19.9 per cent to 20.2 per cent in men), but fell in the final survey to 13.2 per cent in woman and 14.4 per cent in men.

Overall, 41 per cent of men and women had sex once a week or more in the last month, the most recent survey showed.

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the authors said: “Our data show that sexual frequency fell in Britain between Natsal-2 and Natsal-3.

“The most recent Natsal data show that fewer than half of men and women aged 16 to 44 have sex at least once a week”.

That is a lot of data to digest and it is always hard reading statistics and seeing whether it is flawed or reliable. From what we have seen, it seems like there is a correlation between the pressure of our lives and how much sex we are having.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @freestocks/Unsplash

We are all busier nowadays and it seems like, when we do get some free time, it is spent binging on T.V. or on the Internet. Whilst the lack of sex might be good for controlling population rates, does this mean that we unhappier and more stressed? Not that this article is a bawdy and explicit need to talk about sex but, seriously, the signs are not good: we are becoming more depressed, tense and, really, less relaxed. This is all bad and I do think that there is a serious side to all of this. Not only are relationships – among those of a certain age – less physical, there is also this danger that many are not actually engaging with one another at all. If we are all too tired or preoccupied then are the figures above going to get any worse?! One might say substituting one form of entertainment for another – T.V. for music – is not helping the problem or providing a solution. I do think there is a social aspect to T.V. but, for the most part, people veg-out and then go to bed. We may discuss T.V. shows or what we are streaming on Netflix but maybe that type of distraction is not what we need. Stick with me on this one but it is clear that we are all working too hard and definitely need to unwind.

If you spend your days toiling with work and commuting; come home, stick on some T.V. or spend all evening online, what does the rest of the night hold? You are not more relaxed and, if anything, your brain does not have chance to switch off and decompress. Sex is a way of releasing endorphins and providing release but, in terms of relationships, it is a key component. If couples are more distant and not as physical then does that have long-term effects? It is no coincidence that, since the advent and proliferation of streaming services like Netflix, we are spending less time socialising or having a sex life. It is not an epidemic but there is this bleak picture: couples not really talking or acting more like friends that lovers. The research conducted is not signalling a pacifism or abstinence from young couples but there is this indication that we lack the necessary energy and requisite desire that there was as recently as a few years ago. Where does music come into this, then? People are saying they would like to have more sex and, when it comes to the drop in figures, it is not people keeping their virginity: it is once-active people have less sex. Fears and anxieties around the world are adding to the pressure and, as we escape more into social media and fantasy, we are neglecting our sex lives.

One of the great things about music – if you do not take into consideration music videos – is that there is not the visual distraction of the Internet or T.V. Unless you are drooling over some great cover art (and why not!) it is this sonic experience; one can use music as a direct stimulus or have it on in the background. It seems like a more immersive experience and more sociable. I am not suggesting people go to bars, listen to music and have sex there but, when at home, it seems like two bird can be killed with one stone – or The Rolling Stones, perhaps! Music is a way to de-stress and unwind and there is this huge emotional relief. Music can make us feel less anxious and it can provide us motivation and energy. I often get sapped from a tiring day at work and, when getting back, I put on some great music and it makes me feel lighter, more optimistic and recharges the batteries. Music alone cannot take us from drained to hyperactive that easily – I think all of us are more tired generally than we used to be – but there is something beyond mere science and biology regarding music. I have heard many stories from couples about how they met and what makes them so connected. More than any film, T.V. show or anything else, it is music that provides that unity and sense of passion.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @horizonchurch/Unsplash

Whether it is their love of a particular album or going to gigs, they fell in love because of their shared tastes in music. Many other couples find it can be quite intimidating or staid initiating any sexual congress in silence or in any other situation. Music unites the masses and it is its own language; it provokes tears and laughter and, for many, represents fond memories and happier times. I think a lot of our modern anxiety is linked to the possible future and how bleak everyone says everything is. Not only can great music, past or present, provide some escapism or needed optimism but the value of nostalgia can unlock a part of our brain that is currently obsessing over climate change, political strife and the strains of work. Not only are we are busier but we are more stressed and depressed than we used to be. The modern world is a tough place and there is a clear attraction to music. Music itself is a powerful aphrodisiac – as Shakespeare famously wrote – and it can be a real source of attraction between couples/lovers. There have been numerous studies through the years that state how music makes us more active and a shared love of certain bands/albums can create that missing spark. Obscure Sound went into more detail in this feature from 2015:

“…Adding weight to all of that is the other McGill University study that reveals that listening to music can also lead to arousal, among other feelings. So you’re not only feeling increased levels of pleasure but also arousal while listening to music and taking part in some activity (like, um, sex). If the bit about being aroused by music sounds kind of strange, you’re not alone. However, if you are actually aroused when listening to music, you’re also not alone—not by a long shot. 

PHOTO CREDIT: @matheusferrero/Unsplash 

Adam and Eve revealed in a new infographic on sex, drugs, and music that 40 percent of the people they surveyed are more turned on by music than their partner’s touch. So, there’s your proof, doubters; people can get more out of music than someone holding their hand or rubbing their shoulders.

Now that there’s some science to it, what about the music these people listen to that is inspiring such feelings? Music streaming service Spotify revealed some of their own findings in this regard, and it appears that there’s a pretty wide variety of preference out there when it comes to “in the bedroom” music”.

Not only can music help reignite passion in an existing relationship but, as we know, a person’s taste in music can compensate for ‘shortcomings’ when it comes to their looks and personality. A man does not have to look like Tom Hardy to attract women/men. The sheer attractiveness of someone who shares the same musical tastes and speaks the same language can, in itself, be incredibly potent.

I was reading an article from Elite Daily, as one does, and they talked about couples who listen to music and how they have more sex than couples who do not.

According to a study done by Sonos, the smart speaker system, 67 percent of couples that listen to music out loud together report having more sex than couples who don't listen to music together. The reason is that when you listen to music out loud, your neurons (nerve cells that transmit information throughout the body) begin operating at the same rate as your partner's, which releases oxytocin (the love hormone). Oxytocin is also responsible for feelings of trust so, naturally, things become more intimate between you and your partner when there's music on in the bedroom.

Turns out, 18 percent of people also admit to dropping the L-bomb because of a song they heard. This number is even higher for people who claim to listen to music out loud on a regular basis. TBH, I'd be lying if I said I've never considered proposing to the first person I see when an Ed Sheeran song comes on. Unsurprisingly, there's another chemical reaction going on when this happens. The combination of oxytocin (the love hormone) as a result of being with your partner and serotonin (the happiness hormone) as a result of listening to your favorite song means good vibes all around.

Literally. Neurochemistry aside, of the 30,000 households surveyed, 18 percent of couples say that music makes sex better. For them, the benefit of listening to music during sex is the rhythmic coordination it allows for. They explain that it provides the perfect soundtrack for getting busy, just like in the movies. It's no surprise, then, that you can (and you should) craft a sex playlist inspired by your favorite celebrities.

It's worth pointing out that 39 percent of people also say they enjoy listening to music more than having sex. Yikes! So, if you feel like something's missing from your love life, it might just be a Grammy-nominated soundtrack... for sex, of course. I'd suggest getting started on your playlist ASAP. Have you ever heard "Ride" by Chase Rice?

Literally. Neurochemistry aside, of the 30,000 households surveyed, 18 percent of couples say that music makes sex better. For them, the benefit of listening to music during sex is the rhythmic coordination it allows for. They explain that it provides the perfect soundtrack for getting busy, just like in the movies. It's no surprise, then, that you can (and you should) craft a sex playlist inspired by your favorite celebrities”.

Obviously, sexy and sensual music itself is designed to increase libido but it is not as simple as turning on some music and every problem being resolved. One does not simply lose their inhabitations and burdens when they put on music.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @marksolarski/Unsplash

The ‘sex problem’ facing many young people/couples will not go anywhere soon but music definitely has a way of bringing us together and creating this incredible charge of attraction. Not only can shared tastes and similar musical loves renew bonds between couples and speak louder than anything else, there is that social element. Again, I am not proposing people have sex at gigs – that would violate health and safety and public decency – but, whether you are single or in a relationship, going out and seeing artists perform bonds us. Not only do we get the release of being in a lively environment and letting music coarse through our bodies but, for those single and looking for like-minded souls, gigs are a great source of guidance. It might be easy saying all of this and I do know that venues are closing and a lot of us do not have the energy to go out or the money to do so. I am suggesting we spend a few hours a week going out and seeing live music or, if not that, putting away devices and staying off the Internet. Music can provoke conversation and fond memories; we all can recall how music came into our lives and, when we hear music that stimulates various regions of the brain, the chemical reaction is instant and powerful. The sheer act of talking about music and having that common connection is a powerful aphrodisiac and it is something we do not necessarily get with T.V. or social media.

I am not sure whether the over-twenty-fives – the group seeing a steep decline in sex – are just finding responsibilities and the balance of life a bit too taxing and draining. Whist social media and T.V. can provide some escape and relaxation at the end of a day, music is more sociable and I think it can a solution, however temporary, to a very real problem. Not having sex is okay but it is a shame there is a noticeable decline and I wonder what affect it is having on our emotional, physical and psychological well-being. I think anything that can make us happier and more refreshed as people should be encourage and something as fundamental as sex should not be left on the shelf. Music should not just be about us listening through headphone or on our phones when we commute. I do worry that, whereas we used to listen to music together and share it in a physical form, now we are more used to going to gigs on our own or listening to music online. Maybe it is time to spend a bit of time off of the Internet and let our ears and minds be seduced. As I said, it is a case of killing two birds with one stone: we get to listen to music (with our other halves or when we are starting a relationship) and there is that chemistry and release we find when music plays; when we find someone whose musical mind ticks the same of us and, on a base level, when a fantastic song makes us feel relaxed, happy and…well, you can do the rest. Music is not a permanent or long-term solution when it comes to reversing the figures (and our sex drives) but it can help rekindle a flame, passion and physicality that have been sapped by the workaday life and the Internet. If we compel to make some small changes realise just how powerful and important music is, future reports regarding the sex life of the British public could be…         

 PHOTO CREDIT: @heftiba/Unsplash

VERY different indeed!

FEATURE: All My Loving: The Genius of Paul McCartney: The Ultimate Playlist

FEATURE:

 

 

All My Loving

aa.jpg

PHOTO CREDIT: Collier Schorr 

The Genius of Paul McCartney: The Ultimate Playlist

__________

ALTHOUGH this feature is not directly related to...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @PaulMcCartney

any release from The Beatles or anniversary, I have been reading All The Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release and look at each of The Beatles’ songs deconstructed and examined. Although George Harrison wrote some of The Beatles best tracks – including Something and Here Comes the Sun -, the main force behind the band was John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Whilst the duo wrote some of their biggest hits together, quite often it was either Lennon or McCartney that took the lead. Whether you are more in the Lennon or McCartney camp regarding the best tracks, one cannot deny that, between them, they are responsible for some of the best songs ever written. One can examine a songwriter like Paul McCartney from different angles and see how he evolved. From the man who wrote gorgeous love songs and some of the catchiest Pop of the 1960s, he then developed into this more mature and ambitious songwriter. You look at the earliest Beatles albums and there are some incredible song but it was by the time of Revolver (1966) when McCartney really started to spread his wings and splice other genres together. I love how all of his songs sound fresh and unique yet you can understand them all. Lennon often teased McCartney because of his ‘granny songs’ – those he felt were a bit soft and comedic. It is true that, compared to Lennon, McCartney was more varied regarding emotions and would show his sensitivity; talk about characters and engage more with the whimsical.

 IMAGE CREDIT: Peter Blake

By the time The Beatles hit the studio for 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, he had assumed the role of leader of the band and was responsible for some of the best songs on that record – including She’s Leaving Home and Fixing a Hole. I love that album but I think there was greater genius and range from McCartney by 1968’s The Beatles. Consider the fact that the man wrote Helter Skelter and Blackbird in the same time period! It is amazing to think that, during a tough time for the band – cracks were starting to appear and there were tense moments in the studio – such rich and complete songs were produced. Although a lot of the recording period in 1968 was frostier than the early Beatles days, there were great moments of collaboration and support. The Beatles split by 1970 but, between Magical Mystery Tour (1967), Abbey Road (1969) and Let It Be (1970), McCartney did not let his genius dent: creating songs such as The Fool on the Hill, Get Back and Let It Be; let us not forget the stunning Hey Jude and Penny Lane! I have skimmed through the great Beatles moments from Paul McCartney but, as a solo artist and part of Wings, he reminded the world why he is one of the greatest songwriters ever.

Last year’s Egypt Station was received well by critics and contained some cracking moments. There have been some underwhelming albums from McCartney but Ram (1971), Flowers in the Dirt (1989) and 1997’s Flaming Pie are classics. Think about Wings’ albums like Band on the Run and Venus and Mars and, again, McCartney crafting these original and distinct songs. He proved he could work solo and in a number of guises and not lose his golden touch. Despite some of the mishaps and weaker records, McCartney still remains this genius who does not look set to retire anytime soon. He is touring the world and captivating audiences over six decades since he started out in music. Maybe his Beatles best outstrips the rest but I do love a lot of his solo albums and the stuff he did with Wings. I hope there are more albums left in McCartney and we need to treasure these iconic songwriters who have given the world so much. Whether drawing from his emotional breakups and romantic strife or detaching and writing about these wonderful characters…there has not been another songwriter like Paul McCartney in the world! The man away from the music is an activist and passionate human who campaigns and uses his voice for good. He is a long-time vegetarian and someone who strikes the heart and mind as well as the soul. I have never met the man but I can imagine McCartney is an amazing interviewee who can craft some wonderful stories.

To end this piece, I have collated together what, I think, are the best Paul McCartney songs ever – whether created alone or he had the majority share (writing with John Lennon or Linda McCartney). It is a testament to his legacy, talent and range that there is wide variety of songs to be found. You just know McCartney loves the process of songwriting and it is a way of touching the world. He is someone who wants to reach the masses and inspire them. From a young boy to where he is now, music is all he has ever wanted to do and that gift was instilled in him very early. There are countless artists who owe a debt to McCartney and what he has given the world – and what he continues to do. There is nobody like McCartney and it is clear we will never see anyone else like him again. Even in his mid-seventies, the man is travelling the world and putting on a hell of a show! I hope McCartney continues to rock into his eighties and there is a lot more fantastic music left in him. Whether you were a fan of The Beatles and experienced them the first time around or are younger and found them more recently, we all have those favourite songs and moments. To me, it is a close thing between John Lennon and Paul McCartney but McCartney just edges it when it comes to the classics! Keep abreast of where the legend is heading and what is happening because he keeps pretty active on social media. I love the fact that McCartney is still this huge force in the world of music. We have a lot to look forward to from him but, when you think about all he has given the world, it seems hardly believable one man…

rwe.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles in 1967/PHOTO CREDIT: Express Newspapers via AP Images

COULD be responsible for that!

FEATURE: One for Every Mood: The Power of Playlists

FEATURE:

 

 

One for Every Mood

PHOTO CREDIT: @belart84/Unsplash 

The Power of Playlists

__________

I will include a few Spotify playlists here...

xxx.jpg

 PHOTO CREDIT: @fimpli/Unsplash

but I urge people to seek out as many playlists as they can. There are a couple of reasons why I want to mention playlists and discuss them here. I think we all get into the habit of playing the music we are used to and that which can make us feel better. There are people who are adventurous and constantly investigate what is coming through and what is buried. How many of us get turned on to new styles of music and artists every day? It is great we live in an age where there is so much music available and we can get pretty much anything that has ever been recorded. In terms of new artists, we can get a lot of recommendations from Spotify but I do think that can only go a certain distance. I have struggled to find some great artists and feel there are a lot that get overlooked and underexposed. It is impossible to include everything and get behind every artist but I feel that playlists can go further. One of the great pleasures is looking on a site like Spotify and seeing all these great playlists. From playlists collecting together women in Blues and songs that are summer-ready, you can get a nice spread of sounds and discover fresh sounds. We get the weekly playlists from Spotify that bring together their view of the hottest artists around. There is a subjective aspect when we look at the power of playlists.

A lot of times, the artists on these prominent playlists are commercial or they have chart potential. If you like that sort of thing then that is great but I tend to avoid the ‘hottest artists’ and songs list because they tend to be very Pop-orientated and similar. The reason why I love playlists is because they have so many uses and strengths. If you need a boost and sunshine then you can find playlists that collate all the brightest and happiest songs together. Similarly, if you need to reflect and find songs that convey a certain tone, one can find playlists to fit that mood. A lot of modern artists rely on playlists because they can boost streaming figures and elevate a career. Having your song on a promoted and big playlist means you can draw in new fans and grow as an artist. That is one side to playlists but my thrill comes from discovery and enriching the mind. There are some silly playlists out there that are for fun and do not have much depth but one cannot underestimate those playlists that genuinely open the mind and soul. A lot of people seek out energy-boosting playlists when they are training and preparing for marathons. If you need to get into the groove and get motivated, one can find these curated playlists that have perfect songs that give you drive.

For me, I love listening to entire periods and genres. Whether it is finding all the classic House hits or the best of the 1980s, you can find an extensive playlist that caters to your needs. It can be really difficult finding appropriate playlists or one that fits your mood. Luckily, people can create their own playlists on platforms like Spotify so you can get a lot of variation and choice. For me, the biggest asset of a playlist is the ability to stretch the listener’s imagination and bring new music to their lives. I have discovered artists I did not know and fallen in love with entire genres because of playlists. I think radio discovery is great but you cannot listen to radio all the time and it is not the same as having these complete and eclectic playlists. I do think we all get stuck in a cycle where we have the same songs primed and we do not often go beyond what is familiar. If you want to check out some great modern Hip-Hop then you have enough options. Also, if you love music of the 1990s then there are playlists that bring together some of the biggest hits. You might hear artists and songs you have not discovered up until then or you might rediscover a song that was a big part of your childhood. Not only is it great finding all these bespoke playlists but there is something wonderful about creating your own.

xxxaa.jpg

 PHOTO CREDIT: @briankost/Unsplash

The days of the mixtape have gone so there is a relief when one can create a digital equivalent. You can put all your favourite songs on these playlists and then, through time, sites like Spotify can send recommendations and similar playlists. Some argue one of the downsides of playlists is that they miss entire genres and are too narrow. If you get personalised playlists on Spotify, does that inherently limit your discovery and mean that you will ignore everything else out there? I do think that one needs to do their own digging and not just rely on playlists but I would be lost without them. Not only do I rely on them for the best songs of the week – when I do my weekly playlist pieces – but I also browse various playlists when I need a certain sense of relief. If I want to discover great new women in Country music then I am sorted. If I want some old-school jams then I can get what I need and, if I want an essential collection of Steely Dan songs then there is a playlist waiting to go. Playlists are useful when you are on the go and need that nice collection of songs. I also think it a nice way of organising music and not losing touch. I have playlists collating my favourite songs from childhood and some that are more specific. I can dip into those when I fancy and it means that I am always remaining broad. If I relied on radio alone, there would be countless songs and artists that would slip my mind. Sometimes personalised playlists can be a bit flawed and restricted but I actually think they can give us great recommendations and have a good knowledge of what we’d like to listen to.

I would say to people not to rely on personalised playlists too much. They are great and make you feel like someone out there knows you but one cannot beat the personal touch and human curation. Going into the archives and putting together your own playlist is, like I said, like a mixtape from back in the day. Whatever you feel about playlists, they are definitely taking over and very important to new artists. Back in 2017, WIRED wrote an article about playlists and how useful they are for labels and artists:

"Spotify playlists, and Spotify charts, and Spotify plays, have become the number one tool that labels and artists and managers are using in order to break artists and measure success," says industry analyst Mark Mulligan. Facebook has more users, YouTube has more views, but Spotify represents more important real estate. "If you get things working on Spotify," Mulligan says, "that’s going to crank the wheel."

Listeners now spend about half their time on Spotify listening to playlists, either of their own creation or curated by Spotify's editors and other tastemakers. As a result, every artist wants a spot on the high-traffic playlists like Today's Top Hits or Rap Caviar. There's an official pitch process, a form anyone can fill out with details about their track and their hopes and dreams for world-beating success, but a little inside knowledge helps. "Every team on the editorial side has their own way of working," says James Walsh, business development manager at Ditto Music, which helps artists placetheir music in online stores. You can't guarantee entry, but you can at least try putting your stuff in front of the right people.

popop.jpg

PHOTO CREDIT: @austindistel/Unsplash  

At the same time, Spotify is investing more in personalized playlists, like the algorithmically generated Discover Weekly and Daily Mix. Over time, Mulligan says, even things like Today’s Top Hits or New Music Friday could be tuned to each user’s particular taste. “The idea of any playlist being the same thing to any person is going to become less and less as time goes on,” he says. Not to mention, as it learns more about what listeners like to listen to and when, the company could start to make tailored content—just as Netflix began making its own shows after discovering people really love Adam Sandler. What does the recording biz do then?

I can understand how playlists take away a lot of natural discovery and mean that a lot of artists miss out but I do think there is an opportunity for companies like Spotify to do something great. I love all the genre and mood-specific playlists because it bunches together songs that I want to hear and saves me the trouble of endless scrolling and thought. The weekly playlists that bring together fresh cuts are great because, otherwise, you’d need to do a tonne of searching to find what you need – playlists like this are invaluable to journalists like me.

Maybe that is where the divide comes: the practicality it provides journalists and the freedom listeners want. If you are someone like me who does often need specific songs and playlists, they have a great power and usefulness. If you are someone who wants to keep broad and experimental, maybe playlists strip some of that endeavour and liberty. Do a lot of new artists get overlooked because people are putting too much stock into playlists? This is where I think Spotify, TIDAL and YouTube can improve on. I do feel personal playlists are a little synthetic and tend to make us lazy but there are countless new artists in all genres that are being overlooked. What about putting together playlists of under-the-wire artists or making them genre-specific? I get sent a lot of requests but there are many artists out there that pass me by and I always hate that. Given the power of streaming services, there should be more playlists that support underground artists in addition to foisting older music to the new generation. How many young listeners are going back and checking out classic Folk and music from the past? How many of us go beyond what we hear on our favourite stations and experience the full breadth of new music? One cannot realistically hear everything and have the time to go that deep but I do think radio can only do so much. I do feel like a lot of approaching artists feel streaming services are more set up for bigger artists – they miss out and get fewer streams because they are not promoted.

I do think there should be playlists that take into consideration newer acts and those that are not in the mainstream. I know so many younger listeners who missing out on great music from the past because they are listening to what is considered modern, cool and fresh. This is okay to an extent but there is a whole world of music they are missing out on. Now that few people share music and there is less physical music-sharing, we do have to rely on radio and digital sources. I do believe there should be playlists and recommendations that help bring classic sounds to those who might otherwise miss out. Music has a tremendous power and place and experiencing as much as it as you can is essential. There are natural flaws to playlists and one should not rely on them but I think there are so useful and eye-opening. If you are in a particular mood, playlists can score that or make you feel better; you can compile your own for prosperity or you can seek out great new acts in a variety of genres. They can enrich you and lead you to places you never knew existed before. You can share playlists with people and, for people like me, it is a chance to share my tastes and discoveries with others. So long as you think outside of the box and do not solely use playlists for music discovery then that is good. One needs to do their own research but, in a growing and chaotic music scene, there is this organisation and discipline with playlists that makes discovery a lot easier. If streaming sites can put less preference on personalised playlists and help rising artists get attention; unearth older sounds and icons to the young generation then I genuinely think that will make us all more rounded, informed…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @juanparodriguez/Unsplash

AND enriched.

FEATURE: Female Icons: Part Three: Madonna

FEATURE:

 

 

Female Icons

IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna  

Part Three: Madonna

__________

THIS is going to be a bit briefer than...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna  

a lot of my Madonna-related posts but, when thinking about female icons through the ages, can we ignore her?! She is due to perform at Eurovision tonight and there is a lot of talk regarding what she will deliver – as this reports suggests. There was controversy and condemnation as Madonna is performing in Israel: a nation divided and blighted by political tensions and divide. She has come out and stated she is heartbroken regarding the situation in Israel but, as some articles claim, her appearance and presence there tonight will do nothing to further progress and improvement. I actual back Madonna and do not think she is sending a bad message out at all: in fact, the worst you can say is she will offend some people. Her being in Israel will make matters no worse and she is there to deliver music to people. Let us leave this aside - but I think Madonna’s latest move shows she is still bold and splitting opinion after all of these years! My first encounter with Madonna’s music must have been, oooh, about 1989/1990 or so. That was when she released the career-defining album, Like a Prayer. The album garnered a lot of talk regarding the title track and its rather edgy video. Not only Madonna kiss a black preacher but she appeared behind burning crosses.

Naturally, religious sorts and those who raised their eyebrows missed the point and misconstrued the video entirely! The album itself is a bold and astonishing work from an artist who transitioned to become the Queen of Pop. This is a crown she holds still and, despite being sixty and younger rivals circling her throne, there is nobody who can replace Madonna! I love Like a Prayer and feel it is one of the best albums of her career. There is a definite an upping of accomplishment and scope on Like a Prayer when you consider what she was producing three years earlier for True Blue. In fact, despite tremendous songs like Like a Prayer, Express Yourself and Cherish, this is not the album that first struck me….

It was the video for Material Girl, actually, that was the first taste. Maybe the song is a bit camp and frothy compared to the work she would go on to release but, when she released Like a Virgin in 1984 – where the song was taken from –, it definitely separated her from the pack. If her eponymous debut album of 1983 was a little overlooked and seen as a minor footnote – it is actually one of the most ground-breaking and important albums in Pop – Like a Virgin was a step up. I love the video for Material Girl because of the scenes and the glamour. As a straight boy, maybe the song did not affect me the same way as other people but I was hooked by this very confident and sexy artist. Maybe it would take a few more years before Madonna was able assume more business and creative guidance over her career but one could tell, back in 1984, she knew where she wanted to head and what she wanted to accomplish!

Some people think Madonna’s pre-Like a Prayer work is a little light and lacks that punch. Think about it this way: she was talking about sex in a very open way before then and doing things other artists were not: the way she tackled sex and (was encouraging women to show their confidence. Every Madonna album brought evolution and a new skin. I love the work she did post-Like a Prayer and, after the troubled Erotica, there was a definite shift. That album was marred with some critical backlash because of its overt sexuality and the fact Madonna, in the guise of ‘Mistress Dtta’, was daubed in sweat, leather and the look of someone who was not afraid to hold back. The same year, 1992, she released her Sex book and made it clear that she wanted to bring sexual confidence into the open. Erotica is wrongly written off as a cold and overly-provocative album whereas it actually inspired Pop artists to be bolder regarding their bodies and sex; the songs stand up and it was a huge revelation back in 1992. The album sounds great but one heard a more mature tone on 1994’s Bedtime Stories – even if a song such as Human Nature poked fun at prudes who judged Madonna for talking about sex. The elegance and simple beauty of songs like Take a Bow and Secret showed Madonna could write gorgeous, swooning songs that captured the heart as well as the genitals!

IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna captured in 1982/ PHOTO CREDIT: Deborah Feingold

One can see a definite development from 1983-1989 (where albums such as True Blue, in 1986, marked her as a name to watch) and what happened from the 1990s onwards. I have ended this feature with a playlist and I hope people seek out Madonna’s albums and realise what a chameleon she is! I just mentioned True Blue and that is an album that I rank among my favourites – check it out if you can! Bedtime Stories was a turning point and statement that showed Madonna was not all about sex and was a very accomplished songwriter. One of the things that defines Madonna is the fact she can overcome criticism and trusts her gut. She could have quit or slowed down after Erotica but, only two years on, she delivered Bedtime Stories. Of course, a sense of controversy was part of Madonna’s camp since the start of her career. She talked about young pregnancy on True Blue’s Papa Don’t Preach and, whilst not controversial to right-minded people, she celebrated the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community and brought the AIDS epidemic to the forefront. Not only was Madonna breaking ground regarding innovation in music but she was more than an artist: she was, and is still, a spokesperson who rallies against injustice and gives a voice to those who are ignored. I will return to her sense of social justice and activation, but think about the way Madonna transformed and grew from 1983 to 1998’s Ray of Light.

Early on, she was reinventing Pop and shining but she soon came on leaps and bounds. 1986’s True Blue was a big step in terms of lyrical themes and that continued into 1989 – where her voice grew and she became a more confident singer. Bedtime Stories introduced a more sensitive side to Madonna and, tracking back to 1992’s Erotica, she was putting House and Dance elements into her mix. Think about perhaps her most-famous song, Vogue, and the combination of sonic innovation and putting gay culture into the spotlight. Every album, whether openly talking about sex or venturing into different territory, has inspired artists and has its own legacy. The current crop of Pop artists owe a lot to Madonna and, since her introduction into music, you can hear others emulating her and taking something from her music.

If one wants to talk about sonic explosions than look at 1998’s Ray of Light. She was a new mother and spirituality was playing a big role in her music – her mysticism and beliefs divided some and caused a lot of press sources to mock her. Again, Madonna was being herself and giving her music another new side. One can hear some of the energised and youthful Madonna in Ray of Light and the more serious muse in Frozen; with William Orbit producing, there was new layer added to her sound. Stunning songs like The Power of Good-Bye and Nothing Really Matters rank alongside the best work she has ever produced – fifteen years on from her debut album, the Queen of Pop was not willing to crank down the quality! It is amazing to think of the sheer leap Madonna took on Ray of Light and how she embraced music of the time and helped bring Electronic sounds to the mainstream - always the pioneer and innovator!

 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna is snapped by Peggy Sirota for Rolling Stone in 1997

From then, there was the underrated Music (2000): Madonna as the cowgirl and giving a bit of Country kick to her Electronic/Pop template. When she got political on 2003’s American Life, there was a sense that the anger she felt – inspired by the terrorists attacks in America in 2001 and how the nation was falling apart – was insincere and unusual; some critics were not buying it and it was the first album of hers that really received mixed reviews. There are some great songs on the album (such as Love Profusion) but, in typical style, she reinvented herself again with Confessions on a Dance Floor in 2005. Bringing herself back to the Disco, Hung Up (with a famous ABBA sample to boot) got her back in the critical good books. It showed that, at nearing fifty, there was nobody like her in music. Many artists her age feel the need to slow or make music that is more ‘appropriate’ – this usually involves calming things and providing something a bit easier on the ears. Madonna, even now, is providing sensational raw and contemporary music. Her albums since 2005 have not received the biggest reaction, though. There has been some praise and great moments but the upcoming Madame X (out on 14th June) looks like it will be a return-to-form release. Although she has hooked up with other singers, the songs we have heard so far show Madonna is still the star! Like she did on Erotica, there is a personna on the new album.

Her Madame X alter ego is an all-rounder who is a teacher, a spy and a writer: a bit of a superhero for everyone. It is another assured transformation and sign that, at sixty, Madonna still has the power to surprise and subvert predictions. In fact, Madonna has been vocal about ageism in music and asked for change. She and other artists are often relegated and ignored when they reach a certain age and she wants this to stop. Even though a couple of her recent singles have been played by the likes of BBC Radio 1, many stations do not play her music because they only go for younger artists – although the quality is up there, age is still this sticking factor! I have skimmed through her back catalogue but I would urge people to look at her music videos and get books like Madonna: An Intimate Biography of an Icon at Sixty, Madonna: Album by Album and Madonna: Like an Icon to get a clearer impression of where Madonna came from and how her career has evolved. What else makes Madonna an icon, then? I have covered her music and, whilst her videos are always inventive and arresting, it is her live shows that have captivated fans.

She always puts her all into every live performance and tour and you know she has a say in every aspect. From the dancers and sets through to routines and lightning, you know Madonna does not leave anything to chance. There are documentaries such as this that give you access to her behind-the-scenes and actual footage of her performing – including this from her Blond Ambition Tour of 1990. I urge people to do as much YouTube research as they can regarding her tours, videos and interviews because you get different sides to Madonna and it paints a complete picture. Her Madame X Tour will be a more intimate affair but you know there will be some great sets and some classic songs delivered to the fans. Madonna is one of those people who is a complete artist. She is this awesome live performer and artist but, whether battling sexism or being honoured by GLADD and talking about equal rights, she is a leader and someone who is inspired the next generation. Who knows what the future holds for Madonna but I hope there are many more years from her. Madonna and The Breakfast Club has been released and is a docu-drama about Madonna. I am not sure whether there will be a biopic or other documentaries but one feels something is due considering all the work Madonna has done since the documentaries of the 1990s and last decade.

Everyone has their own opinions regarding the best Madonna albums, songs and videos. In my view, her best three albums are Ray of Light, Like a Prayer and Madonna and I think her greatest song is Take a Bow. I have a fond spot for the Material Girl video but cannot overlook the iconic status of Vogue. That is the great thing about an artist like Madonna: with such an eclectic and impressive catalogue, there are so many fantastic moments and revolutionary moments. She is a deserved icon and someone who not only has transformed music and inspired countless artists but Madonna has, and always will, spoken about big themes other artists ignore. Whether that is equal rights and gender equality or musical subjects like sex and pregnancy, you cannot ignore the brilliance and boldness of Madonna. She will always divide people and have her critics but Madonna has given the world so much - and we all have our favourite songs of hers. I have not even mentioned all her film roles and how she has managed to make her impression on the screen - from 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan to 1992’s A League of Their Own to her standout (eponymous) role in 1996’s Evita. Madonna was capable of seducing and illuminating on the big screen as well as through the speakers.

cxcxcx.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in 1986/PHOTO CREDIT: Herb Ritts

Long may she continue to speak out, speak up and bring the world great music! A few songs from Madame X have been released but it will be interesting receiving the album and seeing what sort of direction she is taking. I shall leave people to check out her music and great interviews – such as this one and this. One can argue Madonna is busier now than she has ever been and, with her, things are never boring! Pop has changed a lot since the 1980s but many can thank Madonna for a lot of the positive changes and great artists who have arrived since her. I have been a fan of hers since I was young and seen the way her music has changed and diversified. She is this ever-changing and always-relevant artist who cannot be predicted or equalled. When it comes to Madonna and what direction she will take next it is clear that…

NOTHING is off the table.

FEATURE: Alabama Shakes: Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere: Why Musicians Should Get Involved Regarding the Abortion Ban

FEATURE:

 

 

Alabama Shakes: Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere

IN THIS PHOTO: The 1975’s Matty Healy recently spoke out against the abortion ban in Alabama during a gig/PHOTO CREDIT: Louise Haywood-Schiefer for The Big Issue   

Why Musicians Should Get Involved Regarding the Abortion Ban

__________

BEFORE getting started regarding Alabama...

PHOTO CREDIT: @daiga_ellaby/Unsplash 

it is worth noting that, when it comes to abortion laws and a lack of progressiveness, the Deep South state is not the only offender. In Northern Ireland, for instance, there is pressure forming because of the abortion laws in the U.S. state of Alabama. It is a controversial subject to get involved with in terms of music but, in society and online, there is a lot of outrage and pressure. The abortion law passed in Alabama is primitive and highly disgusting. Not only does it mean women will have to give birth to unwanted lives but those who have a victim of rape and incest have to live with that experience without the ability to terminate a pregnancy. Vox have reacted to the news regarding the Alabama abortion law:

The anti-abortion statute signed by the governor of Alabama this week is shocking partly because it aims to outlaw all abortions, including those for unwanted pregnancies that are the result of rape and incest. The Alabama law (and other similar laws in Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, and Georgia, with more on the way) is even more broadly shocking because Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for nearly a half-century, supporting women’s efforts to achieve the status of full citizenship. The new Alabama law endorses the end of this project.

Some members of the Alabama legislature have admitted that the criminalization of abortions as a response to rape and incest amounts to a grandstand play, a tactic to hasten judicial review and the demise of Roe. This may or may not prove to be a sound strategy. It is definitely an innovation, if a logical culmination of decades of an anti-abortion position that degrades pregnant individuals in the interests of the “unborn child” or the “fetal person”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There has been this outpouring of disgust and anger online regarding the Stone Age laws and how they infringe on women’s freedom and rights. It is not like Alabama is the only part of the civilised world where abortion is illegal: look closer to home and you will find that Northern Ireland still has a long way to go until there is actually common sense and human rights. It might be religion and insane logic getting in the way; people who feel that any form of life is precious – and that terminating it is a sin. The Guardian reacted to the situation in Northern Ireland and how their neighbours, EIRE, sort of promised progress and change – that has not been mirrored in Norther Ireland:

It feels like a lifetime ago since 25 May 2018. In many ways it was, because that day – when the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal the eighth amendment of its constitution, which outlawed abortion in virtually every circumstance – was a unique step forward for abortion rights in a world where they are rapidly being dismantled.

While the legislation brought in after the Irish referendum is imperfect, the overall success of the repeal movement against so many obstacles gave campaigners across the world an incredible sense of hope. But one year on, global abortion rights are under increasing threat, and that moment in May 2018 feels like an exception, instead of a promise of what was to come.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Abortion is freedom. It is the freedom to get an education and a job to try to lift yourself and your family out of poverty, the freedom to parent the children you already have in financial security and to the best of your ability, and the freedom to make the choices that are best for your body and your life. For many people, an abortion is the foundation of the rest of their lives. Reproductive rights are liberation – and anti-abortionists know it – because without these rights, entire communities are further marginalised and impoverished. Women in Ireland know this, having spent generations under a regime of coercive control of which lack of abortion rights was just one part. The same people attacking abortion rights are also blocking access to comprehensive sex education and contraception – in the UK, it is the same people who removed Northern Ireland from the domestic violence bill making its way through Westminster”.

We live in a world where two incredibly powerful nations are denying women a say regarding their bodies and lives. It is not as though, in Northern Ireland and Alabama, the women are breaking laws we have in other parts of the U.K. regarding abortion – and when the cut-off point is regarding its legality. If they were doing that then one could understand why laws have come in. The fact that, in these parts of the world, there is such stubbornness is appalling.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There is this religious and sanctimonious righteousness that means a few in government have decided all abortion is illegal – unless there is a danger to life to the mother. This means that women have to take huge risks and travel to other parts of the world to have an abortion. I think we forget – away from all the furore regarding Alabama – that there are women closer to us here that are being stripped of their dignity and freedom. The fact Alabama has outlawed abortions has raised a lot of debate and unity. There is almost widespread condemnation and confusion from people who feel that, rightly, it is a woman’s choice whether she has an abortion. Nobody takes that decision lightly and, in all cases, it causes a huge emotional impact. I do think there is this genuine belief that, in Alabama, women are getting pregnant for the sake of it and then having abortions to annoy people! What happens to those women who have been raped or are pregnant and want to change their minds? They are being burdened and then, when their child is born, they either have to raise them or give them away. How is that more humane that abortion?! There is this blind ignorance that means there are unwanted pregnancies and women living with one of the worst moments of their lives. Abortion is not pleasant but it is a lot better to terminate an unwanted pregnancy than giving birth and facing the heartbreak of putting a child up for adoption.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @heathermount/Unsplash

One fears this insane sense of control will spread to other parts of the U.S. It is, perhaps, not shocking that Alabama, a state not known for its tolerance and understanding, should impose such a law. It is religion and ignorance ruling and there are a lot of men in power who are making these decisions. This BBC article asks the question: Should men get involved and have a say regarding the abortion laws in Alabama?

Alabama's abortion ban - one of several in a Trump-era surge in anti-abortion legislation - has reignited the debate around another key question: Should men be involved in this battle at all?

Internet forums like Reddit and social platforms like Twitter and Facebook are saturated with arguments for both sides. Yes - these laws affect everyone, including men. No - only women get pregnant, so why should we let men decide?

But Mr Jackson would not offer his own opinion on abortion, exactly, saying instead he prefers to stay silent on the specifics since "women are the only experts when it comes to their bodies".

"When it comes to the abortion debate, I think men should say it is a woman's right to choose," he explains.

"That is their body, that is their choice, and that is their business. No man whatsoever has a right to tell a woman what's right for their body."

PHOTO CREDIT: Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters

Jordan Kizer is against abortion but says he thinks Mr Jackson's decision is "honourable", and that men should "share their privilege".

"Believe women, trust women. If they're telling you they feel a certain way or that this is their experience, you [as a man] don't get to say no, it's not," he says.

Mr Kizer is a part of the New Wave Feminists group in Austin, Texas, that seeks to promote women's rights as a means of making abortion eventually "unthinkable and unnecessary".

"I think a woman should absolutely have a say over her body, I just draw the line between her body and this different body that's inside of her body," he says. "I know that's kind of a tricky distinction to make for some."

Men are fathers and so, in many ways, they should have a say. Should men in power and those who are not directly affected be able to dictate wider society and decide that abortion is immoral and should be outlawed?! I do not think so. It is shocking that, in 2019, there are areas like Alabama and Northern Ireland where there is such idiocy and cruelty. Alabama’s state motto is audemus jura nostra defendere. It means “we dare defend our rights”. It seems ironic that a state that boasts about rights and protection and defying the rights of every woman are leaving them vulnerable and isolated. I could circle back to my idiot argument but, rather than state the obvious, let’s tackle another complexity: musicians and them having a say.

uuu.jpg

 IMAGE CREDIT: Amnesty International UK

I think I posed the question when reacting to EIRE repealing age-old abortion laws and what this meant. It was a stressful time and I asked whether, given the climate at the time, musicians should have a say and help the right decision come about. With Northern Ireland in the news following Alabama’s poor decision, is it time for artists around the world to put abortion in the spotlight? If Alabama is keen to ban abortion and not having it discussed as a positive – in the sense that women can terminate unwanted pregnancies – then musicians could raise their voices and talk about it. The 1975’s Matty Healy recently spoke out at a gig and let his voice be heard. He was incensed by the removal of women’s rights in Alabama and how they are being pushed aside. There is anger everywhere but it is rare for artists to talk so openly and passionately. Healy is someone who has always placed women’s rights close to his heart. When collecting a prize at this year’s BRIT Awards, he used the opportunity to talk about sexual abuse and sexism in music; how something needed to be done and why artists should speak up. Again, his anger and fire has got people talking and raised that question regarding musicians doing more.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @clemono2/Unsplash

One sees award shows and gigs and there are few times when artists actually use that moment to discuss subjects like women’s rights. Among the inane and predictable moments of interaction with their audience, where are the important messages and powerful statements?! It would not be a downer if someone, for once, understand how influential their words can be. Some say there is a danger regarding artists getting involved in politics and social issues. If a U.S. artist was to speak about a Democrat candidate or speak out against gun laws, would that create a bad impression and be a bit dangerous? I know there is common sense and good but the nature of being ‘right’ is subjective. We would condemn those who backed guns and voted Republican so why would people allow the opposite to exist? The same goes for abortion: if someone spoke at a gig and said they supported Alabama then they would be tarred and attacked. I think it is commendable artists like The 1975 are taking this course and not standing by. It is not like they are trying to sell a product or using their platform to do something stupid and commercial: instead, they are doing something politicians and public figures here are not really doing: blasting Alabama and making sure that this sort of insane law does not happen in other parts of the U.S. There is nothing to say other states will remain idle. We might experience the likes of Georgia and Texas following suit but one hopes there is too much democracy and rationale to let that happen.

I can see Matt Healy is trending on Twitter and, for the most part, people have supported what he is saying and where he is coming from. Why should only women be outraged and speak out? I do think that everyone needs to get involved and heap pressure on places like Alabama and Northern Ireland. Music is a huge platform and has the power to affect real change in the world. More and more, artists are discussing mental-health freely and exposing their inner-pains. This might sound bleak but, think back, and have we had a time when there has been this sort of openness and discussion? I feel like now is a moment when music is more than the commercial and love-based: so many songs are taking the stigma from mental illness. One can say that artists could go further and talk about sexism – the men for the most part – and the rights of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community. I do feel that artists needs to campaign more and have their voices heard. There is a feeling among bigger artists that having a clear opinion might reflect badly when it comes to their fans and following. That might be true regarding political affiliation but what about abortion? Think about the demographic of many big stars and, for the most part, they are girls and young women. How many of them are going to be offended if a big artist rallied against Alabama’s laws and discussed the situation?

 PHOTO CREDIT: @arstyy/Unsplash

Maybe it would be a bit heavy but it would inspire young women and actually create a force in music more unified and powerful than those who lead our nations. I doubt President Trump’s government are going to attack Alabama and, in fact, one feels like he supports what they are doing. I do think we have a problem in music where very few men are speaking out regarding women’s rights and the fact we need to do more. Women in music are much bolder but, in the case of abortion, does the uncomfortableness affect both genders? Indeed, should men even talk about it seeing as they are not the ones who are directly impacted? I think men can appreciate how insane things are in Alabama and Northern Ireland, and so, this needs to be translated to music. Not that this alone will affect change and reversal but I do feel that music has a big role to play. Matt Healy has shown that giving a brief-yet-powerful speech can do a lot and create something very potent. He has got social media talking and I think music as a whole could actually do a lot. Every rational-minded human knows abortion is unpleasant but it is not something that women particularly like. It is a last resort in many cases and, when women are raped and fall pregnant, abortion is the right decision.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @adroman/Unsplash

We can get into moral arguments regarding a foetus being a life and all lives being sacred but I think there is a much more pressing debate: whether women in Alabama are being heard and their feelings taken into consideration? There will be a lot of heartache and unwanted pregnancies in the state and this is upsetting to consider. I do think artists can affect change and it all starts with that motivation and common spirit. Both genders in music can come together regarding abortion and, whether it is the subject being addressed on stage or gigs or whether it is tackled through song…yeah, we do need to see this happen. At the end of the day, we are talking about women’s rights and the fact that they are being denied. Politicians in Alabama have decreed women who go against the laws set out will face time in prison. How savage and insane the state is and, considering that, why would artists stand aside and let that happen? Let’s hope that when Trump’s presidency is over, a sane politician can overturn the ruling in Alabama and realise that a pro-choice agenda is much fairer! It is a strange time for the world and, in many ways, we are going backwards and getting closer to the swamp than the birds. If we are making progress in some areas, abortion laws and women’s rights are being abused.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @henrimeilhac/Unsplash

Every woman should be able to decide what happens with their bodies. One doubts anyone who helped criminalise abortion in Alabama realises how painful it is to have to make that decision whether to have an abortion or not. Why is it down to those politicians to say what is right for all women and what is moral?! Music is a wonderful thing and there are some that say it should be left uncontroversial and free from politics. There are plenty of artists out there who are playing it safe and keeping people happy. I applaud that but I do think big subjects like abortion and mental-health need to be out in the open and challenged. It not only helps people and makes them feel less alone but it can wake up politicians and help them realise there is no stigma attached to these subjects. There needs to be more education and cooperation across the board and I do think Alabama, like Northern Ireland, needs a kick up the arse! Who knows how many women – in Alabama and Northern Ireland – will risk their liberties and safety to have an abortion? It is sickening when you realise there are women who will have to live with an unwanted pregnancy for nine months – and then have to decide whether to keep the child or put them up for adoption. The impact on their mental-health is clear and makes me wonder whether more harm is being done (than good) regarding banning abortions. Everyone is entitled to have their say and I do not think music can afford to be on the fence and passive. It only takes a few doing what The 1975’s Matt Healy has done and shout about how insane things are right now. Women’s rights are hugely important and, if music can help regarding equality and repealing stupid laws, I think that is a good thing. Rather than having this pregnant pause of fear, let artists around the world realise that there are some subjects…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @royaannmiller/Unsplash

YOU cannot be silent about.

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

IN THIS PHOTO: Nadia Tehran 

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

__________

IT is that time of the weekend...

where I put together some great music from some exceptional women. There is a lot happening right now and it is exciting hearing all this wonderful music come through. I have collected together some new songs – one or two are from a few weeks ago – that show what talent there is around. Take a gander at these songs and I’m sure you’ll concur: the new generation is ripe and underground artists are really mixing it with the best of the mainstream! I am glad there are platforms where we can hear music from all corners of the music world but, whilst there is a lot of exposure for male artists, how much of that is also aimed at women? It is 2019 and there is still imbalance on the books. I hope this changes sooner rather than later but, right now, there is a wealth of female talent out there we should get behind. Take a listen to the latest instalment of my weekend playlist and there will be something in here that…

IN THIS PHOTO: YONAKA

TURNS the head.

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

____________

2222.jpg

JUJHollywood

ElinaWild Enough

CARTAEYou Care

I Am BoleynLimit of Love

NADINEFool for Love

Taylor GreyIntentionally

Kit Philippa - You

Leanne TennantCherry Cola

RuthAnneSuperman

PHOTO CREDIT: Aodhagán O'Flaherty

Saint SisterIs It Too Early? (Kilmainham)

Georgia Hurd - Limits

Coming Up RosesFall

YONAKADon’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow

Be CharlotteBrighter Without You

Nadia TehranAlcoholic Waves

Phoebe RyanA Thousand Ways

PHOTO CREDIT: Sophie Hur

HatchieObsessed

IDER Wu Baby

eew.jpg

Nadia Nair (ft. Mwuana) See Things

999.jpg

Ingrid Andress - Both

Eat Your Heart Out Spinning

PHOTO CREDIT: Emma Freemantle

Amy May Ellis - Lines

GRAACE Have Fun at Your Party

Cat Mahatta Hymn to Dudes

Madison Beer Dear Society

Loren Grey (ft. Saweetie) Can’t Do It

FEATURE: The May Playlist: Vol. 3: If the Nightmare Is Too Much, the Future Looks Bright

FEATURE:

 

The May Playlist

IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Rae Jepsen/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Vol. 3: If the Nightmare Is Too Much, the Future Looks Bright

___________

I bemoaned the music that arrived last week (silly me)…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Halsey/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

as there were not that many big names in the pack! This week is the complete reverse: there are so many huge names to listen to that it is hard fitting them all in! Not only are there big singles from Halsey, Carly Rae Jepsen and Madonna (with Quavo) but there is material from The National, Slipknot; The Divine Comedy and The Black Keys. Toss into the blender Shakespears Sister and JARV IS… and you have a mighty army of music! It is a fantastic week and there is such a diverse blend of sounds! With music from Thea Gilmore and The Raconteurs, pretty much every taste and fancy is catered for! Make sure you start your weekend with all these great artists and a banquet of tremendous music! Even though the weather is not great and there are clouds around, there is enough sunshine in this feature to lift you up! Sit back, buckle up and discover why this week’s collection of new releases is among the…

 IN THIS PHOTO: The National/PHOTO CREDIT: Graham Macindoe

BEST of 2019.  

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

__________

Carly Rae Jepsen Too Much

Halsey Nightmare

Madonna, Quavo Future

sss.jpg

Lana Del ReyDoin Time

Bruce Springsteen There Goes My Miracle

PHOTO CREDIT: William Aubrey Reynolds

The Black Keys Go

Shakespears SisterAll the Queen’s Horses

Charli XCX (ft. Lizzo) - Blame It on Your Love

The Raconteurs Help Me Stranger

Slipknot - Unsainted

JARV IS… MUST I EVOLVE?

Lewis Capaldi Forever

The National Rylan

Thea Gilmore - Blowback

Slowthai (ft. Skepta)Inglorious

eert.jpg

Feeder Youth

PHOTO CREDIT: Phill McDonald

Foals In Degrees

Interpol The Weekend

DREAMERSDie Happy

IN THIS PHOTO: Ghostface Killah

Wu-Tang Clan (ft. Ghostface Killah and RZA)On That Sht Again

Ward Thomas One More Goodbye

Kojey Radical Can’t Go Back

Adam LambertNew Eyes

Biffy ClyroBalance, Not Symmetry 

frrrrrrrrr.jpg

The Divine ComedyNorman and Norma

Madison BeerDear Society

PHOTO CREDIT: Caitlin Mogridge

The Modern StrangersMagic Hour

Molly RainfordForever and a Day

The Amazons 25

oooofwqw.jpg

IN THIS PHOTO: Chance The Rapper

Chance The Rapper (ft. TisaKorean & Murda Beatz) - GRoCERIES

NADINEFool for Love

Taylor GreyIntentionally

Black PeachesSpice Route

Mattiel - Je Ne Me Connais Pas

Lady AntebellumWhat If I Never Get Over You

FEATURE: Blueberries for Breakfast: Why Record Listener Figures at BBC Radio 6 Music Shows There Is an Appetite for the Personal Touch

FEATURE:

 

 

Blueberries for Breakfast

PHOTO CREDIT: @brookelark/Unsplash 

Why Record Listener Figures at BBC Radio 6 Music Shows There Is an Appetite for the Personal Touch

__________

ONE can forgive me treading over old ground...

because, for one thing, there is great news regarding my favourite radio station. In fact, stations across the BBC have benefited from the publication of the RAJAR figures – collating trends and listener figures from the first quarter of this year. I have penned articles regarding various BBC Radio 6 Music presenters and talent but, as there is a bubbling sense of pride in the camp, I thought it would be good to add my say. It seems that there is a great hunger for the breakfast shows of some seriously great BBC Radio 6 Music talent: Lauren Laverne (weekdays) and RadMac (Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie, weekends) have 1.28 million listeners and 761,000 respectively. Before I reveal why I am excited BBC Radio 6 Music breakfast show hosts are finding new fans, here is an article from the BBC that lays out the facts:

Rajar data shows schedule changes on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 6 Music have been really well received by audiences, with Zoe Ball hosting the most listened to breakfast show in the UK (9.05m weekly listeners) and a record for Lauren Laverne’s new breakfast show on 6 Music with 1.28m listeners (up 197,000 since last quarter and 161,000 on last year).

·         Latest Rajar data shows a great start for The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show with a steady audience of over 9m tuning in to the UK’s most listened to breakfast show

·         A record 1.28m listeners to Lauren Laverne’s breakfast show on 6 Music, and a record for Radcliffe and Maconie's weekend breakfast show with a weekly reach of 761,000

555.jpg

 ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Francis

·         Continuing the good news for our female breakfast hosts, there has been a record 441,000 (10+) listeners to The 1Xtra Breakfast Show With Dotty

·         The latest quarterly figures also show an increase in listeners for Radio 4 to over 11m, BBC Radio 3 to over 2m and BBC Radio 5 live to 5.4m, all up compared to previous quarter and last year

·         The proportion of BBC radio listening on digital platforms has increased to its highest share: 53.9% from 50% in the same quarter last year

Radcliffe and Maconie's weekend breakfast show had a record 761,000 listeners, up 95,000 on quarter and 107,000 on year. Both stations have seen increases overall since last quarter: Radio 2 has 15.36m weekly listeners and 6 Music has 2.52m.

James Purnell, Director of BBC Radio and Education, says: “The refreshed line up on Radio 2 and 6 Music breakfast shows has proved hugely popular with audiences and it’s brilliant to see some record listener numbers too. It’s been an incredible team effort with our talented presenters and their production teams hitting the ground running and bringing joy to millions of listeners in the morning. It shows yet again the importance of BBC radio in the daily lives of the 34 million people who tune in each week.

"This quarter we’ve also seen the highest proportion of people listening to radio on digital platforms, including online and on apps, as well as increased numbers in the UK listening to podcasts each week, and I’m delighted listeners are discovering our much loved content however suits them.”

All BBC radio’s weekly reach over the period was 34.44m (33.97m last quarter and 35.01m last year) and a share of 51.4% (50.9% last quarter and 51.9% last year)”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Chris ‘The Hawk’ Hawkins/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music  

I think it is great that there seems to be this rise in listeners across the board. I am a fan of D.J.s like Zoe Ball - and I feel they do terrific work. I am a huge fan of BBC Radio 6 Music and do all I can to promote it to people and spread the word. To be fair, I do not need to do much to get the station to new lands! The sheer passion, talent and commitment from the presents, producers and everyone at the station makes it a must-listen. Mary Anne Hobbs – who presents mid-mornings during the week – and Chris Hawkins (who has the early shift during the week and the weekends; the man never stops!) have seen a rise in listeners and they are providing something genuinely wonderful. What is the reason behind a rise in figures that, I hope, means pay rises might be in order! I love D.J.s like Hobbs and Hawkins and, in fact, everyone at BBC Radio 6 Music has a dedicated following and, throughout 2019, will keep their listeners and bring in new ones. It is the warmth and passion for music, old and new, that means we – the serious music lovers – are make sure BBC Radio 6 Music follows us through the day. It would be unfair of me to just say that the breakfast show hosts are putting the station on the map: everyone who we hear at BBC Radio 6 Music makes the station such a brilliant and unique proposition!

Big congratulations to all on the station that have experienced a boost in listener figures but, again, I nod to Lauren Laverne and RadMac. These presenters have the unenviable and difficult task of not only making themselves appear awake and focused at that early hour but ensure we are all taken care of. It is near-impossible finding the enthusiasm to get to work and being energised. During the weeks, at 07:30, we can tune in to Laverne and her team and know that we are in safe hands! I have been looking at some tweets she posted after the news broke and there is one thing that stands out: the fact radio seems to be in very rude health a century after it arrived in the world. One would think the days of streaming and the Internet means we are either too distracted or impatient to embrace radio and embrace curiosity. I think, as BBC Radio 6 Music is a digital station, it means that it appeals to those on the go and listening from their phones. There are also those who have digital radios and love to listen from the comfort of their homes. It would be amazing to think just how big and popular the station could be if it was not digital-only! I have been following Lauren Laverne’s breakfast show since the start (this January) and she has taken to the new role with aplomb and natural grace. Not only does she give us a great kick and smile to brighten the day but she plays fantastic music and has tremendous features.

hh.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne/PHOTO CREDIT: Music for Dementia 2020

She is one of the best D.J.s on radio and seems to get stronger by the week! Not only is she helming Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 but she is also the Ambassador for Music for Dementia 2020 but she was recently named Broadcaster of the Year at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards. She and her team also won an award and it seems like this a huge purple patch for Laverne. Only just in her forties, it is scary to think how much she can do on radio and what she can accomplish! Not only does she have a young family but she also gives talks and, well, is this motivational force that never seems to tire! I love her breakfast show during the week and am not surprised the listener figures are strong and rising. With terrific features – including House Music and Cloudbusting; Social Recall and The Maths of Life with Dr. Hannah Peel – there is this personal and eclectic show that beautifully laces these features around the best music you’ll hear. Laverne is dedicated to supporting rising artists and you just know that, away from work, she lives and breathes music. Long may her reign continue and, as I say, there seems to be limits where she can go and what she can do!

 IN THIS PHOTO: Mark Radcliffe (left) and Stuart Maconie (right) with Joy Division’s Stephen Morris/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music

The other breakfast show hosts, RadMac moved from their loved and popular afternoon slot this year and I was among the hordes of people who were confused why they had been moved. They were a bit miffed when they were moved but, in fact, they have taken to weekend breakfasts instantly and they are the perfect way to get us rising and pumping. Their natural chemistry and incredible humour means that new listeners are tuning in at the weekends and turning on to radio. I do love T.V. but I think radio provides something you cannot get from T.V. – a more personal touch and a connection that seems pure and physical. Like Lauren Laverne, Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie have a great passion for all sorts of music and they are brilliant at starting our days with a bang! We all love the weekend and it is a massive testament to the powers of RadMac that they have pulled such an audience! RadMac have seen most of their afternoon supporters follow them to breakfast and, in the process, struck the ears of new discoverers. Again, like Laverne, there are great features – The (long-running) Chain and Sampled Underfoot are excellent and a reason to tune into their weekend show. The Chain means listeners can talk with RadMac and offer a song suggestion. I suggest you tune into the show to get a full sense of what they are about and why you should tune in! There were fears that the duo would split given their move or there was tension among them. In fact, they have never sounded stronger and the listeners can feel that.

Lauren Laverne, as I say, has crafted these great features and she seems like a fish in water at breakfast. She has a great team behind her but the verve and excitement she puts out every morning in infectious. Maybe RadMac are a little lower in terms of energy but their witty and knowledgeable style of presenting definitely sticks in the mind. I think BBC Radio 6 Music has found a perfect blend and has terrific breakfast shows. We all have a great reason to love radio and, with every passing week, more and more people are either abandoning their phones to listen or are making it a regular part of their lives. This is all exciting and, whilst all the other BBC shows that have seen their ratings rise should be congratulated, it is BBC Radio 6 Music that goes from strength-to-strength and is shaping up to be this alternative icon. It was only a few years ago the station was faced with closure and, since then, they have grown bigger and more secure. Let’s hope that the station is secure and they continue to improve. There are some great women I could think of that would be great at the station; some occasional hosts that should be moved full-time and show ideas that would give BBC Radio 6 Music ground in new lands and territories. Right now, they do not need my advice – or ever – and I am delighted the RAJAR figures that have just come out prove there is an appetite for radio.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music

From the brilliant Shaun Keaveny and Gilles Peterson to the aforementioned Chris Hawkins and Mary Anne Hobbs, there is a wealth of talent at BBC Radio 6 Music that is proving to be irresistible to those who love great music – who might be bored of the commercial options and know just what BBC Radio 6 Music can provide. That breakfast zest and nourishment that we get, during the week, from Lauren Laverne and RadMac (at the weekends) is essential and shows no signs of leaving us. I think both shows – and all other shows on the station – will improve and expand through the year…and there is this new army that are discovering radio and its power. So long after its invention, we still love the radio and, I don’t know, I think there is something strangely addictive and comforting. It is hard to put into words but who cares really! Huge kudos to all those who have felt the benefit of the new RAJAR figures and, if we have learned anything from the announcement, it is that radio is in no danger of declining. If you have not listened to Lauren Laverne and RadMac’s breakfast shows – and all the other great shows on the station – they get involved because I know you’ll love it! There is something about radio that gets into the blood and makes us feel better. We might never speak to or meet these wonderful D.J.s but they feel like friends; part of the furniture and family that we could not do without. As some pretty bold and impressive listener figures prove, great radio is…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

DEFINITELY on the rise.

FEATURE: God Only Knows What We’d Be Without You: The Endless Beauty and Relevance of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds

FEATURE:

 

 

God Only Knows What We’d Be Without You

COVER PHOTO: George Jerman  

The Endless Beauty and Relevance of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds

__________

I know one does not need to mark every big album’s...

IN THIS PHOTO: The Beach Boys during Pet Sounds’ photo-shoot in February 1966/PHOTO CREDIT: George Jerman

birthday with a feature or piece of writing. It can be a bit tiring seeing every slightly decent album being celebrated and pushed like it is the best thing ever! I know this but, with certain albums, you need to mention them; bring them to fresh ears and open new eyes! In the case of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, how could only let its anniversary slip by without tipping the hat and investigating its best moments?! On 16th May, 1966, The Beach Boys released the staggering and hugely iconic album, Pet Sounds. The year before, The Beatles released Rubber Soul – an album Brian Wilson adored and, to this day, maintains it’s his all-time favourite. I love that Beatles classic and I can see where he was coming from regarding the follow-on from Rubber Soul. That album (from The Beatles) was a mix of gorgeous romance and self-examination, some deeper themes and true emotion. It was a bit of a revelation in 1965 and a big shift in assuredness and quality from The Beatles. Beach Boys’ Party! arrived in 1965 and one can see how The Beach Boys wanted to change their sound and move in a new direction. Pet Sounds’ arrival was a distinct movement away from the beach-themed, party-sounding scent and an embrace of something new. It is hard to describe how big a leap the band took and how wonderful Pet Sounds is.

It is not a shock Brian Wilson (music) and Tony Asher (who co-wrote eight of the album’s thirteen songs) could create such masterpieces. They had always promised it: Pet Sounds was the summation of biblical revelation that transformed music in the 1960s and would go on to influence countless artists. Pet Sounds blew minds because it was blending sounds and instruments one would not find with any other Pop group. Not that The Beach Boys were ‘Pop’, per se, but a ‘popular act’, I guess. The heavenly orchestrations and mix of unusual blends – Coca-Cola cans and flutes among them! – was highly inventive and unexpected; the scope and ambition of the album a wonderful thing. Inspired by a Wall of Sound-style production (pioneered by Phil Spector), this was The Beach Boys in a new light. There is simplicity and accessibility through Pet Sounds but one can hear a move from the tighter and breezier songs before and the ornate, layered and intricate songs that were born on their eighth album. Brian Wilson and Tony Asher would discuss women are their experiences and, whilst Asher maintains his musical contributions were minimal, it was clear he provided Wilson with huge inspiration and guidance. I will talk about Pet Sounds’ legacy and brilliance (more) later but, when framing The Beach Boys in 1966, one must consider tensions that were bubbling. In some ways, Pet Sounds is more a Brian Wilson solo album that full band production.

The touring lifestyle and demands were putting a strain on the group and Wilson’s new songs caused some splits. A big move from their earlier direction, there was in-fighting and near-insurrection. Although Pet Sounds has gone down as this legendary and masterful work, it was a bit of a risk and ambitious pitch back in 1966. Like The Beatles growing and becoming more ambitious by 1965 – that was heightened in 1966 and 1967 –, The Beach Boys’ leader, Wilson, felt the group needed to bolden their approach and move on. The rest of the band were not too sure and, before a single song was recorded, there were splits and strains. It is remarkable to witness such beauty and grace considering this once-brotherly band was starting to fall apart. If the rest of The Beach Boys were miffed by some of the lyrics and complex arrangements, Wilson was not going to compromise and be talked down! It is a shame there was disharmony in the band because Pet Sounds is a natural move from a band who covered pretty much everything beach and party-related. I can understand their desire to stick with that formula but Pet Sounds’ tenderness, human spirit and collective autobiography was far more powerful and nuanced than anything they had ever written. Wilson was heading to new heights but he knew people/their label wanted something commercial – lest the band be condemned to falter and be isolated by their fans.

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beach Boys on tour in 1966/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Maybe the scores and arrangements were a bit different but the themes were not: universal statements of broken lovers, yearning and the power of hope. In some ways, The Beach Boys’ early innocence, youth and lack of responsibility was replaced by new realisation, responsibilities and soul. Even if Pet Sound was recorded and released when Psychedelic music was relevant and popular, too many people have read too much into a lot of the songs’ lyrics (Sloop John B’s “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on” has been linked to acid culture and the scene at the time. Reviews in 1966 were hugely positive – although some were shocked by The Beach Boys’ changed sound and took time to adjust! – and retrospective reviews have done what some contemporaries failed to do: give the album time and appreciate its true genius! This review from AllMusic praises Pet Sounds’ beauty:

The spiritual quality of the material is enhanced by some of the most gorgeous upper-register male vocals (especially by Brian and Carl Wilson) ever heard on a rock record. "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "God Only Knows," "Caroline No," and "Sloop John B" (the last of which wasn't originally intended to go on the album) are the well-known hits, but equally worthy are such cuts as "You Still Believe in Me," "Don't Talk," "I Know There's an Answer," and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times." It's often said that this is more of a Brian Wilson album than a Beach Boys recording (session musicians played most of the parts), but it should be noted that the harmonies are pure Beach Boys (and some of their best). Massively influential upon its release (although it was a relatively low seller compared to their previous LPs), it immediately vaulted the band into the top level of rock innovators among the intelligentsia, especially in Britain, where it was a much bigger hit”.

 

SLANT, in this review talked about the label, Capitol, showing resistance (in addition to the band themselves) and Brian Wilson’s determined visions:

“…Still, even with stiff resistance from his bandmates, his record label, and potentially even his fans, Brian soldiered on, pulling these pet sounds from his head and painstakingly putting them to tape. And we’re a much better world for it. Imagine a world without Carl Wilson’s sublime, gentle reading of “God Only Knows” (the first song to include the word “God” in the title, according to folklore). A world without the impossibly gorgeous vocal harmonies stacked sky-high in the closing of “You Still Believe in Me.” A world without the giddy, heart-bursting optimism of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” or the silly musical mischief of “Sloop John B.” I can’t imagine living in such a world, and thank God (and Brian Wilson) we don’t have to”.

It was great to see this friendly – maybe subconscious – competition between The Beatles and The Beach Boys. 1966’s Revolver almost took a lot of attention from Pet Sounds. Many people, when that album arrived, forgot how impotent Pet Sounds was and why Brian Wilson wanted to do something different.  It would take a while for the most stubborn fans to come around but, with the passing of time, few can deny the gravitas and power of Pet Sounds! The sheer sophistication of the album helped push genres likes Pop, Punk and Jazz; the unusual directions and blends of Pet Sounds compelled other bands at the time and gave them food for thought!

Articles like this give you some cool facts about Pet Sounds but, when we think about the impact of Pet Sounds upon its release and how it has translated and inspired since then, it takes your breath. This piece from udiscovermusic examined the way Pet Sounds influenced and moved The Beatles and why it (Pet Sounds) is such a sonic work of art:

On Monday, 16 May 1966, the day of Pet Sounds’ US release, Bruce Johnston arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport carrying a copy of the album. The following day, in his suite at the Waldorf Hotel, Bruce played the album in its entirety for John Lennon and Paul McCartney – not once, but twice. After the two Beatles left the Waldorf they went straight back to Paul’s house and there, inspired by Brian’s incredible music, they worked on the introduction to their song ‘Here, There And Everywhere’, which later appeared on Revolver.

“Pet Sounds blew me out of the water,” Paul recalled in 2003. “First of all, it was Brian’s writing. I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life – I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard this album.”

Just what is it that makes Pet Sounds so amazing? The vocals include Brian’s most poignant ever performance, on the sublime ‘Caroline No’; Mike Love shines on ‘Here Today’; and Carl Wilson turns in a heart-stopping tour de force, ‘God Only Knows’. If you get a chance, listen to the a cappella mixes of the songs included on the most recent box set reissue of the album

99.jpg

IN THIS PHOTO: Brian Wilson in the studio during Pet Sounds’ recording/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

The complexity of the arrangements are staggering, and yet the band were all so young. Brian himself was still only 23; Mike, the oldest member of the group, had turned 25 during its recording; Carl Wilson was still only 19, Dennis Wilson was 21 years old; and Bruce Johnston and Al Jardine were also both 23.

On ‘God Only Knows’ it is just Carl, Brian and Bruce singing. When they finish their vocal on the a cappella version, a voice asks, “How was that? Was that cool?” It’s Bruce Johnston speaking, and it is the perfect coda for not just the song, but also the album itself.

Pet Sounds is arguably the coolest record of all time. The kind of record that makes life worth living, reaffirming the notion that pop music is the most admired art form in the world.

And Pet Sounds is art”.

There are countless remarkable moments on Pet Sounds. How many better opening tracks are there than Wouldn’t It Be Nice?! The song announces the evolution of The Beach Boys in one two-and-a-bit-minutes song; a brief but spectacular symphony that sticks in the mind with its catchiness but remains there forever because of the musical sophistication and purity of the vocals. There is a perfect balance between the more spirited and hopeful songs and those that call for open arms and understanding. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) – track four – is an emotional and stunning song that contains little of the fanfare and sunshine of (some of The Beach Boys’) songs and shows a more mature and sensitive soul.

Sloop John B is a definite standout and, together with songs like Wouldn’t It Be Nice, there is enough of the ‘old Beach Boys’ to please their fans. If I’m Waiting for the Day and Let’s Go Away for a While are not as immediate and memorable as some of the other tracks on Pet Sounds, they reveal new sides and colours the more you listen. Everything fits purely together and, whereas there is not a clear concept on Pet Sounds, all the songs, in a way, document different sides of love and relationships. It would do The Beach Boys a disservice to compare it to Rubber Soul in the sense of being a fraternal ally. In many ways, Pet Sounds provided greater inspiration to The Beatles post-1966 than Rubber Soul did to The Beach Boys from 1965 to 1966. Some prefer albums like 1967’s Smiley Smile – containing, as it does, Good Vibrations – but there are few greater albums from The Beach Boys, or any artist, than Pet Sounds. As it turns fifty-three today, it will provide a new opportunity for young ears to discover an album that, whilst hugely influential, still occupies its own universe after all this time! I still haven’t talked about the jewel in the crown of Pet Sounds: God Only Knows. It comes two-thirds of the way through the album and is flanked by Sloop John B and I Know There’s An Answer. It is, perhaps, the band’s most-famous song and one that sort of defines the album.

After the brightness and uplift of Sloop John B, we have this gorgeous, hymnal and truly stunning song. With Tony Asher’s lyrics elevating The Beach Boys’ sound to new heights, it is perfect blend of insightful, incredible lyrics, sublime vocals (Carl Wilson on lead) and that peerless composition (from Brian Wilson). God Only Knows is as affirmative as anything on the album. That rawness and honesty regarding the importance of love and how the hero would fare without his girl – even if, as one of their finest lines explains, he might not always love her. From those incredible notes and movements in the introduction – the horns sway elephantic in their grace; there is an elegance hard to disguise – through to the indelible chorus, it is a song to behold! I do worry whether, without classic album series and music T.V., future generations will discover albums like Pet Sounds in a less productive and explorative way; stumbling upon them or not finding them at all. Radio stations play songs from Pet Sounds but how often does one hear the album in its entirety?! I’d like to think there are young fans picking up the record and listening to it the whole way through. It is fine listening to the odd song or two - but you need the full effect of the thirteen tracks to get the big hit. From Wouldn’t It Be Nice leading us in with the familiar-yet-evolving to the brilliant Caroline, No at the end…Pet Sounds is a true masterpiece that warrants acclaim and love for the rest of time! Maybe celebrating Pet Sounds three years after its fiftieth anniversary is a bit lame and redundant but, as I said at the top, every pioneering record like this benefits from a bit of exposure every year; to remind people of its greatness and, yeah, give people like me a chance to give thanks. Go listen to the album (in full) when you can and I am sure you will agree that, in the pantheon of music, there are few creations that match…

9876554.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: An outtake from The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds photoshoot/PHOTO CREDIT: George Jerman

THE dreamy and wondrous Pet Sounds.

FEATURE: Sonic Proof: Volume V: The Midweek Delight: Fantastic Artists to Watch

FEATURE:

 

 

Sonic Proof: Volume V

333.jpg

IN THIS PHOTO: Dylan Cartlidge/PHOTO CREDIT: Dylan Cartlidge 

The Midweek Delight: Fantastic Artists to Watch

__________

WE are inching towards the middle of the week...

kk.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lots Holloway/PHOTO CREDIT: Lots Holloway

so it is just as well there is some great music swirling around! I have been interested seeing all the hungry and colourful rising artists emerging. It is a fantastic time for music and one that keeps on breeding some serious quality. If you need to know which artists to follow through the rest of 2019, here is the fifth part of my ‘ones to watch’ feature. Take a look through the selection and I know there will be something in there that grabs your fancy! It is sometimes hard to predict who will make it and where to head for the best of the newcomers. I hope this playlist gives you some guidance and, as I say, I know there will be some tracks in the mix that…

nn.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: Roses Gabor/PHOTO CREDIT: Roses Gabor

WILL turn the head!

FEATURE: Holding on Together: Sunshine Platters: The Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 Playlist

FEATURE:

 

 

Holding on Together

PHOTO CREDIT: @anniespratt/Unsplash 

Sunshine Platters: The Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 Playlist

__________

IT is Mental Health Awareness Week...

b.jpg

 PHOTO CREDIT: @kalvisuals/Unsplash

and it is an important time to raise awareness of mental-health and those affected negatively. You can do some research but it is important to know the facts and the realisation that a lot of people suffer from mental illness. There is still a lot of stigma regarding mental-health and how it is perceived. We should not make light of mental illness and try and wash it away with music but there are many out there who will be feeling the pain and stress and will need a sense of escapism. A lot of modern music is focused too heavily on anxiety and the severe so it is appropriate, this week of all weeks, to bring some light in – in addition to talking about mental-health. If you are feeling low and cannot cope then there are great organisations like Samaritans who are set up to assist. Do not let depression and mental illness take you to such a dark place. I have also included, among the fun songs, artists we have lost because of mental-health issues – just to give it a bit of balance. It is important we appreciate the severity of Mental Health Awareness Week and all get involved. If you need a lift and a morale-boosting playlist, I hope the collection of songs below…

PHOTO CREDIT: @dmitrybayer/Unsplash 

DO the trick.

FEATURE: Sonic Proof: Volume IV: Sunday, Sunday: Fantastic Artists to Watch

FEATURE:

 

 

Sonic Proof: Volume IV

IN THIS PHOTO: Pillow Queens/PHOTO CREDIT: @PillowQueeens

Sunday, Sunday: Fantastic Artists to Watch

__________

JUST before returning to work...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Pottery/PHOTO CREDIT: Luke Orlando

for another week, there is still time to get some music in the bones and make the most of the time we have! I have been looking around at the very best and brightest new artists around and put them into another edition of Sonic Proof. There is no telling just who will come through the ranks and strike but it is very clear that, in this playlist, there is some serious clout and quality! From recent participants at The Great Escape down in Brighton through to others emerging in different parts of the world, I am excited and know what is out there. It is hard to get on top of all of it but I shall do my best to get as many playlists up as I can. I will do another instalment next weekend and keep my eyes out but now, just as we are thinking of the new working week, here is a selection of top-notch artists that will get you in a better mood and make the last hours of your Sunday…

 IN THIS PHOTO: SASAMI/PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Baxley

PRETTY awesome.

FEATURE: Female Icons: Part Two: Mavis Staples

FEATURE:

 

 

Female Icons

pp.jpg

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Part Two: Mavis Staples

__________

I started this series by talking about...

aaa.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Staples/Staple Singers (left-right: Cleotha, Pops; Mavis and Yvonne)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Kate Bush and, whereas I was going to move onto either Madonna, Joni Mitchell or Beyoncé – they will appear in future editions –, I felt it only right to talk about Mavis Staples. I was listening to Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie’s breakfast show on BBC Radio 6 Music today and they had a featured where Mavis Staples picked some records that are important to her. Not only did her selection include some interesting artists but her storytelling was incredible. In a way, the music was a backdrop to the recollections and her personal stories. We learned that Bob Dylan proposed to her the day he met her. Dylan has known about The Staple Singers and always idolised Mavis. He was in love with her voice and, without the need to form a friendship, it seemed like the two were meant to be. Of course, Staples felt differently and knew that it was a bit mad to accept a proposal from Dylan. On this morning’s show, Staples picked Dylan’s Lay, Lady, Lay after telling that story – one can hear elements of Dylan’s yearning for Staples in that song and, just like that, this classic song took on a new life. Staples also discussed her church past and the fact that she was raised away from secular music. The only way she would ever get to hear traditional music was at school or when around friends. She got to know R&B and Soul singers when she was young but, with regards the power in her voice, one has to draw a line to the church.

This is how icons like Aretha Franklin managed to blow people away: she was raised at church and got to sing/witness incredibly moving songs in a very evocative environment. Mavis Staples, compared to some other Soul legends, is a little more rounded and flexible with her voice. She has featured on songs from the likes of Arcade Fire and Hozier and there seems to be no limits to her reach and talent. She can lend her voice to a mainstream artist or a Rock band but also sounds effortless when she ventures into genres such as Soul, Gospel and R&B. I will go back to the start in a second but, when hearing Staples this morning discussing Hozier – an artist she has fairly recently discovered and loves – she was amazed by his voice and really wanted to sing with him. He heard about this and extended an invitation for her to join him on the song, Nina Cried Power – from the new album, Wasteland, Baby! It is humble of Staples to be blown away by the offer seeing as you’d expect things to be the other way around. This is a reason why Staples is so revered and regarded (rightly) as an icon. She has no ego and always seems moved that others would want to work with her. The Staples Singers released their first album, Uncloudy Day, back in 1959 through Vee Jay.

Consisting of Cleotha (who died in 2013), Pervis; Mavis and Yvonne (who died in 2018) – who replaced her brother when he was drafted into the U.S. army –, the group were known for huge hits such as Respect Yourself, I’ll Take You There and Let’s Do It Again. Although success would come for the group before too long, their earliest days were spent performing in churches in the Chicago area. They signed a professional contract by 1952 and, before long, their reputation spread. It is said that early albums such as Uncloudy Day influenced Bob Dylan – he had his eye on Mavis Staples pretty early! – and it was clear that The Staple Singers had something nobody else did. Like all great female/mixed-genre groups of the time, there is always that standout voice. Diana Ross outshone The Supremes whereas Beyoncé always stood aside from Destiny’s Child. Perhaps with less force and ambition than those woman, Mavis Staples’ incredible voice and passion meant that people (not just Bob Dylan) were taking notice! You only need to listen to their recordings to realise that, right from the earliest days, Staples had been touched by something primal and spiritual. Maybe it was her childhood experiences at church that gave her voice an extra depth and level but, even with The Staple Singers, their young star was recording in church – the line in-church album, Freedom Highway, is one of their most memorable early albums.

If The Staple Singers moved more into a Soul and Funk direction by the late-1960s, the earliest recordings combined Gospel and R&B. The Staples Singers is only one part of Mavis Staples’ legacy and brilliance. The incredible singer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and Blues Hall of Fame in 2017. The Staples Singers delivered messages supporting civil rights back in the 1960s and were a hugely important force in music. Even back then, one could tell Mavis Staples had this influence and need to see change. It is impossible to gauge the importance of Staples as a solo artist and as part of The Staple Singers. The first real step into solo territory came after The Staple Singers’ legacy became a little dimmed. By 1969, she released an eponymous solo album and one could feel that going solo was a natural and needed transition. From the late-1960s through to the 1990s, Staples’ music moved in different directions and, whilst there was not always 100% critical backing, there was huge public backing. In 2004, Staples contributed to a Verve album by the Jazz guitarist, John Scofield. A tribute to Ray Charles, That’s What I Say, was very well-received and allowed Staples, again, to step into new sonic territory. There were not hugely radical steps into genres but the flexibility and curiosity of Staples was amazing.

88.jpg

 IN THIS PHOTO: Mavis Staples in the mid-1970s/PHOTO CREDIT: Marc PoKempner/Courtesy of HBO

I will finish by looking at Staples’ upcoming solo album but, when you think about all the artists who count the legend as a driving force, it is amazing! Everyone from Ice Cube, Bob Dylan; Salt-N-Pepa and Prince have either sampled Staples or been inspired by her music. That is a pretty impressive claim but, even now, there are artists who try to channel Staples and distil her essence. We lost Aretha Franklin fairly recently and there are not that many Soul/Gospel powerhouses left in the world – perhaps Staples is the last remaining legend in that sense. One might argue that Staples is not on the same level as, say, Aretha Franklin or Madonna, when it comes to breaking barriers and influencing the generations. I feel this is wrong and you need only hear her sing and listen to her talk to realise that she is a true icon. One can debate what makes an icon and keeps them in the public eye. I think it is humility and that lack of real ego that makes someone last; an understanding that the people want to relate to an artist and be moved by their music. If there was all this fantasy and lie then you would not be able to have the same connection as you do to Mavis Staples. Her music is raw and real; she sings from the heart and you believe every word she says.

In this interview with The Guardian, Staples talked about her love of David Bowie and Pharrell Williams’ Happy – the reporter, Jude Rogers, talked about the humble start of Staples and how that common touch remains to this day (2016 in this case):

Humility runs like a thread through Staples’ career. She was born in Chicago in 1939; her father, Roebuck, known as Pops, grew up on a Mississippi plantation, learning guitar from delta blues legend Charley Patton, before forming the family band. Mavis was called Bubbles by her mum on account of her cheeriness, a fact one of her new collaborators, New Orleans singer-songwriter Benjamin Booker, has snuck on to her new album’s opening track, Take Us Back (“They don’t call me Bubbles for nothing,” Mavis rasps, brilliantly). By 13, Mavis was out on the road, getting extra homework for missing school on Mondays (she’d be singing at churches on Sundays). It was wonderful, she insists. “It wasn’t like the Jackson 5 and poor Michael – I didn’t miss my youth. We’d rehearse at home and then I’d go out to jump rope if it was summertime. I didn’t miss my prom neither!”

Staples has never got big for her boots. She still goes to the grocery store, she says. “I go to the cleaners, I go down in the basement to wash my clothes. I don’t have anyone running around for me like some of my girlfriends, Gladys Knight or Aretha – I’ve always done for myself. I feel if you don’t go out there, if you don’t mingle among the people, how are you going to know what they need to know, and hear what they need to hear? That’s the good part. That’s the best part. Just treat everyone right”.

This lack of pretence and surprise at recognition is what makes Staples so appealing. There is a whole group of young artists who want to collaborate with Staples and have that incredible voice in the mix. In this recent Billboard interview, Staples talked about her work regarding the civil rights movement and asked about the artists she is excited about right now.

I like these kids today. Maggie Rogers, I love her. Brandi Carlile, she’s great. I’m proud of the young people today with the songs they’re singing… Youngsters are just falling in, singing positive messages in their songs. I appreciate that. I love Pharrell. When he came with his song, “Happy,” I said, Lord, why couldn’t I get that song?! I couldn’t get enough of it. It kept me smiling.

When Hozier came with “Nina Cried Power,” I just collapsed. He wanted me to sing it with him. I said, “Oh my God!” Nina Simone was a good friend of mine, and then all of the other artists that we’re calling out in that song are artists who have made commitments to the world through their message songs. I just had all kind of jittery feelings. He’s so handsome! I said, “Don’t look at me, Hozier! You’re making me blush!” [Laughs.] I had to tell him, “Andrew, that name doesn’t quite fit him for me,” so I said, “I’m gonna call you Hozier.” He said, “You can call me whatever you want, Mavis”.

It seems a shame that Mavis Staples fought hard with people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to see change in America and ensure there were civil rights. Whilst progress was made and there were steps, it appears America is back in a pretty bleak place. When interviewed by Rolling Stone earlier this year, Staples was asked about President Donald Trump and her feelings regarding his leadership:

We’ve done better, but we left a lot by the wayside, and those are the ones who voted for Mr. Trump. Things are better as far as us being able to go into bathrooms in the South, to go into the restaurants in the South, and to stay in hotels, but you never know who’s lurking on the sidelines waiting to knock you down again”.

Let’s say that President Trump was willing to speak with you for a few minutes, what would you say to him?

My heart really goes out to him because he’s really in trouble. And he’s a troubled soul. I thought I wanted to pray for him, but then I don’t. Every time I say, “What is wrong with this man? God help him,” he’ll do something else. And he takes me backwards, so I just don’t know what to do about him. If I had to talk to him, if he wanted to talk to me, I would look him straight in the eye. I think he would see what I’m feeling from the way that I would look at him, and he might say, “Oh, this is a different one here. I’ve got to straighten up and fly right”.

On 10th July, Mavis Staples turns eighty and it will be cause for celebration. When asked in interviews how she is celebrating the big day, she said (or joked) that she will go skydiving or skateboarding. It seems like the energy and youthful spirit is still there and there are no signs Staples will slow down. Let’s hope there are many more years of Mavis Staples’ music because it seems like the icon is entering a new phase. She has performed with modern artists like Hozier but her upcoming album, We Get By, is out on 24th May and will be interesting to hear. The singles, Change and Anytime, have already been released and they go to show that Staples still has immense power and the ability to captivate. Her album has been written by Ben Harper and, whilst the lyrics are striking and memorable, it is Staples command and voice that elicits the biggest response. It sounds even more electric and physical at this stage in life than it did when she started out with The Staple Singers. Staples is still fighting for change and equal rights and she is giving plenty of fight. Her music is incredible after all these years and there is a slew of young artists who are taking guidance from Mavis Staples. In future editions of this feature, I am looking at Madonna, Joni Mitchell and Beyoncé: a trio of artists with different styles of music but all incredibly important and timeless. I would rank Mavis Staples alongside them because of all she has achieved and how she has been providing a huge voice to music since the 1950s. It is no surprise Bob Dylan fell for Staples at a young age and proposed – she has that sort of affect where you want to be around her and hear her talk for hours! Let’s hope Dylan has recovered from his broken heart but we know he, and the rest of the world, listens to Mavis Staples’ incredible music and…

 ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Stavros Damos

THE knees buckle.

FEATURE: The One-Album Wonder: Artists Who Released Just the One Genius Record

FEATURE:

 

 

The One-Album Wonder

zaa.jpg

IN THIS PHOTO: Lauryn Hill/PHOTO CREDIT: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images  

Artists Who Released Just the One Genius Record

__________

LATER on today...

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Postal Service/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I will be looking at a very special female icon and I want to concentrate on a few other topics. At the moment, I have been thinking of those artists who only managed to release one truly great album. Maybe the fact they only released one album at all was because of tragedy or a short career. Other acts have released a lot of albums and maybe they only struck gold that one time. There are a number of reasons why we sometimes get that brief flash of brilliance but, rather than wonder what happened and look for answers, we need to enjoy that album and cherish it. I have been thinking about the artists that put out that very special album that captures the mindset and, even if they did not reach those heights again, we were given this glorious, single offering. There might be others I have forgotten but, if I have, let me know. Here, then, are ten artists that brought the world a truly sensational album but were not able to…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Jeff Buckley/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

MATCH those heights again.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images

_______________

The La’sThe La’s

Release Date: 1st October, 1990

Labels: Polydor/Go/London

Producers: Steve Lillywhite/Bob Andrews

Standout Tracks: Son of a Gun/Timeless Melody/Way Out

Total Number of Studio Albums: One

Review:

But where so many guitar pop bands seem inhibited by tradition, the La's were liberated by it, using basic elements to construct their own identity, one that's propulsive and tuneful, or sweetly seductive, as it is on the band's best-known song, "There She Goes." That song is indicative of the La's material in its melodic pull; the rest of the album has a bit more muscle, whether the group is bashing out a modern-day Merseybeat on "Liberty Ship" and bouncing two-step "Doledrum," or alluding to Morrissey's elliptical phrasing on "Timeless Melody." This force gives the La's some distinction, separating them from nostalgic revivalists even as their dedication to unadorned acoustic arrangements separates them from their contemporaries, but it's this wildly willful sensibility -- so respectful of the past it can't imagine not following its own path -- that turns The La's into its own unique entity, indebted to the past and pointing toward the future, yet not belonging to either” – AllMusic

Key Cut: There She Goes

Jeff BuckleyGrace

Release Date: 23rd August, 1994

Label: Columbia

Producers: Andy Wallace/Jeff Buckley

Standout Tracks: Grace/Last Goodbye/Lover, You Should’ve Come Over

Total Number of Studio Albums: One

Review:

After burnishing his vocal delivery to a haunting glow by playing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side punk-folk scene, this son of folksinger Tim Buckley now outstrips dad with a dreamy and stunningly original set of songs. Buckley’s voice falls smack between Freddie Mercury and Art Garfunkel, sounding like an angel and devil wrapped in one. Too good to be true” – Entertainment Weekly

Key Cut: Hallelujah

Lauryn HillThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Release Date: 25th August, 1998

Labels: Ruffhouse/Columbia

Producers: Lauryn Hill/Che Guevara/Vada Nobles

Standout Tracks: Lost Ones/Ex-Factor/Everything Is Everything

Total Number of Studio Albums: One

Review:

Ms. Hill didn’t just gain inspiration from this philosophy; she quite literally inherited it. Half of Miseducation was recorded in Jamaica at Marley’s own Tuff Gong Studios. The baby she carried was conceived with Rohan Marley, son of Bob. From this regal lineage, Miseducation strikes out with the lionhearted courage of a crusader. But it can’t stay there. Metaphors of God soldiers and Lions of Judah are good as far as they go, but they don’t go far enough. The problem is that such a worldview is fundamentally male, which is to say more ubiquitous than correct. Lauryn Hill was tasked with something more difficult than that: to walk a series of intertwined tightropes specific to young black women. To be vulnerable, but fearless. To tell the truth, but look beautiful in doing so” – Pitchfork

Key Cut: Doo Wop (That Thing)

Amy WinehouseBack to Black

Release Date: 27th October, 2006

Label: Island

Producers: Mark Ronson/Salaam Remi

Standout Tracks: Rehab/Love Is a Losing Game/Tears Dry on Their Own

Total Number of Studio Albums: Two

Review:

Starting with the pungent single Rehab, everything is in its right place: the exuberant neo-Motown swing supplied by producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi; the rich, sinewy vocals, somewhere between Lauryn Hill, Beth Gibbons and Etta James; and the thoroughly modern songwriting, in which infidelity is betrayed by a telltale carpet burn (You Know I'm No Good) and a lover is less desirable than a good supply of weed (Addicted). On the latter song she triumphantly declares: "I'm my own man." Only a fool would argue” – The Guardian  

Key Cut: Back to Black

The Postal ServiceGive Up

Release Date: 19th February, 2003

Label: Sub Pop

Producers: The Postal Service

Standout Tracks: The District Sleeps Alone Tonight/Recycled Air/We Will Become Silhouettes

Total Number of Studio Albums: One

Review:

Songs like "Nothing Better," a duet that plays like an update on Human League's "Don't You Want Me?," and the video-game brightness of "Brand New Colony" sound overtly like the '80s brought into the present, but the tinny, preset synth and drum sounds on the entire album recall that decade. Sometimes, as on "Recycled Air" and "We Will Become Silhouettes," the retro sounds become distracting, but for the most part they add to the album's playful charm. The spooky ballad "This Place Is a Prison" is perhaps the most modern-sounding track and the closest in sound and spirit to Gibbard and Tamborello's Dntel work. The crunchy, distorted beats and sparkling synths recall both This Is the Dream of Evan and Chan and Björk's recent work; indeed, this song, along with the "All Is Full of Love" cover Death Cab included on their Stability EP, could be seen as an ongoing tribute to her. Overall, Give Up is a fun diversion for TamborelloGibbard, and their fans. It doesn't scale the heights of either of their main projects, but it's far more consistent and enjoyable than might be expected” – AllMusic

Key Cut: Such Great Heights

Sex PistolsNever Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

Release Date: 28th October, 1977

Label: Virgin

Producers: Chris Thomas/Bill Prince

Standout Tracks: God Save the Queen/Bodies/Pretty Vacant

Total Number of Studio Albums: One

Review:

Never Mind the Bollocks perfectly articulated the frustration, rage, and dissatisfaction of the British working class with the establishment, a spirit quick to translate itself to strictly rock & roll terms. The Pistols paved the way for countless other bands to make similarly rebellious statements, but arguably none were as daring or effective. It's easy to see how the band's roaring energy, overwhelmingly snotty attitude, and Rotten's furious ranting sparked a musical revolution, and those qualities haven't diminished one bit over time. Never Mind the Bollocks is simply one of the greatest, most inspiring rock records of all time” – AllMusic

Key Cut: Anarchy in the U.K.

Derek and the DominosLayla and Other Assorted Love Songs

Release Date: 6th November, 1970

Labels: Polydor/Atco

Producers: Tom Dowd/Derek and the Dominos

Standout Tracks: Bell Bottom Blues/Key to the Highway/Tell the Truth

Total Number of Studio Albums: One

Review:

"Layla" is a very unique piece of music because of its rather contrasting movements. It begins as an eruptive, guitar-driven song, but as it progresses it transcends into a delicate piano ballad. Eric Clapton's performance in this song is among one of his best. The guitar solos are fiery and aggressive, expressing all of the intensity and frustration that seems to posses our emotions when we're in love. The latter half of the song is just as mesmerizing, providing a sensitive yet affectionate sound induced by the coalescence of Duane Allman's soothing slide guitar and Bobby Whitlock's sentimental piano arrangements. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is often recognized as one of the definitive releases in classic rock, and it is certainly one of Eric Clapton's finest efforts. The bluesy sound that coats the music of the album will be sure to prove itself as a captivating listen to the very end” – SputnikMusic   

Key Cut: Layla

Minor ThreatOut of Step

9.jpg

Release Date: April 1983

Label: Dischord

Producers: Don Zientara/Minor Threat

Standout Tracks: Think Again/No Reason/Out of Step

Total Number of Studio Albums: One

Review:

Lyle Preslar and Brian Baker both have at the guitar this time through and do the instrument proud, creating memorable, snarling riffs that rip out of the speakers without apology. Jeff Nelson's drumming is equally powerful, but Ian MacKaye's outraged performance provides the real killer touch. Even if it requires the lyric sheet to catch what's being said in particular, there's less in the way of declarative statements of purpose and more expressions of looming worries, his conversational asides adding a touch of melancholy even at the most high-volume moments. Besides a re-recording of "Out of Step" from the In My Eyes EP, other high points include "Look Back and Laugh," an uneasy but ever-more-tightly wound confrontation with the reality of growing apart being entangled with growing up, and the powerful "Think Again." There's a secret highlight, though -- "Cashing In," appearing unlisted at the end and showing that MacKaye and company had a definite sense of humor, pokes fun at their own glowering image even while rocking out with aplomb (and including, of all things, a concluding burst of strings)” – AllMusic

Key Cut: Betray

Buena Vista Social ClubBuena Vista Social Club

Release Date: 16th September, 1997

Labels: World Circuit/Nonesuch

Producer: Ry Cooder

Standout Tracks: Pueblo Nuevo/Candela/Buena Vista Social Club

Total Number of Studio Albums: One

Review:

The impromptu band Buena Vista Social Club was assembled by legendary guitarist Ry Cooder during a trip to Havana. Cooder gathered some of Cuba’s most exquisite players, including 89-year-old guitarist Compay Segundo and pianist Ruben Gonzalez, and recorded in a wide range of styles, both modern and traditional, in Buena Vista Social Club. The rhythms vary, but the sound is gentle yet flamboyant throughout. It brims with warmth” – Entertainment Weekly

Key Cut: Chan Chan

The Modern LoversThe Modern Lovers

Release Date: August 1976

Label: Beserkley

Producers: Robert Appere/John Cale/Allan Mason

Standout Tracks: Pablo Picasso/Hospital/Modern World

Total Number of Studio Albums: Two

Review:

What reads as contradiction is simply one effect of Richman's irresistible inclusiveness. It's what sets him apart from the Velvets, the Ramones, the Stooges and the like-- acts attracted to themes that matched their ragged sounds. Richman's music is tough, but he is not. He loves the old world, he loves the modern world. He loves rock'n'roll, he loves girls, he loves America, and most importantly, he loves you. Leave the anomie of "1969", the sleaze of "Waiting for the Man", or the mean streets of "53rd & 3rd" to the tough guys. Richman wants to rock you just like all the others, but he also wants to give you a big hug when he's done” – Pitchfork

Key Cut: Roadrunner

FEATURE: In a Beautiful, Magical World… Björk's Cornucopia

FEATURE:

 

 

In a Beautiful, Magical World…

IN THIS PHOTO: Björk in her new show, Cornucopia, at New York’s The Shed on 9th May, 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

Björk's Cornucopia

__________

SOME artists put on a very ordinary...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Mixmag

and routine live show, but there are some that go the whole hog and create a real extravaganza! I do feel that it is hard to create a live performance that keeps the songs relatively natural whilst building something special around them. I am never a fan of the somewhat predictable and set-free set but, if you are an artist of a certain genre, there are going to be restrictions and barriers. If you are someone whose music evokes big scenes, dreams and extremes then the live show has to mirror that to an extent. In the case of Björk, one can never accuse of her of lacking energy, eye-catching wonder and a real sense of the fantastical. I am not hovering into nostalgic territory but I recall her first two albums, Debut (1993) and Post (1995), and being blown away but this unique and incredibly powerful artists. Her songs, whether talking about love, the natural world or something else, were so different to everything out there and delivered by a singer whose tones, emotions and colours were vastly different. Björk’s accent and the way she expresses songs gets into the heart and pushes the imagination to new realms. I have never seen Björk perform but I have seen videos of her live performances and read plenty of reviews.

Each of her albums embodies different themes and sounds – none of her records lack character and ample cinema. Translating that to the stage is no mean feat and there is always this (invisible) benchmark that she has to hit. One feels she views the stage as a chance to take her songs to new levels. Whether employing multimedia formats or bringing characters and beguiling sets to her shows; a Björk show is like stepping into a very strange, magical and memorable world. In a recently-opened venue, The Shed, Björk produced this original, bold and hugely memorable experience that touched on climate change and femininity. Many might read words like ‘climate change’ when linked with a concert and wonder how the two engage. Others might think that Björk would preach and provide something quite angered. Instead, her show/set balances a sense of foreboding with beauty and something quite sublime. I will end the piece by bringing in a review of Conrnucopia but, as The Guardian herald, Björk has created (perhaps) her most ambitious and astonishing show to date:

Created by Björk and directed by the acclaimed Argentinian film-maker Lucrecia Martel, making her theatrical debut, the production is concocted to be an immersive experience and is funneled straight from the singer’s unique psyche. It’s strung together using selections from her 2017 album Utopia, a bright record rooted in love and the bliss of romance. (She’s described it in the past as her “Tinder” album.)

87.jpg

IN THIS PHOTO: Björk in her new show, Cornucopia, at New York’s The Shed on 9th May, 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

The overarching theme of Cornucopia, as well as the one that permeates most of Björk’s work is nature, with the majority of the imagery coming from flowers and fauna. (After all, to some she is chiefly remembered as the artist who wore a swan dress to the 2001 Academy Awards; the relic is currently displayed about 40 blocks uptown as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Camp exhibition.) Supporting the visuals, natural sounds are employed, with one instrumentalist pouring water into a basin hooked to a microphone; the splashing liquid timed to the melody.

With an artist so firmly rooted in the natural world, the performance also doubled as a dire warning on climate change. Halfway through the production, a message about the dangers of pulling out of the Paris climate accord is projected. As the show, which celebrates the beauty of the Earth nears its end, a powerful message courtesy the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is presented”.

At a time – we are told all the time; it has become more pronounced – when climate change is in the news and there are dire predictions, I think more artists will be talking about it through their music; bringing it into their shows and trying to get across a very serious and pressing message: if we abandon and mistreat the natural world then we are creating a very bleak future for the planet.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Cornucopia’s director, Lucrecia Martel/PHOTO CREDIT: Félix Busso

I would have killed to be there to see Björk at The Shed and it seems like others will follow in her wake. Not that they can match the scope and spectacular of her show; more that the natural world and themes around femininity will take more of a role. It has been a while since I (have) attended a gig that really blew my mind in terms of its concept and sets. Björk has always moved and amazed but it seems, at a very tense and challenging time for humanity, bringing climate change and the natural world into a show is apt and eye-opening. Few would have come away from the performance without learning something and being shocked; awed by the beauty and transfixed by all the different colours, characters and interactions. I do hope that there is an adaption in London or people elsewhere get to see the show – or that it comes to YouTube or makes its way onto DVD. In any case, the fact Björk has created this sensational show is no shock to me. Rolling Stone, in this review from yesterday (10th May), provided their impressions:

“…The stage was curtained at various points with thread walls that functioned both as translucent scrim and projection screen. When the lights dropped, trumpeters heralded the start from within the crowd, then moved to join the Hamrahlíð choir, assembled in front of the stage. They performed a handsome selection of a cappella pieces, including Björk’s “Sonnets/ Unrealities XI” (from Medúlla) and “Cosmogony” (from Biophilia), evoking by turns the choral work of Arvo Pärt and Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. At points, their voices were swallowed by the space, which showed iffy acoustics during the course of the evening.

Fans seeking more traditional pop exchanges — the performing of signature hits to trigger push-button sing-alongs — may have been disappointed. But most longtime Björk followers have learned to expect the unusual. “Venus as a Boy” and “Isobel” were abstracted in ways that made them difficult to recognize, in the spirit of latter-day Dylan, although material from 2017’s Utopia hewed closer to album arrangements. (A duet with serpentwithfeet on the remix of “Blissing Me” was one of the show’s high points.) Dwarfed by the giant projections, Björk was often lost amongst them but for when she appeared on-screen as a wildly animated warrior-sprite, or when she stepped into the front rows to sing on a stage extension. This seemed to be part of the point: the human being alternately empowered and subsumed by technology”.

8oi.jpg

 PHOTO CREDIT: Mixmag

The show started on 6th May and it is not just the one performance: Cornucopia runs through until 1st June and you know there will be demand to take it on the road and travel it abroad! That Rolling Stone review includes the set list and, if you have a look around, you can see other glowing reviews. I wanted to mention the show and Björk’s latest masterpiece as it raises important discussions regarding climate change and what we are doing. She manages to balance political messages and warnings with something gorgeous and sense-altering. Let’s hope that Cornucopia not only opens eyes in the U.S. regarding global warming – President Donald Trump is blind and ignorant regarding dangers facing us – and other artists take action.  

 IN THIS PHOTO: Björk in her new show, Cornucopia, at New York’s The Shed on 9th May, 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

I am not suggesting that ever artist makes sure they bring up the dangers of climate change in their shows but that is also not to say it should be overlooked. They might not be able to match Björk’s grandeur and sense of wonder but I do hope that it sets a sort of trend. It is clear that, visually and thematically, she has made an impression and will change some minds. For those who love Björk’s 2017 album, Utopia, there is good news – as this Rolling Stone article explains:

Björk transcends shape and form in the stunning new video for “Tabula Rasa,” a track off her 2017 album Utopia. The clip was directed by digital artist Tobias Gremmler, who places Björk’s face onto a shape-shifting figure that sprouts petals and fronds as it twists and billows through the air. It’s an uncanny and arresting sight, but beautiful as well, especially when the theme of metamorphosis is paired with Björk’s lyrics, “Clean plate, tabula rasa for my children/Clean plate, not repeating the fuck-ups of the fathers”.

It is a busy time for the Icelandic innovator and, who knows, maybe there will be a new album coming up soon! You can never predict what she will do next and just how spectacular the results will be. Not that many people reading this will get the chance to see Cornucopia in New York but, if it does transfer to other parts of the U.S. and the U.K., make sure you get along. She has, once more, raised the bar of what a live show can be and what it can do to someone. Cornucopia does contains messages of stark prediction and compel change but the abiding takeaway is one of sheer beauty and beguile. There are fireworks, flutists and stop-motion flowers. Maybe strange in anyone else’s show but, in the world of Björk, it is the case that…

ANYTHING goes!

FEATURE: Record and Rewind: Moby’s Play at Twenty

FEATURE:

 

 

Record and Rewind

PHOTO CREDIT: Corinne Day  

Moby’s Play at Twenty

__________

AS this year ends with a ‘9’...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Corinne Day  

there are lots of great albums celebrating anniversaries that were released in 1999. In fact, there are a load of wonderful records that have big birthdays. It is always exciting looking back and getting to discuss these influential and hugely memorable works. 1999 was a pivotal year for music and one where some big artists ensured the decade ended with a bang! Beck, Blur and TLC released some stunning albums but it is Moby’s Play that turned my head. On 17th May, 1999 Moby released the incredible Play. There was not a lot of expectation regarding Moby’s fifth album. Play was a change of direction after the rather average and critically-ignored/maligned album of 1996, Animal Rights. Embodying elements of Punk and Hardcore, Animal Rights was a change of real direction for Moby then – the man not quite sure who he was and what sort of music he wanted to produce! There were those who felt Moby was through by 1996. It took three years for the man to bring out any new music but one can understand the reluctance and need to craft something meaningful. By the time Play came along, gone were the Rock vibes and heavier sounds. Rather than bring out this angry and guitar-heavy album, Play is a more natural, ambitious and Electronic-based album that pleased fans and critics. Moby started recording Play in the middle of 1997 and you can see the work and passion in every song.

Moby had gained some respect and standing in the Electronic music scene long before Play was released – but it has been a while since he had any big kudos and reputation. This was a low point of his career (1999) and there was this need to reboot and regain focus. Maybe it was the changes in the music scene at the time – Moby getting away from Alternative and Grunge-type sounds – or a desire to release an album more immersive, positive and uplifting. There are darker tones in Play but, for the most part, one gets something quite warm and enticing. Play would go on to become the biggest Electronica album of all-time and has shifted over twelve-million copies. The fact Play sounds so cohesive and uniform is quite a shock. Moby had to halt recording several times during its creation because of touring commitments. Recording in Moby’s home-studio on Mott Street New York, there was a lot of experimentation and trial. The first mix displeased Moby and Play was then mixed outside his home-studio. Eventually, there was a mix Moby was happy with but a lot of time and money had been spent getting Play to an ideal standard. If a lot of Electronica music pre-1999 was more for the clubs and the underground, Moby made it more accessible. Adding in shades of Gospel, Pop and other genres, Play is a much more eclectic and engaging albums than a lot of the harder-edged and aggressive Electronica albums available.

Play stands out for a number of reasons. One of its biggest aspects is the use of samples and field recordings. Honey brings together Bessie Jones whilst Find My Baby joins Boy Blue to the mix. Elsewhere, we get Vera Hall and Bill Landford and The Landfordairs adding to this bursting and bubbling rainbow of sounds. I am a huge fan of albums that use samples and, whereas a lot of Hip-Hop classics employ scores of samples, Play is more subtle regarding its sourcing. The samples never encroach because of their brevity but they make a big impact. Such economy and clever combinations made Play an instant success and meant that we had this album that spliced African sounds together with Disco and Hip-Hop. Although there are some huge songs on Play, it took a while for the album to reach peak exposure. Critics did rave but it took licensing to get Play to the masses. Rather than rely on radio-play and music T.V. – which did feature some of the songs but did not garner huge reaction – Moby allowed tracks to be played on T.V. and film. Soon enough, momentum began to shift and Play reached new heights. Play’s status and brilliance has grown since 1999 but, whilst some of the early reviews were muted, there was plenty of praise. In 1999, Entertainment Weekly assessed Play thus:

Portions of this techno imp’s best album since 1995’s Everything Is Wrong are built on a simple premise: setting snippets from old blues and gospel recordings to new rhythmic (not always electronic) settings. What could’ve been a condescending gimmick yields some of the year’s most haunting, and haunted, music. Moby’s elegant soundscapes wipe away the mustiness on these decades-old voices and make the singers’ heartache and hope seem fresh again. Although in need of a bit of pruning (notable exception: the gorgeous ”Porcelain,” featuring Moby’s own plaintive vocal), Play is music that truly moves back to the future”.

In a contemporary review, AllMusic paid tribute to Moby’s masterpiece:

The first two tracks, "Honey" and "Find My Baby," weave short blues or gospel vocal samples around rather disinterested breakbeat techno. This version of blues-meets-electronica is undoubtedly intriguing to the all-important NPR crowd, but it is more than just a bit gimmicky to any techno fans who know their Carl Craig from Carl Cox. Fortunately, Moby redeems himself in a big way over the rest of the album with a spate of tracks that return him to the evocative, melancholy techno that's been a specialty since his early days. The tinkly piano line and warped string samples on "Porcelain" frame a meaningful, devastatingly understated vocal from the man himself, while "South Side" is just another pop song by someone who shouldn't be singing -- that is, until the transcendent chorus redeems everything. Surprisingly, many of Moby's vocal tracks are highlights; he has an unerring sense of how to frame his fragile vocals with sympathetic productions. Occasionally, the similarities to contemporary dance superstars like Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers are just a bit too close for comfort, as on the stale big-beat anthem "Bodyrock." Still, Moby shows himself back in the groove after a long hiatus, balancing his sublime early sound with the breakbeat techno evolution of the '90s”.

There will be a lot of celebration and focus when the album’s twentieth occurs on 17th May. Back in 2009, Rolling Stone ran about Play and Moby talked about the album’s success and struggles.

As slow as slow-burners get, Play didn’t pick up steam until the following year. “Almost a year after it came out in 2000 I was opening up for Bush on an MTV Campus Invasion Tour,” says Moby. “It was degrading for the most part…

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Their audience had less than no interest in me. February in 2000, I was in Minnesota, I was depressed and my manager called me to tell me that Play was Number One in the U.K., and had beat out Santana’s Supernatural. I was like, ‘But the record came out 10 months ago.’ That’s when I knew, all of a sudden, that things were different. Then it was Number One in France, in Australia, in Germany — it just kept piling on.

“The week Play was released, it sold, worldwide around 6,000 copies. Eleven months after Play was released, it was selling 150,000 copies a week. I was on tour constantly, drunk pretty much the entire time and it was just a blur. And then all of a sudden movie stars started coming to my concerts and I started getting invited to fancy parties and suddenly the journalists who wouldn’t return my publicist’s calls were talking about doing cover stories. It was a really odd phenomenon.”.

Moby discussed all the tracks on Play but he had a great story about one of the album’s biggest hits, Porcelain:

“Strangely enough, that’s probably the most signature song on the record, and I actually had to be talked into including it. When I first recorded it, I thought it was average. I didn’t like the way I produced it, I thought it sounded mushy, I thought my vocals sounded really weak. I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to listen to it. When the tour for Play started, “Porcelain” was the song during the set where most people would get a drink. But then Danny Boyle put it in the movie The Beach with Leo DiCaprio. It was Leo DiCaprio’s first film since Titanic and everyone went to go see it. He used the music so well in the movie. I think that’s when a lot of people became aware of the record”.

I remember snapping up Play not long before leaving high-school and I was not that familiar with Moby at that point. It was not T.V. visibility or film licensing that brought Play to my attention: instead, word-of-mouth and excited chatter at school compelled me to buy the album. I – like my friends – was listening to a lot of British music and Rock; a lot of the same Pop and was starting to discover great Electronic music.

After listening to the album once, Play embedded in my mind and introduced me to this new world. It is this fantastic and eye-opening experience that takes you somewhere special. Before singing things off, I wanted to highlight a BBC programme that involves Moby talking about Play’s track and its hard life. Have a listen to the show but, as is told, the modest start of Play did not indicate future success and worldwide acclaim:  

Without major label support or funding, Moby was left to his own devices, and he recorded Play “on second-hand equipment” in his bedroom. At a time when expertly-produced, shiny pop songs made by the likes of Britney Spears and *NSYNC were topping charts, the idea of a do-it-yourself electronic album achieving the same looked inconceivable.

Moby wanted a vocal-led record, but he couldn’t sing well enough, so he relied on samples lifted from CDs gifted by his friends Dimitri and Gregor Ehrlich.

The only exception was Porcelain, which Moby contributes the vocals for. “I grew up listening to a lot of post-punk, which was not about virtuoso vocal performances. I found that kind of empowering”.

When speaking with BBC Radio 2, Moby confessed that he is shocked by Play’s major success and how influential it has become:

Maybe this is a bad thing to say, but I still don’t think the music on Play is better or worse than the other records I’ve made. Obviously I’m mistaken. I don’t know why any of these songs connected with people,” he admits…

“If I had to possibly [guess], it’s because there’s a vulnerable, emotional quality to a lot of the music. And it was released at a time when there was not a lot of vulnerable emotion in music… I made this record in my bedroom, with broken equipment, after my mum died; so I think there was an inherent vulnerability in every aspect of the creation.”

Moby also believes he was fortunate in terms of when Play came out; a time he considers to be more carefree than the noughties. “Think about what the world was like in ’99 and 2000. We were innocent. The Soviet Union had ended. Bill Clinton was President. Tony Blair was Prime Minister and hadn’t disgraced himself by being a friend of George Bush yet. 9/11 hadn’t happened. Social media hadn’t happened. The world felt benign and innocent. When someone hears the music from Play, or other albums from that period, it’s their own youth and innocence.”

Play’s mellow, oddly uplifting electronic sound spoke to casual listeners and dance-obsessives too. “Along comes me and Air and Portishead and Massive Attack. It’s still dance-inspired electronic music. There wasn’t a cabal of electronic musicians who decided to make music you could play at a dinner party. But unintentionally that’s what we all ended up doing”.

As I said earlier, there are a lot of great albums from 1999 that will be marked and covered very soon. Moby went on to create great albums post-Play - but nothing that matched the invention and wonderful of his 1999 benchmark. Who knows whether he has another album like this in him but, considered the effort and time it took to record Play, he might not be in a rush to repeat the experience! There are so many brilliant songs on Play and each of us will have our favourites. Play is an album that seems to grow richer and more engaging with each passing year! As we are about to mark its twentieth anniversary, it is a great excuse to get the album out and understand why it is regarded as groundbreaking. I cannot wait to celebrate other big albums released in 1999 but none of them have quite the same story, legacy and magic…

212.jpg

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

AS Moby’s Play.