TRACK REVIEW: Lauren Ray - Moment

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Lauren Ray

Moment

 

9.4/10

 

The track, Moment, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAIrr5gzueY

GENRES:

Pop/Singer-Songwriter

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

14th April, 2019

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THIS is my very last review request...

that I am taking. From now on, every review I publish is going to be artists I am going after or those in the mainstream. I have been doing the review thing for over seven years and think that, in terms of new artists, I have got all I can from it; there are too many that sound the same and have a very familiar story – or those who do not really have a story at all. Before I head into a different direction and line up some big reviews, I am ending this phase of reviewing with Lauren Ray. I have encountered her music before and, when thinking about her latest single, a few things come to mind. I will write about those who have a familiar story regarding song inspiration but are able to add something; a voice that can stand out and gets inside the mind; artists who develop and grow through time and looking at the types of sounds that will define 2019; why women are in a stronger position in terms of material and where Lauren Ray can go next. Apologies to revisit ground but, with regards upcoming artists, it is often the way one will sort of cover the same thing. In terms of Lauren Ray’s latest single, Moment, there are a lot of threads that I have seen in other songs. Don’t get me wrong, that is all fine and good. In terms of the lyrical themes, there is about the fragility of our lives and the importance of living for the moment. It is nice that there is something more positive coming out in music because, more often than not, I am encountering stuff that is quite gloomy. I think one of the reasons I have transferred from the underground artists to the bigger acts is because, when I reviewed JARV IS… yesterday, there was a song about evolving and being stubborn in a modern world.

Newer artists tend to concentrate more on themes like love and personal struggle and it can be harder to find unique spin and ambition. I have faced a lot of songs where the theme is the same and the artist’s backstory is identical – that can make it hard to fill the page and come up with something fresh. Luckily, as I bow out, Lauren Ray has managed to provide a song that adds new perspective to a familiar subject. I do like the fact she is talking about positivity and the support of others in music. Too many songs I have encountered tend to look more at the struggle in life and how bleak things are. There is an earnestness in her latest release that provides thanks to those who have helped her and knows that she gives love to her family because they have backed her all of the way. What differentiates Lauren Ray from the rest of the herd is the fact she has a very distinct voice and her lyrics come from a very personal place. In that sense, she is not trying to fit in with the rest of music and follow the mainstream. So many artists copy what is out there because they feel that is the way to be popular and get attention. Ray is someone who can address something that is common to many of us and provide a fresh angle and voice. It is exciting to hear the song unfold because you know she is putting her all into it and every word means a lot to her. I do hate when artists write something that means nothing to them or seems to be an attempt to get radio attention. You can tell when there is insincerity but, in the case of Ray, she writes from the heart and, to her, music is a way of getting out her feelings and expressing herself. I shall move on but, as this is my last review of a particular kind, there is something I need to cover. I have talked about voices before but there is something unique to Lauren Ray.

Many will say that voices can never be truly standout and unique because there is always someone who sounds a little bit like someone else. When you listen to Lauren Ray, there are little bits of others; her music idols and those she grew up around. You listen carefully and you can tell that Ray is not trying to copy anyone else out there. As Moment unwinds and you get more involved with the music, you can detect all these colours and shades that you did not notice before. It is wonderful listening to a song and hearing all these various aspects unfolding and coming to the light. I am not sure whether Ray tackled Moment in a number of ways before getting the final take but that brings me to another thought. I have not really covered takes and the studio process but it comes to mind when thinking about Ray. The final vocal we have for her single sounds great and, with such a range and power, I do wonder whether the song went through various different iterations. Such is the emotion being carried and the depth of feeling, one thinks that it must have been a case of trying out various vocal styles out and seeing which one fit. Maybe she did have a vocal in mind from the start but you listen to Moment and I wonder whether there were earlier versions that are very different to the song we hear. However the song came to life and evolved, you listen to the vocal on it and are amazed. There is clearly a lot of power and commitment and many have highlighted a huskiness and raw element. You get that coming through but there is sweetness and passion mixing together. Ray is an artist who has always been able to provide beauty and power in her song but I do think she is getting stronger and more confident as a singer and writer. In a world of music where there are so many sound-alike singers, it is nice to discover someone who does things her own way.

Another thing that impresses me regarding Lauren Ray’s voice is that she seems to make us all feel better about ourselves. I have listened to some of her older songs and you get a real emotional hit and potency that gets into the bones. Even though Moment is quite emotional and personal, you do hear it and there is a certain weight lifted from the shoulders. Maybe it is the meaning of the words and how they can apply to all of us but, in a deeper sense, it is what Ray does with her voice and how she brings the words to life that gets to me. So many artists tend to go through the motions and you can tell their hearts are not really in it. That is not true with Lauren Ray. She has written this song that is a way of paying thanks and looking at what she has been through but, in a wider sense, she is writing for other people who know how fragile life is. I am not normally a fan of anxiety and darker elements of life conveyed through music – it seems to dominate now and a lot of fun has disappeared – but, if you can deliver a song like that and make the listener feel better, then there is something to be said. I return to Lauren Ray’s voice and how intriguing it is. I have seen it expand and strengthen since her earlier work and she is able to provide so many nuances. I do wonder where the songwriter will go next and what she has in store for the future. It seems that, with every song, something new is added and her confidence levels increase. When thinking about how strong she sounds now, one must go back a bit and see where Ray has come from; how her music has developed through time and why she has made those changes. Moment signifies a bit of a change of direction from the lauded artist.

Now, on Moment, Lauren Ray is heading more into a Pop direction. It is not that she is aiming for chart glory or anything like that but there is a different tone coming into her word. At heart, she is still an artist that writes from the soul but there is more kick and colour in her music than ever before. With production from Julian Emery (who has worked with Lissie) and mixing by Cenzo Townsend (who has worked with U2), you can hear Ray moving in a slightly new way. That distinct and exceptional voice is still there but one gets more of a Pop vibe. I do like the fact that, despite tackling something a bit tough and personal, you do not feel gloomy or oppressed by layers of production and processing. So many Pop artists provide a fake and rather grating sound but Lauren Ray always sounds natural and ensures her songs make the listener feel richer and better. Her 2016 album, We Will Need Courage, contained some great songs but there was more of an Adult Contemporary/Singer-Songwriter vibe. Now, a few years down the line, Ray has added a different production sound and taking her music somewhere new. It is hard to signify what caused this change but I feel like, in the past, Ray was inspired by certain sounds and motives and now things are different. She has entered a new phase of her career and there is that need to attempt something new. I like Moment because you know instantly it is a Lauren Ray song but there is a difference that stands out. Her music sounds bigger and her voice has more depth than ever before. I have already mentioned her vocal brilliance and I think touring and the passing of time has really strengthened it. If anything, Ray sounds at her most natural and comfortable right now. I wonder where she will head from here and whether her next album will be more of a Pop affair.

I will end by talking about why Ray can go a long way and why this year will be an exciting one for her. Right now, I want to look at women in music and why they warrant more attention. I have talked about this a lot and I think it deserves another outing. I keep talking about how strong women are in music and why they do not get the attention that is earned. It seems amazing that there is so little progress and respect considering the quality of the artists out there. The best artists of this year are women and the finest albums released have also been from women. It is no shock that this should happen because I think there is a determination to get the respect they deserve and people to take note. In terms of sheer variety and impact, women are leading the field right now. This is true of genres like Pop and Singer-Songwriter. Look at Lauren Ray and the music she is putting out right now is far more exciting and intelligent than a lot of her male peers. In any case, I do feel that women warrant a lot more acclaim and opportunity than they are getting. I think they are much more stirring and accomplished when it comes to talking about bigger themes and more emotional subjects. By that, they can talk about struggles and the capriciousness of life better than men; articulate a sense of hope and strength against the tide like nobody else. Maybe that is a generalisation but I do think the music being made by women is a lot more exciting and stronger than that from the men. Does this mean that we will get equality in the coming years? With artists like Lauren Ray putting out great work, I feel like the industry does need to wake up and take note. Festivals are still dreadfully unbalanced and there are very few female headliners being featured.

It paints a very bad picture and one might think this reality is because male artists are a lot better than women. I think women are in a great position to make a charge and show why festival organisers are lacking foresight. Maybe it will take a while for practices to change but I do hope that the great female artists of the moment are given chances and we can see equality soon. I am always on the lookout for future stars and artists who will be around for a very long time. Music is so packed and competitive that it can be very hard to see who will make it and those that will only be around for a little bit. In the case of Lauren Ray, she is someone who will endure and be making music for a long time yet. She is moving more in a Pop direction and I think that is a sound that is very popular this year. That may sound silly as Pop is always popular but there is a new, more natural sound of Pop that is coming through. We still have artists who are processed and sound machine-fed but there are some terrific Pop artists who are letting their voice shine naturally and writing songs with a lot more feeling and personal relevance. Rather than listen to very commercial music with no heart, I do think people could do well to embrace artists like Lauren Ray. I think she is a lot more compelling and real than a lot of artists out there and her music stays in the head a lot longer. I think there will be a lot of people discovering Ray now who might have missed what she produced a few years back. I would suggest that people go back and check out her older work and then come to the present. You can feel the changes and, whilst she was stunning at the start, there is even more quality and passion in her music now. This rate of progression means that she will grow stronger and, who knows, maybe make it to the mainstream before too long. I shall move on to review Moment now because I have talked a lot about Lauren Ray and, I hope, covered most of the bases needed. It is great to hear new music from her and every song paints a different picture. Moment is an especially strong song that will appeal to her existing fans and bring new ones on board.

Moment starts with a sense of calm and control. Rather than race in with beats and electronics, there is a grace and gentle touch that allows Lauren Ray to enter with tenderness and focus. She talks about someone who used to say that lives are so fragile that they can float away. It seems that, now or in the past, there was a lot of trouble swirling or the heroine was in a more fragile mindset. Perhaps she is referring to life in general and something we all encounter. As the song goes on, I get the impression Ray is talking about her family and what they have said to her. They are saying that life will be okay and things will get better. Perhaps the heroine was in a bad place and experienced heartache but, after support and guiding words, she has redressed the balance and reassessed life. When the chorus comes in, we do get a taut and tight beat that adds punch and kick to the song. Ray gives thanks to those who have helped her and provided these encouraging words. When things are bad and when we feel awful, there is someone there who can help us through and make us see the positives. The heroine gives thanks and praise to those who have helped her through tough times and made her feel better. I can hear a difference in Moment that is a more Pop-orientated sound. Perhaps fresher and more energetic than her previous work, Ray seems comfortable in this new direction. Rather than load her new song with production layers and needless sounds, you still get the voice coming to the front and there is plenty of room for manoeuvre. One can interpret Moment in a variety of ways. There is the one impression gets regarding family and the fact Ray has seen some bleak times and has been helped through. One can also interpret the song as a paen to affirmation and how Ray has given the love back to those who have guided her.

You spin through Moment a few times and pick up fresh things every time. On the first listen, it is a bright and sparking song that has a definite smile but, the more you listen, new emotions and aspects come through. The catchiness of Moment is instant but, deeper than that, Lauren Ray delivers one of her best vocals to date. This is Lauren Ray looking for love and want to feel better. She provides wordless vocals that gives the song new strength and, when listening to the composition, the players help augment the words and provide their own emotions. It is a song that seems simple on the surface but is actually more complex than that. A classic Pop sound comes through that reminds one of the 1980s and 1990s. The heroine is not trying to made us sad and produce something that is anguished and pained: instead, she has penned this song that gets you in a better frame of mind and definitely sticks around in the brain. All great Pop songs should have substance and life but they also need to be pretty accessible and catchy. It is a hard balance to pull off but Lauren Ray has managed it. You will listen back a few times because it provides release and sounds great. Maybe one can compare her to a few artists in the mainstream but I think Ray’s voice is more soulful and interesting than a lot of artists of the moment. It has Blues and Country aspects that makes the music a lot stronger. So many singers are limited regarding range and emotions but Lauren Ray has a great range. She is masterful when it comes to penning songs that everyone can relate to but have that distinctly personal aspect. I know there is an album arriving and I wonder, when Woman in the Arena comes, we will see more songs like this. I do think that the music industry needs artists who can bring some fun and energy back to the fore. This does not mean they should abandon more serious subjects and personal matters but, as Lauren Ray has shown, you can balance the two without having to compromise at all. I can see how she has come on as an artist and I am excited to see just how far she can go. If you need to be cheered and want a great song that bounces around the brain then check out Moment. It is a marvellous song and one that proves Lauren Ray is among the most alluring and strong new artists around. I do think she can take music by storm and has a very bright future ahead indeed.

This is the last review, as I say, that I am taking from other people – I will be going my own way from now on but it has been good helping rising artists and digging their music. One reason I took this review was that it would coincide with Ray’s album, Woman in the Arena. I was told that the album was out this month but it seems like it has been pushed back a bit. I am not sure what happened and what date the record will be released but make sure you keep an eye out for it. Another reason why I am moving on in terms of reviews is because, quite often, I get approached with songs that have been out for a while and one prefers to review stuff that is fresh. When it comes to Lauren Ray, I actually think the fact there is an album coming down the tracks means it is okay to review Moment – which has been in the world for a few weeks now. It is a great song and one that marks her out as a very big talent. Apologies if I have covered old ground and repeated myself but, as I said, it can be hard adding something hefty to a review when artists are new and you do not know them as well as bigger artists. I would recommend people check out Lauren Ray and see what she is about. I love her music and cannot wait to hear her forthcoming album. Check out her social media pages and keep abreast of where is going. Already, Ray has supported the likes of Rebecca Ferguson and Lucy Spraggan and she has been on the road with Paul Carrack. She plays at Cornbury Festival 2019 on 5th, 6th and 7th July and she is at Penn Fest on 19th July. There is a lot going on at the moment so do make sure you follow Ray and go and see her if you can.

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Moment is a terrific song and many will be looking forward to seeing what is happening regarding Woman in the Arena. It has been a few years since her last albums and she has many new stories to tell. The fact Ray has performed a lot and done some big gigs means that confidence will come into the album and the performances, I feel, will be more assured and confident. You get that valuable experience from the stage and can then bring that into the studio. I shall leave this review by saying thanks to those I have reviewed through the years and, whilst I will still review slightly smaller artists, I am mainly focusing on those who are either in the mainstream or close to it; some that are starting out but I am being very selective. I am stopping interviews in a couple of weeks and, again, going after bigger artists. The reason I can do that and get my work out to people is because of artists approaching and those that are in the earlier stages. Without them, I would not be able to get anywhere at all and would struggle to get my work seen. I have a lot to thank them for and it has been great featuring some great artists since 2011. I will continue on but leave behind a certain sector of music that, I’m sure, will be fine without me. My last review of this sort is with Lauren Ray and I would recommend you keep an eye out as I know she will go pretty far. There is a realness and honesty about her music and there are few voices as appealing and resonant than hers. She is an artist that is a complete package and will appeal to those who love their music with more heart and wisdom than frothy and juvenile. Moment is a terrific song that announces a new sonic direction and it works really well. I have seen Lauren Ray grow and step on as an artist and, when you see how far she has come, you get the feeling that here is someone who can…

GO very far in the industry.

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Follow Lauren Ray

TRACK REVIEW: JARV IS… - MUST I EVOLVE?

TRACK REVIEW:

 

JARV IS…

IN THIS PHOTO: Jarvis Cocker/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

MUST I EVOLVE?

 

9.8/10

 

The track, MUST I EVOLVE?, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U720Rz_jz_A

GENRES:

Alternative/Art-Rock

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

15th May, 2019

LABEL:

Rough Trade Records Ltd.

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MAYBE the idea sprang from a realisation that...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Jarvis Cocker’s name can sort of split into two – well, his foreman at least! JARV IS… is, essentially, Jarvis Cocker with musicians Serafina Steer, Emma Smith; Andrew McKinney, Jason Buckle and Adam Betts. I will come to look at Cocker’s latest movement and offering soon but, before getting there, I wanted to address those in music we need to keep around and make it more interesting; those artists who have developed and are still on the scene after all these years; the dangers of launching a sort of ‘concept’ and how, when it is done right, it can be really great; bringing some humour and something light into music; where JARVIS IS… could go – and whether Jarvis Cocker himself will be touring and where he could go. I will start by looking at music itself and the fact that we do not really have that many standout personalities. Think about all the icons of the past and how they seemed to project this aura and confidence. There is, right now, a biopic/fantasy musical of Sir Elton John, Rocketman, that is receiving some mixed reviews. We know John is a charismatic and flamboyant human whose music has captivated and set alight the world for decades. The biopic, it seems, is a little more dull and routine than one would hope. That is a shame because, when we think of John, there is this rather colourful and fascinating person – the film does not reflect that. Look about music today and there are very few that we are in awe of and carry that gravitas. Maybe the industry has become more about routine, process and not straying far from the true and tested. Back when musicians could be a bit more individual and expressive, we got some fantastic music with it. Now, although there are great albums being produced every week, the people responsible for them are not exactly that memorable – there are exceptions but they are in the minority. I understand that it is hard to make an impression and standout – given there is so much competition and pressure – but it is a bit of a boring time for music. Look at somebody like Jarvis Cocker and you can never accuse the man of lacking panache and charisma!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I am making an exception with this review because, not only are there very few good photos online of Jarvis Cocker – sort it out, Jarv! – but he does not have a Twitter account (my golden rule regarding artists who feature on my site is that they need to be on there!). I will let this slide because I was eager to feature this project/new outing because Cocker is someone who continues to amaze. I, like many, have been following him since the 1990s when Pulp made some of the best music of the decade. The man behind Common People, Babies and Disco 2000 opened eyes and amazed us all with his incredible words, lanky figure and this striking demeanour – almost like a model or poet rather than a conventional musician. The way Cocker moved and how he spoke in interviews; nobody quite like him existing back then and, in a more sterile landscape now, this is still the case! With JARV IS… the man is back and he is in rude form! I have heard a few interviews he has given and it is another solid-gold Cocker creation. When I come to review the single, I will allude more to the charm and quirk you get with it. Look through the archives of music history and there has definitely been deterioration when it comes to the colourfulness and memorability of our artists. I am glad that, as Cocker grows older, he has not lost his acerbic wit, intelligence and that ingredient that makes him stand out: a true personality that is not beholden to cliché and marketing expectation. I shall move on but I love the fact that, when it comes to Cocker, you never know what to expect. He is always amusing and moves in his own way. I feel artists coming through should study Cocker as an example of someone who captures the heart and is not the sort of forgettable and average artists that one (largely) finds now.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I do not want to look back too much but, when it comes to an icon like Jarvis Cocker, one cannot help but go back to their start and see where they have come. There are musicians who have been around for decades and have sort of declined in terms of quality and ambition. Look back at early Pulp albums such as It and Freaks in the 1980s and they definitely evolved and stepped on pretty quickly. The earliest records from them are not that great but they did show promise. Pulp really hit their stride when they released His ‘n’ Hers in 1994; the follow-ups Different Class in 1996 and This Is Hardcore in 1998. We Love Life, co-produced by Scott Walker, was the final album from Pulp in 2001 and saw the band change their sound slightly. It is a more mature and one that is more reflective. Rather than relive the days of their anthems and the 1990s’ buzz, Pulp produced something that was arty but had a more settled and contemplative skin. 2006’s Jarvis – the debut solo album from Cocker – looked at dread and more emotional subjects but did not break entirely from the energy and fun of Pulp. It is more stripped-down and controlled but it has so many different layers and covers a lot of ground. The sense of craft and commitment one found through the album resonated with critics. Those expecting Pulp-like anthems would have been disappointed but those who love Cocker and what he is about would have appreciated that album. It is a remarkable release and showed that, through the decades, Cocker has not lost his spark and sense of wonder. 2009’s “Further Complications” took off from where Jarvis left off and 2017’s Room 29 was another new step. The man has managed to keep his spirit and unique voice but expand his palette through the years. The latter album was made with Chilly Gonzales and it (the album) was a sixteen-song concept/cycle that gained huge critical love.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I do fear that, as we all become more obsessed with technology and reliant on it, we will overlook the pioneers and the true greats who have survived all this time and, more than that, continue to make music of the highest order. Maybe the music Cocker has been making since 2006 is very different to the Pulp golden days but that is to be expected: it would be somewhat crass and a bit tragic if the older statesman was still writing about discos, meeting girls in supermarkets and the perils of youth. Rather than completely abandon that side of himself and dress his lyrics in a cardigan, Cocker keeps the wit and sharp lyrics but has applied them to different sides of life. His new moniker definitely has plenty of humour and character but it is another angle that one did not see coming. Jarvis Cocker is a master who never stands still and, time and time again, produces music of the very highest order. I have so much respect for the trailblazers and heroes who have been around for decades and continue to inspire. We all owe them so much and there is a part of us that hopes they can keep on making music for many more years – it seems there is no danger of Cocker slowing down anytime soon! In the new song, MUST I EVOLVE?, the ageing Cocker (he is not old but no longer than twenty-something that enthralled back then) asks whether he needs to change his ways and evolve – he is met by a resounding ‘yes’ from a female voice (a chorus of female voices, indeed). I do not know whether JARV IS… have an album in them but one suspects the group/Cocker have planned ahead and we will be getting more material pretty soon. It is great to have more music from the man and, as I explained, every new project and venture seems to reveal something fresh. This is another aspect of Cocker that should strike the minds of artists coming through: his chameleon-like genius and the way the man can still make us chuckle after all of these years!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I looked at JARV IS… and what they are about and a part of me sort of tensed a bit. This is not really a conventional band but more of a concept. The ellipsis and missing question mark suggests that Cocker is in a place where he is not sure who he is and where he needs to head; maybe there are multiple sides to the man and he is this polymath. It is for the listener to decide but, on paper, this is Jarvis Cocker 2.0. It is more a concept than a group and that could leave many wondering whether this is more art and pretence than actual music and solidity. I agree that music that suggests concept and art can be a bit risky. I should qualify that. Art and music have a natural relationship but the most important side is the music. Designs, mysteries and concepts are all good and well but one wants the songs to be terrific and get a sense of what a band/artist is all about. In many ways, Cocker’s new endeavour is about a man who is struggling to get to grips with modern culture and stay afloat of what is happening. In the single, he talks about Frankie Knuckles and the fact he is dragging his knuckles listening to him. Cocker, in a way, knows he is middle-aged and the world is very different now to what it was like back in the 1980s and 1990s. The songs he was writing at the peak of Pulp’s powers are iconic, for sure, but show a very different world to the one in which we all live. Maybe that is not a bad thing – although I think it is – but is relatable and commendable hearing Cocker stay where he is and wondering whether he needs to evolve. There are lots of questions to unpack and different lines to chew over. I shall do that when I get to the song but, rather than have this sort of new persona and personality, Cocker is simply using this new opportunity to take his music in another new direction.

 ART CREDIT: Federica Masini

Maybe, because of the striking moniker he has adopted, there will be question-only songs. Maybe we will get this fully-fledged character and something more akin to what Madonna is doing now – her Madame X alter ego is this multi-talented and adaptable human who is a teacher, a fighter and a spy – and several dozen other things by the looks of her Instagram and Twitter teasers! If Madonna is this superhero(heroine) and Swiss army knife of a person in 2019, who is Jarvis Cocker? In many ways, he is the opposite: a man who is asking more questions than making statements; someone who seems willing to stand where he is and is confused by the world spinning around and how it has changed – whereas the older Madonna seems to be evolving, engaging with some of her earlier sounds and is always moving forward. Perhaps it is a bit harsh and short-sighted to call JARV IS… a concept or one-off thing. Who knows how far the band can go but it does seem like a group effort rather than a Cocker solo album. I like the fact there are other musicians and voices in the mix. Cocker seems to be in a more collaborative mindset than he was back in 2006 and, although Pulp have split, Cocker has not isolated himself and is still working alongside others to create this fulsome and handsome sound. Many have noted that, in MUST I EVOLVE?, there is a question as to whether Cocker needs to get with the kids and adapt to the modern world. Cocker is cast as this older gentleman who is not over the hill and dead yet but he definitely does not want to absorb everything new and hip – this lack of fashion sense and coolness, in a way, is cooler than those who are very tech-savvy and embrace new music. I do hope there is a lot more from the JARV IS… project because there is nothing like it in music at the moment. We do need Cocker now more than ever!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Cotterill Photography

I say this because there is a real lack of humour and comedic catharsis in the industry at the moment. I have mentioned this a few times but it warrants repetition. There is endless endeavour and brilliance to be found – I am listening to Rosie Lowe as I type this – but, whilst you are impressed and stunned by the sounds, one does not necessarily feel lighter, happier and better as a person. I feel that, in a world that is pretty black and unsettled right now, we need some escape and relief. That is not to say artists should abandon what they do and make bangers all of the time. Certainly, with MUST I EVOLVE? there is not this club rave and old-school Pulp gem: instead, we have a song that makes you smile and definitely provides some humour. The fact the band/moniker and song are written in capital letters means there is a sense of declaration, exclamation and urgency that is never to serious and po-faced – one gets a lot of wit and warmth from Cocker and that is to be commended. It would be unfair to label all music today as bleak and lost but I am not naive enough to think that music back in my youth was all cheery and brilliant. There were hard times in the 1980s and 1990s and we had to deal with similar struggles and challenges as we do now. Rather than reflect this feeling of anxiety through music, artists provided energy and escapism that we all needed. These songs – from the 1980s and 1990s – remain and many of us (myself included) still listen to them today. I am looking out for musicians who are willing to produce something fun and that which makes us smile. There is not enough of it right now and I do think that music would be richer if there were changes. We are living in a time when music is not providing much escape and relief from the hardships of life. Jarvis Cocker is here and, with his merry band of men (and women), he has crafted something that definitely puts you in a better space – even if there are some introspective moments and the feeling that the older Cocker is struggling in the modern world.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Fallon/NME

In a way, there is something about MUST I EVOLVE? that reminds me of The Divine Comedy. Chronically, off the top of my head, I am not sure who came first or whether Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) started out before Jarvis Cocker. Both men have a sort of breathy and dramatic way of singing (almost talk-singing in a sense) that sort of takes the breath. Juxtaposed against the elegant and slightly weary questions from Cocker – must he evolve and develop? – there is the youthful, energised and very insistent affirmation that, indeed, he does need to get with it! He asks whether he needs to grow old (yes) and whether he needs to do what he is told (yes) – that sense that he does need to be the opposite of who is now is resounding and consistent throughout the song. After the early round of questions and this sort of defence from Cocker – like a man on trial and asking whether he needs to reform -, we get another phase. MUST I EVOLVE? sort of has hallmarks of classic Pulp numbers: the song twists and turns and blends spoken segments with different elements and conventional delivery. Here, the song starts with this accelerated and question-posing start and then moves, literally, back in time. Cocker ponders the Big Bang and how life started. Rather than being this universe-creating explosion, Cocker sees it more as a bang…a pop…well, a sort of minor tremor that was not all of that. Maybe this is symbolic of a man who has a world-weariness and scepticism. Perhaps he feels that, if the start of the known universe was a bit of a nothing, why should he make these leaps and personal changes. With Jarvis Cocker, songs are never simple and easily predictable. This is good because, instead, we are witness to something much more intelligent, informative and deep. He talks about creation and what happened at the very start. There are hand-claps and Cocker, almost William Shatner-like, narrates the course of time.

  PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Nobody knows where we are going and where the world is headed. The song kicks up a gear when that chorus comes back in. The most pressing question is when Cocker asks whether he should stay the same (the echoed and repeated ‘nos’ show that he needs to move along). I love how there are little breaths and sighs as Cocker whizzes through evolution and time. The song is breathless as the hero says that we/he is looking for shelter and trouble. Cocker discovered fire and, as is said, “even giants started small”. One gets a load of images and scenes racing by so, in many ways, this is a song you need to listen to a few times to get a full impression. I think that, when he talks of giants and the universe being modest at the start, he is defending his slow rate of development. If all these grand things took ages and ions to get to where they are, why should one expect Cocker to be this grand and modern human being when he can offer such wisdom? There is an underlying stubbornness and confidence that makes the song so engaging and resonant. We can all understand that feeling of being a bit tired or not knowing why others want us to change. That clash between the spoken verses and this view of the world before and how we have progressed and the chorus regarding personal growth and whether maturity is really needed is a great thing. I do think the female voices and this clash of the slightly forlorn and inspiringly fresh works brilliantly together. When Cocker asks questions regarding his lack of movement, he is met with stern-yet-fun responses. I have mentioned how there was a bit of The Divine Comedy at the start but, oddly, I can detect some of Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan (from 1988’s I’m Your Man) in the song.

  IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

The way Cocker’s voice goes low and there are these angelic and uplifting voices in the chorus – one feels there is a link, however slight, between the songs. If Cohen was talking about storming cities and colonisation, Cocker seems more comfortable hording the past and wiling away the time with one eye on the past. The infamous lines from the song – Cocker dragging his knuckles to Frankie Knuckles – comes during a new cycle/suite. If this song is a modern-day opera that has one of its eyes lodged in the past (Modern Life Is TRULY Rubbish?!) then we sort of reach a climax by the time that aforementioned lyric emerges. Backed by a bellicose, almost-tribal drum, Cocker slows his voice down and it is almost like we are listening to the caveman from the cave. Not only does Cocker’s words manage to take us back to the start of time and to the present day but there is that sense of scope and time travelling in the music – one moment, the composition is almost savage and sparse and, the next, it fizzes and bursts with modern-day knowing. Just after Cocker talks about someone, somewhere wearing hot pants – truly, you need to listen to the song a few times as it packs so much in and covers all of time it seems! – we get the much-needed chorus to provide some kick and glee. I love how there is the balance of the serious and witty choruses and that catchy chorus. It will take a few spins for MUST I EVOLVE? to truly embed and soak into the consciousness but you can appreciate it and understands its point of view upon the first listen. The more you hear the song, the better it gets. In fact, without exaggeration, MUST I EVOLVE? is one of the best singles of the year and one overloaded with musical brilliance, wit and some of Cocker’s sharpest and most interesting thoughts. Let’s hope there is a lot more coming from JARV IS… because, even though the debut single is all about a lack of movement and questions whether the hero needs to evolve, JARV IS… themselves are pushing music to places they have not been for a very long time – maybe that was the point of the song all along?!

  PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I shall leave things here but I do think that it is great to have new music from Jarvis Cocker. I do not know where JARV IS… will head next but, judging but the constantly unanswered question that is posed, there will be other iterations and revelations. One would hope an album is forthcoming and we get more delight. I do feel that music needs to keep taking notes from Cocker regarding what we need and why he is so revered. The man has been writing these incredible and life-affirming songs since the 1990s and he is not one of these artists who completely changes and loses spark after all these years. If anything, the passing years and the experience he has means the music is more nuanced and layered. That might be a bold claim but I feel the Jarvis Cocker of now is a little stronger and wiser than he was back in the heyday of Pulp. If the debut single from JARV IS… suggests someone who is stuck in his ways and understands that others around him are evolving, the music itself is much more advanced and relevant than what is being made by anyone else. That irony of Cocker asking whether he needs to grow and step into the modern world and, at the same time, giving us music that is completely fresh and needed. There is nobody like him in the music business and I cannot wait to see where he heads next. Every solo album that Cocker has released saw singles and exposure so there will be more to come from JARV IS… Mouths are already salivating guessing when an album might arrive and whether Cocker will head on the road. Many fans around the globe are keen to see the man perform and I am sure that will be in the mind of Cocker. He is a true individual and innovator whose wit, unusual cool and keen intellect still sounds completely daring and unique decades after he came onto the scene. It is amazing to see how long Cocker has been going and (the fact) he still produces these songs that we can all get behind and understand.

IN THIS PHOTO: Dana Distortion

Maybe the man of Common People has gone and he has had to grow but, in a way, there is part of Cocker’s psyche that is frozen in the 1990s forever – the young man in stasis and cryogenically preserved for all of time. Let us finish up now and let you go about your day. I have had a lot of fun investigating Jarvis Cocker and his band; a fantastic song that has brightened up the week and left us with some questions. Cocker poses an important one in MUST I EVOLVE? (namely, whether he needs to stop dragging his knuckles to Frankie Knuckles and embrace modernity) but the listener will have many follow-ups. Will we get an album by the summer? Is there going to be gigs from JARV IS… and will there be announcements soon? Although JARV IS… and Cocker are not on Twitter and there are not many good modern photos to be found, one can forgive them/him. The man is this demi-god who you must obey and are always enthralled by so, even though there are some minor flaws and demands, it is easy to forgive someone who has given so much to music and continues to do so…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

TO this very day.

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Follow JARV IS…

TRACK REVIEW: Jamila Woods - ZORA

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Jamila Woods

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PHOTO CREDIT: Bradley Murray 

ZORA

 

9.7/10

 

The track, ZORA, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NO0_3XwBb5s

GENRES:

R&B/Neo-Soul

ORIGIN:

Chicago, U.S.A.

The album, LEGACY! LEGACY! Is available via:

https://open.spotify.com/album/5NzK7S7oQQnO8eLRf7kDJx?si=eyHaDOnRR_eGrP32oSwSmA

RELEASE DATE:

10th May, 2019

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THIS time around...

I get to review an artist that I am fairly new to. Jamila Woods is definitely getting people talking right now and her new album, LEGACY! LEGACY! demands attention. It is a gorgeous piece of work that conveys plenty of important messages and memorable moments. I shall come to that later but, when thinking about her, I wanted to address female artists in music and, once more, how they are dominating and warrant more acclaim; Neo-Soul and R&B blends and how it is much more favourable to Pop and other genres; artists who have something important to say and have this leadership quality to them; those who come from a hard background or have a history that provokes sensational music – I will end by speaking about Jamila Woods and where she might head next. I have talked a lot about female artists and how they have been storming 2019. It is no surprise to see yet another artist, Jamila Woods, do so well and get under the critical skin. Although the year is still quite young, there have not been that many great albums released by men. I guess there is chance for a comeback but the majority of the truly memorable albums have been released by women. This is not a new phenomenon but I think this year is especially strong. Maybe it is a reaction against inequality and a real show of strength. Perhaps it is something else but there are so many fantastic albums out there that beggar belief and stand in the mind. One wonders how long sexism can continue and whether there will be the same sort of equality in a couple of years as there is now. I hope not but it is troubling that, despite these fantastic albums by great women, there is imbalance and a lack of opportunities. I get a little fed up having to have the same debates and asking when change will come. Artists like Woods will turn the tide and are showing just how strong female artists are.

PHOTO CREDIT: Whitney Middleton

Whilst the facts are out there and we can see how many incredible female-made albums have come this year, one has to ask what it is about the music that has resonated. I think deeper, more challenging themes have come out. Men are taking about personal struggles and less commercial avenues but I think women are doing it in a more inventive and bolder fashion. In terms of sonic innovation, I think there is a lot more happening with women and, again, the effect is longer-lasting and more potent. There have been a few good Pop albums released this year but I think, for the most part, the best music is coming from other genres and avenues. The best of today is not necessarily emanating from the mainstream as it did years ago: right now, the finest material is happening away from the spotlight and is a lot stronger than previous years. Maybe I am getting carried away but there have been some sensational albums this year. A lot of the very finest albums have portrayed very strong messages and been very personal. Jamila Woods’ album, LEGACY! LEAGCY! is a stunning record that does deal with personal aspects but it is the richness of the compositions and vocals that get to me. One listens to the album and discovers endless nuance and stunning tracks. It is a remarkable work and, quite rightly, critics have been raving. I do think 2019 is a year where the best albums are being made by women and I do hope that this leads to greater recognition and exposure. Women are still underrepresented at festivals and they are not given the same opportunities as men. I shall move on now but I am observing the very best music coming through and it is being released by women. There is just something more engaging, exciting and stronger that we are not getting from the men. I think 2019 has been a lot stronger than the past few years for variation and strength and I am excited to see what comes before the end of the year.

I have been focusing a lot on genres like Pop and Folk and, whilst they are interesting and have plenty of memorability, it is great to talk about Jamila Woods and her blend of Neo-Soul and R&B. I have raved about Grime and Rap but, to be truthful, I tend to find I am struck by an artist when I first review that type of music and then it sort of fades and seems less spectacular after a bit of time. Maybe it is the aggression of the genres or something in the lyrics that fails to keep me hooked. When it comes to something smoother – with a definite edge to it – I go back time and time again. Woods is not someone who talks about love and does not stray from that. In fact, her music covers a gamut of emotions and experiences. Each track on her album references a historical figure and is a great testimony to black artists. There is a lot of history in the bones of the songs; a look at modern realities and joys. There is a mix of Norther Soul and Neo-Soul; a patchwork of different sounds that makes the album hugely enjoyable, unpredictable and exciting. Whilst there are songs that tackle black rights and roots, not everything on LEGACY! LEGACY! is heavy and serious. When she sings about her relatives and the plight of the black population of America, there is plenty of light, love and sensuality.

PHOTO CREDIT: Bradley Murray 

It would be perfectly fine and wonderful is Woods created an album that was all serious and did open our eyes but I think she has produced something more powerful because of the way she combines hard-hitting songs with lighter, more accessible turns. Critics have been raving about her album and, quite rightly, it is being tipped (already) as one of the year’s very best. I love what she is doing and where she is right now. One can look at fellow artists like Solange (Knowles) and how they are documenting the state of America and the way the black community are treated. Woods digs deep into her sonic treasure chest and brings together all these wonderful sounds. I feel the best albums of this year have displayed plenty of confidence when it comes to compositions and movement. So many artists rely on quick and simple sounds because they think that is the way to get a song into the head – it will fade as quickly as it arrived, I find. Those, like Woods, who push limits and open their imaginations are going to stand the test of time and you find yourself revisiting their songs time and time again.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Lawrence Agyei

Maybe it is the words themselves that make the biggest impact but I find the genres Woods has fused gives the songs extra relevance and power. If she were to stick with a single sound then I do not think the album would have as much depth and wonder. Instead, we have this rich bouquet that seems to dip into the history of music and splices so many unique threads together. Woods manages to do all of this without losing any focus or relevance. Every song, as I say, name-checks an important historical figure and the songs are so fulsome and stirring. You are given this very personal experience and feel but Woods is speaking for others and giving a voice to those who have been ignored or mistreated. Her lyrics are consistently awe-inspiring and incredible but it is the sounds around the words that add that extra punch. Maybe it is the fact that there are contrasts and clashes that elevate certain songs; maybe there is something else that means the music lingers and stirs the soul. I have been inundated with Pop and genres like that and I do tend to find that it can all get a bit samey after a while. With music like Neo-Soul and R&B, there is much more to be found and it gives me the chance to embrace something a lot richer and exciting. It is hard to put into words just how powerful and important Jamila Woods’ latest album really is. So many are buzzing right now and tipping this future star. She will go on to release so many other albums but, right now, we have a hugely important artist in our midst. I do think that there is a split between the mainstream and the underground that is quite alarming. I am not suggesting the mainstream is devoid of quality but look at artists like Jamila Woods and what she is doing right now. She is not following a template and writing like everyone else. Her music might not be instantly understandable to younger audience but it is the sheer importance of what she is saying that warrants a lot of focus. So much Pop music is built on repetition and very simple lines. I do feel we need to give more props to artists that are priding the quality of music over streaming figures and marketing. Woods is a natural leader who can affect change in music.

Maybe it is extreme to say that Woods can affect change and do something terrific in that respect but are politicians in the U.S. doing all they can? LEGACY! LEGACY! documents racial tensions and the struggle of black citizens in the U.S. There are few who can deny the emotions flowing through the album and how strong Woods sounds. She is this artist who knows how hard it has been for her relatives; she has grown up in a poor situation and worked her way to where she is now. Things are not perfect for her and she knows how hard other people struggle. Woods grew up in a family where there was this ethos of teaching and sharing. Woods herself has given a lot back and understands the importance of education. Such a strong and inspiring figure is making changes in people’s lives but I do think that she can make a real difference in the wider world. Maybe it is not as excessive as running for office but, maybe, she could set up a charity or foundation that helps those less fortunate or campaigns for black rights. Perhaps she already has something like that in the works right now but I know Jamila Woods is focused on seeing change and helping others. Before I move to another subject, I want to bring in an interview Woods have with The Guardian a few days ago. She talked about her music and background but it was when her family was mentioned that I got a greater realisation of where Woods came from and why her music sounds like it does.

Woods grew up in the quiet Chicago neighbourhood of Beverly Hills, an idyllic enclave in a city wracked with inequality. Her dad, a physician, and her mother, a spiritual healer, instilled in her the idea of working for the community; following private schooling and a degree from Brown University, Woods became associate artistic director of Young Chicago Authors, empowering kids to create their own narratives through hip-hop and poetry. She compares poetry to hip-hop’s tradition of sampling from across black musical history. “There’s a similar respect for lineage – you can say you’ve written a poem ‘after Maya Angelou’,” she says.

Woods describes a mentoring session where she had students draw lineage maps, using the people in their lives who had inspired them to find their own artistic voice. “It’s important for me to shout out those that came before, especially in a time where it’s about being individualistic or the first. That should be seen as a strength, because that’s what legacy is.”

So what is Woods aiming to achieve with her championing of legacy? She wants to break the cycle of silence in families, particularly between grandmothers, mothers and daughters. “When I got to a certain age, conversations with my mom and grandmother changed and there was more honesty. That’s part of breaking the cycle because if I hadn’t have known what they’d experienced with men in their relationships, I wouldn’t be able to recognise that there’s a legacy in those stories. It can’t be an individual decision – there has to be a culture shift and a communal conversation”.

I think the fact Woods is keen to promote legacy and is working in communities that gives her music such authenticity and insight. Other artists might know about struggles in theory and might not know too much about legacy and inspiring the next generation. Woods is actively getting into schools and communities and encouraging conversations and awakening. She is a wonderful artist who wants do more than record music and just put it out there. I love what she is doing and what she can go on to achieve. I think Woods’ music can start dialogue and inspire others in the world. There are musicians who are hearing what she is doing but I think it is her songs’ messages that getting to people like me – who come from very different situations and backgrounds. I do think the very best music can instruct and teach us something. LEGACY! LEGACY! is a terrific record that will go down as one of this year’s best and I do think that Woods deserves festival headline status. This returns me to the subject of women headlining festivals but, having released such a bold and stunning album, I feel organisers need to cast their eyes the way of Jamila Woods.

I will move on very soon but I wanted to spend a little time discussing Jamila Woods and what affect her music has. I have talked about the themes she addresses and, when documenting ZORA, I will go into more depth and detail. The song I am about to explore, actually, was named after the author Zora Neale Hurston. The song tackles the plight of someone like Woods growing up in a predominantly white background; it takes inspiration from Zora Neale Hurston when it comes to defiance and understanding white a white community might feel unfamiliar and disconnected from a black student/person – Woods understands why they might not want to spend time in her company. It is all very emotional and striking but, rather than being depressing and tense, songs like ZORA have heart, wisdom and understanding running through every line. Whereas we have these very gripping and evocative lyrics, the compositions are often quite different. It is these clashes of worlds and contrasts that make Jamila Woods’ music so addictive and different. There are similar artists out there but Woods comes from a different place. Whereas a lot of Pop artists are generic and discuss love in a very routine and cliché way, Woods is not only discussing her own experience (that is like nobody else’s) but she is looking at history and the wider world and raises awareness. I am not best qualified to dig to the roots of LEGACY! LEGACY! but I can understand why it is such an important album and why so many critics are raving. In pure musical terms, I was struck by all the different colours and layers present. Across the thirteen tracks, there is so much to digest and love. Listening to the album is as much about sonic satisfaction and exploration as it is learning and being inspired. It is no wonder that Woods is being elevated and talked about in such passionate terms. She has crafted something truly wonderful and compelling that is unlikely to be topped this year. What she has released is pretty moving and intense at times but it is also hugely accessible. One does not need to be in the same situation as Woods to empathise and relate to what she is saying.

ZORA opens, rather unexpectedly, like a Steely Dan song. It has that same sort of richness and tone to it but, in reality, there is more in common with Neo-Soul. Instead of there being this tension and anger, you get a very colourful, open and spirited introduction that is full of life and energy. It induces smiles and curiosity as you get inside this inviting and exciting sound; one that takes you away and runs straight through the veins. Woods’ voice is distinct and hugely characterful but, in some ways, there is a little nod to powerhouses like Erykah Badu. When singing about “Every classroom” and a “case of chocolate on the moon”, there is this feeling that Woods is not only nodding to her own experience of being quite alien in a school with mostly white faces but how others must feel. The imagery is stunning and unique and one gets a real sense of struggle and tension. Rather than being too aggressive and explicit with the lyrics, Woods is more poetic and oblique. This does not dampen the mood and distil the importance of what she is saying: rather, I find the words are more powerful and we can each have our own view and interpretation. One gets a real feeling that Woods was around a lot of privileged children but did not feel the same as them. Perhaps she was not abused and ostracised but one can imagine there was division and confusion. Imaging being the only one in your class/school that was black or you didn’t fit in at all. That is a scary and isolating experience and, whilst Woods does not seem embittered and scarred, one can imagine she has been affected and this has affected how she rights. The fact she has mentored and taught other children is a way of showing they can overcome adversity and are vital. Whereas the introduction was bursting with colour and pizazz, the composition is cooler and calmer during the verses.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Whitney Middleton

It has a coolness and sense of control but there is definitely passion and energy emanating from the strings, percussion and assorted instruments. It is a composition that is the classic Neo-Soul mode and is a perfect accompaniment to Jamila Woods’ stunning voice. Woods conveys so many different emotions and ensures every line gets into the head and can be understood. It seems that, against loneliness and being different, her energy is her biggest weapon. Others might balk and feel squashed by being different but Woods’ infectiousness and sheer force has been the coping mechanism. There is nothing wrong with being different in any situation but it is super-hard when you come from a very different background and how to go through school not being the same as others. Zora Neale Hurston, as the inspiration for this song, crafted and revealed this thought: “You will never know everything/I will never know everything”. This struck Woods and is used as a mantra and defiance. Woods was a black face in a largely white neighbourhood and, even when she was at church with a lot of black faces, she felt like an outsider. Maybe she was misunderstood or did not feel black enough. In any case, it seems that it is impossible to fully understand the multiplicities of a person and, in fact, perhaps not fitting in is okay. When listening to ZORA, one is struck by the feeling that the heroine had to face suppression and confusion but she has gained wisdom from a literary figure who has given guidance. This epiphany is expressed with wordless vocals and a Gospel-like breakdown that is filled with power and uplift.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Lawrence Agyei

Woods talks about how nobody is truly free but she is on a new plane. She has heard all the insults and judgements before and is not going to be cowed. It is evident that Woods has had to take a lot of ignorance along the way but she fights back with defiance and resilience. The fact that nobody can know everything about everyone gives her a sense of hope and foundation. The band is so tight throughout ZORA but there is still some room for looseness and experimentation. There is a sense of flow and cool from the Jazz world but the spritz and colourful energy of Neo-Soul; a bit of R&B flair and passion in there as well. One comes away from hearing ZORA and feels completely invigorated and exhausted at the same time. It is a track that has ample spirit and fight but there is sadness and darker past that one cannot ignore. Woods has come from a background where she was different and had to try and find her place. Rather than let things gets to her and defeat her spirit, Woods has created a song that opens eyes and has a very resolute and mature spirit. There are many great moments of LEGACY! LEGACY! but I think ZORA is the standout track. One can happily listen to the song time and time again and you will learn something different every time you encounter it.

I have, I hope, covered all the bases when it comes to Jamila Woods and what makes her music stand out. She is this endlessly compelling person who is sure to conquer the world. I have mentioned how there is a split between the mainstream and artists like Woods who are still growing. I do think we put too much emphasis on what is considered marketable and cool and do not give the same attention to genuinely great artists. Let’s hope that this changes because, as we can see from LEGACY! LEGACY!, one gets more than a few interesting hooks and a predictable chorus. Instead, we are treated to a history listen and a motivational speech. We are witness to personal revelation and spirituality at its peak; a young woman who opens her own heart but opens all of our eyes to the realities of history and how her people have struggled. Each song does nod to an historical figure and sort of takes their messages to heart. There are a few collaborators on Woods’ album but the biggest impact one gets is from her.

A few collaborations add strength and new voices rather than steal focus from the artist herself. I would urge people to go out and buy LEGACY! LEGACY! because it is a vastly important album and one that is full of wonder and life. You will fall for certain songs the first time around but then come to obsess over others the more you listen. Albums like this are very rare and I do feel that Woods is a definite leader in the making. I shall leave things there but I think Woods has a very busy future ahead of her. There will be tour dates in America – keep an eye on her social media feeds for details – and I cannot wait to see where she heads next. She will want her new album to bed-in before thinking about anything new but there are many out there who will watch closely and wonder whether she can top an album as wonderful as LEGACY! LEGACY! It is a sensational thing and shows just what quality there is in music right now. As I said, I think the very best music being made is by women and I do hope there is a greater move towards equality in the coming years. It is people like Jamila Woods who will help bring about change through such wonderful music. If you have not experienced the genius and brilliance of Jamila Woods, make sure you get acquainted with…

  PHOTO CREDIT: Lawrence Agyei

A truly captivating album.

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Follow Jamila Woods

TRACK REVIEW: IDLES - Mercedes Marxist

TRACK REVIEW:

 

IDLES

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PHOTO CREDIT: Tess Janssen Photography 

Mercedes Marxist

 

9.6/10

 

The track, Mercedes Marxist, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoxivC5GVAU

GENRE:

Post-Punk

ORIGIN:

Bristol/London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

7th May, 2019

__________

WHEN looking at a band I have followed...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Charlotte Patmore

for quite a while now, I have to approach them from different angles. It is not enough just to think about IDLES in the way I used to: a lot has happened in the camp since then so I need to address that. I will discuss Punk/Post-Punk bands in this day and age and how they are speaking loud; how the rawness produced actually does lift you and provides much-needed catharsis; a band who are unafraid to address more difficult themes and the bond that you hear with IDLES; a little about their gigs/live set and where they might head from here. Let us consider IDLES and their new single, Mercedes Marxist. Many are hailing it a ‘return’ but, to be fair, the lads have not really gone anywhere. The reverberations and echoes of their current album, Joy as an Act of Resistance, are still being felt and it is great that they have a single out. I am not sure whether this is the first sign of a third album and what they have planned for the coming months. Right now, there are a band of Post-Punk/heavier bands that are documenting what is happening in the world. I am not sure whether one can view Fat White Family and Sleaford Mods purely as Post-Punk but they definitely have elements of that in their music. There is Cabbage and Shame; a little bit from Fontaines D.C. and Squid. It is a time where acts/bands are providing something a little more direct and charged; less reliant on hooks and big choruses. I think, although Punk died and we cannot really revive that, the new generation are producing their own example. What I love about IDLES is how they can deliver this very physical and primal music but it does not overwhelm you. Is there anyone out there who has the same sort of appeal and quality as IDLES right now? They are definitely among the very best bands of the moment and there are few who can touch them.

  PHOTO CREDIT: Charlotte Patmore

I will stay on Post-Punk because there is a real need for it at the moment. Consider one of the reasons why Punk sprung up back in the 1970s. There was a feeling that music was a bit slight and bigger themes were not being tackled; there was corruption and people were struggling – these artists, such as Sex Pistols and The Clash, articulated the frustration of their generation. Right now, there is all this aggression and fear in the air and IDLES are one of the bands who manage to transform a common feeling into their own, unique sound. It is great that there are other bands that are producing the same sort of feeling as IDLES. Although bands like Fat White Family and Sleaford Mods have been taking digs at IDLES – claiming they are a bit middle-class and not genuine – it seems like jealousy and desperate slots from weaker alternatives. In any case, the Post-Punk wave that is coming out right now is electric and exciting. I cannot wait to see how this develops and whether other bands will come through. I do love IDLES but Fontaines D.C. are other great band that are worth watching. Maybe the style of Punk has changed since the 1970s but, at the core, is this need for change and an articulation of a bubbling anger. Many of us are confused and worried about the world – the likes of IDLES are perfect when it comes to putting that on the page. Of course, the band is much more than that. They look at society and those kind of people that warrant ridicule, investigation and a sharp tongue! In some ways, Post-Punk is a broader genre than its forefather and the musical palette is richer and deeper. That is not to take anything away from the originators but I do think there is more movement and flexibility in Post-Punk. IDLES are leading the charge and providing the world with something much-needed and fantastic. In a music world where there is not a lot of uplift, is Post-Punk doing what Pop music used to back in the 1980s and 1990s?

Of course, Pop was influential and big before the 1980s but it has been a long time since we have heard any decent, truly memorable Pop music that can last for decades. I do think that Pop music, right now, is doing its own thing and not really concerned with providing joy and excitement. There are some big Pop songs and those that make you feel better but, more and more, there are minor-key songs and something moodier. It is very annoying that we have to experience Pop that lacks real flair and happiness. Strangely, it seems like Post-Punk is replacing Pop in many ways. Maybe it would be a stretch to think that Post-Punk is happy and bright but the sheer energy and power that radiates from bands in this genre does give you a boost and feeling or release. I guess that is what we need at the moment. Whereas so many artists are keen to be anxious and release music that is pretty sad, IDLES and their peers are going further and actually giving us all this huge sense of unburden. They do tackle important themes in their music but the way they deliver the material is fantastically forceful and exhilarating. You cannot listen to their music without getting involved and feeling like a weight has been lifted. I guess Punk didn’t burn that long back in the 1970s and 1980s but, when it did, it seemed to galvanise the youth and channelled a lot of their stress into music that provided this rush and explosion. Right now, the world is in a pretty mixed and messed-up place so, naturally, we do need music that can allow us to vent and make us feel better. Even if the subjects being addressed are not that positive and redemptive, there is something affirmative one gets from listening to IDLES and their ilk. IDLES are especially skilled at balancing deeper themes and serious subject matter with music that gives this escapism. I can listen to a song of theirs and, by singing along or moving, actually see troubles fading away.

PHOTO CREDIT: Emma Swann

I don’t know if they are thinking of marketing this as a get fit video but the ‘IDLES workout’ is one that affects the heart, body and brain. You can get all your daily exercise, dance around and actually listen to something very important and imaginative at the same time. Maybe I am straying off the track a bit here but it seems like Post-Punk and bands like IDLES are actually helping with our physical and mental-health. They are a fantastic band that I have been following since their debut album, Brutalism, back in 2017. They have taken leaps since then and now, in 2019, they look set to release their third album – or there is suggestion that an album could arrive very soon. They have this way of writing where they can bring in everyday characters that we all know and have experienced but give it their own tinge and angle. The band has written about mental illness and toxic masculinity. It might seem like they are pretty down and depressive but they never address these subjects in a very dour and sleepy manner. One of the reasons I think modern music is in trouble is because artists are too serious and they have lost the sense of fun. It is great writing about what you experience but, when you have so many doing this and it is very morbid, it does get to you. IDLES stray away from this and, when they address harder topics, there is always this energy and rush that makes the song stick in your head. I would encourage more artists to do this because, actually, it is much more memorable and affecting. I should leave this theme where it is but I do think that we all need to feel better and embrace music that has catharsis. One gets this with IDLES and, when listening to their songs, you actually learn something! Is the acknowledgement of something quite troubled and tough something that will put people off, perhaps?

 PHOTO CREDIT: @lindsaymelbo

I do think that it is quite hard to write about things like mental-health and toxic masculinity and make the music quite rounded and positive. We do not want to dampen the meaning and message being portrayed but we do also not want people to feel depressed and exhausted. IDLES have that passion and energy that means the songs definitely evoke response and do not get you down. You can hear what is being said and appreciate it – never feeling overwhelmed and pummelled by it at the same time. It is a skill to pull off but it returns to what I was saying earlier: Pop music and a lot of the mainstream and giving us a lot of depressive sounds and not really lifting us up. IDLES are a band who can captivate and unite people but they never shy away from the tougher elements of society. They can talk about mental-health and struggles from a very personal and real place. Their lead, Joe Talbot, has experienced mental illness struggles and personal tragedy. He has gone through a lot and can bring some of this to the music. The band looks out at the wider world and tackles political issues. We have this sense that IDLES are trying to change the world but they never preach and force it down our throats. You do get a sense that IDLES can go on for years and literally help affect change. It is only recently that a lot of artists have started to talk about topics like mental illness and anxieties. So many do it in a very dour and flat way and I do think that this can put the listener off. IDLES are masterful regarding balancing seriousness and humour; making sure their music sparks but there is compassion at heart. They have the intelligence and wisdom to balance all considerations and ensure the emotions in their songs are pure and balanced. Long may the kings of Post-Punk reign and inspire – so many people are enriched and inspired by everything they do. I love them and was very keen to tackle their current single.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Pooneh Ghana

I have never seen an IDLES gig but I have read plenty of reviews and seen the photographic proof! These boys don’t mess around and, when they are in the crucible of live performance, there is this connection with the audience that is primal and almost spiritual. They put on these incredible shows that are filled with energy and memorable moments. Led by Talbot, IDLES give these huge live shows that get into the blood and live long in the memory. I do not know how they have the energy to keep going as strong as they are (if that makes sense?!). We are being told that venues are closing and we can see evidence of that. I think it is a shame that bands like IDLES might struggle in the future because of the dwindling live scene. I have not gone to a lot of gigs lately because I am not sure whether it’ll be worth it and whether it will be memorable. IDLES are top of my list when it comes to live gigs because every review they receive is filled with love and recommendation. It seems like the stage is their crucible and pulpit. Their faithful acolytes and followers throw love the way of IDLES and, in return, the band deliver these incredible shows. I will finish with this but it seems like the calendar of IDLES is pretty packed for the foreseeable future. I have covered aspects of IDLES’ music and how they stand out from the crowd. I do hope that the band get time to chill and relax because they have hardly paused for breath over the last few months. I know Talbot has a young child and the boys have busy lives. One can tell the guys have no intention on stopping because of how they are received. Their gigs are selling out and they are providing something vitally important to their fans. I have discussed how there is catharsis and education in their music; a release and sense of understanding that we all need right now.

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They bring this onto the stage and can bond people instantly. Seeing an IDLES show is a revelatory experience and, whilst I still need to see it for myself first-hand, I know plenty of people who have seen them and can testify. I shall move on in a second but would suggest you go see the band play if you get the chance! They have been gigging for years now but seem to get stronger and more ambitious with every passing year. The fact they have more material under their belt means they have a fuller show but, as performers, I do feel like they are sharper and more nuanced. Cynics out there claim that Post-Punk does not have the same sway and pull as Pop and might not be as evocative as Rock and Indie music. Maybe there is a modicum of truth but Post-Punk is doing what Pop music struggles to do right now: get people moving; get the blood pumping and actually produce some energy. I do love Rock but there is a lack of inspiration and originality happening right now. I feel Post-Punk has a vital role to play right now and is filling many gaps. Even if the original Punk movement lasted a few years, the artists in the Post-Punk genre are producing music much more varied and complex than their older peers. When bands like IDLES bring this to the stage, it inspires others and will definitely resonate with upcoming bands. Before long, we will have a much larger movement that has the potential to endure for many more years! That will be exciting because, at a time when politicians are lying and letting us down, we do need bands like IDLES to lead the way. What I am not a fan of is when other bands turn on them and try to dispute their authenticity. IDLES have responded to criticism from the likes of Sleaford Mods and fought their corner. I do think all these bands need to work together because they have a very big role to play right now. Mutual understanding and respect could actually be of benefit and make a difference. We are all a little frayed and nervous so I do feel music has a big role to play.

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  PHOTO CREDIT: Pooneh Ghana

Growling, belching strings open the song with chug and force. The sound definitely offers a kick and, when the drum comes in, the song steps up and makes you move. It is always important starting a song with a sense of meaning and promise. IDLES are masterful when it comes to hooking you right away and producing something new. I do like how they sort of build this steam and sense of intrigue from the very off. You are definitely curious to see what is coming and are along for the ride. The introduction does not last that long but it moves through stages and manages to whip up plenty of energy! One gets some enigma and curiosity in the opening moments. Talbot sings about his head being destroyed and this sense of betrayal. The revolution is dead, it seems, and one gets the feeling that promises have been broken. Whether he is referring to our Government and what is happening with Brexit; maybe there is a nod to politics in general and how everything is motivated by personal greed. The composition is never too aggressive and intrusive and you get this nice little interplay between the vocal and composition. Our hero’s side is being split – not in a good way – and one can feel a tangible pain resonate. IDLES’ lead seconds what he and she said; there is an agreement and sense that everyone is in this same boat – one that is going to go down hard in the storm. With a chug and compositional steam that reminds me of Queens of the Stone Age, Mercedes Marxist gets under the skin very easily. It is another IDLES song that looks out at the world and does not focus wholly on the personal. Even though the hero is strained and annoyed, he is documenting what everyone else feels and is going through. Talbot has this patience in his voice that threatens to explode but he keeps his composure and looks around him.

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Just as you feel like things are going to go off the rails, there is another twist and turn. In terms of true meaning, the band leaves the song open and inscrutable so one can decipher their own meaning. It is clear modern events in the U.K. have affected the song’s train of thought and ideals. Our man creates another plot twist when he talks about being wasted and on his knees. Whilst it might sound like bleak territory, one never feels haunted and down during the delivery. Talbot would wait at the gate and follow this person but he is already buckled and struck. There is this instant feeling that he is intoxicated and not able to meet a lover but there is also this feeling it could be a metaphor for general malaise and impotence. This feeling that things are heading in the wrong direction and the leaders out there are betraying the people. The song’s title projects images of political clashes and contradictions; those who should be looking out for the people and revolt but are more concerned with their own wealth and status. We can all get behind this notion and feeling that politicians do not have the best interests of the people at heart. We get this drunken-sounding chorus where the hero talks about being on his knees and wasted. He has gone through a lot and is seeking guidance. One can interpret Mercedes Marxist in a number of ways but it is evident that there are political concerns and doubts in mind. This is very much in safe and dependable IDLES territory but they offer something new on their latest single. In terms of lyrics, Mercedes Marxist might be simpler and less image-rich than a lot of their work but there is an immediate power and simplicity that gets the song into the head.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Louise Mason

I do think that it hints at a new direction and signs that another album might be coming along very soon. As Mercedes Marxist gets near its end, you get the bellowing vocals and a lot of energy coming from the band. This is definitely IDLES stepping into new territory and trying something a little different. When listening back to Mercedes Marxist, I picked up new things and my mind was stretched in another direction. The band themselves know the truth behind the song and there is definite room for interpretation. This is a short, sharp shock that seems to find IDLES’ lead bereft and exhausted. He is a little cold and fatigued and he is definitely looking for answers. I felt that there was no specific person in mind regarding the song but more a general anger directed at politicians and the type of people who purport to lead the country and have everyone’s interests at heart. Maybe politicians have always been like this but we are living in especially extreme and turbulent times. It is only right that bands like IDLES should come forward and wag the finger. We can all relate to what they are saying and get behind their banner. I have already stated how there is this great Post-Punk movement happening and more and more bands keen to express their dissatisfaction. One never gets the sense these groups are trying to bring people down: conversely, their music is filled with hope and the feeling that change can come. IDLES are not just a band of angry young men who are fed up with everything and want to torch people. They know things are a bit crap and split but, rather than ache and shout, they are trying to bring us together and find a way through. This is very positive and will also inspire other bands to get involved and have their say. I do love Mercedes Marxist and what it says and, even if it does not lead to an album soon, it is a great cut from the band. It is one of their strongest songs yet and I love how confident they sound. The boys are on fire now and I do hope their majesty remains for many more years to come.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Pooneh Ghana

Check out IDLES’ social media channels to see where they are heading off to now. They have a busy summer planned and are going everywhere. I love the fact the guys have this demand and fanbase but also hope that they can recharge and get back into the studio very soon. Their current single, Mercedes Marxist is a typically bold, enflamed and rich song that leaves impressions in the mind. In a scene with many false idols, I do think that the Bristol band is leading the way. Their music deftly mixes humour with intelligence; seriousness and pathos with something indescribable. The guys are a force to be reckoned with and have shown just what they are made of on their latest cut. I wonder whether this is the sign they are brewing a new album and what that might contain. Only last year did they release their second album, Joy as an Act of Resistance, so there is no rush to get something new out into the world. I know they are going to be busy with touring and there is no end in sight. They have been playing all over the world and really buzzing from the response they have garnered. So many people want to bond with IDLES and throw love their way. I am sure there will be more material coming this year and, whilst another album might not arrive until 2020, there is always something happening in the IDLES camp. The boys are funny and accessible when they are interviewed and always drop pearls of wisdom. They are a band that we all need to embrace and follow closely. The music they are putting out has real truth and inspiration and they are as real as anyone out there. Damned to the critics and jealous peers who lob offence and scepticism their way! We need to support IDLES as much as possible because they are throwing out this incredible music and have a lot to say. If you get a chance to listen to any of their interviews, I recommend you do so. Joe Talbot especially is very bright and engaging and you always learn something when he speaks. I do think IDLES have a very bright future and there is no telling how far they can go. With more music and increased tour demands, they are traveling the world and reaching new lands. Their music has enriched so many lives and is speaking to people in a very real and important way. Whereas our politicians cannot sort things out and give us hope, IDLES are here to cut through the crap and deliver something meaningful, direct and compassionate. This is what they are all about and for that we thank them! Check out Mercedes Marxist and, if you can, go and see them perform live. I am not sure where they are heading next and what will come but, knowing IDLES, it is likely to be…

TRULY spectacular.

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TRACK REVIEW: Kylie Minogue - New York City

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Kylie Minogue

New York City

 

9.5/10

 

 

The track, New York City, is available via:

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

GENRE:

Pop

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

3rd May, 2019

The album, Step Back in Time, is available from 28th June, 2019. Pre-order here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Step-Back-Time-Definitive-Collection/dp/B07RBJLZ5F/?tag=sdepcw-21

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THIS is a slight change of pace...

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for me regarding genre and reviewing. I do not usually review many Pop artists but, because it is Kylie Minogue, one feel an exception must be made! In fact, I’d review her anyway but, on this occasion, she has sort of retuned to her roots. I will talk about Pop and the need for happiness on the scene; artists that reinvent themselves and go through these changes; iconic acts and those who warrant respect for years and years to come; role models for the next generation and why this year’s Glastonbury, with Minogue in it, will be very special – I will talk a bit regarding Minogue’s future and where she might head. There is a lot to unpack when it comes to the legendary Minogue so, right now, let us talk about her style of Pop. I am thirty-five and do recall the first flush of Minogue back in 1988. I was only five when her debut album came out in 1988 but Kylie was a quintessential 1980s Pop release. It was fresh and full of instant Pop winners. One might argue that it was a bit manufactured but nobody could deny the sense of fun on show. Minogue eventually changed direction and embraced something a little more daring but, on her first few albums, there was this sense of giving people something exciting, upbeat and catchy. Songs like I Should Be So Lucky (Kylie) and Hand on Your Heart (1989’s Enjoy Yourself) are rooted into memory and are instant classics. Maybe it was the age I was when these songs were out but it was great discovering these very bouncy and bright numbers at a time when genres like Hip-Hop and Grunge were providing something a little darker and more angered. In many ways, 1988/1989 was the most eclectic music has ever been. Pop was about to go through changes and we would see artists like Minogue spearhead something fantastic. I like the fact that she produced these radio-friendly songs that stuck in the head and stayed with you.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Audoin Desforges

In years to come, as I say, that would change a bit but it was that arresting and uncomplicated Pop sound that won people over. Anyone looking for more depth and vocal range were missing the point regarding the tracks. There was that instant connection and memorability. Now, in 2019, how many songs do we have that embrace life and love without a cynical aftertaste?! Look around the modern landscape and there are very few artists that are providing the same kind of rush as Kylie Minogue. I argued this yesterday in a feature but I feel the modern Pop scene has very little in the way of joy and uplift. There are a few artists who can produce gems but they are in the minority. Maybe people, in an effort to be too honest and connect with what they feel, are producing music that is pretty glum and tense. I am a bit disappointed that there is not more colour and energy in the scene right now. One cannot say the lack of 1980s influence is the reason behind slightly moodier sounds. There are 1980s influences about but they seem to be blended into something a bit unhappy. It is a shame because we need the likes of Kylie Minogue more than ever. I will talk about her new single, New York City, in a bit but it is a return to her classic Pop sound. I do think we need a kick and guidance to remind people why the likes of Kylie Minogue, back in the 1980s, has a definite place right now. I am not suggesting that a bit of Minogue input will revive a flagging genre but it is a handy reminder of why a simple and uplifting song can make a huge difference. I understand why artists want to be a bit more earnest and revealing regarding their music but we need to balance that with something more hopeful and energised. Right now, I do fear that music has gone down this black hole and it will be very hard to get back to where we used to be.

If you think about iconic artists who have been around for decades and reinvented themselves on each album, there are very few that come to mind. Madonna strikes the mind and you need to put in David Bowie and, maybe, Michael Jackson. Kylie Minogue is someone who started making these traditional and simple 1980s Pop songs but, through her career, grew and became bolder. With Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman writing songs for her on her first few albums, we knew what to expect. Her third album in 1990, Rhythm of Love, had Step Back in Time, Better the Devil You Know and Shocked on it – it was one of the last albums that had that 1980s-soundign Pop flavour. By this point, Minogue was become more daring and explorative with her music. Her image changed from the cute and innocent Pop artists on her first couple of albums and was slightly raunchier and more contemporary – perhaps influenced by her then-boyfriend Michael Hutchence (INXS). The production was finer and more accomplished whilst the songwriting and Minogue’s vocals were more confident. Going into the 1990s, she had to reflect the changes and step things up. 1991’s Let’s Go to It was the last Minogue album with that more straight-forward Pop sound and, on her 1994 eponymous album, Kylie Minogue stepped into a new light. Tracks such as Confide in Me brought in more Electronic sounds and something more sensual and brooding. Gone were the bigger choruses and she brought in genres like House and Dance. With new writers and producers, this was the start of a second phase. I guess every major artist has some form of transformation and growth but, in terms of scope and sound, few as radical and impressive as Minogue. If 1997’s Impossible Princess did not resonate with many critics back in 1997, retrospective reviews have been a lot more kind and considerate. The songwriting is stronger than previous albums and Minogue was more involved in the songwriting process.

It is the sound of a Pop artist throwing away a more rigid sound and embracing everything from Techno to Trip-Hop to Britpop. Able to anticipate changing trends and adapt accordingly, Minogue was always moving and looking to evolve as an artist. Albums like Impossible Princess might have seemed a bit too eclectic and bold back in 1997; an unexpected move from someone like Minogue but you cannot deny the power and importance of that record. Recently, she has stepped into Country with Golden and, on some recent albums, has revisited Pop and some of her earliest sounds. If you want to talk about successful reinventions after a bit of a difficult patch – in terms of the reaction to Impossible Princess – then the 1-2 of 2000’s Light Years and 2001’s Fever saw Minogue enter yet another decade in bold and unexpected fashion. There were experimentations and leaps on Fever but the heart and soul was an updated kick of Disco. I think Minogue represents a time when Pop still had that sense of wonder and unashamed joy. Listen to songs like Spinning Around and On a Night Like This and they seem somewhat awkward and gleeful compared to a lot of the modern crop. Compare the sounds of the teenage Minogue on her debut and the thirty-something Minogue who was mixing something mature with a sense of liberation and joy; it was a magnificent transformation and step in her career. Fever extended that and brought songs like Can’t Get You Out of My Head and Come Into My World. Its Euro-Disco and Pop blends spawned big hits and the album gained huge reviews and impassioned praise. Perhaps there were fewer big artistic leaps post-2001 but Minogue was still exploring new ground and ensuring she did not repeat herself. In fact, 2010’s Aphrodite returned Minogue to her dancefloor roots and, again, was another big step into a fresh decade – releasing records in 1990, 2000 and 2010 is Minogue’s way of kicking off each decade in style; ensuring she sort of sets the trend and mood. Not all of her albums have been fully-realised and successful but you look at how far she has come and what she has achieved and, at the heart of everything, there is this desire to have fun and get people dancing.

I have given a bit of a whistle-stop tour through the back catalogue of the Australian icon but you’ll forgive me for being a bit brief. What I wanted to show was that, at each stage, Minogue was adapting to the music happening at the time but adding something unique and personal. She is not one of these artists that copies others or feels the need to be like anybody else. Every record has its own skin and scent and, because of that, I do not feel she gets the attention she deserves. Look at all the 1980s-inspired Pop songs and you can trace so many of them back to Kylie Minogue. I listen back to some of her earliest songs and they still stand up. Maybe the production is a little dated but one cannot deny the sense of fun and liberation. I do not think we have much of this now and it is a shame to see so many artists looking inward and producing music that is pretty glum and pained. Where is that spritz and explosion for those who need to be refreshed and inspired? For that reason, Minogue is an icon and someone who deserves to go down in the music history books. One of the reasons we are getting something a bit nostalgic and 1980s/1990-sounding on Minogue’s new single, New York City, is the fact she has a greatest hits collection, Step Back in Time, coming out soon. It is a great career-spinning collection that goes back to the very start and includes some of her later works. A lot of greatest hits collections can seem a bit redundant but, when you thinking about the radical changes in sound Minogue has adopted down the years, it is always necessary to have updated versions. I like the fact that she has this collection arriving but there are many more years ahead. I stated that Minogue’s most-recent album, 2018’s Golden, was another bold step.

As she turned fifty, there was a need to reflect a bit more and producing something a bit more mature. That is not to suggest that Minogue was playing safe and settling down: on the contrary, she was still kicking and alive but not so Pop and Dance-focused this time around. I think every great artist is that which can keep moving and surprise the audience. Few expected Minogue to head in this direction but, like all the icons of music, you cannot stay still and produce the same album over and over. With fewer and fewer mainstream artists making radical shifts and giving us these songs that stay in the head and will be remembered for years, the likes of Kylie Minogue are a rare breed. I have mentioned Madonna and, when you look at what she is putting out right now, there are no signs of slowing. Adopting a new persona, Madame X, the album of the same name will be a sort of chameleon-like heroine stepping into different moods, scenes and situations. At sixty, one would expect Madonna to adopt a calmer and more relaxed style of music – the misconception and rude expectation of the music industry. Instead, she has the same passion and potency we experienced at her heady best and the same can be said of Minogue. Although she is a decade younger than Madonna, there is nothing to suggest Minogue cannot last as long. In fact, it seems like an upcoming spot at Glastonbury will get her to new fans and generations. She takes to the ‘legends stage’ – if that is its official name? – and will get a chance to deliver her big hits to an enthralled crowd. So many of the fans that found Minogue in the 1980s have followed her; she picked up new ones with each new album move and, in 2019, there are youngsters who will be experiencing her music for the first time. One can only guess what the sets will be like and what sort of production values we will get. Seeing as there is going to be this career-arching set, there will be a lot of different scenes and styles mixed into the blend. Minogue was due to headline Glastonbury back in 2005 but, as she was dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis, that was not possible. It will be emotional for her as she heads to Glastonbury fourteen years after having to deal with such heartache and fear.

This year’s Glastonbury will be a big one for Minogue and it is only right that she should be seen as a bit of a legend. Not many artists have endured for so long and continued to win the hearts of fans around the world. I have never met her but, as a person, she always comes around as so bright, warm and funny. You get the sense that some big artists are a bit of a drag away from music and might let you down. Minogue seems always-radiant and has that classic Aussie humour and fun. When we look back in decades to come, the likes of Kylie Minogue will hold a very special place. Before getting on to review her new single, I wanted to talk about the new phase for Minogue. Ahead of her Glastonbury appearance and new greatest hits album, she has been speaking about her cancer fight and how that has affected her chances of having children. Speaking with The Times, Minogue she talked about love, her cancer diagnosis and what her Glastonbury set might contain:

She has been dating Paul Solomons, the 45-year-old creative director of British GQ, for just over a year. When talk turns to him, she lights up. “I can feel my face going,” she says. “People say, ‘Your face changes when you talk about him,’ and it does. Happiness. He’s an inspiring, funny, talented guy. He’s got a real-life actual job! It’s lovely.”

“I was 36 when I had my diagnosis. Realistically, you’re getting to the late side of things. And, while that wasn’t on my agenda at the time, [cancer] changed everything. I don’t want to dwell on it, obviously, but I wonder what that would have been like. Everyone will say there are options, but I don’t know. I’m 50 now, and I’m more at ease with my life. I can’t say there are no regrets, but it would be very hard for me to move on if I classed that as a regret, so I just have to be as philosophical about it as I can. You’ve got to accept where you are and get on with it.”

She confirms there will be guests joining her on stage, but won’t tell me who. Dolce & Gabbana designed the Greek goddess-inspired costumes for her Aphrodite: Les Folies tour in 2011, but her on-stage style now is “more human, more real”. “But even Elvis had a few diamantés on him,” she continues. “Come on! I’m thinking of it as a big sing-along. It’s daytime, so you can’t have the lights, effects and lasers that I normally have. I think the simplicity is part of what makes that slot so magical. Dolly Parton just walked on out. Lionel Richie just walked on out. I mean, I’ll sashay on out”.

The first moments of New York City sort of blend her Pop work in the 1980s and early-1990s with the effects and Euro-Disco-inspired sounds of 2000 and 2001. The heroine is boarding a plane to New York and it seems that Minogue has desire in mind. She wants to get a train to the “big, bad city” and there seems to be a hero in mind. Whether she has jetted in from London or elsewhere, you follow this progress and Minogue having a very clear destination in mind. She is embracing the city but seems to be there in order to get a sense of satisfaction and release. Whether Minogue has a special attachment to New York or not, it is clear that there is this sense of beauty and grandeur that she cannot get anywhere else. New York’s epic backdrop and sounds are in her blood and, when the lights go down, she is very much matching New York’s coda: the city that never sleeps. Minogue has not really produced a Pop song like this since 2000/2001 and, in some ways, it is a sort of blast back to her 1988/1989 beginnings. She could have produced a song that was modern-day Pop: lots of processing and a fake sound; quite anxious and relying on loops and not really exploring a natural space. New York City is a fresh and natural song that is open and has nothing on its mind expect for passion and satisfaction. From the very off, you are hooked by the fizzing electronics and the clear glee in Minogue’s voice. We are not told what has brought her to New York and who her beau is but it is evident that she is at her happiest when in his arms. Some of the lyrics do stray into cliché territory but, rather than being quite lazy, it is a way of ensuring the song gets into the head and can be chanted by fans and followers. It is strange to compare the voice of Minogue in New York City and her work on Golden.

It is almost like, on this track, we have the Minogue we loved and discovered so long ago. That is no bad thing and it is nice to see this contrast in 2019. Rather than keep standing still, here is a song that is hard to pin down. On the surface, it sounds like a 1980s-inspired Pop strut but there is much more depth than that. At a time when there is little positivity and happiness in music, New York City is this rather strange-but-welcomed thing. Minogue switches between the more relaxed vocal delivery to a faster pace when she talks about getting to her man and being with him. It seems that dreams come true and that she has been waiting for this moment for so long. The simplicity of the song and the pureness of the sentiments means that you return to New York City time and time again. I have not heard too many Pop songs that have a very positive aspect and possess that addictive quality. It is no shock that Minogue should provide such a revelation and bomb but I was not expecting a song like this to come from her. Minogue takes us to the city and the dancefloors as everyone looks “so pretty” and glowing. The never-ageing Minogue is spinning and dancing; happy in this moment and completely arrested by New York and the love she has. These words and feelings cannot be faulted and it means the listener does not have to worry about any bleak moments or unexpected sourness – everything here is glistening and positive! As the song progresses, you start to put more of the picture together and follow the heroine as she becomes enthralled and spellbound by the sights and people around her. The catchiness and memorability of the song is evident from the first spin and it will be interesting to see if there is a video for this song coming. One can only imagine what it would contain and how good it would look. I am not a huge fan of modern Pop but, having grown up on Kylie Minogue and artists like her, this is almost like a pleasing return to the past. As youthful and physical as she was back in the 1980s, this is Minogue showing that she is among the most important artists in music. The sound of New York City mixes Pop with Dance. There is Disco in there and, whilst the production is quite big and busy, Minogue’s voice is not drowned out: instead, it is on the same plain as the composition and there is this pleasing balance of her rapturous voice and all the electronic fizzes that augment it. I have been a bit cynical regarding the opulence and mood of Pop right now and, with Minogue giving us a rich and much-needed song like this, I wonder whether there will be other artists following in her footsteps. It is strange that a song that sounds very 1980s/1990s in nature should be inspiring artists in 2019; by an artist who was making music before a lot of the modern sect were even born. Maybe it is not a shock as Minogue has always been able to guide and instruct. If she keeps on putting out songs like this then she could well give the Pop mainstream the smile and sense of fun that it has been lacking for so many years!

There is a lot happening in Minogue’s world this year. She has Glastonbury to come in June and her greatest hits package, Step Back in Time. There are tour dates and, recently, Minogue has been around the world and keeping pretty busy! She is always keen to meet new fans and I am amazed at her stamina and her passion. She seems to be happiest when on stage, delivering her songs to the adoring masses. She seems very happy with a new love and her base in London. There is new music brewing and one would expect another album in the next year or so. One never knows which direction she will head in and what genres she will explore next. There is ageism in music and an expectation that, when someone – women, mainly – gets to a certain age, they need to record something a bit soft and gentle. Look at Madonna (in her sixties) and Paul McCartney (in his seventies) and the biggest and best do not pay any attention to that ridiculous notion! Instead, the likes of Kylie Minogue are doing what they want and not concerned with slowing down and being ‘age-appropriate’. I think Minogue’s music should be played on BBC Radio 1 and younger stations but, as is often the way, their playlists are reserved for younger artists. I know there are many more years ahead for Minogue and who knows how many albums she still has in her. She has been through some tough times but, riding high, she is now ready to embark on one of her biggest career gigs so far with Glastonbury.

It will be more than a normal gig. In a way, it is Minogue playing somewhere she was due to conquer in 2005 and, although she beat cancer and is in fine form, there will be some hard emotions and harsh memories in her mind. It is impossible to think about what could have been in 2005 and what she had to endure in one of the toughest periods of her life. With New York City showing that the Pop Minogue puts out is far fresher, positive and memorable than most of what is being unleashed by the new generation, I do think there is a very bright and productive future ahead. I am not a Minogue super-fan but I admire what she does and have always followed her music. She has earned her place as one of the most-respected and adored artists in the world. Minogue has influenced so many other artists and, at only fifty, there are many more years where she can twist, turn and transform; always doing something new and opening eyes to what could be. When she does kick off her Glastonbury set in a few weeks, there are bound to be mixed emotions. Seeing Minogue on that stage, in the sun (one hopes), will be a huge moment. Where does she go after that? Knowing Kylie Minogue, there is no telling just…

WHAT she can achieve and where she will head.

___________

Follow Kylie Minogue

TRACK REVIEW: Stormzy - VOSSI BOP

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Stormzy

VOSSI BOP

 

9.6/10

 

The track, VOSSI BOP, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ClYy0MxsU0

GENRES:

Grime/Hip-Hop

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

26th April, 2019

__________

WHEN thinking about Stormzy...

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a few things do race to mind. I will get to his new song soon but, before then, I wanted to look at Glastonbury and the pressure some artists are under; the changing Grime and Hip-Hop scene in the U.K. and those who push forward and continue to grow. I will also talk about black artists in this country and whether there is still imbalance; a hint at where Stormzy might head and what the next few months holds. It has been a busy old time for Stormzy the last few weeks. His single, VOSSI BOP – I hate when songs are in uppercase like that but, you know, I have to plug on! –, is out and, even if the lettering is a bit annoying and pretentious, there is that distinct sense of alarm. The man has this direct and emphatic song out that has resonated and connected with the people. Stormzy heads to Glastonbury on 26th June and will take to the Pyramid Stage. It is the first time he has headlined the festival and the first time a Grime artists has received this honour. There are some that say Stormzy will not be able to command that big stage and deliver a knockout performance. He has come out in the press and stated that, to anyone thinking he is going to let them down, they are crazy. He is definitely determined to give an epic set and one wonders what will be included. He has released the one album, Gang Signs & Prayer and, whilst that album was lauded and remains stellar, can that fill an entire set?! There will be some theatrics and big routines. I know he will provide fireworks and drama but, when you look at the limited amount of material in the pocket, will that be enough to captivate? I think it will and, more than anything, the material is a lot fresher than what will be performed by the other two headliners at Glastonbury, The Killers and The Cure. Those bands have been around a while and it is a bit old-hat with them. You will get the hits but we have all heard the songs and know what we are in for! Stormzy is a fresh, young and vibrant alternative who can get people standing to attention and hooked.

I remember seeing, when Stormzy was announced as Glastonbury headliner, a lot saying that those with only one album under their belt should not have such an opportunity. Those questions around a setlist and what will be included kept coming up. It is inevitable that artists like Stormzy will be subject to scrutiny but the booking came off of the reception for Gang Signs & Prayer. Glastonbury has often been accused of being limited and predictable when it comes to the sort of music they put in the headline slot. The Killers and band like that are the usual fare and, to book a Grime artist, that is a big move and evolution. I hope this continues for years to come: Glastonbury is not just a Rock festival and shows that with its eclectic line-up. It is anyone’s guess as to what Stormy does when he heads to Glastonbury but you know it will be pretty special. There will be other material included – and not just his album – and you are going to get something pretty big. His headline opportunity will provide inspiration to other artists like him; those coming through who feel Glastonbury is too narrow and reserved only for a certain type of artist. Stormzy is breaking barriers and showing what can happen. His debut album is a great achievement and many people have taken it to heart. Seeing all these songs on the big stage, performed with sensational energy and command will be sensational. The confidence Stormzy has is incredible and it will be interested seeing this translated at Glastonbury. After the dust has settled and everything is done, I do feel Glastonbury will shake things up and be a bit more ambitious when it comes to bookings. I know that Stormzy will have a sensational time and give the enthralled gig-goers a set they will not forget. Let’s move on and address another subject – I wanted to look at Grime and Hip-Hop in the U.K. and how it is changing.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Shirlaine Forrest/Wireimage

Years ago, we did not really have a strong Grime scene. I am thinking back to the time Dizzee Rascal exploded not long at the turn of the century and then, after his best albums, there was a bit of a downturn. I maintain the U.S. is stronger when it comes to Hip-Hop. Look at all the great artists working there at the moment and, in terms of history, they are definitely stronger and more varied. Grime is not really a concept that extends to America and seems to be distinctly British. This is a genre that tends to focus on London and articulates the struggle and voices of artists who grow up in a certain situation. By that, Grime is a distinctly working-class struggle; a documentation of the division on estates and the voice of the street. It is a rawer style of music and one that articulates greater truth and potency that a lot in the mainstream. What I love about Grime is how eclectic it is. We assume that it will sound the same or is quite narrow but, from Stormzy and Skepta through to Giggs, there is a lot to be discovered. I love artists like Stormzy because they are hugely electric and provocative. When you listen to songs on Gang Signs & Prayer, one feels like they are being transported to his manor and watching what is happening. You are involved in the music and, even though the words might not be true to your life, you still immerse yourself in the music and get behind it. Grime is a growing genre and one that is picking up new champions. There are few genres, as I will explain later, when black artists are being recognised and can shine. It is a problem with the industry but, as time goes on, the power and leadership of Stormzy and his peers will make changes. The fact he has a Glastonbury headline slot is a piece of history and one wonders just how far he can go!

Whilst Pop will always dominate and it is unlikely Grime and Hip-Hop can overthrow it, I am seeing names and examples that can start to redress the imbalance. This country is producing a great new wave of Hip-Hop and Grime. Look at Little Simz and how she is faring right now. Her current album, GREY AREA, is tremendous and is one of the best albums of 2019 so far. It is a mesmeric and personal work that delivers knockout blows all over the shop. It is clear that, here, we have genres that are more powerful and inspiring than the majority of what is being foisted into the charts. It seems weird that commercial artists still have the most say and they are the ones with the most pull. The music they make, largely, is not that original and it does not have the same sense of importance and punch. You do not get cliché love songs and the same boring thing: instead, Grime and Hip-Hop has a lot more depth and reality. Even though, as I said, you do not need to be familiar with what is being said and projected, the music draws you in and there is plenty to love. I am not from the same neighbourhood as Stormzy but, when I listen to his songs, I can still connect. Stormzy does not push people away and, instead, the songs have a great flair, sense of cinema and power. You do not need to be an expert of Grime to understand why Stormzy is turning heads. It is a great genre and I feel like Grime is a lot more influential in these tough times. The country is divided and there is a lot of anger circulating right now. Rather than ignore the division and sense of confusion, Grime is providing some clear truth and cutting to the core. Artists are able to document the state of the nation and the reality out there without subterfuge and distillation. All of this means that, when Stormzy hits the Glastonbury stage, he will be given a political speech a lot more immense and truthful than anything any politician has delivered this year!

Whilst Grime and Hip-Hop are on the grow in the U.K., it seems like the fate of black artists is not so solid. We know there is racial imbalance in music – that is no real secret at all! For decades, black artists have not been afforded the same opportunities as everyone else. It is something that bothers me but, when you consider some of the best albums this year, do we need to take action and look for change?! I have mentioned Little Simz and, alongside Stormzy, we have two of the country’s best artists. Dave, a great Rap/Hip-Hop artist, released PSYCHODRAMA recently and that album, too, is one of the best this year. It may seem a bit simplistic but black artists are digging deeper when it comes to subject matter. I find artists such as Little Simz and Dave do not go for the obvious and, instead, one gets a lot more range and quality. Simz talked about her life and struggles in an evocative and spellbinding way. Dave documented imprisonment, slavery; violence and personal growth on his new album and I feel like some of our best sounds and songs are coming from black artists. Considering the quality of the music being put out, why is the industry struggle to create balance and conversation? If you look at the genres and charts, you see mostly white faces and the same old sounds. Grime and Hip-Hop are genres where black artists can thrive but the mainstream is still restrictive and homogenised. If we talk about Stormzy and festival bookings, he is creating history and I hope, in years to come, more black artists will be booked to headline. Genres such as Grime have been around for years but it is only recently where this is translating into exposure and festival glory. So many of the mainstream festivals do not book black artists and there is this whole world of music being overlooked and pushed away. Talking about race is a bit of a sticky subject and can lead to misunderstanding.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Elle

What I mean to say is that, clearly, there is inequality in music and this is not new. We have seen this time and time again: great black artists reigning and striking and, when it comes to awards and recognition, they are in the back of the queue. Stormzy is one of these role models that has fought for equality and knows how ridiculous things are. His peers like Dave and Little Simz are representing the best music out there so I hope that there is conversation and betterment very soon. If one looks around right now, music is very predictable in terms of race and sound. I get bored of the processed and commercial sounds and want this shake-up to happen. Stormzy just scored a number-one with the song I am about to review and that, in itself, is a big artist. The fact that Stormzy has overtaken Taylor Swift and created this sense of shock is great! Does this mean that the charts will change and we will see more artists like Stormzy race to the top?! I do hope that we see this happen because I am tired of Pop ruling the roost. Things are very boring right now and I do think that genres like Grime and Hip-Hop have an important role to play. I am pleased Stormzy is at the top of the charts and continues to be up there for a long time! I do feel we have a problem with race and equality in music and the longer we ignore it then the worse it will become. I shall move onto another subject because, as you’d expect there is a lot to unpick when it comes to Stormzy’s new song, VOSSI BOP. It is a chart-topper and another big step from the big man. I do really want to hear discussions happen where we look at festival line-ups and certain genres; how black artists are having little say and the fact that we need to be much more inclusive. It will not be a quick solution but, given time and commitment, we can make some changes.

There is this sort of warped, haunting and howling electronic that brings VOSSI BOP up. In the video for the shot, Stormzy is on a bridge in London and things are eerily quiet. There is no traffic around and it provides an unusual (if cool) backdrop for the song. Rather than dabbing (a bit of a dance fad), he is doing this vossi bop variation. He is linking up with a girl in the coffee shop, and within a few lines, we know where the song is headed. Rather than beat around the bush, the hero is taking the girl back to his place and getting freaky in the sheets. A lot of Grime and Hip-Hop reflects the beat of the street and struggle but there is another avenue that is more about confidence and sex. The same can be said for any genres but there is that diversity in Stormzy’s work. He can mix things up and throw in songs like this that are more about pleasure than they are pain. The composition is quite simple and, in the first verse, there is not a lot of accompaniment. Stormzy’s vocal has a sense of cool to it and, rather than shout and get aggressive, this song has a swagger and vibe to it that is accessible. You are never pushed away and, instead, you walk alongside Stormzy as he talks about his conquest and path. As the track goes on, he discusses his route and profit. He uses the metaphor of seeds and trees sprouting, one feels, to reflect his musical progression. There is still that prurient chase and desire but, in a larger sense, the hero is talking about his success and how some people didn’t see it coming. He talks about his girl and that satisfaction; the fact he is rising and takes shots at politicians like Boris Johnson – someone who does not represent him. The video is pretty cool and, as the scene moves to a different part of London, there are dancers around Stormzy. Rather than there being this big hustle and pack around him, the scene is more akin to a ballet.

That might sound strange but the dancing and movement is more graceful and less aggressive. Maybe this is what VOSSI BOP is all about: putting in peace and calm rather than getting caught up in all the crap and lies. Stormzy addresses his peers and women; he talks about not chancing his luck and also addresses class. Some say he is a bit exclusive and being a bit middle-class; that he is not who he used to be and, maybe, betraying his roots. Stormzy fights back and knows that he is the same man he has always been. I love how the video flips between scenes and there is this sense of fluid moving. Other Stormzy songs have boasted quite a big and punchy kick in the composition but that is not the case here. There is much more subtleness to the song and you get more focus on the voice. Those who feel Grime is a bit too aggressive and attacking should listen to this song and realise there is broadness in the genre. Stormzy is talking about his life and how the fact his mum realises he looks tired. Stormzy has been flying around the world and gigging and it might be taking its toll. There are those who doubt Stormzy and his edge; maybe he has lost his cool or he is a different person. The man is not backed into the corner and is out there living it big. He is rubbing shoulders with girls and out there having fun. The words tumble at the rate of knots and you have this flood of images that go into the mind. The rhymes are solid and tight and you get caught in this sense of funk and catchiness. Rather than get buried by the composition and sound, the words and vocals rule and you can hear every beat of the story. Stormzy wants his competitors and haters to back off and give him some space. He has been getting tired and there are fake brothers out there.

The video continues to spark and intrigue as, with each new scene, the camera pans across. We see the fakers and those hassling Stormzy. He gives looks to camera and commands; he creates this very clear view of his world and the people he has to face. Stormzy (a.k.a. Stiff Chocolate) has nothing left to prove and is dropping bangers all over the place. He wants people to pay him homage and, as the song nears the end, you feel the man is talking about all his achievements and the fact he does not get the credit he deserves. I do love the fact that there is this balance of attack and retreat. On the one hand, Stormzy tackles those who doubt him and come his way. He is also looking for some love and acceptance. There is a nice balance of images, moods and emotions that run through. It makes VOSSI BOP a very vivid, nuanced and layered song that will bring you back time and time again. I love how the song jumps and pops. It has a definite strut to its step and I love the track. It is quite different to a lot of other Stormzy songs and might signal a new direction. Make sure you watch the video of VOSSI BOP as there are so many great scenes that make you smile and spike the mind. VOSSI BOP, so far, is my favourite Stormzy song and it made an instant impression on me when I first listened to it a few days ago. It is interesting to see how this song translates to the Glastonbury stage if Stormzy chooses to include it. It is a cracking tune and one that thoroughly deserves it place at the top of the charts!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Alex de Mora

The next few months are pretty packed for Stormzy. He has his Glastonbury duties in June but keep an eye out on his social media channels because the man is going to be pretty active. I do like Stormzy because he is one of these artists who goes beyond the music. We all read about the news that there is now a black scholarship for U.K. students and Stormzy has initiated this. It is a bold move and one that is needed. If we want to talk about race then we can look at elite institutions like the University of Cambridge and how their enrolments look – and how there are relatively few black students. Stormzy is almost like a politician in the sense he wants to change things and get rid of ills. Rather than our politicians, there are no lies from Stormzy and, instead, he is all about making improvements and helping those who do not have a big voice. I know there are other artists like Stormzy who are just as influential and I hope the industry recognises them. Stormzy has that Glastonbury headline slot and there are other artists out there who warrant the same sort of acclaim and celebration. So what might we expect from Stormzy going forward? There are many who are keen to see a follow-up to his debut album and, very soon, there will be news and announcements. I am excited to see how he follows Gang Signs & Prayer and what direction his music will go in. Rather than copying his debut, I feel the next album will be a bit more varied and take in some new lyrical themes. There is no telling but I am just eager to see how Stormzy follows his 2017 release. Stormzy is going to be busy touring and recording but it makes me wonder, when looking at what he does outside of music, whether there should be some sort of collective.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Stefan Heinrichs

I have not raised this before but, with politics in such a bad state, it seems musicians have much more influence and respect. They are able to change minds and galvanise the people; break down walls and bring about change. Maybe there should be this sort of body that consists of artists and they form their own sort of political party. They could tackle problems in broken estates and neighbourhoods with music and use their voice to unite people and create change. I know there are organisations that do the same sort of thing but musicians have so much sway and influence. Rather than rely on our leaders to get things done and improve the nation, artists are in a much better position. Someone like Stormzy seems like a natural leader. He is already making a difference when it comes to black students and Cambridge enrolment; talking about identity and race in his music and, alongside his peers, so much good is happening. Maybe I am getting a bit carried away but I think it would be feasible to start something like that! In any case, Stormzy is ruling right now and looking sharp. VOSSI BOP is at number-one and, very soon, he steps onto the Glastonbury stage. I am interesting seeing what his set is like and what he delivers to the punters. Those who doubt his credentials and headline promise should see one of his gigs and realise what panache and command he delivers from the stage. Let us wind things down and look ahead for Stormzy. I think there will be a new album from his very soon. I am looking forward to that but, after Glastonbury, there will be new demand to see Stormzy play. In a short couple of years, he has grown a lot and moved to the top of the Grime tree. Although he sees himself as a child of Grime and someone learning from the likes of Skepta and Wiley, that does him a disservice. I think Stormzy is among the most important and bold voices in British music and leading this new wave. I love what he is doing and think that the music world should embrace Grime and Hip-Hop more. I know Pop holds its place but I do feel there is something empty and predictable about the scene. We do need to change things up and integrate genres like Grime into the mainstream. It holds some sway but not nearly the same clout as Pop. Anyway, let’s end things there and it leaves me to urge people to check out VOSSI BOP and this great new song from Stormzy. This might signal a new album or it might just be a single release that is filling a gap. Whatever comes next will be thrilling and, next month, Stormzy will take to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and tear loose. It will be a sensational headline set and I cannot wait to see what he delivers. Those who doubt his ability and think he will be a disappointment are mad! As he has proved throughout his career, Stormzy is capable of…

PRETTY much anything.

___________

Follow Stormzy

TRACK REVIEW: LJA - ginger tea

TRACK REVIEW:

 

LJA

ginger tea

 

9.3/10

 

 

The track, ginger tea, is available via:

https://ljamusic.bandcamp.com/track/ginger-tea

GENRES:

Alternative/Indie

ORIGIN:

New Jersey, U.S.A.

The E.P., homely, is available via:

https://ljamusic.bandcamp.com/album/homely

RELEASE DATE:

22nd March, 2019

__________

THIS is my penultimate review...

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in terms of taking submissions from other people as, after such a long time (over seven years), there is very little I can add. By that, a lot of the submissions I get are quite similar and, as the artists are smaller and not near the mainstream, there is not a lot to add beyond the music – which is near-impossible when these reviews are four-thousand words. In a couple of weeks, I will only be investigating artists who are bigger and better-known. One of the good things about looking at smaller artists is you get to discover something before anyone else. It is interesting seeing the range of sounds out there and being able to get this experience. I will look at LJA in a minute but, as a constructive guideline, suggest some points that could help; I will then go on to talk about the range of artists in modern music and how the underground is shaping up; a little on minimalism and D.I.Y. sounds; a bit about New Jersey and music from that part of the world; some words regarding the power of music and song – I will finish by seeing where LJA might head. In terms of the outlay, the music of LJA is great. It is a tough field out there and, as I say, the reason I am no longer reviewing approaching artists is because, aside from the sound/song, there is not a lot to go by – whereas I can cover a lot of ground when speaking about artists such as FKA twigs (as I did yesterday), Florence + The Machine and others like them. I would say, to any rising artist, being across as much of social media as possible is a savvy step. I know I do not use Instagram myself but, as a twin pillar, Facebook and Twitter are essential. LJA has promotional pictures but a few more on social media would give the page a sharper look. I think, at the moment, there are some good photos but having some professional shots would attract more in.

Building a Facebook profile and gathering fans on there is a consideration and, actually, having an official website would also get a new audience in. The biggest problem I have with newer artists is that they are new. One has to go solely by the music but I am sure that artists like LJA have a colourful past and interesting musical path. Biographies need not be extensive but having this information, alongside some great photos, would capture more eyes. I am curious to know where LJA came from in terms of his musical upbringing and what the last few years have been like. In a packed and hugely busy market, one needs to throw as much into social media as they can. I do hope the U.S. artist takes these words in a positive light because, as I will explain, the music is great; it has the promise to go big and find the artist touring the world. Over seven years on, I have sort of come to the point where I need to get exposure from the biggest websites and feature artists who most of us know; who have a backstory and I can let the words fly. The biggest thing I will miss regarding newer artists is being able to give them a bit of a boost. It is hard to get reviews and focus from the media and, with so many others vying for attention, artists are contacting everyone out there and not getting a lot of response – I only respond to artists I am interested in and do not respond to other emails. As this is my penultimate review of smaller artists, I sort of wanted to give that advice to LJA and sort of explain why I have decided to make this move. I should really talk about LJA and where his music fits in. Even though I have had to delay reviewing for a few weeks – other stuff getting in the way – it is good to be at the feet of LJA. I had not heard of his music before he contacted me so it is nice discovering someone fresh.

When I come to look at LJA’s song, ginger tea, I will get down to specifics but I wanted to talk about the artist in terms of the industry as a whole. I love the fact that there is this contrast between the underground and the mainstream. The mainstream has some okay stuff in it but, as has always been the case, there is a lot of Pop and processed music. I do wonder whether if that will ever change and whether we will see a radical overhaul. Right now, we know what to expect and the more interesting sounds are coming from those who are not conventionally ‘cool’ and radio-friendly. If you look at the underground, you will see there are some good artists around and they are not getting the same credit as those in the mainstream. I like the fact that, in a way, they have a freedom and lack of expectation. Sorry if I am repeating myself – as I mentioned earlier, this is a reason I am changing things – but the artists breaking through are providing some eye-opening music. Whether they are utilising technology or using something more basic to create their sounds, it is quite epic. I do like all the sub-genres and different stuff that is happening right now. Look at someone like LJA and you know he is not aiming for mainstream glory. He is an artist that, like many of his peers, who trusts his own voice and venturing into new territory. I will explain more about his D.I.Y. sound and aspects but, listen to what he is doing, and you can hear bits of various genres happening alongside one another. The overall effect is really strong and you cannot easily compare what he is doing with many artists at the top of the industry. Does this mean that we need to have a think about what we prioritise in music – whether it is the quality of the sounds or the popularity of the artist?

It is quite weird that, after all these decades, there seems to be this imbalance. The mainstream has all these followers and attention but, when you strip the music back, is it as promising, original and long-lasting as what is happening in other parts of music? I would say not and urge all of us to trust music as a meritocracy. It is okay to embrace commercial Pop – if that is your thing – but so much music is being denied. It is hard to get across it all but I do think big streaming sites need to throw more focus the way of the approaching artist. Look at someone like LJA and how his music compares to the likes of Taylor Swift. She has a much bigger audience but, from a songwriting perspective, there is not that large a gulf. It seems a shame that so many new artists have to pitch and work so hard to get a fraction of the support the biggest artists do. I do fear there is a lot of great music being overlooked and taking time to get to the mainstream. I am not sure what LJA’s plans are regarding his career aspirations but I suspect he wants to tour internationally and get to the point where his music makes it way to a big audience. At the moment, he has a great attitude regarding originality and not copying other acts. I love what he is doing and hope that it gets rewarded very soon. I shall move to another topic in a bit but, before then, have a browse through Bandcamp and other websites and see all the interesting and varied music being made by the newcomers. I am really pleased there is so much innovation and wonderful music around that, in years to come, will be played all over the radio. Perhaps it is the lack of label interference and need to be commercial that means we get a much richer experience when we dig deeper. I am reviewing, very soon, artists who are established but not your mainstream Pop affair – more like your Julian Jacklins and acts like that.

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One thinks of the mainstream and the most-demanded artists and there is this feeling that bold and polished is what people need. Listen to any modern Pop song and you have this very polished and fake sound. I do get bored with the plastic sounds around the fact the mainstream needs to rely on lots of layers and bleeding all the naturalness away. LJA interests me and spiked my imagination because he has this very real and stripped-back approach. I am not reviewing all of his E.P., homely, because I’d be here all day. The songs each have their own identity but, as a common bond, they are quite pared and sparse. Rather than rely on lots of effects and polish, there is a bare aspect that makes the songs shine. You feel like you are in the home of LJA and following him as he performs. A lot of modern artists do not have the money for studio sessions and it can be quite challenging for them to put their music down. Now that we have technology that allows homemade recordings, so many are taking this approach and not having to go into the studio. I do buy this assertion that bigger, meatier sounds are more arresting and what people are looking for. In fact, a lot of people I know are getting fed up with all the energy and force that is being pushed in their direction. A lot of the time, the songs themselves get washed away and what you are left with is something quite soulless and synthetic. Against the tide of machine-made and familiar, check out artists who are giving us something a lot more pleasing, accessible and calm. Not to say LJA lacks complexity and potency. His music has plenty of fire and colours but, for the most part, we are treated to something more touching, tender and personal. You know the man is making music to touch people and not earn him money for the sake of it.

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Are we ready to change the scene and ensure that there is a mix of the mainstream traditional and D.I.Y. sounds? That would mean having artists like Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa alongside those who are making music from their home. I guess we do have some D.I.Y.-sounding artists near the top but it is quite rare! I would like modern music to be more reflective of all the different types of artist out there. By that, I mean we need to stop promoting the same kind of artist and spend more time elsewhere. I do fear there are a lot of artists making really accomplished music but they are falling through cracks and not being given the respect they deserve. This is just me going off on a tangent but I do worry what music will become in years to come. LJA will make his own way and be okay and I suspect, in years to come, he will see his music get to a larger sect. I have spent years studying underground acts and promoting their music and know how hard it is to get stuff out there. We are denying future generations with so much variation and quality because we still prioritise the marketable, mainstream and familiar. Maybe there is not a short-term solution but we do need to think about making changes very soon. Music has the power to change lives and keep people alive; it can clear our minds and give us calm when we need it most. There are limitless ways it can better a human being and make us all feel safe. I am not sure what impressions you will get from LJA’s music but it definitely has a rather special effect. For me, it gives energy and some intrigue but it is also quite soothing in a way. Maybe this is not what he was going for but I do like what artists can do without knowing it. The more anxious we become as a society, the more music has the power to heal and instruct. I often need music – at the end of a hard day – to help bring me down and give a sense of compassion. I am not saying the mainstream lacks that affinity but I either look back at music I grew up on or newer artists who are not in the mainstream.

It is almost time to get to the song itself but, before studying an LJA moment, it is worth chatting about New Jersey. There is this sort of tension between New York and New Jersey and, as a Brit, I have never understood why this is. There is also a bit of teasing from America towards Canada; a bit of mocking towards Florida as a state. When we think of American music and the legends, we often gravitate towards Los Angeles and New York. You cannot deny that New York has boasted some truly wonderful artists. I think we overlook New Jersey or else reduce the state to one or two artists. The fact Bruce Springsteen has announced a new album, Western Stars, has brought my mind to New Jersey. I am not sure whether new acts like LJA are inspired by legends from the state but you can add Whitney Houston, Paul Simon and the Fugees to the list! It is an eclectic state in terms of the artists it has produced but, whilst so many from the state head to New York, it is rewarding seeing artists remain put. The state has some great venues but I do not feel we spend enough time shining a light on its artists and performances spaces. Given the fact New Jersey has spawned some true greats; do we focus too heavily on areas like New York, Nashville and Los Angeles?! Like music in this country, we cannot just think of London and ignore the rest of the country. It is a hard balance but I know there is a tonne of terrific music coming out of New Jersey at the moment. LJA is one of these promising acts that, whilst you cannot compare him to the New Jersey-born acts I have just named, he seems to be vibing from the state. It is clear there is something in the air that breeds these exciting and innovative musicians. All of this has gone into his E.P., homely, and I do feel that, very soon, he might get a lot of demand from other areas of the U.S. – maybe he will relocate and feel there are more opportunities in New York, say.

Starting off with quite a pulsating beat, ginger tea has more in common with artists like Radiohead. That might sound strange but, when listening to the opening seconds I was thinking about their Kid A period. There is a brooding aspect and heaviness that does not need strings and vocals to make it spark. You have this quite low and grumbling combination of electronics that sort of contradict images you already have. Given the title of the song, you might expect something pastoral or calming. Rather than go for the obvious, LJA gives us this quite dark and forceful sound that hums and buzzes and takes your mind in another direction. The beats and electronics conspire and flex and, as they create this rather tempting mood, the hero comes to the microphone and talks about his ginger tea. As he sips on it, it seems like alienation and a sense of place are on his mind. Nobody gets him and, whether he has faced a relationship split or is feeling down, this tea is giving him pause for thought and a slight balm. After that unexpected start, you do sort of discover this calm and sea. The electronics and beats mutate into something more soulful and sensual. They have a purr and groove that matches the vocal. As the hero talks about playing games and psyching someone out, you start to wonder what the song is about and what direction it will take. I thought, right away, there was this battle between sweethearts and a sense of tension that was hard to shake. The more you listen, the more new thoughts come to mind. Whatever the truth behind it, one is engrossed in this smooth and caramel-rich sound that crackles and swims in the blood. If the lyrics point at something more heated and tense, the composition and vocal has a definite coolness and calm. There are few words in total – the mantra of psyching someone out is the main thread – and there are so many different musical elements.

Apart from the tight beats and crackle, there are key tones and electronic strands that cross into Soul, R&B and other genres. You get this very broad cross-pollination that is rich and wondrous. The emphasis is on the sexy and sensual and it is impossible to ignore the grooviness and cool of the composition. I mentioned Radiohead but there are other artists, classic and new, that come to mind. It is a wonderful brew and one that will stay in the head for a long time. As the hero talks about sugar cubes being around his tea, these notes and beats work their magic. It is quite quaint having this contrast of the cup of green tea and this battle happening. Not a lot more is explained so you have an image of the hero drinking tea and there being this clear motive in his mind. Not sure who the villain is and whether there will be a resolution but green tea is about this brewing sense of anxiety and attack. You need to listen to the song a few times to get into its head but that is the power it holds – minimal words but so much room for interpretation and explanation. Maybe the proper truth will never be known but great songs do get you thinking and mean different things to different people. It is a fantastic song and one that sort of defines homely. You have these six tracks that all have their own skin and each one has a definite sense of intrigue and mystery. I like ginger tea because there are gaps to be filled and you never quite know what is in the mind of LJA. Perhaps I should not ask him and leave that mystery hanging in the air. Make sure you listen to the track and I am sure you will have a similar takeaway. With songs like this under his belt, I know the future will be assured and prosperous for LJA. A great artist that many people need to listen to and will take to heart very soon. I have not heard too many songs like ginger tea and glad I was given the opportunity to review it. I will be sure to keep listening to the song and I am certain, before long, more truth and revelation will come through.  

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I have, as I said, not had the chance to review all of homely because I only feature single tracks. Whilst I am not a fan of artists using all lower-case lettering for songs/albums etc. – Billie Eilish is a big offender and I think that it does look a bit strange – you cannot deny the music throughout homely. It is worth an investigation and, whilst I am ending my reviews of underground artists very soon, that is not to say I will close my ears and only listen to other stuff. I have every faith LJA will continue to record and release music for a long time and I wonder whether there are plans to tour in the U.K. or travel around the globe. There would be a market for what he is putting out there and, if he can get more of a boost from social media and push his music in the direction of radio stations here – and get more photos of himself prominently placed – then he will be onto something. New artists are in a position where they have so much competition and it is really tough getting out there and attraction people. LJA has that ammunition and firepower so, with some new additions and some direct contact with stations in the U.K., I think his music will start to fly. He does not need my advice but, as I leave an old part of my life behind, I feel it is necessary to expend some guidance. The music itself is the most important thing but that alone cannot guarantee safety and success in an industry where image, social media and visibility are as important as anything else. LJA has a bright future ahead and, whilst huge success will not be instant, the music he is making is definitely a step in the right direction. homely is an E.P. that has so many emotions and contours working away. The songs have a definite personality and sense of story that engrosses you and pulls you into their world.

I suggest you all grab a copy or go listen online and discover a really cool artist. I shall leave things now and I hope lots of new people discover this great artist. LJA might be hard to find on Google – a distinct name is also something that stands you out – but his music will keep you fascinated and definitely make an impression. I am not certain what is in the future of the New Jersey-based artist but it would be good to see him over in the U.K. I think the style of music he is playing travels world and would get a great reaction from people. That is up to him but there is a real chance to make this big impact and grow. I know there will be other songs brewing in his mind and it is only a matter of time before LJA is thinking of his next release. In a rather bustling and crowded scene, there is a distinct scent and tone to LJA that sets him apart. Maybe it is those D.I.Y. aspects or a lack of polish that means the music has this sense of reality and emotion. There are a lot of elements working away and many people are reacting to the music. I know he will be one of these acts we talk about in years to come and that is pleasing to say. Right now, I suspect there are North American dates in mind and he will want to spike as many minds in New Jersey as he can. If he does think about bringing his music to London, I know there are venues and people who will come and see him. This is my penultimate review – in one sense – so I hope you do get involved with LJA and discover a great E.P. in the form of homely. I hope I have not rambled too much and I have got to the bottom of LJA. Let’s wrap things up there and let you get about your way. Many people want an alternative to the fakery and emptiness of the biggest artists so, if that is the case, have a listen to LJA. It is music that gets under the skin and provokes a range of reactions. Have a listen to it yourself and I am sure that it will…

TAKE you somewhere wonderful.           

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Follow LJA

TRACK REVIEW: FKA twigs - Cellophane

TRACK REVIEW:

 

FKA twigs

Cellophane

 

9.6/10

 

 

The track, Cellophane, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkLjqFpBh84&t=1s

GENRE:

Avant-Pop

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

24th April, 2019

LABEL:

Young Turks Recordings Ltd

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ON this time out...

I am investigating FKA twigs’ new song and, with it, there is a lot to talk about. I wanted to discuss looking away from the mainstream and embracing something less obvious; artists who can create songs that stand you to attention and are unlike anything else; a look back at women in music and whether now is the time action is taken regarding equality; a bit about making a big return and how to do it so excitement and intrigue are created; a little about why 2019 is so ripe and productive – I will end by looking ahead at FKA twigs’ future and what it might hold. There are some, myself included, who feel that what is currently deemed popular and mainstream is not nearly as strong as the sort of stuff I grew up on. I am not being biased or subjective but, listen back a couple of decades or so, and we were treated to a much broader palette and far greater excitement. Just yesterday, I was waxing lyrical about Deee-Lite’s 1990 smash, Groove Is in the Heart, and how happy, positive and immediate that song was. It has lasted through the years and still provides that sense of rush and joy. I am not suggesting today’s music is devoid of pleasure but it seems, when you look at the top, there is not the same kind of positivity, range and quality. Maybe it is a sign of over-compression and crowding but it is getting harder and harder to detect any real scene; any sort of big surge or explosion that gets under the skin. I tend to find the biggest artists are okay and can produce some good music but they do not stay in the mind and there is not that same interest and strength I was exposed to as a youngster. I am, of course, excluding FKA twigs from this assessment because she seems to occupy her own space. It is like she can see what the mainstream needs and is preparing an assault.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Chad Kirkland

Of course, the dominance of Pop and something rather bland will never shift but I am looking away from the mainstream and finding artists who have their own skin and something more interesting to say. There is definitely something different about FKA twigs. In fact, a lot of the best music this year has been made by artists operating outside of the norm; a sort of exclusive club that does not really touch those commercial markets. I think charts, streaming services and minds should be trained to the outskirts and the artists creating something more compelling. FKA twigs released her debut album, LP1, in 2014 and there is a big anticipation regarding a new album. I want to quote from an interview FKA twigs gave to The Guardian in 2014; to show what an impression she made at the very start:

The 26-year-old is a songwriter whose provocative debut album, LP1, was relished by critics on release in August, Twigs compared to lions like Kate Bush and Prince and immediately nominated for the Mercury prize. She’s a veteran dancer who has skulked and body-rolled through a string of hypnotic videos – most self-directed, distinctive enough to land her a commission to make a recent ad for Google. Wild haired, eccentrically dressed, she is also closely watched for her fashion and grooming choices. When I join her in the back of a New York taxi, hours before a gig in the city, she’s in this mode, wardrobe-department mode, bent double over her smartphone and composing a list”.

Why all the white, I ask? Is there some secret significance? Twigs is one of those artists, a St Vincent, a Lykke Li, a Björk – sure, why not, a Prince – who fog both their music and their public identities with mystery, plenty suggested but little said, blanks left for an audience to fill in. It’s easy to start reading hidden meaning everywhere: in Twigs’s album-closing track Kicks, for instance, which might be about personal empowerment or might be about masturbation. Or in the video for last year’s single Water Me, which seized on the most arresting thing about her appearance – large, far-set eyes – and digitally distorted them as if calling the viewer out for noticing the eyes at all.

I wanted to source those passages as you get a sense of who she is and why her music does not exactly stand alongside the big Pop artists and the normal. FKA twigs, in the interview, stated how she was not in the world to appeal to those who wanted something orthodox:

“I’m appealing to people who want something different,” she says, “but the world, on the whole, doesn’t really embrace different things. Not on the whole”.

PHOTO CREDIT: REX 

Cellophane is new from FKA twigs and, as you’d suspect, there is a great deal of excitement and chatter. She has released other music since her 2014 debut but it seems like we are heading towards a new album. I will try and unpick her latest song but, right from the start, you know it is not like anything else. It is hard to describe but it takes you in different directions and has all these blends and different moods together. Some reviewers have tried to get to the bottom of the song and it is hard to do. What makes Cellophane so great is the fact that it is accessible and okay. You do not feel isolated and confused at any time: in fact, the track gets right into the heart and you’ll want to listen to it again and again. I do love what FKA twigs is doing at the moment and I think, since 2014, she has added new elements into her music. I mentioned the mainstream and how predictable it can all be. Occasionally, you get a bit of a shock but that is very rare. There is so much build and hype when you get a big artist coming along and they release this song that is not all that great. Take, for instance, Taylor Swift – someone who has produced some great music but carries around a lot of support and expectation. She has a new song, ME!, and there have been articles written about it. One such review/article studied the song and reacts to other people’s views about it:

It may be an acquired taste – critics awake to greet its midnight EST/5am BST release have compared it unfavourably to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling, from the animated film Trolls – but it works as a defiant reassertion of Swift’s positive brand”.

I think there is all of this attention and desire for artists who produce something quite ordinary. Maybe more experimental music is challenging and we all want music that is uncomplicated.  

There are those out there who refute the pull of the mainstream and find that artists like FKA twigs are making something far more interesting. Her current tracks is light years away from the ordinary and, instead, you are free to swim in its visions and inhabit this very safe is vivid world. One gets moments of intensity and shock but, for the most part, the mood is quite welcoming and the song leaves some questions. You go back in and try and approach Cellophane from different angles. The more you engross yourself in this magical thing and let it wash over you, the more you ask why music cannot be like this everywhere. I think there is a general lack of music that pushes boundaries, buttons and the imagination. Artists such as FKA twigs are quite rare and I feel like her ‘return’ is a great treat. What is it, then, about the mainstream that fosters a real lack of spark? I hate returning to this subject – and comparing music now with stuff back in the 1980s and 1990s – but it does seem like there is this quagmire and limitation. Maybe the market wants songs that are quite processed, straight and do not really take much thought. If we are to encourage music to grow and give future artists that rush of hope, we need to stop promoting and relying heavily on music that is unchallenging and quite sterile. Maybe the likes of FKA twigs are not your usual cup of tea but they are a lot deeper, interesting and nuanced than anything considered commercial and chart-bound. Maybe I am grousing too much but I think that, as I will discuss in a second, fantastic artists like FKA twigs will struggle to get the same attention and backing as the mainstream’s best. I feel that, this year especially, women have been at the top of the tree and producing music beyond anything else. Is it time, in 2019, to start taking action regarding the climate change in music?!

By that, I mean women, in an odd way, seem to represent all the nature, beauty and stability of the musical Earth and, more and more, they are being eroded, overlooked and abused by ignorance and selfishness. Think about all the festivals this year and how few women have been booked – let alone the extreme lack of women headlining! This is a subject that I return to again and again – and will do later this weekend – but this year has been about female-made music. Look at all the biggest albums and, for the most part, they have been made by women. Aside from some treats from the men, the biggest, most striking and memorable music has been created by women. Maybe last year was a bit more balanced in terms of the best albums (gender-wise) but this year is another affair altogether! I am not sure what has caused this shift but it seems like women in music know they are being overlooked and not given the same opportunities as men. As such, the very best and brightest have struck and it seems like the industry needs to respond in kind. FKA twigs is yet another female in music who is going beyond the expected and doing something fantastic. I do hope that she’ll get festival headline bookings next year. There are other artists – countless, in fact – who could take to the biggest stages and produce a really wonderful headline set. It annoys me that, if music is a meritocracy, women are being shunned needlessly. That is what music should be at the least: the rewards go to those who deliver the best music. I know FKA twigs will, when another album is out, get big bookings but it seems that pledges made by the bosses and festival organisers are happening too late. The past few months has seen this incredible wave of music made by incredible women. One might argue that, in terms of festival bookings, it is impossible to do anything about it this year. Can one realistically see equality happening in 2020?

The irony with 2020 is the fact that organisers will be very short-sighted and ignore all the greatness arriving this year. Look at albums from the likes of Lizzo and Julia Jacklin and I wonder whether we will see more women headlining festivals in 2020. I think that FKA twigs represents the innovation and boldness that we are not necessarily getting from men. Not to stereotype but I feel women are more interesting in interviews and have a lot more passion regarding change and big issues in society. There are bands and male artists that tackle the big subjects but, to me, women are bolder and go a lot deeper. The music is stronger and I do feel like, for some reason, they get ignored and put aside. I do wonder what is holding back progress and whether it will ever truly happen. Maybe I am getting off the track here and further away from FKA twigs but her music is in my mind right now and I would like to see it respected. There is so much love for her out there and I do hope that there are festival bookings and respect coming her way. In any case, music has a big problem and there seems to be no immediate resolution in sight. I listen to a song like Cellophane and salivate regarding the possible future. There are no firm announcements regarding an FKA twigs album but one feels that, if she puts out more songs like this, it will be another year-defining album. Here is an artist that, in 2014, created shockwaves and announced herself as an original. Naturally, people were quick to compare her to other artists – Kate Bush was one name kicked about – but that would be unfair. FKA twigs is this otherworldly and unique talent that deserves a lot of love and respect. I shall move on to the song in a second but will briefly squeeze in some thoughts regarding big returns and the publicity they court.

FKA twigs has, as I said, being putting out music since her 2014 debut but we have not heard too much lately. She has been busy working and living her life but it seems like she is back in a productive groove. This year has been extraordinary for music and we have seen so much quality come through. I think, against the backdrop of political tension and division, artists are upping their game and music, in some ways, is an escape. There is more competition now than last year so the effort and sense of experimentation is greater. 2019 has been a great year and I think we can owe that to a need (artists have) to create something wonderful and enriching. Maybe the mainstream falls outside of this praise but there are so many artists who are getting us excited. One of the biggest impressions made this year happened only last week. Madonna put out a new track, Medellin, and it is her first song in quite a while. Her album, Madame X, comes out in June and there is so much expectation and hype around it. Madonna has always received this sort of acclaim and backing but it seems like the sense of tease has been going on forever. There have been endless Twitter and Instagram posts; a lot of cryptic posts and this sense that her music is theatre and something world-changing. I am a big fan of her but she knows how to drag stuff out and generate this big sense of anticipation. Conversely, FKA twigs is making a bit of a return and has done so in a more routine and civilised manner. The single is out there and, rather than provide all these clues and posts regarding possible album material, she is focusing on Cellophane and what it can do. I love the fact that she can remain composed and focused despite the fact her music is getting people very excited. It is wonderful that we have FKA twigs in the world and I do think that this year will be a big one for her. I should talk about the star of the moment: the exceptional and divine Cellophane. It is a song that, once heard, will not be forgotten in a hurry!

Even though the song gets hotter and heavier, the start of Cellophane is delicate and stirring. The heroine talks about a sense of regret and lack of satisfaction. It seems the hero is not doing it for her and there is an imbalance happening. Maybe there is a problem in a relationship and it is a hard one to reconcile. Those who know FKA twigs’ work will state how unpredictable it can be so, in these early stages, I was not assuming this would be a straight-out ballad. Instead, we have a song that sets the scene and casts the heroine in a very soft light. There are troubles in her heart but I have not heard FKA twigs quite as composed and tender as this. She sort of beckons you in and asks these questions. I think about the song’s title, Cellophane, and it reminds me of something Joni Mitchell said around the time of Blue (1971). She compared herself to wrapping on a cigarette packet. In a sense, she was exposed and vulnerable and this image definitely seemed apt and striking. I was thinking this when listening to FKA twigs’ new song and how open she sounds. Maybe she did draw inspiration from Mitchell but, in any case, there is ample emotion in the first minute or so. With some woozy electronics and piano giving the song a sense of imbalance and stumble, FKA twigs lays her heart out there. She does not want to share her love and she gets overwhelmed. Without being cynical, we have a song that is as emotive and sensitive as anything she has ever produced. The music starts to swell in the background as the heroine talks about getting wrapped up in the feelings she has. Breathy, stuttering and gorgeous, this is one of the more composed tracks from FKA twigs. I have talked about how she adds darkness, energy and the unexpected alongside something more restrained.

Whereas her earlier work has sported some bigger beats and greater rush, a lot of the twists and heavier elements are suggested and more demure. I have spoken about the originality of the song and how artists like FKA twigs is unlike anyone around. Some might say that Cellophane is, by her standards, quite conventional and can be matched by anyone else out there. I would refute this and, as I listen more and more, there is a sense of unease and hidden malice that lingers in the background. The way her breaking and emotive performance sits with the composition amazes me. One detects a feeling or staggering and emotional confusion through the composition. You get a sense our heroine is looking for answers. I also wondered whether, coming away from the song, there was this feeling of togetherness or loss. It is clear there are outside forces who want to cast aspersions and separate the sweethearts but one feels a real longing and outpouring from FKA twigs. One of the boldest and most remarkable aspects of Cellophane is that it has a level head. Some might have been expecting a wild, wired and strange song with tribal beats, jagged electronics and distorted voices. Instead, here is something gentler. It is the lack of attack and the expected that makes Cellophane so compelling. FKA twigs has shown that she can step in different directions and is impossible to predict. I have not heard anything like Cellophane and it is kind of hard to put into words. Maybe I am hearing too much or letting my imagination get the better of me but it is almost like an illusion. On the surface, the song seems to be about desire and a sense of loss but, the closer you look, there are elements lingering beneath the surface. A sense of uneasiness and impending breakdown awaits; a feeling that there is more than meets the eye.

I keep coming back to that feeling that Joni Mitchell’s cigarette packet image is in the mind of FKA twigs. This makes me curious whether we might see something more Mitchell-like on the next album. Lead singles can be a bit of a red herring so, if there are more songs coming, they might take us back in more expected FKA twigs territory. I started the review by saying that Cellophane gets hotter as time goes on and, by that, there is implication and suggestion. FKA twigs has been more explicit and bold regarding the strange in other songs but, here, her performance is stunning and pure. I sense all of her older elements and sounds compacted into this sort of eerie and quiet space in the background. Maybe I am looking too closely but that is the wonder of FKA twigs. You never truly know what she will bring us and Cellophane is a classic example! I hope there is more coming from her and who knows what future songs will sound like. Maybe she will give us more LP1-sounding songs or we might be seeing a new direction from her. Away from all the routine and lack of wonder from the mainstream, artists like FKA twigs provide an alternative. I love what she did back in 2014 but I can tell she has evolved and broadened her sound. I am excited to see what comes next and where she might head. Cellophane has received great applause and positivity. It is a wonderful song and one that will stay in your head a long time after you hear it. If Madonna’s return to music has been met with a lot of circus and explosion, FKA twigs’ venture is much more composed and quiet. Maybe it is the start of a big explosion but I feel like there is something brewing. 2019 has been a great year for music and, with FKA twigs bringing us this magnificent song, it seems like there is no end in sight.

FKA twigs has sprinkled some E.P.s and singles since 2014 but I do feel that we are going to hear a new album pretty soon. Some might say her rate of productivity is quite low but when you listen to the music then you realise where the time is going. So many artists rush stuff and there is that pressure to get music out all of the time. That can lead to something rather flat and ordinary and, when there is less burden, artists are free to fly and expand. I know that there are plans in the FKA twigs camp and it will all be hotting up very soon. NME have reported news that FKA twigs is planning some tour dates:

FKA Twigs has announced a comeback show in London next month as part of a series of gigs which will take place in various cities across the world.
Twigs now plans to return to touring, with shows in London, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Berlin and Hobart all being announced today (April 25). In her native UK, Twigs will perform a one-off show at London’s Alexandra Palace Theatre on May 28
”.

I am not sure whether an album will arrive before she starts her gigs but it does appear that she is getting ready to take the next step. If you have not heard Cellophane then make sure you get on it and let it take you away! It is a wonderful song that envelops you but it never attacks. It is so busy and full but there is space to be found. All of these elements remain in the brain and you come away from listening feeling better. That might sound strange but truly great songs have that ability. Let’s hope that there is much of this gold around the corner. I have been a fan of FKA twigs since the start and she has grown as an artist. Her music was always captivating but it has grown even stronger since the start. 2019 is very much a year defined by women so it is no surprise that FKA twigs’ latest track should cause ripples. This all brings me back to my argument and problem regarding festivals and general inequality. I do think it is time to take action and ask some very big questions. If we allow this imbalance to happen then it will create problems in the future. Women in music are leading a charge and it would be foolish to deny them. I shall leave my anger aside (for now) and suggest that everyone embraces new genius…

FROM the beguiling FKA twigs.                 

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Follow FKA twigs

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

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Loyle Carner (ft. Jorja Smith)

PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Holyoak 

Loose Ends

 

9.6/10

 

 

The track, Loose Ends, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cunh5tei4Dg

GENRE:

Hip-Hop

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

https://open.spotify.com/album/1kokRXXxrJzhxdMo0vsVDV?si=qX_8Uw2dQjKOCbihfHHY4Q

RELEASE DATE:

19th April, 2019

LABEL:

AMF Records

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I am doing things differently this weekend...

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

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

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

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

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

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

yyt.jpg

 PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Coulson

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

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

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

 IN THIS PHOTO: Jorja Smith

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Bella Howard

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Holyoak 

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOUR full focus.         

___________

Follow Loyle Carner

TRACK REVIEW: Madonna (ft. Maluma) - Medellin

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Madonna (ft. Maluma)

xc.jpg

Medellin

 

9.5/10

 

The track, Medellin, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8PtBzdiZ3g

GENRES:

Latin/Pop

RELEASE DATE:

17th April, 2019

LABELS:

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

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

https://madonna.lnk.to/MadameX

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EVEN though I have been...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new light.

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Follow Madonna

TRACK REVIEW: Andy Jordan - Gin & Jazz

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Andy Jordan

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Gin & Jazz

 

9.2/10

 

 

The track, Gin & Jazz, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7JcOAFjXYE

GENRES:

Jazz/Soul/R&B

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

15th March, 2019

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I will start my explaining some changes that...

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @jacklaexanderuk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jacklaexanderuk

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jacklaexanderuk

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

VERY much his.                                                                                           

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Follow Andy Jordan

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

TRACK REVIEW:

 

PJ Harvey (ft. Gillian Anderson)

IN THIS PHOTO: PJ Harvey/PHOTO CREDIT: Seamus Murphy 

The Sandman

 

9.6/10

 

 

The track, Sandman, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iD-nSQXlhyo

GENRES:

Experimental/Ambient/Other

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

https://open.spotify.com/album/7tEAYxNmHCO75FI4CHDsTy?si=8g3EUouhQ1ysl13NWwmfpA

RELEASE DATE:

12th April, 2019

LABELS:

Invada Records/Lakeshore Records

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I like my Saturday slot...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

 IMAGE CREDIT: tomhermans

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Seamus Murphy

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

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

 IMAGE CREDIT: Mai Blanco

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rex

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Weller for British Vogue

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Cummins/Getty Images

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

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

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

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

FROM her peers.                                                                                       

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Follow PJ Harvey

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

TRACK REVIEW:

 

HANNIE (ft. Carys Selvey)

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 5 Years

 

9.2/10

 

The track, 5 Years, is available via:

https://open.spotify.com/track/4U8nAj5OixDfBvYGg2tpqW?si=Cwg1Af4fR6-7Ik-oFv2syw

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

GENRE:

Pop

RELEASE DATE:

8th March, 2019

__________

THIS time out...

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Arielle Shear

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

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

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

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

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Arielle Shear

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

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

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

HANNIE are producing right now.                                                     

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Follow HANNIE

TRACK REVIEW: Sam Fender - Hypersonic Missiles

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Sam Fender

PHOTO CREDIT: Sophie Mayanne for CLASH

Hypersonic Missiles

 

9.5/10

 

The track, Hypersonic Missiles, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPsodKRs2SI

ORIGIN:

Newcastle, U.K.

GENRE:

Alternative-Rock

RELEASE DATE:

5th March, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: MTV UK

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: PHOENIX Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEELY guidance.

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Follow Sam Fender

TRACK REVIEW: Death of the Maiden - His House

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Death of the Maiden

His House

 

9.3/10

 

 

The track, His House, is available via:

https://deathofthemaiden.bandcamp.com/track/his-house

ORIGIN:

Oxford, U.K.

GENRES:

Post-Punk/Baroque-Pop

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

https://open.spotify.com/album/4PVYrJPwDGvCP59LMZcYcp?si=wSRHHsbTR9mbI4PfhBttrg

RELEASE DATE:

29th March, 2019

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

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ON this outing...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A force to be reckoned with.

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Follow Death of the Maiden

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

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Billie Eilish

all the good girls go to hell

 

9.6/10

 

 

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdUoWklL2FI

ORIGIN:

Los Angeles, U.S.A.

GENRES:

Pop/Indie

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

https://open.spotify.com/album/0S0KGZnfBGSIssfF54WSJh?si=Uo4MA6TkRty1n_Qu-acbVw

RELEASE DATE:

29th March, 2019

LABELS:

Darkroom/Interscope

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YOU can hardly flick a magazine page...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Cameron Postforoosh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: POPSUGAR

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

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

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Rachael Wright for NME

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Regan

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

 IN THIS PHOTO: Rachael Wright for NME

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

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

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

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

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A lot more from her.

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Follow Billie Eilish

Official:

https://www.billieeilish.com/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/billieeilish

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/billieeilish/

Spotify:

https://open.spotify.com/artist/6qqNVTkY8uBg9cP3Jd7DAH?si=KYG31wRHQgeV43YpouMyHg

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/wherearetheavocados/

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiGm_E4ZwYSHV3bcW1pnSeQ

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise):

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

TRACK REVIEW: Nadia Sheikh - Toxic

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Nadia Sheikh

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PHOTO CREDIT: Javier Nomdedeu Lopez 

Toxic

 

9.3/10

 

The track, Toxic, is available via:

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

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

GENRES:

Indie-Rock/Pop

RELEASE DATE:

25th January, 2019

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jon Mo

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Alan Wells

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

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

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Will Ireland Photography

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jon Mo

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

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