TRACK REVIEW: Charli XCX - Official



Charli XCX






The track, Official, is available via:




London, U.K.

The album, Charli, is available here:


13th September, 2019


Asylum Records UK. A Warner Music Group Company


THIS is a bit of a first…

where I am reviewing an artist in the context of the modern Pop scene/standard, rather than on its own merit. What I mean is, Pop has shifted over the years and I often dismiss the scene as being vastly inferior. Of course, one does not have to like music because it is popular or trending but I think, in the case of Charli XCX, I have re-evaluated my thoughts and opinions on Pop. Whilst it might not be as fun and catchy as once it was, there is a lot to be said for modern Pop and the effect it has; the way it has evolved through the years. I have selected a track from the album, Charli, to review but, before I get there, I wanted to nod to a few different things. I want to discuss the modern crop and how Charli XCX is distinct from the rest; the state of modern Pop and whether its changes will last and whether we will see a return to the more open and organic sound of years back; whether music and Pop has become more introspective and sadder; collaborations on an album and how, if judged right, they can be highly effective – I will end by asking whether Charli XCX is the future of British Pop and what she has in store. As I said earlier, I might not necessarily have chosen Charli XCX to review in the past but, as she is a big star and is part of the modern Pop scene, it is important I investigate her music and how the Pop scene in general has changed. Before I move on to other subjects, it is worth looking at whether a lot in the mainstream have lost a bit of boldness and provocativeness. I do think there are some boundary-pushing and brasher artists right now. Maybe ‘brash’ is the wrong word: ‘relatable’ and ‘real’ might be a better assessment. I do think Pop music has got cleaner and lost a bit of its edge.

Away from the mainstream, there are more real and down-to-earth artists but, more and more, it I think artists are getting harder to relate to. I think Charli XCX is a lot more grounded and real than a lot of her peers. There are many different sides to her. Look at her promotional photos and some of her videos and it is clear she is fearless. I think Pop was criticised years ago because it was too sexual and setting a bad example but, rather than reach a compromise, a lot of modern Pop is very sterile and clean; many artists holding back. Whilst Charli XCX is not as provocative as, say, Christina Aguilera was back in the day, it is good to see an artist who has that confidence and is unafraid to embrace her sexuality. I do think Pop artists get judged if they show too much skin but, as we know, there is a line. I think a lot of artists have, in the past, pushed boundaries to stir controversy and it has been unclear what they are trying to achieve. Charli XCX is someone who peaks to young women and is acting as a role model. There are some who might say her album cover and videos are explicit but, in fact, it is art. I do think Pop has become a little safe and repressed over the past few years and, whilst there are leaders like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande, I do think there is something missing. Charli XCX has a definite spark and she speaks her mind. She is someone who has suffered from doubts and fears and, one feels, is trying to find answers and truth through her music. In essence, Charli XCX seems like a normal woman that we can relate to and understand; so much of today’s Pop is defined by these huge artists who are weighed by celebrity and marketing. Charli XCX has to play the game to an extent but there is something refreshing about her that resonates. One can imagine Charli XCX taking you down the pub or letting her hair down at the weekend. I think one of the reasons Pop has been criticised is because it has turned a little similar and there are few artists who stand out. I think there is something very modern about Charli XCX but she also reminds me of artists of the past such as Aguilera and Britney Spears. Whilst the sound is very different, Charli XCX has a pleasing edge and that balance of accessibility and stardom.

I am going to review Charli XCX very soon but, as I sort of hinted at earlier, maybe we often compare music of today with the past and assume that, because it does not make us feel the same way and does not have the same impact, then it should be written off. It is tempting to say modern Pop lacks any hooks and longevity but I do think the scene has changed and we need to listen closely. Sure, there are artists who copy one another and it can be samey; there are others who have their own style and are doing something different. I was reading this article from earlier in the year that addressed modern Pop and whether it stands up against the quality of the past:

But looking back to all those years ago, none of it seems nearly as bad as what is out today. Pop and rap too are genres which can be full of passion and life, and even back in the early 2000s it was true for many artistes, for even those who wrote about the typical sex, party themes had a flair for adding a lot of life in their work. But today, while rock and metal too are guilty of becoming parodies of themselves in the mainstream, this statement holds particularly for pop and hip hop as they have ended up becoming the most canned and lifeless genres of music.

Music today is no longer an art form, it is a business where every artiste’s work has been labelled, processed, commoditized and then put up for sale. While music and business have always interacted, treating them as inseparable entities has resulted in a massive drop in the quality of our taste as people no longer have the patience to listen to a song which is not more than three minutes and does not follow the verse-chorus-verse-chorus formula. It can be safely concluded that today’s popular music has really led to numbing of brain cells”.

PHOTO CREDIT: Logan White 

There is a case to make that there is a lot of marketing and packing when it comes to Pop. Studies have shown that Pop has gotten sadder, but is calling it ‘worse’ a subjective measure? I think artists like Charli XCX are adapting to the changing face of music. I do think, in general, music has become a little more introspective and personal; there is a move towards something a little sadder and, sure, it is very different to the music of the past. It would be unfair to say Pop is the only genre that is becoming a little more familiar and restricted. On the surface, one might think Pop is in danger of becoming too processed and generic but I think there are artists out there who are pulling it forward. I think Charli XCX is a really interesting artist and, whilst she might not please everyone, there is evidence to suggest she might ensure for years to come. Pop is so varied now that we have experimental artists like Billie Eilish who can sit alongside commercial acts like Taylor Swift and someone like Charli XCX – who, in my view, sits in her own category. I think one of the dangers when it comes to Pop is that the Americans are dominating. Charli XCX was born in Cambridge and she is based in London now. Maybe that has always been the way but it is a shame to see British Pop artists getting the same acclaim as the Americans. In terms of the artists who will be cracking the charts, it is very much American-led and it is nice to see someone like Charli XCX mixing it with the best. Not only is it good to see a British artist getting such acclaim but Charli XCX has always impressed. I am a little cold when it comes to the likes of Taylor Swift because I think the music is very much aimed at a tight demographic; a style of Pop that takes few risks and sort becomes too familiar. I know Swift is very popular but one would like to see more personality and punch.  

On 2013’s True Romance and 2014’s Sucker, Charli XCX gained some positive reviews because people noted how she put in personality and quirk. There is this Pop-Punk attitude and a lot at work; some goofiness and humour together with rebelliousness and odd touches. Her debut album is very catchy and she showed, even then, a strong eye for female characters and individual lyrics. There might have been this temptation to become more commercial and ‘American’ on her sophomore album but, instead, Charli XCX kept true to herself. I have already mentioned how Charli XCX is very real; she comes across as very natural and engaging in interviews. This seeps into her music and you get a much more rounded and nuanced brand of Pop. One can find some Pop-Punk and sneer alongside accessible Pop and a bit of swagger. For those who dismiss modern Pop as being too sad, processed and slow need to give Charli XCX a bit more time and consideration. She co-writes her tracks so they are not being led by committee and she is able to make the songs personal. Maybe some of the lyrics are hard to relate to if you are not part of Charli XCX’s target audience; there are some tracks that boast about her wealth and fame but, at all times, tongue is very firmly in the cheek. Here is an artist who breaks from the routine and familiar and injects her songs with plenty of memorable lines. Charli has picked up some great reviews and, if anything, this is her finest work. Charli is an album that bulks against Pop convention; she is not bound by strict structure and, when you listen to the album, there is plenty of passion, dazzle and emotional openness. Many might be reserved and hesitant but I would say one cannot label Charli XCX and think she sounds the same as the more commercial and anodyne Pop artists out there. One of the reasons why Charli is getting such good press is the artists she has collaborated with. Charli XCX has used collaborators before but, on Charli, I think the selections are spot-on. HAIM, Christine and the Queens and Lizzo make an appearance and its helps give Charli new dimensions and layers.

There are a couple of articles I want to bring in that talk about the collaborations and how Charli XCX brings the best out of those on the album. The Guardian talked about this in a feature from a couple of days back:

While XCX paints herself as intimacy-phobic, the way she brings out the best in her collaborators tells a different story. Her chemistry with Troye Sivan makes the asinine throwback 1999 irresistible (although the Michael Jackson reference is unfortunate), and she gives fellow embattled pop star Sky Ferreira a taste of freedom on the gothic, lurching Cross You Out. But it’s on the metallic battering ram of Gone that XCX finds her match in Christine and the Queens: the fantastic vocal interplay between XCX’s cynicism and Chris’s roguishness forging not only a protective allegiance against an indifferent industry, but the ingenuity that will reshape it in her image”.

Some criticise artists who bring too many others into their albums because it sort of clutters the sound and can seem like they are piggy-backing on their popularity and doing it to seem cool or popular. It is true that a lot of songs are packed with bodies and a lot of collaborations seem pointless and forgettable. When it comes to someone like Charli XCX, she carefully chooses who she works with and she knows those artists will help give the songs the touch and wonder only they can bring – which is what the point of a collaboration is. Rather than bring in a lot of the more commercial and plastic Pop artists, we have artists who are a lot cooler, varied and appealing; Charli is an album that definitely benefits from a heroine who knows her music and is trying to create the best music possible…rather than get the Spotify streams up or make things are radio-friendly as she can. Glamour wrote about Charli XCX’s collaborations and why she chooses the artists she does:

One thing she might be striving for is collaboration. After all, what's a party without friends, and Charli has plenty of them. Her last two projects, the 2017 mixtapes Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, contain more featured tracks than solo ones. Who she works with runs the gamut (the new album alone includes songs with LizzoHaim, and pop newcomer Kim Petras, among others).


Her choice in collaborators is purely instinctual: She picks artists she likes. "I don't listen to a lot of other music aside from people that I work with or my own, which probably sounds really narcissistic and crazy. But I work with people because I think they're the best," she says. "I love being a curator. I just think it's fun because I know I'm smart enough to do it."

There is one commonality in her collaborators: Almost all of them either have devoted queer fans or identify as LGBTQ+. Since she's an artist who makes bombastic dance-pop, it's no surprise that Charli herself has a large gay following. But like everything else she does, her decision to team up with queer artists is organic. "Everyone has better taste in the queer community, anyway," Charli says, laughing. "It's not conscious. I'm not, like, 'Where are the queer artists? I want to work with them!' But I think I do naturally gravitate toward the queer community”.

I will end this section by bringing in articles that argue whether Charli XCX is the future of Pop. A lot of people are keen to deride all Pop and do not consider the fact there are artists like Charli XCX who are a lot more wide-ranging and appealing than you’d imagine. I do not think she has a narrow fanbase and anyone can enjoy her music. She might not be able to reach the giddy heights of the best from the 1980s and 1990s but she is someone who can write memorable tracks and she is progressive. Pop is changing right now and I do think we will see the more machine-like and commercial artists make way for the new breed: those who are much more daring, exciting and deep.

In this first feature, the writer is rather sharp and short when it comes to her music; whether her being talked about as futuristic is a good thing or alludes to something robotic and lacking in warmth:

When people talk about Charli as futuristic, though, they’re not talking about her workaday writing. They’re talking about her brand in relation to the marketplace: like Madonna if she’d never left CGBG, or like someone playing Pitchfork Fest but also Good Morning America. They’re also talking about her production choices. Her new album, Charli, builds on the style of her 2017 mixtapes Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, which took all the buzz about her as a visionary and converted it into an explicitly “futuristic” aesthetic—chipperly artificial, digital, distorted. The related visuals have her plastic-wrapped, or gel-coated. Often it sounds like she’s trapped in glitching Bluetooth frequency, or that she thinks the next great single will be in the form of an iPhone notification sound”.

I do think Charli XCX is one of those artists who steps away from getting lost in the machine and having the same production sound as everyone else. Her music has a lot more heart and freedom to roam; she is an artist who mixes in other genres and cannot be easily compared. I want to bring in one final feature, where Charli XCX discussed her collaborations on Charli. It is also clear that, whilst Charli XCX is a big star, she is someone who blends into the crowd and is lacks the sort of hoopla and circus that follows the biggest mainstream artists around:

Looking at the feature-stuffed Charli tracklist, you might wonder how personal she actually gets, but the singer has always used collaborations to expand her own creativity and reveal more of herself. That precedent did not, however, prevent her from receiving significant pushback from her label when announcing her plan to work with so many other artists on the album—comments she ultimately brushed off. “All of the collaborators that I work with are opening me up to so many different sounds and styles,” she says with a hint of defensiveness, implying a difference between her thoughtful, highly curated pairings and the mix-and-match, label-mandated features flooding the airwaves at any given moment. “A concoction of all that makes a more unique sound.”

Walking out of the spa, scores of pedestrians pass us, but not one of them gives Charli a second look. How is no one rushing up to her requesting a selfie? Why isn’t some 19-year-old stretching out of the passenger seat of a car singing “Vroom Vroom” at her? Well, we’re still in Midtown Manhattan, a neighborhood whose identity is defined by overpriced salads and men whose biggest problems involve locating shirts designed to be worn untucked.

As we stand in this cultural wasteland, sharing a moment of awkward silence before deciding to part ways, I’m reminded of something Charli admitted during lunch. “Sometimes I don’t understand why I’m not bigger than I am,” she said, breaking eye contact and looking at the empty space to my right. But like most of Charli’s downs, it was quickly followed by an up. “I feel very comfortable in my section of pop,” she continued. “I’m beginning to feel like the people who know, know. And the people who don’t? They wouldn’t get it anyway”.

I wanted to choose a song for review that has not been released as a single because it is fresh and other people have not poured over it extensively. Official is a song that does not rely on loads of layers and rampant, hollow energy to get it into the mind. Instead, there is a consistent sound – I am not sure whether it is a piano or a similar instrument – that gives the track an interesting hook. I am not sure why that particular sound was chosen but it works really well and gives the song a jittery energy and quirk. Charli XCX’s lyrics have always been highlighted, and I think she has reached new heights on her third album. Official talks about a lover who is a bit O.C.D. and they could be bad for her; Charli XCX gets fearful and hard on herself but her sweetheart knows the face she makes before the tears roll down – they seem to know what to say or how to make her feel better. Whilst her lover might is hard to read and they might have their downsides, they know the things that make her smile. There is a charm in Official that any can relate to. Too many songs talk about relationships as being either too idealised or fatalistic: Charli XCX, here, knows that everything is not rosy but that is to be expected. It is the thoughtful touches and the fact this person knows her better than anyone else that makes the relationship official. Maybe others have come and not respected her. Perhaps they have taken her for granted and used her but, in this case, there is genuine compassion and understanding. This sort of patience and commitment is represented with a vocal that has plenty of heart and grace. There is a little touch of machinery that treats the vocal but I think this is more for effect rather than a suggestion Charli XCX’s voice needs it.

The electronic touch gives the song an emotion that might have been lacking if the vocal was untreated or left alone. There is a nice lift and glisten in the chorus that strikes the eye and I like the fact that Charli XCX talks about the first date as lacking romance and big gestures – no flowers or chocolates. Rather than these social lubricants and, perhaps, cliché gestures, it was the feeling and passion that was put into the goodnight kiss that made her aware that this was real. That is a nice angle on romance and love. Other songwriters might get hung up on the lack of gifts and romance but, even though her lover is not perfect, the emotions and feelings are real. The pace shifts and Charli XCX punctuates the second verse; making sure every word is heard and makes their mark. The verse concerns the positions their bodies make at 4 .a.m. and there is a question as to whether it is purely sexual or there is something deeper. The line “The things that we break when we’re switchin' positions” might suggest lovers being caught in the heat of the moment but I think it is more about connection and synchronicity than it is pure lust and sex. The heroine says things that her lover does not hear; they say things when she makes bad decisions and it seems like there is compromise and respect from both sides. Sure, there are bad days and things are not picture-perfect but it is the little things that make the relationship stand tall and strong. The song is just over three minutes in length and it means it does not overstay its welcome and actually makes you come back for more. The lyrics are deeply personal but everyone will be able to relate to them. Official is one of the strongest tracks from Charli and a song that has the potential to pull in people who are a bit dismissive of modern Pop.

Charli XCX is headed to America and there are some big dates for her there. It is good to see that a British artist is turning heads in the U.S. and has a fanbase there. I do think a lot of the so-called ‘best’ Pop albums from this year are not as fine as Charli. I think a lot of critics get caught in this feeling that, because the artist is huge and popular, they need to hand out these hugely positive reviews – even if the music does not stand up to the test of time and is pretty ordinary. I shall not name names but there are some big artists out there being applauded for producing music that does not stay in the mind and lacks anything to keep you coming back. It must be frustrating for Charli XCX knowing many of her peers are getting more acclaim and attention, given the fact she is a lot more grounded and talented. Maybe it is the fact she is British and she might get more exposure if she was based in the U.S. Touring and big gigs help raise her profile and the positivity Charli has received will push her name through the ranks. I do think there is a mixed blessing to becoming well-known and popular. She does not need or want the sort of fame that can cause a lot of stress and see your private life invaded. I think Charli XCX is talking more about credibility and getting the same sort of love the likes of Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift do. I have used those two artists of an example of Pop music that, to me, sounds too formulaic and over-hyped. Maybe it is the fact Charli XCX is more credible and real means she will struggle to get the same appreciation as the biggest artists – this should not worry her. I am not completely sold on the notion that all Pop music is bad but, at the same time, I think we are a long way from the glorious sound that we enjoyed as recently as ten-fifteen years ago. I shall end things here but, if you have not dived into Charli XCX’s music before, I would recommend you…

GIVE it a spin.


Follow Charli XCX

TRACK REVIEW: Kim Gordon - Air BnB



Kim Gordon

PHOTO CREDIT: Natalia Mantini

Air BnB





The track, Air BnB, is available via:




Los Angeles, U.S.A.


11th September, 2019


Matador Records

The album, No Home Record, will be released on 11th October. Pre-order here:


OVER the years…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Natalia Mantini

I have reviewed some pretty cool and awesome musicians – few have been as cool and iconic as Kim Gordon! I will come to address her latest track very soon but, before getting to that, I want to mention a few things around her. For a start, I want to discuss modern music videos and how Gordon’s effort for Air BnB is brilliantly understated and perfect. I also want to discuss artists like Gordon who can have a long career but keep evolving their sound and change things up; the perception we have of legends and the impression we have of Gordon; why artists like Gordon are so compelling and the continuing brilliance of 2019 – a little about where Gordon might head from here. To start things, I wanted to tackle music videos. Through the decades, they have always been a bit flashy and showy. Maybe that isn’t the case for smaller artists but, when you look at the mainstream and Pop artists especially, one is greeted with lots of different angles, cuts and lights. It is meant to give the song an energy and sense of excitement – a lot of times that makes up for the fact the song itself is quite generic and boring. There have been some magnificent videos through the ages but, more and more, artists are not really pushing themselves in terms of concept and ambition. I love discussing music videos because it is something I am pretty keen on. I know I have covered this area a few times but, when faced with Gordon’s new track, it brings the subject back to mind. In this very modern and Instagram age, more and more, artists are putting filters on things and releasing these rather empty videos. We see these videos will millions of views and you wonder whether that has anything to do with quality – are people just watching it so many times because of the artist involved? It is a bad sad when videos are watched because they are attached to a huge artist; it has nothing to do with how great the actual video is.



Kim Gordon has been releasing music for decades and is not someone, one imagines, who has a lot of time for the shallowness and pointlessness of these big, flashy videos. For Air BnB, things were done a little different. NME explains more here:

 ‘What do you need to make a video that really stays with people in the Instagram age? Expensive lighting? A jaw-dropping location (perhaps a scenic vista or a grimy, fear-inducing cavern)? A bunch of attention-grabbing guest stars and protagonists, and a treasure chest full of sparkling designer bling?

Absolutely none of it. In a time when we’re constantly being reminded that there’s no money in music, unlike the good old days, Kim Gordon is here to prove you don’t need to spend bucketloads of cash to make something funny, smart and engaging to accompany your songs. Her video for ‘Air BnB’ is all three of those things, hooking you early on and making you wonder what’s going to happen next, all without using any images at all.

“This video was going to be shot in an Air Bnb,” it begins, white typeface glaring out from a black void as it explains the pretty obvious starting treatment for a song with its title. “There wasn’t any money though to make it.” While the idea of someone as legendary as Gordon, a former member of Sonic Youth and noise rock hero, not having the budget to go all out – or even halfway there – on a four-minute music video is sad, it has gifted us this, a prime contender for one of the videos of the year”.

What we have is this brilliant video that captures you because of its simplicity, humour and originality. I think a lot of big artists could learn a lot from Kim Gordon and how she has approached her latest video. It is a video I keep coming back to time and time again because it is so engrossing and original. I have nothing against artists who want to release these expensive and big videos but, at a time when we are exposed to endless videos, photos and information, few of these actually stand out.

Kim Gordon, for many of us, will always be known as the bassist and vocalist for Sonic Youth. Albums like Goo and Dirty are classics from the 1990s and were part of my childhood. I have seen so many classic bands reform but, rather than go back to Sonic Youth and try to recapture some of the spirit from the 1980s and 1990s, Gordon is moving forward and embracing her own direction. I think many would like to see Sonic Youth get back together but that seems like a stretch at the moment. Maybe bands like Pixies can capture some of the spirit they had back at the start but I think it would be a little strange if Sonic Youth kept recording. The effect and sound would not be as we remember and, with such a great catalogue under their belts, we can cherish what we have without their memory being tarnished. Gordon has picked up a lot from the band and was responsible for some of the most memorable songs of the 1980s and 1990s. As a solo artist, she has not copied what she did with Sonic Youth and merely done a sole version of this. Naming no names but, when you get someone who goes from a band to solo work, they often do not change things up and try to replicate what they did before. Kim Gordon experiments and weaves so many different sounds together. I think the legends are where they are because they understand what the public want in terms of music but add something special. By that, I mean they can capture some form of universal spirit but there is this U.S.P. and special edge that puts them ahead of the pack. When it comes to Gordon, she is an artist who is a literal artist. She is a visual artist and actor and, because of that, I think her music is afforded a lot more flair, physicality and imagination. A lot of other musicians are involved in other areas of the arts but Gordon has always had an attachment to art.

 PHOTO CREDIT: David Black

Not only is she defying convention with her music videos but her music is so interesting and fresh. No Home Record is out next month and it is an album that you will want to get involved with! Without losing focus and quality, Gordon switches between sounds and throws so much into the mix. In many ways, she is acting as a visual artist and painter with her music; mixing colours, hues and visuals together to come up with something that is truly moving and exciting. This is a reason why Gordon has remained so popular and fascinating: her music cannot be defined and easily predicted. Here, in this feature with The Times , that point about diversity and originality is enforced:

Music is, then, just part of the equation. But, as No Home Record shows so compellingly, it remains a hugely important part of Gordon’s armoury. Sonically, the album veers from Slits-like dub to raucous dissonance, one minute becalmed with a brass ensemble (on the new single, Sketch Artist), the next exploding into Stooges-recalling cacophony. On the feral, techno-tinged Don’t Play It (with its wonderfully catty, Trump-targeted line “Golden vanity/You can pee in the ocean”), Gordon satirises consumerism and entitlement with such audible disgust, you can almost hear her lip curling in contempt.

At times, the album recalls the no-wave music scene Gordon was swept away by when she moved to Manhattan, whose fiercely avant-garde, structure-shunning, genre-bending stylings gave her her first inkling that she might have something to say as a musician. She is often described as having “fallen into” music. On the one hand, that’s not inaccurate; yet by implication it denies her agency in the matter and downgrades her contribution to Sonic Youth. “I do worry about how I’m perceived,” she muses. “It’s almost like a shadow. You think, ‘Ah, people are perceiving me differently.’ And I never was aware of that, and that made me wonder, ‘Do I need to be aware of that or not?’ Yet when it comes to making something, especially music, there’s this thing of, ‘F*** it.’ And I’m going to call the album No Home Record, even though you’re not supposed to use a negative in a title”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Sebastian Kim

Kim Gordon is in her sixties and, whilst this is not something that should be focused on, she has been in the industry for a very long time. In fact, actually, I want to nod to age and the fact that, in 2019, we still have to ask why certain radio stations ignore artists when they get to a particular. A lot of the more youth-orientated stations ignore music from the likes of Gordon because of her age and the fact the sound is not what their audience are used to. Listen to stations that play a lot of modern Pop and you wonder why they are so restrictive. BBC Radio 1 offers a great service but you do not often hear slightly older artists being spun that often. It seems a shame because the likes of Kim Gordon have given the world so much and inspired so many modern artists. Rather than repay that with some airplay and love, many stations are simply refusing to play the music. It seems wrong that there should be age barriers and a perception that artists are not cool or relevant when they pass forty, fifty or sixties. In terms of sheer cool, there are few who have the same reputation and legacy as Kim Gordon. She is effortlessly cool and brilliant and, for that reason, I have to ask why particular radio stations refuse to play her music. I guess it is the same with a lot of icons. Maybe it is the fact that Gordon is an actual human and someone who has a personality. So many modern artists are devoid of any interest and they seem to marketed and shaped to the nth-degree; parroting what they are told to say and desperately vacuous and unappealing. The music itself rarely goes beyond the facile and routine and you wonder, again, why artists like Kim Gordon have to fight harder for airtime. Maybe there is an image of her that cannot be shaken. Sonic Youth were a tremendous band but do they come across as too-serious and detached?


Do people think Gordon will be a tricky interviewee or that her music somehow lacks fun and excitement? I don’t know, but it is sad we have these preconceptions and ideas regarding Gordon. In fact, as you can see from the article below, she has changed through the years:

Gordon’s image has always been aloof, cool and serious, but she says: “The older I’ve gotten, the less serious I am, in a way. I mean, I like humour a lot. Whatever critical edge my visual art has, it’s often humorous. It’s not like ‘ha ha’, it’s not overt. But it’s always been there.” She points to the 1990 Sonic Youth track Kool Thing, written in the wake of a disastrous interview she did with rapper LL Cool Jay; in the song Gordon mocks the underlying fantasies and self-interest of her own liberal politics: “I just wanna know, what are you gonna do for me?” she sings to her black male interlocutor; “Are you going to liberate us girls from white male corporate oppression?’” Quoting that line to me, she says, “If you’re deadpan, or dry, people don’t really get your humour so much.”

And humour didn’t always match with the image others had of her, or the labels they made for her: “If you’re quote-unquote ‘a strong woman’ they want you to look really hard and humourless and whatever,” she complains, and mentions one photographer in particular who, she says, “makes women into men”.

I should get down to reviewing Air BnB but, before I get there, let us tick off a few points off the list. In many ways, this is the trip that leads us to the Air BnB itself; a bit of a foreword before we actually get to the main event – or maybe I should just drop that! How many modern artists coming through at the moment do we get struck by? I think so much modern music revolves around streaming figures and algorithms. There are some genuinely compelling acts who do make you smile or intrigue you but, as I was saying, there are still too many that are pretty dull.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Natalia Mantini

Back when she was with Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon always stood out. I loved what she was about and the fact she was so cool without being aloof. There has always been this idea that she is aloof but I never got that impression when she was being interviewed. Now, there are so many great interviews of her where she talks about her art and life; where she lets us into her world and is warm and accessible. It might be like, as she said, how she has changed through the years but that is another reason why Gordon is such a legend. She adapts and changes with the times but keeps her core and cool intact. I shall stop using the word ‘cool’ but it is hard to get away from that when we talk of Kim Gordon. Not only is it the magic and wonderful personality of Gordon that keeps us hooked but her music remains some of the best out there. I do urge people to order her forthcoming album because it is going to be one of the best from this year. 2019 has been a huge one for music and we have seen some truly tremendous albums arrive. I know I keep mentioning how strong albums from women this year are but, when faced with a female artist to review, it is relevant. There is such range and brilliance this year; so much of it is coming from women. From Julia Jacklin and Little Simz to Sampa the Great and Lana Del Rey, you just marvel at the brilliance that has been put forward. Kim Gordon is about to add her contribution to 2019 and, as mentioned, I think she could come up with one of the strongest efforts of the year. I am not sure why 2019 has been so strong but one just how to enjoy the brilliant music coming our way.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

A lot of iconic artists struggle when they step from their bands and go out alone. Maybe they lack the grunt and support of their band members or we get hung up on the past and want to see that repeated. Gordon has released albums as part of Free Kitten and Body/Head but, as a solo artist, this is her first effort. Rather than people wondering if we will get something Sonic Youth-like, few are asking that question. Gordon’s music now is so different and brilliant that one embraces it and does not ask whether there is anything Sonic Youth-related. Sure, there are shades of her former band but Gordon’s music now is so deep and varied that you take it on its own terms and fall in love. I have already mentioned how Gordon mixes sounds together and always evolves; No Home Record is another sign of that. I am keen to address Gordon’s new single in a minute but, just before that, I want to spend a second on the appeal and attraction of Gordon. She is a very real artist who has a rich and exciting past. I wonder whether her story will ever come to the big screen because, when it comes to musicians who have made their mark and changed things, one has to recognise Kim Gordon. Such a compelling, staggering and always-moving artist, I wonder what the future holds for her. Gordon has inspired so many other artists and I think she is as relevant and popular now as she was back in the 1980s and 1990s. Maybe some radio stations ignore her music but there is an excitement and sense of passion for Gordon that you do not get when speaking of other artists. Let us move on to the brilliant Air BnB and, before getting there, go and see the video when you listen because it adds extra layers. Such is its humour and brilliance that it almost steals the show! Together with a wonderful song, we have another brilliant Kim Gordon effort that must rank among the best songs of 2019 – certainly, the video is one of this year’s finest!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Sebastian Kim

Not only do we get a caption for the video of Air BnB – saying that the video was originally going to be shot at an Air BnB – but we get some tangled strings and a really interesting sound. I love the fact that, during the verses, the composition mainly consists of these strangles, raw strings that twist and bite. So many artists would pack too much in but Gordon juxtaposes the supposed glamour and elegance of an Air BnB with music that conjures something quite basic and dirty. The video’s captions keep coming – we learn just how kick-ass the video would have been, if the budget was there – and, actually, one can get an interpretation of the song from reading these captions. In the song, Gordon talks about this idyllic location where there is a flat-screen T.V. and beautiful views; this Air BnB that sets her free and opens her mind. For the ‘proposed’ video, Gordon would have been shot in black-and-white and crawling on the floor with her guitar; it would have been wonderful and filmic – maybe there will be an ‘alternate’ video where these ideas are actually illustrated! Gordon’s voice is arresting and fascinating throughout. In some ways, one can hear little hints of Sonic Youth in Air BnB. It is a fascinating song that sort of hints at her past but pushes Gordon forward. Those incredible and simple strings promote a sense of thrills, chills and physicality whilst Gordon repeats certain words and lines. Air BnB is almost like a piece of art of performance piece. Rather than provide this conventional song with the same riffs and hooks as everyone else, there is so much nuance running through Air BnB. From Gordon’s delivery and interpretation to the wonderful video; the fantastically sparse-yet-wonderful composition to the lyrics…it is a magnificent song. I keep wondering whether Gordon is literally checking in and marvelling at all the comfort and luxury around her.



Maybe it is a metaphor or a sense of emotional discovery; a dream or somewhere she wants to be in life. Again, one is blown away by the video because it actually forces of us to come up with our own conclusion. The fact we see captions saying what the video would have looked like is a red herring; it is a tease that seems to mock the way videos are shot now – all these expensive locations and scenes that add nothing to the song and lacks any real depth. As Gordon keeps describing the Air BnB and what we would see – parking garages and setting up her guest -, the composition keeps striking. I love the balance between the description of the Air BnB and the angular, toothsome bite of the guitars. There is a sense of dislocation and ramble you get from the guitar and something more composed and visually arresting regarding the lyrics. The blend is brilliant and means you come back to the song time and time again. Gordon casts herself as this host, perhaps, that is showing someone around this fancy Air BnB. I do keep wondering whether Gordon is using this location and setting as a side of herself; maybe beckoning a lover towards her and showing what they will get. Everyone will have their own interpretation but you there is a lot more to Air BnB than meets the eye. I have played the song a few times and keep going back to certain lines. There is so much emotion coming from Gordon. She delivers the lines in such a wonderful way that you do need to keep going back to take it all in. The chorus is as addictive and catchy as any I have heard this year and the entire song leaves you feeling strangely uplifted – or maybe that was the intention all along! One will have their views as to what inspired its creation but I think it is great being left with some mystery hanging in the air! Each Kim Gordon song has a different skin but I think Air BnB is one of the best songs she has released for years. This all bodes well for an album, No Home Record, that is shaping up to be one of the most varied and brilliant of the year. Not only has Gordon released a genius video but she has given us a song that gets under the skin and will stay in the head days after you have heard it. She is truly in a league of her own and a songwriter who seems to get stronger as time goes on!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Proenza Schouler

This year is a busy one for Kim Gordon. No Home Record arrives on 11th October and she will be promoting the album when it arrives. I cannot wait to get hold of it because, judging from the singles we have heard so far, it is likely to be one of the most interesting and golden albums of 2019. This year has been a huge one and I love the fact we have new material from Kim Gordon. At the start of the year, few would have expected an album from her! One of music’s true greats is about to put an album into the world and I think we should all pay attention and marvel. Away from the songs themselves and Gordon remains this utterly enticing and wonderful person that has so many strings to her bow! I keep stating how artists have been inspired by Gordon and, with every album, new generations are discovering her music. I followed Sonic Youth when I was growing up and there are albums of theirs that I would rank among my favourites. I actually find myself more intrigued by Gordon’s solo material. Maybe there are new depths and sides that run deeper and hit harder. Whatever the reason, she is an artist that I will always follow because I think she is so much more interesting and arresting than most musicians out there today. Let’s wrap things up but, going forward, I would encourage people to grab a copy of No Home Record and, if you are new to Kim Gordon, revisit her past work and see where she has come from. Read interviews and see how this marvellous human leaps from the page. Gordon is fascinating and there is so much to unpack when addressing her new music. It has been great reviewing Air BnB and that video alone warrants its own feature! 2019 has been a vibrant, exciting and bountiful year where we have seen some of the strongest albums of the decade. No Home Record promises very much and I actually think critics will rank it among the absolutely best…


PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Baron/Shutterstock

OF the year.


Follow Kim Gordon

TRACK REVIEW: Grimes & i_o - Violence



Grimes & i_o





The track, Violence, is available via:




Vancouver, Canada


5th September, 2019


4AD Ltd.


I want to cover quite a bit in this review…


 PHOTO CREDIT: Nicholas Maggio

and talk about an artist who is a megastar. In fact, there are similarities between yesterday’s subject, Iggy Pop, and today’s inclusion, Grimes. Grimes worked on her new track, Violence, with i_o and, forgive me, but my attention is going to be on Grimes herself. When talking about her, I want to cover those who mature and find their voice after a while; artists who keep growing and get more spectacular as times goes along. I also want to discuss sounds that vary from the mainstream Pop elite and providing something genuinely startling and interesting. I will move on to young female artists like Grimes and how empowering she is to girls/women around the world. I want to discuss anticipated albums and how music can provide a release and sense of comfort in these tough times. One can forgive some subject repetition because, inevitably, one does cover the same ground when it comes to themes – what with the fact there is finite space and options having addressed so many artists through the year. Every artists takes a little while to get going and discover their direction: few are fully-formed and fly straight out of the traps. Grimes’ 2010 debut, Geidi Primes, is assured and impressive but one feels that the Vancouver-born artists really started to come into her own by 2012’s Visions. The words that come up with every Grimes album (from reviewers) are ‘cohesive’ and ‘impressive’. The pioneering young artist is always pushing herself and taking her music in fresh directions. What amazes me is how Grimes keep building from album to album. Art Angels – released in 2015 – is her most daring album yet and did not suffer from lots of collaborators and bodies – so many modern artists cram their albums with too many bodies. There are a couple of collaborators on the album but, largely, this is Grimes recording these sparse-yet-fulsome songs that get under the skin and infuse the senses.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Charlotte Rutherford

I will talk more about her upcoming album, Miss_Anthropocene, but I have been following Grimes’ work since the beginning and have seen this artist blossom and discover herself. She was fantastic from the start but, now, it seems like she has hit her beat. Her latest track is one of her most arresting but it has a simplicity and naturalness that is hard to ignore. Here, in this NME feature, we learn about Grimes position now and what it was like putting Violence together:  

I feel like for the first time, I’m really seeing myself as a singer, which is something I’ve never really done before, and it actually feels really good to just sing,” Grimes told Zane Lowe on Beats 1. You can listen to the interview below.

She continued: “Because I’ve always just been so pushing that part of myself away because I’ve been like, ‘I’m a producer first.’ I think as a female, it’s important to foreground the producer stuff. But I feel like I’ve just done that. And also, besides, i_o produced the rest of this album so it’s like…I feel like I’ve just earned my 10 minutes to just sit around and sing.”

Opening up about new track, ‘Violence’, Grimes said: “I hit i_o up and we made this song up in an hour. And then I was just like, ‘This must go on the album because it just feels good.’ And, you know what, you know what? It’s just fresh.”

Grimes also revealed that she’s working on two songs with Charli XCX, one of which she described as “psychotic techno.”

The Canadian musician previously explained that her new project will be a “concept album”. “[It is] about the anthropomorphic Goddess of climate change: A psychedelic, space-dwelling demon/ beauty-Queen who relishes the end of the world. She’s composed of Ivory and Oil,” she wrote in a now-deleted post on Instagram. She also added that her upcoming album, ‘Miss_Anthropocene’, will be “highly collaborative”.



I have discussed Grimes getting more confident with each album, but it seems like the quality is also increasing. I have mentioned a few albums but, if you compared where she was on her debut with what was produced on Art Angels, there is a leap. I will talk about contradictions at work in her music but one of the things that amazes me about Grimes is how she can be accessible and personal; this striking artist with her own sound who can resonate and connect with the masses. She reminds me of someone like FKA twigs who can concoct her own world but you also identify. I am not sure what drives Grimes and what can explain the growth between albums – maybe it is just natural confidence and evolution. A lot of modern Pop artists get acclaim fairly early and they can sort of lose their way soon enough. Perhaps it is the pressure and expectation but, with Grimes, she seems unconcerned with reviews and what people expect from her. Instead, she inhabits her own world and ensures every album is fresh and striking. The originality of her albums is another startling facet. Again, a lot of artists repeat themselves and can sound a little stilted. Grimes could easily fall prey to that but she hasn’t. I feel there is this artist who wants to bond with fans and make something meaningful but she does not chase dollars and streaming figures. Her mind is not attuned to formulas and algorithms: instead, she follows her instincts and makes music that is meaningful and true to her. You do see artists who wane and fade a bit and can struggle to keep up the high standard they set early. Grimes seems to keep improving and finding new ground to explore with every album she puts out. I shall move onto another theme because I actually want to skip ahead a bit and highlight Grimes as someone who is an inspiration to many.

We all know that a lot of Pop artists are fabricated and seem to be the product of labels. They are allowed some input in their own material but one senses that there are so many bodies and voices dictating the course of events. I feel that with every artist in the mainstream and wonder whether big acts actually get any freedom. Maybe artists such as Taylor Swift are given the benefit of the doubt and are not guided too much but I feel, even in her case, you have someone who is being led to an extent. It is the way things are done but strong artists can balance the demands of labels and the machine and actually create material that is meaningful to them. I am not sure what professional life is like for Taylor Swift – I assume there is some struggle with the label now and then – but Grimes seems completely separate from all of that. I know that she is not independent and is free to pop out albums when and how she likes (few get that chance!) but she is not someone who follows the crowd and wants to be overly-commercial. As I say, there is a contrast in her work that means the songs are exceptional and accomplished but she makes them sound free and easy; accessible enough so we do not have to listen over and over again to understand them. Grimes is a strong voice and has actively spoken out against hard drugs in the past. Whilst her ethics and stance regarding drugs is impressive, it is her sensational music and incredible talent that will inspire many. She is not only inspiring to women: there are artists coming through who will see what she is doing and be moved to follow suit. Grimes does work with mixers and other bodies but, largely, she is calling the shots and not an artist who needs a team of writers and producers – again, an ill that has always been in the industry. I am not judging artists who have teams behind them but I am always more drawn to artists who want to keep their music personal and do not need to be steered.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Charlotte Rutherford

Grimes’ music has edges and hard angles but there is a lot of warmth and catchy moments. I have seen feature pieces where she has been described as weird and cold. That is not true at all, but it is fair to say there is a difference between Grimes the musician and Grimes the woman. In this interview from 2015, Grimes spoke with The Guardian about that contrast:

 “There are things I would never say in interviews that are my opinions. I’m way more political than I am publicly – significantly more extreme,” Boucher tells me when I ask how the Grimes persona manifests itself on occasions such as this (that is, being asked questions by a stranger while perched on the bed of a London hotel room). “There’s lots of people I hate,” she says. But Boucher is struggling to keep up anodyne appearances.

“In my life, I’m a lot more weird than this,” she explains. “Grimes is more palatable for humans. If it was up to me maybe I’d wear a moustache or something,” she continues, as I start seeing her less as a hipster making bleeding-edge pop, more a kindred spirit of Vic Reeves.

“I try to make it digestible to a degree.” Why? “That’s what I’m interested in seeing. I create a thing that I wish existed in the world, versus my own full unabashed creative expression”.

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to Grimes but it is clear we have an artist who creates a bit of distance between her true self and what we see in her music. I think Grimes overstates her own weirdness. Maybe things are different in 2019 but she is someone you are drawn to. Perhaps her domestic life is difference but I have always seen Grimes as someone who is a modern-day idol and will inspire a legion of young musicians. She does seem very personable and honest; there is warmth to her and, as a composer and singer, she is in a league of her own.

I will move to her latest track in a minute but I wanted to compare the sound of Grimes to what is happening in the mainstream right now. There seems to be this split between the more conventional mainstream artist and those who sit outside of that circle. I have mentioned Taylor Swift and, whilst she has her fanbase and is gathering a lot of great reviews for her latest album (Lover), her music is not as vivid, colourful and interesting as someone like Grimes. Maybe Billie Eilish is the nearest comparison to Grimes but, even then, there are differences. I am not against modern Pop but I do feel there is something lacking and empty regarding the traditional format. Artists are free to discuss their love life and experiences but I think few manage to do so and unite the people. So many of today’s big Pop artists have their own demographic and I find it hard to get behind them. The music lacks genuine fun and memorability and the lyrics seem to be primed to a narrow audience. Artists like Grimes are much wider in their reach because they can write about love and personal matters but are casting their net wider – there is something that resonates and speaks to you. Grimes’ sound is addictive and unusual at times and she does not limit herself. Rather than aim her music at teenage girls or a younger audience, anyone can connect with her music and find something to enjoy. I think that ability to speak to a large audience is something the biggest Pop artists fail to do. I am not sure why this is the case but it is clear there is a definite divide between these more daring artists like Grimes and Billie Eilish and the more straightforward and commercial artists.

This year has been great in terms of music but there are so many albums and artists out there that sort of pass you by after a couple of listens. The very best musicians can create depth and keep you coming back time and time again. I am not just signalling Pop out because there are multiple genres and, in each, there are going to be artists who fail to create something deep and memorable. I listen to so much music today and there is nothing really to recommend. You listen to it – whether it is a song and album – and one wonders what the objective of the artist is. Do they just want chart success and are not too bothered about repeated plays? Do they lack the vision to go beyond the ordinary? Are they trying to make something quite simple that does not require that much thought? Whatever the reasoning, far too many artists are using their platform in the wrong way. This might be a subjective thing but I always get annoyed listening to songs that sound the same as everything else or has little underneath the surface. Today’s industry is tough and competitive and it seems foolhardy to release music that is pretty basic or has very little about it. It is wonderful we have someone like Grimes in our midst. She can never be accused of being boring but, unlike some artists, she does not push anyone away. Some artists who make this very bold and original music can put too much into the blend or there is something that only speaks to certain people. Grimes never does this and, instead, she wants to embrace everyone. It is startling Grimes’ music sounds so fresh, cohesive and accomplished because, more often than not, she has to face misrepresentation in the press.

I did not cover this when I was discussing the contrast between who she is as an artist and as a musician. Is it ever possible for an artist to be represented fairly? Looking back at interviews Grimes has given…are we hearing the truth and how much of what we read is designed to grab headlines and distort? Earlier this year, Grimes spoke with CRACK and had her say. The article also mentions her political stance and, again, she is someone who will empower a lot of people and give them strength.

Alongside her artistic output, Boucher has consistently proved herself unafraid to speak out on the political issues that are important to her. In 2016, in the face of a Trump presidency, she recreated a 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson advert in support of Hillary Clinton, stating that in the coming election: “The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” The following year, after President Trump announced a travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries, she tweeted that she would match donations up to $10,000 for the Council on American-Islam Relations. Last year she joined protesters in British Columbia against Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

It’s a difficult realisation for anyone who finds themselves in the public eye that they’re no longer in control of their own narrative. But it seems like a particularly cruel irony for Boucher after she worked so hard for so long to make sure she had complete artistic control over every aspect of Grimes. She self-produced every song on every Grimes album, drew her own artwork and directed her own videos, creating a distinct aesthetic universe influenced by Japanese manga and gothic dystopias but became something all of her own. She has never relied on anybody else. “For most artists if you’re not cool for 20 minutes then you can’t get in a room with a good producer and your career is fucking over,” she says. “I never want to be in that situation. I want to be in a situation like I am now where my reputation is at an all-time low and I can still make sick-ass fucking music because I don’t rely on anybody”.

Grimes is an artist who can switch between the more breezy and fresh and the more evocative and startling. It is a great contrast but, on Violence, there is a bit of both. Grimes’ voice is processed and there is a lot of energy from the off. Grimes’ voice echoes and seems to vibrate. The beats throb and one is brought into this very special and eye-opening world. Instantly, I was stunned by the sounds coming from Violence and the effect that creates. The lyrics really interest me. “I am, like, begging for you baby/Makes you wanna party/Wanna break up/Baby it’s violence, violence/Baby, it’s violence”. In the video, Grimes is reading from The Art of War by Sun Tzu and looking quite engrossed. If the music and vocals have a lightness and sense of uplift to them, the lyrics suggest someone who has been messed around and hurt quite bad. It is said that the sweetheart cannot see what Grimes has seen; they cannot see how much they have hurt her and what they are doing. I was wondering whether this was the end stage of a relationship where the heroine wants to get away from quite a toxic love or whether this is a friend who is hurting her. It is not clear to start with: one can interpret as they see fit and come to their own conclusion. If the introduction and early stages are a little claustrophobic and strained, the chorus definitely bursts into life. The electronic beat remains central and prominent but the song switches from a breathy and calmer affair to this vivacious and bright thing. Whilst there is a lot of energy and spirit from Grimes, the words still suggest someone who is being lied to and cast aside. It seems this unnamed person is trying to pay her back and make her bad. It seems he likes it like that and, whereas there is a bad side to Grimes, one feels like she is trying to break free.

That is open for interpretation but, on the one hand, there is a part of Grimes drawn to the chaos and there is another argument that suggests she is in a bad situation. Also, it is not evident that Grimes is referring to a man or woman here. The lyrics are loose enough so you can take the story in various directions. Maybe this is a commentary on American politics or something happening in the wider world. Rather than pack the song with too many different lines and threads, Grimes repeats lines and phrases to create maximum emotional effect. One gets sucked into a song that is hypnotic and powerful. There is a school of thought that suggests modern Pop is too repetitive and lacks any real depth. I agree that is the case with many artists but, in those cases, the repetitiveness stems from processed beats, generic templates and uninspired lyrics. On Violence, Grimes uses these potent phrases to create a mood and to get inside the listener’s head. This notion of being turned bad and whether it is something she welcomes; being misunderstood and whether we are talking about a relationship or a wider observation of the world around us. There is so much to unpick and unpack and one needs to listen to the song a few times few before everything absorbs. I have heard the song a few times around and I am still considering different angles. The song changes course and we get these different movements and phases. I like the fact that there is so much happening with the composition and all the beats and electronics add to this sense of emotion and wondering. Each listener will take something different away from the song but to me, here is a woman who is facing battles and confliction – but she seem to draw some strength from it. It is a wonderful song to dissect and, the more I hear Violence, the more certain visions and possibilities come to mind. I wonder what we will get from Miss_Anthropocene and, in terms of sound, it will have a lot of songs like Violence on it. We shall see, but one thing is clear: Grimes is among the most original and gripping artists around.


I have covered a lot of ground and I hope i_o will forgive me because I was keen to talk about Grimes and her world. I shall end things here but there is going to be a lot of eyes her way. Miss_Anthropocene is coming soon but there is no set release date yet. Her fifth album is among the most anticipated of the moment and I cannot wait to see what she brings out. Before I end things, it is worth looking ahead and seeing where Grimes can go from here. I know there are many in the U.K. who will want to see her perform live so make sure you keep abreast of everything happening. Connect with her on social media and you can see where she is headed. Right now, Grimes is busy promoting Violence and I am sure we will see another single or two before the album arrives. I have not even talked about Grimes as a fashion and visual icon. Just look at her photoshoots and how she seems to project new personas all of the time. Maybe this comes back to the way she is perceived in the press and the fact we are in a post-truth world. Great artists are always changing and surprising people. Again, I think a lot of mainstream artists are quite dull when it comes to their image and their music reflects a real lack of effort.

PHOTO CREDIT: Eli Russell Linetz

Grimes’ albums covers are always striking and she captures the eye readily. I do think Grimes is a modern icon and puts out music that can make you dance but also has real depth – not quite as dark as Billie Eilish’s work but as deep, captivating and original. I shall wrap it up soon but I am really pumped to see what comes next. I will snap up Miss_Anthropocene when it arrives – let’s hope it comes out before the end of this year! This year has been crammed with incredible music. I think 2019 has been the strongest year of the decade in terms of variety and Grimes is definitely part of the conversation. She is one of the most inspiring and interesting artists in the world at the moment and I think she will only grow bigger. As I stated, she does get better with each album and who knows where she will be in a few years. The music scene definitely needs artists like Grime. Against the conventional and restrained, she is someone who pushes boundaries and appeals to a much wider demographic (than a lot of mainstream acts). Violence is proof that she cannot be predicted or limited. It is a fantastic song and it is one of the best cuts from 2019 so far. If you are new to Grimes then do go back and check out her work as it is incredible and really interesting. Grimes is preparing her fifth album right now and we cannot wait to hear that! She is this treasure and superstar who will keep on making terrific music…

FOR a long time to come.


Follow Grimes

TRACK REVIEW: Iggy Pop - Dirty Sanchez



Iggy Pop


PHOTO CREDIT: Andreas Neumann 

Dirty Sanchez





The track, Dirty Sanchez, is available via:




Michigan, U.S.A.

The album, Free, is available here:


6th September, 2019


Thousand Mile Inc.


I want to cover a number of things…

when it comes to this review. I have been thinking a lot about artists for whom music is their real outlet; the reason they are here and what drives them. That is definitely true when we consider the legendary Iggy Pop. I also want to address stamina and artists like Pop who have been in the industry for years; those who show no signs of slowing and are making some of their most interesting work now. I also will allude to artists changing sounds and keeping things fresh; music that has a hugely powerful effect on us and is so different to what is around at the moment – I will end by suggesting what is next for Iggy Pop and where the master might step next. We all take a little while to figure out what we should be doing and where we need to be in life. For me, I was sort of switching back and forth between various careers and options. After university, it took me a little while to move into music journalism but, looking back, it seems like it was the only route. Radio and production/presenting is where I want to be but, as I get older, I wonder how realistic that option will be. In any case, music is the place where I feel safest and happiest and, for that reason, I have spent years trying to give back to the industry. Iggy Pop’s awakening and realisation came from a fairly young age. I guess, when you have a voice like his – those bourbon-rich and deep tones that sound utterly compelling –, you have options what you can do. I could imagine Iggy Pop leading the U.S. or working in film; maybe he could have been anything. When you apply his voice and passion to music then you have that perfect fit. He has been in the game for decades and one cannot see the man calling it time until mortality says so.

Third Man Books.png

 PHOTO CREDIT: Third Man Books

In this fascinating BBC interview, Pop talked about his start and getting into music:

"You know, I finally got the voice that I was supposed to have in some senses. When I was 21, I was in love with a girl from Cleveland and we actually got married for a couple of weeks," he explains.

"I had just put out the first Stooges album and I met her dad, he was a big shot in business. He said, 'Well, meeting and listening to you talk I guess you probably sing like Neil Diamond right?'

"I've since learned a lot of respect for Neil but at that time, you don't tell Iggy Pop that he sounds like Neil Diamond. But on the other hand, a part of me was thinking, 'Damn, if I sang like Neil Diamond, I'd have a lot more money you know'".

Iggy Pop dropped into BBC Radio 6 Music earlier this week and, whilst promoting his new album, Free, he talked about his career and path. There is such gravitas in his voice; a command and reputation that means people are spellbound and hooked. I can imagine the young Iggy Pop rifling through records and discovering all these neat and different artists. Maybe the music of The Stooges is more intense and inflamed than what he is putting out now but, look back at the sheer range and diversity of his work and you have an artist who is among the very finest ever. You see artists come through now and you can see they want to make it and have that spark but you wonder how deep that commitment is. Are they really looking decades ahead and have a plan? It is hard to navigate and survive in a competitive industry but, for Iggy Pop, there is nothing else for him. Music is what drives him and swims in his blood. I have been following his work with The Stooges and his time working with David Bowie. Whatever he does and no matter where he goes, Pop is intoxicated by music’s emotions, possibilities and pleasures. You can hear his love, soul and curiosity run riot through Free: an album that is as assured and memorable as any he has ever made. I mentioned how, sound-wise, Pop is a little calmer than he was back in the 1970s. I feel the Iggy Pop we have now is a more interesting and deep artist than we had back then – controversial, perhaps, but Pop is an artist who, like wine, improves with age!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rob Baker Ashton

I have discussed Iggy Pop’s start and the fact that he was born to conquer the music world. I was recently writing about icons like Pop and that they are of a ‘certain age’. It is not meant to be insulting but plainly stating fact: artists like Pop and Paul McCartney have been around for a long time and we have to accept the fact that, one day, these people will be gone. That does sound grim but there seems to be this band of brilliant artists who are still around and have been playing and plugging for decades. What also amazes me about these decades-serving artists is their stamina and commitment. I see artists today who are around for a couple of years and then call it quits. It is, perhaps, harder to succeed and get recognised now than it has ever been and, because of that, I wonder whether we will see artists endure for long and whether the notion of an ‘icon’ is a thing of the past? Iggy Pop is definitely providing inspiration to those who want to keep playing and affecting people for years. Look at the man and, sure, he is in great shape, but he also is strong of voice. He is not weary and looking to the end: instead, he is passionate about everything and excited to see what the future holds. Maybe this has something to do with a change of lifestyle – I will get to that in a bit – and how his career has shifted. The older Iggy Pop is as energetic, pumped and wonderful as always. In this interview with The Times, Pop talks about his life now and actually raises an interesting point about Rock music today:

Instead he’s still making records, still on the road, doing five-hour exercise routines to get through his famously febrile live performances. A concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2016, when he all but attacked the audience with a ferocity belying his 69 years, has gone down as one of the greatest shows in rock history. But the gigs are getting fewer and farther between. It makes you wonder how much longer he can keep going — and how many more years there are in rock’n’roll itself.

“Rock music can only carry on now in the context of other, related cultural activities. Women have come forward now and some of the rock girls are getting support from the big fashion houses,” he says, thinking of the frontwomen of the punk bands Amyl and the Sniffers and Surfbort modelling for Gucci. “But it won’t ever again reach the ridiculous pinnacle of big lights! Big stadium! Big music! For rock, that’s gone. All that is for the hippety-hops. It is their time now”.

There are a few really great interviews out there right now with Iggy Pop so, when it came to selecting passages to quote, it was tricky to decide which to highlight. I would urge people to read these interviews in-full because they are illuminating and fascinating. I think Iggy Pop is going to be making music for a very long time because he has calmed down a bit. Once was this wild artists who lived to excess and enjoyed all the benefits of fame and focus. Now, one can hear someone who has seen and experienced a lot but is more focused on the purity and beauty of music than blowing the roof off of venues and creating a scene. Pop is still a thrilling live performer but his music now is so reflective, thoughtful and, yes, cheeky! There are a select group of artists who have been around as long as Pop and actually seem to get better with time: we can all learn something from this musical titan. According to this feature from The New Yorker, Pop is a man focused on health and happiness:

Pop wakes up early these days—by 6 a.m. or so—and his only significant indulgence is a few glasses of wine in the evening, usually with dinner. If he is touring, his preshow ritual takes eight or nine hours. “I wake up, cup of coffee, stay in bed, clear my mind, don’t think about the show,” he said. “I’m not going to talk to anybody about anything. Three hours before, I lie down on the floor and do something called wu chi breathing, where I breathe very deep into my gut for almost a half hour. I’m a little high, but not dizzy, and my voice has widened.

He is not currently considering retirement: “I always wonder, if I stopped doing music, would I really start drinking tea instead of coffee, and, you know, brush my teeth more, and all that? Or would I become, like, an alcoholic depressive?” Though his recent work might suggest that he is entering a more contemplative period, he is confident that whatever wildness exists inside him is intact. “Don’t tell me that I can’t strip off my shirt and go make a big primitive noise,” he said”.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan McGinley for The New York Times

Look at early albums from The Stooges such as Fun House (1970) and Raw Power (1973) and solo albums such as The Idiot (1977) and Lust for Life (1977) and mark them against Post Pop Depression (2016) and Free. Post Pop Depression talked about sex and death and, whilst that is not new to the Pop cannon, the angle is. If a younger man talks about death as this far-off thing and challenge, almost, then Pop now is looking at mortality in a different way. Every Iggy Pop album is about him and his soul. Even if he is playing with other artists (Josh Homme joined him on Post Pop Depression) then you still gravitate towards Pop. It would be insulting and stereotypical to suggest older artists are more concerned with comfort and safer subjects than stirring the pot and ruffling feathers. Pop is still a truly electric live performer but I think his work now is, as I suggested, deeper and more interesting than his classic albums. On Free, there are meditations and ponderings that get under the skin and move you. I think Free is one of the most organic and natural albums Pop has ever released. The songs sound completely engrossing and there is an interesting thing Pop said about Free: that it was a record where he let others speak for him. I have talked about Iggy Pop and how he dominates every album but, perhaps, between Post Pop Depression and Free, there was this sense of change and transition that created some uncertainty and anxiety. Here, in this feature from DIY, Pop went into more detail:

This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice…” Iggy explains. “By the end of the tours following ‘Post Pop Depression’, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free. I know that’s an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing; all that you need – not happiness or love necessarily, but the feeling of being free. So this album just kind of happened to me, and I let it happen”.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Andreas Neumann

Iggy Pop is always going to be in the spotlight because he keeps changing and moving forward. There are a lot of artists who tend to stick with the same formula and do not stretch themselves. I can understand why popular artists keep that formula intact but the most interesting and enduring are those who are changeable and adapt. Iggy Pop could well continue his Stooges sound and repeat what came before but Free is the sign of a man who sounds completely inspired and fascinated by what is happening around him. Maybe it is because the world is divided and we are all feeling a bit isolated that Pop has picked up on this and combatted these feelings with an album that takes you somewhere special. I can understand why modern artists want to address politics and modern life with a sense of anger and outrage but, against this arsenal of rage, we need music that keeps is safe and gives us a sense of nourishment. I am selling Free short but you need to listen to all the tracks and the sheer variation on offer. I have selected Dirty Sanchez for consideration because I have not seen anyone review it but, to be fair, every album on Free is magnificent. I love how deep Free digs and the sense of beauty on display. It is almost too difficult to put things into words (clearly!) but Free is the sound of Iggy Pop at a new peak. You listen to the album and it stays in your head. I have heard a lot of great albums in 2019 but there are still too many (albums) that are too slight and brief. You might spin it once or twice and that is it: after the songs have settled, they go out of the head and that is that! With Pop, his latest album is as nuanced and long-lasting as anything around. One can feel the sheer meaning and importance of every song. It is an amazing work and one that is gaining a lot of great reviews – although some have been rather short-sighted and dismissive. I shall end things here because I am keen to talk about Dirty Sanchez and a song that, like everything on Free, has its own skin, feel and personality.


The opening to Dirty Sanchez, in a way, makes me think of Miles Davis and his album, Sketches of Spain. It is certainly an epic opener and one many people are not expecting! If you had to describe Iggy Pop’s music then Jazz and Hispanic influence might not be high up the list! The introduction broods and brews; it swoons and glides and has this deeply romantic edge to it. Before anything is said and you get a chance to hear Pop, you dive into the music and everything it suggests. Such is the wonder and tenderness of the horns; the rumble you get from the bass and the scenes projected…you are sort of carried away and hypnotised. It is a fantastic start to the track and sort of shows what I mean regarding Pop’s changing template and how he keeps moving forward. A lot of the album reflects on the weariness of post-tour life and how the energy levels are sapped. In a way, the introduction gives the impression of calm and settling after a turbulent time. You picture Pop taking in the environment and watching the sun set. It is a gorgeous and sweeping sound that gets into the head and calms the spirits. When words do arrive, they contrast the elegance and passion of the introduction – things are sharper and more spiked than before. The lyrics definitely intrigue me. “Don’t tell me I’m the benefit (Don’t tell me I’m the benefit” start things off and couple with “Of being a conscious idiot (Of being a conscious idiot)”. One wonders where that thought stemmed from and whether there is a political aspect. Pop talks about there being more slaves today than there were yesterday; him shooting himself in the knee and there being this feeling of exasperation and despair. There is a call-and-response aspect to the song (I am not sure who sings the other part of whether it is Pop singing to himself) that gives Dirty Sanchez gravitas and a really interesting angle.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Rob Baker Ashton

I have not heard Pop sing quite like this before and I was really involved with the song from the off. The title is a sort of red herring but I wonder whether it refers to the prank outfit, Dirty Sanchez – maybe the feeling modern politics is a joke and someone is winding us up! One feels there is this fatigue and annoyance that Pop cannot ignore. I have seen some reviews for Free and Dirty Sanchez is one of the more divisive tracks. I have talked a lot about Free being a more mature and immersive album than previous works: Dirty Sanchez sounds closer to Pop’s earlier work than anything else. Compare a song like this to something like James Bond and you can hear a very different tone and feel – Pop showing he is a man of many different roles. After that beguiling and Davis-esque introduction, the song becomes a lot more firm and, well, explicit. This is a moment where Pop keeps a sense of Punk and rude awakening alive; a track that proves how diverse and eclectic his music is. He talks about someone grabbing their whip like they grab their heels; online porn and sexual preferences. I chose this song to review because, rather than it being an overt and unsubtle talk about sex, it is a commentary on commercialism and capitalism. It has political connotations and draws us back to Pop’s past world. I think a lot of Free is Iggy Pop pondering on the nature of existence and embracing something more philosophical and spiritual. Here, on one of the most memorable tracks, Pop turns the wick up! Drums roll and there is this heavy sound that is a world away from a lot of Free’s most beautiful moments. Whilst Dirty Sanchez is not my favourite track on Free (I think Sonali is the finest), I wanted to highlight it to show just how Pop works now. He is not, as I have said, someone who stands still and repeats himself. Free has so many different colours and tales; one needs to give the album several spins before everything starts to sink in and unfurl. Dirty Sanchez is the old master keeping his tongue firmly in cheek but conveying an important message in the process. Whilst the song will not get a lot of airplay (not during the day at least!), it is a moment that seems to reflect where we are now and how the world is being run. It is rude and crude; it has beauty and passion and it shows that Pop is as engaging and focus-worthy as he has ever been. I would recommend people explore everything on Free but I wanted to highlight Dirty Sanchez. It is a strange beast of a track and that is why I love it. Whereas other songs on the album are more straight and accessible, this has a bit of edge and spit. From that beautiful opening to the image of Iggy Pop talking about sex as a metaphor for modern politics and greed, you have to take your hat off to him! It goes to show that, this far down the line, this icon cannot be slowed or predicted.


 IMAGE CREDIT: Fubiz Media

There are too many dates coming up at the moment for Pop…but one suspect that, with a huge album out, there will be more added. You can keep abreast of all the happenings for Iggy Pop on the links below and, looking ahead, where is he going to go? I know there will be more tour dates and one can get the chance to see Pop do his thing! In fact, the Godfather of Punk is going to be playing a special set at London’s legendary Maida Vale Studios. You can see here how to take part but that will be something special! I feel Pop is at a stage of life where he is very settled and optimistic. He has as much energy and commitment as he did back at the start and one hopes there are many more albums coming from him. I shall end things soon but, if you are fairly new to Iggy Pop’s music, I suggest you go right back and check out the stuff he did with The Stooges. Listening to those albums now is exhilarating but imagine how people must have felt when they heard that eponymous album back in 1969! Since then, we have seen this amazing figure give the world some of the most acclaimed and incredible music ever. Even in his seventies, Pop shows no signs that he wants to quit and rest up. Music is as important to him, one suspect, as anything else and gives him a sense of meaning. He has inspired artists for generations and who knows how many musicians have Pop to thank for getting them into the industry?! It is amazing to think how just how far Pop’s influence and command reaches. Listen to Free and experience an album that is hugely immersive and stunning. It is one of my favourite albums of 2019 and I am so pleased people are connecting with Free. Let’s wrap things up now because, as you can see, I have gone on for a bit! There are a lot of music icons still with us but, to me, there is…

NOBODY quite like Iggy Pop!


Follow Iggy Pop

TRACK REVIEW: The Futureheads - Good Night Out



The Futureheads

PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Alexander Knox

Good Night Out





The track, Good Night Out, is available via:




Sunderland, U.K.


The Futureheads t/a Nul Records


The album, Powers, is available here:


30th August, 2019


I have quite a bit to cover now…

but I will get to The Futureheads’ track, Good Night Out, in a minute. Their new album, Powers, is their first since 2012 and it has been picking up some big reviews. I want to talk about great bands that we need right now and keeping them focused; independent venues and why we need to keep them alive; music from the North East and why we need to have people look beyond London; records like Powers and the honesty behind them; I will talk a little about The Futureheads and where they might step next. I am going to quote from a few interviews as I go along – and will do so in a bit – but, when thinking about bands we need in our midst at the moment, The Futureheads come to mind. I have been following them for a few years but their debut, The Futureheads, arrived in 2004 and is, to me, one of the best albums from that decade. Not only did that album introduce us to their version of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love – always risky when someone covers Kate Bush but they succeeded -, but there were so many gems. Since then, they have forged a career that has seen them inspire other artists and release simply amazing music. Maybe their earlier albums were more angular and complex: subsequent released have been more primed towards fun, big choruses and something a little more free. Things have not always been smooth in The Futureheads’ camp and getting them together for their sixth album has been a challenge. I want to bring in an interview they have with NE Volume where they discussed their latest record and how hard it has been to get everyone together:

 “You’ve been tucked away recording your sixth album. How has it felt to be back in the studio doing what you do best?

Recording our sixth album has been an invigorating experience. Making every album has been different: the challenges for this record have been getting everyone together in the same room for more than ninety seconds which has been quite the feat. But the energy when we are all together has been quite something and we can’t wait for people to hear the fruits of our labour.


PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Benge 

Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process behind the record?

Barry came to this album with a lot of instrumentals sketched out in demo form: guitar parts, riffs and drum beats. With Ross, I traduced his riffs and tunes a little later. The rest was thrashed out over a period of four or five months in First Avenue Studios in Heaton. Once the instrumentals were down, we set about writing lyrics and harmonies. We’ve not really done it like that before where we have 12 fully-recorded instruments before any vocal ideas are down.

There are some great bands on the scene right now – including Metronomy, Foals; IDLES and Stealing Sheep but, if you think about the best albums released this year, the majority are from solo artists. I am not sure – as I have said many times – whether this imbalance is because of trends or the fact solo artists can achieve more and create more diverse sounds. Whatever the reason, bands have taken a bit of a back seat the past few years. I feel one of the problems is the fact bands were sort of sounding the same and the music was not resonating the same way as it did from solo artists. The Futureheads have always stood separate and done things differently; a gang who can whip up unusual and brilliant songs that are both cool and geeky, fun and serious – every song from the band is packed with original thought and life. Bands are in resurgence and I think, at a time when the world is split and strained, we do need the beauty and colours only The Futureheads can provide. Their invisible touch is potent and I hope the guys continue to make music for many years to come. It has been a fight getting them together and focusing for the new album – I will talk about this more soon – but it seems like The Futureheads are entering a new phase; there are gigs coming up and I hope to catch them if they come down to my local venue (Alexandra Palace).

I will return to that interview I just quoted because there was another point/question that caught my eye: that regarding the decline of independent venues and the effect that has on artists. I am one of these people who feels like there should be more attention paid to venues. So many artists are plugging and playing these spaces and are not getting spotted. They might only get noticed when they have progressed to radio stations or are being signed. I think there is so much music happening in venues and, when they close, it can cut short the run of a great artist. I do think we are less social and, if we go out, we are not necessarily going to gigs. Venues are the lifeblood of towns and cities and, if we do not support them, not only will they close but it means so many promising artists have to call it quits – or try to find an audience online and other methods. The Futureheads talked about ways we can stop the decline of industries – they also mentioned a venue in the North East that they particularly love:

What do you think we can do to stop the decline in independent music venues?

If people want to see shows, they need to get out and support bands – it’s as simple as that. Don’t wait until bands are playing Academies before you show an interest.

Do you have a favourite North East venue you enjoy playing the most or that’s shown the band particular support over the years?

Well, The Cluny has always been a good one for us but I’m not sure we will ever top the days of playing the function room upstairs in the royalty in Sunderland – it was DIY fun at its best.

Bigger spaces can remain open because of the capacity and the fact they can attract huge artists to come and play. Even a space like Alexandra Palace, one feels, would feel threatened were it in Central London and was subject to higher rent prices and faced a lot of competition from surrounding bars.

I think a lot of successful venues flourish because of where they are located. Living in London, I know how many fantastic musicians are playing and primed for future success. Even though we have streaming platforms, people need to see them perform because that is how you get noticed. Artists cannot solely survive on the Internet and they need to cut their teeth at venues – that is how they get good and ensure their material is decent. I think many have this romantic vision of bands playing in garages and playing down a local bar; being spotted by a scout or label and then playing venues around the world. Maybe that has happened for a few but the reality of making it in the industry is far more pragmatic and tough. Artists have it harder now than they ever did and we need to ensure that venues are subsidised and protected. If we allow them to fall victim to unreasonable rent prices, noise complaints or a lack of interest then that has a hugely detrimental effect on the future of music. Bands such as The Futureheads would have honed their craft in places around the North East. The Sunderland-raised band have come a long way but would not be where they are now were it not for venues. I am not sure whether there are more or fewer live venues in Sunderland now compared to a couple of decades back but, with venues like The Cluny and Independent, there are great venues there or nearby. Sunderland is a cultural hub and an area seeing improvement and resurgence all of the time. I do wonder how artists there are faring and whether they are looking at a success story like The Futureheads and wondering if they can make it as big. I think, with some great artists coming from the North East, we need to make sure there are adequate venues for them to play – save them having to play in the North West or come down to London.

Cities like Sunderland have given us bands such as The Futureheads, Kenickie and Field Music and, from Newcastle, The Animals and Maximo Park. I know we tend to focus more on areas like London when it comes to new artists but one cannot ignore the brilliance and promise of artists from the North. The Futureheads succeeded because of their hard graft, fantastic sound and wonderful live performances but, as I mentioned, are artists coming through now able to succeed – or will the closing of venues mean we will see gradual growth rather than explosion? I think there is something different in the North that you do not get in great areas like London and Brighton. Maybe it is the culture and people but there is something more thrilling, illuminating and nuanced, I think. Maybe that is a generalisation but I have always found myself drawn to music from northern artists. Whereas the North is not as subject to exorbitant rent prices and so many bijou, snotty wine bars replacing them, they do have to fight harder for media attention. We still look too closely at London and, as most of the biggest radio stations and venues are based down here, it means the North has an unfair disadvantage. That said, there are some terrific stations in the North championing the best new acts coming through. I know for a fact there are artists inspired by The Futureheads and following in their footsteps. It would be good to see more features appearing in the press and online that shines a light on northern acts and venues. As it stands, so many artists are moving to London because they feel they are being ignored where they are. It is a sad state of affairs and I do hope things change in years to come. I shall move on to another topic because, with The Futureheads back in force, it is worth looking back at the last few years.

Rant arrived in 2012 and, whilst there have been bits and bobs since then, Powers is the first thing we have heard from the band in terms of albums. The band sort of called it quits back in 2013 but, unlike other bands, there was no carnival and fuss: the band sort of just slipped away and that was it. They have been reborn and revived, luckily, but they have had to face obstacles and personal problems. When speaking with DIY, the band spoke about the period between 2013 and now and what has been happening:

 “Nowadays, when bands decide to call it a day, the decision comes loaded with a fresh schedule: farewell shows, final festival performances, just that one last chance for fans to catch a glimpse before they disappear (for a while, at least). But when Sunderland’s finest The Futureheads threw in the towel back in 2013, the quartet did so quietly, with no real final hurrah.

The Futureheads in 2019 is a different prospect to where they left off. “I think we’ve got the best of both worlds at this point,” Barry ponders. “Sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like if, during our career as The Futureheads, we had maintained some kind of foot in the door of reality. Actually, I find I’m far better at writing songs when I’m a genuine part of society, rather than a bohemian think freak, who’s playing jazz guitar late at night.

And those five years have thrown up all sorts of inspiration. From the challenges of dealing with mental illness – a struggle Barry himself has been very open about – to the quiet contentment of beginning a family, ‘Powers’ is a record which seers with personal honesty. It’s via the charged march of ‘Across The Border’, though, that the North Eastern band find themselves facing politics square in the eye, with the issue of their town’s relationship with Brexit becoming the main focus. “I know that very little is understood about what Brexit really is,” Barry sighs. “You can’t ignore it,” adds Ross. “It’s no longer an elephant in the room and for us, the fact that Sunderland became this sort of flagship city that seems to embody ignorance, it’s really disappointing, because it’s just not the reality”.

It is interesting picking up on a few points raised in the interview. The fact that Sunderland’s residents will have a different view regarding Brexit and our Government varies to, say, somewhere like London. When it comes to artists from the North such as The Futureheads and Sam Fender, they share common threads with others but, in terms of politics and local observations, their perspective differs. Every artist is aware of Brexit and the ongoing chaos but, in an area like Sunderland, Brexit is affecting people differently. I am not sure whether the looming departure will affect the prosperity of the cultural scene in Sunderland and how it will affect jobs. Although Sunderland is a little more homogenised than it was years ago, there are still a lot of residents working in manufacturing and other industries like that. You can check out a breakdown of the employment figures and realise that, when it comes to leaving the E.U., Sunderland voters had their reasons for wanting to leave. Maybe some of that was based out of fear and media propaganda but, if people feel like they would be richer and more stable out of the E.U., it is small wonder they would vote to leave – where a more cosmopolitan and wealthier city like London would want to remain and keep its economic structure. The Futureheads have reflected politics and changing Britain in Powers but, more than that, they have been looking at their personal lives and situation. In fact, on one song, they do deliver this thought: “Wouldn’t it be nice to go on holiday somewhere in Italy/How about a beer in Germany?”. It is clear Brexit is keen on their radar but I like the fact The Futureheads have mixed modern politics with emotional honesty and talk about mental-health – something that is becoming far more common and discussed in music. It is great to have The Futureheads back with us and, judging by the reviews that have come in for Powers, they are on stunning form. Maybe it is the electricity in the air and the chat in Sunderland; perhaps they are rejuvenated and have a renewed bond. Whatever the reason, the band are entering phase 2.0 and looking to the future. I have selected a song from Powers to review but, before I come to that, it is worth returning to that point about The Futureheads’ sound and how it stands out.

A lot of bands are original but, when it comes to sticking out and staying in the head, there is nobody like Sunderland’s The Futureheads. Again, it might be because of a natural northern intuition but I have always loved what the band put out. They are accessible and memorable but they do not follow the herd and replicate what is already out there. Sometimes they go a bit bonkers but it just sounds wonderful. I will move on in a bit but, right now, I want to bring in a snippet of an interview they gave with Louder than War, where the nature of their sound was discussed:

There was always something wonderfully off-kilter about The Futureheads. In a period where guitar bands were ubiquitous, the Mackem four-piece belied their post-punk bluster with songs replete with four-part harmonies, manic segues and inspired covers (‘Hounds of Love’ remains a staple of every Saturday night indie dancefloor). Their demise was just as different – last seen around 2016, the band were used in an advert promoting Bupa healthcare.

“We got a fair bit of stick for that,” laugh The Futureheads today, fittingly looking in good health and in even better spirits. “But I dare anyone who feels inclined to make criticisms to try and survive, for just one month, as a professional artist and see if they can turn work down.” Indeed, in The Futureheads’ fallow years, two of the band have drifted into education (bassist Jaff Craig is “the tallest primary school teacher in the North East”), guitarist Ross Millard does graphic design and drummer Dave Hyde tinkers with plastering.

Formed in 2000, The Futureheads became part of the burgeoning scene that boasted the floor-filling indie of Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs and Razorlight. Choppy, irresistible but cerebral, the likes of Decent Days and Nights, Meantime and Area showed their considerable songwriting chops. Skip to the End, The Beginning of the Twist and Heartbeat Song were later entries to a strong canon, but after Rant, the group went their separate ways, singer Barry Hyde allegedly retreating to the desert and becoming some sort of new age savant”.

Like the very best Futureheads tunes, Good Night Out wastes no time with flirtation and teasing: it rips off the clothing, jumps on top of you and breaks you in half. That vivid (and rather explicit) description might suggest the band is throwing volume and rawness into the mix but, rather, it is sheer energy and strut that opens the song. The band paint beautiful images as they talk about the summertime and the people on the street. Maybe the visions are not as romantic as you’d get from a Lana Del Rey song – the vistas and streets of Sunderland are, perhaps, less glamorous than that of L.A. or Malibu – but you get this physicality and beauty. The realness and honesty of the song has its own charms but The Futureheads manage to make something potentially humdrum and ordinary sound utterly beguiling. Visions of older gentlemen letting their guts dangle on the beach – you need to see the video to get what I mean – and dogs making hay whilst the sun shines might not seem gleeful and perfect but, when it comes to this band, they are making it sound so. If the opening verse sounds like a representation of the beaches, streets and alleys of the local scene, Good Night Out is more a tale of modern mores and politics. The band mention pay and, if you earn less, perhaps, then you are not included. I get the sense the band is drawing a line between their community in Sunderland and Westminster; the fact there are privately-educated politicians making decisions that benefit them and not working-class areas like Sunderland. In a wider sense, the band knows that politicians are thinking about themselves. When the chorus talks of swapping all of this for a good night out, I wonder whether the group are talking about how going on the lash is escapism from the pain and division around us or whether they had other ideas. It is an intriguing line of thought and, as you’d expect, there is little room for gloom and minor keys. The band ensure the song remains vibrant and fulsome.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Benge

As the song goes along, the video gets more colourful and interesting – cigarette butts in the sand and baked potatoes on weighing scales seems to be more about political commentary and symbolism than it does for comic effect – and you start to get more involved in the song. The band discuss boys looking like zombies; they are dazed and in a dream (whether fatigued by the rush around them or self-destructing) and are “caught selling off our history in a black-market pact”. You get a sense of the divisions that are not only happening in Sunderland and the North East but all around the U.K. Voters are making decisions that seem right to them but will have huge consequences. There seems to be a divide between age groups and generations; between those in working-class jobs and the more well-off; between those who have a voice and those who do not. A lot food can be found in the video for Good Night Out – including ice-creams and tomato sauce being drizzled on a piece of fish – and it sort of reminds me of the videos of the past. I think there is a dependence on fast cuts and soulless visions, especially in mainstream videos. In a way, The Futureheads are throwing it back to the past and have released a visual that is very eye-catching and curious – maybe that was the intention: talking about a pre-divided Britain and what we are all facing in 2019. The chorus is one of the most evocative and uplifting of this year and, whilst the lyrics are pretty serious and political, you cannot help sing along and get involved. I wonder whether the line “Talk to the river at the end of a good night out” relates to someone vomiting after a pretty heavy night or, sadly, taking their own life – maybe there is something more spiritual and less literal but one cannot resist imagining. Not only are The Futureheads discussing the changing landscape and how Britain is shifting but there is this need for escapism. To get away from the endless Brexit talk and stress, maybe a good night out is the best remedy. That said, one gets a sense that the band might be talking to the less affected and politically-motivated young. Perhaps they are more concerned with getting buzzed than making their cross on the ballot paper felt. Perhaps there is apathy and less vocal outrage from the young compared to the older, more political voters. It is interesting to see and, the more you play Good Night Out, the more you discover. It is a triumphant song from The Futureheads and a triumphant jewel in the crown that is Powers.


The Futureheads are at Rough Trade Nottingham today before heading to HMV Manchester tomorrow. You can keep on top of their gig plans - and I will try and catch them when they are down in London at Electric Ballroom on 6th December. The Sunderland natives play the city’s Bonded Warehouse on 4th September and it will a homecoming of sorts, I guess. It is wonderful to have the band back and, with Powers out and striking all the right chords, doubtless there will be other demands and gigs coming. Make sure you follow The Futureheads on social media (links are at the bottom of this review) and check out what they are doing. They are such a captivating and real band who can mix politics and something serious with sheer giddiness and fun. That is a hard balance to strike and, even though they have seen a lot of division in their local community, the band have not abandoned their whimsy, quirkiness and thrills. Instead, we have a modern record that documents what we are living through and subjects like mental-health but they make us feel uplifted and better whilst doing so – something a lot of overly-serious artists can learn from. The band are getting a lot of love right now and seem to enjoy being back on the road. I have been listening back to The Futureheads’ earliest material and marveling. They are this terrific force of nature who have been responsible for some of the best songs of the past couple of decades. I do hope they remain strong and together for the foreseeable future as it would be a shame to see them call it quits. I shall leave things here but, if you have not grabbed a copy of Powers, make sure you do that right now. I wanted to concentrate on the Good Night Out single because it is my favourite song from Powers – and it has a pretty cool video! The canny Mackem band is our Marra (I’ll stop trying to use Sunderland terminology) and they have won their way into the nation’s hearts. I hope they have many more golden years and release more material. Here’s to The Futureheads and a potent musical force that are continuing to inspire and amazing. Let’s hope these guys keep on playing and amazing for years to come because we all…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Alexander Knox

LOVE them dearly.


Follow The Futureheads

TRACK REVIEW: Tegan and Sara - I’ll Be Back Someday



Tegan and Sara


PHOTO CREDIT: Trevor Brady Photography 

I’ll Be Back Someday




The track, I’ll Be Back Someday, is available via:




Calgary, Canada


Sire Records


25th July, 2019

The album, Hey, I’m Just Like You, is available from 27th September, 2019. Pre-order here:


BEFORE talking about their latest track…


 PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

I want to discuss Tegan and Sara from a number of different angles. To begin, I want to chat about longevity and artists who manage to navigate the years and evolve as time goes on. I also will nod to the duo as pioneers when it comes to queer women in music and how they set a precedence; a relationship that is fraught at times but a connection and compassion that has remained for years; Pop music with more depth and credibility than a lot of what is in the mainstream; returning to your roots yet adding something new to the pot. I will start with that last point. Hey, I’m Just Like You was recorded in Vancouver in April and May and, in many ways, it is Tegan and Sara returning to their Rock and Punk roots. I will talk about their work in Pop terms later; a fact that there is energy and something that extends beyond the boundaries of Rock and Punk. Tegan and Sara have revisited some songs that they wrote as teenagers for their new album. I want to explore Tegan and Sara’s longevity and survival but it is interesting to see, on their new record, they are looking back at some older songs and giving them a new lease. The duo has been looking back in the archives and they have a memoir, High School, coming out on 24th September. When they were looking at the annals and digging back into their past, they found a lot of older songs and have brought them to life. Some might say it is nostalgia but I think, in a larger sense, it shows that artists do not always have to write and record what is new and current. For years, artists have included older songs on their albums and I like the fact there are some of these years-old tracks on Hey, I’m Just Like You. I urge people to get a hold of the upcoming album because, I think, it is shaping up to be one of their very best.

For this record, Tegan and Sara are working exclusively with female personnel. The credits include drummer Carla Azar, bassist Catherine Hiltz; producer Alex Hope, engineer Rachael Findlen and assistant engineer Annie Kennedy - while Beatriz Artola mixed the record and Emily Lazar mastered it. Some might say that this is a ploy to grab headlines and get attention but, actually, we are living in a time when women are not that visible and respected when it comes to the studio. By that, I mean there are some fantastic female producers and engineers out there but they do not get the credit they deserve. Also, in terms of sheer numbers, men still outweigh women and it is an unbalanced scene in that respect. I do think there are small steps being made but, as the years go by, can we say we have moved as fast as possible regarding equality? I do not think so. With Tegan and Sara having an all-female team, it will not only raise awareness regarding women in the studio but encourage other artists to do the same. I think it is important we get away from the notion that the studio is for men and it is their playground. There are so many talented women crafting today’s music and we still have to see imbalance and exclusion. Not only are festivals and other areas of music dominated by men still but, in terms of production credits for albums, most are filled by men. It is great to see a big name like Tegan and Sara taking this step and making a record with so many female voices in the mix. I wonder if they will continue to use this team on the next album because, when you listen to some of the tracks on Hey, I’m Just Like You, there are qualities and nuances I have not heard on their other records. It seems like there is a real understanding and connection between Tegan and Sara and their crew and it seems like the duo are entering a new phase. It makes me think about how long Tegan and Sara have been on the scene.


PHOTO CREDIT: Katie Friedman 

The Canadian sisters of Tegan Rain Quin and Sara Keirsten Quin came onto the scene with 1999’s Under Feet Like Ours. That album received a smattering of focus but, even then, they were separating themselves from the pack. Maybe the first couple of albums were more Folk-based and had Indie strands. By So Jealous in 2004, they started to move into Pop-Punk and were gathering more big reviews and praise-heavy snippets. That album is one of their most complete and satisfying and, after experimenting and finding their sound, it seems like they arrived then. There was darkness on 2007’s The Con, but it is a record that, again, saw the duo step up and reach new heights. I think Tegan and Sara have survived and flourished for so long because they each handle songwriting on their own terms. A lot of bands and duos have to write in a certain way and there are often arguments regarding credit and sonic direction. Rather than have disagreements about individual songs’ sound and what direction and album will take, Tegan and Sara can bring their own voices to the plate. Maybe Sara is a more mature and intriguing songwriting whilst Tegan is more direct and simple with her music. That is not to say there is a disparity: both sisters have their own sound and ideas and it is nice to see them contrasted. I do think Tegan and Sara will continue to record for many years to come because, on every album, they explore new avenues and sounds. They are not a unit beholden to a strict template and unwilling to deviate too much. Take, for example, an album like Heartthrob from 2013. The sisters had both passed thirty (as they are twins) and they thought they needed to take big leaps. The album is one of their most commercial but it is also one of their deepest and most eclectic.

I think bands and artists can get stuck on a samey path and are unwilling to deviate because they feel they will lose focus and acclaim. Rather than repeating what they did from years ago, Tegan and Sara moved forward and continue to do so. They have kept their identities intact and are not making radical moves. The fact that they have an all-female team on Hey, I’m Just Like You just shows that they are always moving and progressing. In fact, I feel Tegan and Sara are getting better and stronger with every release. Maybe it is a growth of confidence or a better relationship between the sisters but many are noticing how Tegan and Sara are hitting huge heights. Judging by the new material from their latest album, they are adding new layers and colours. From the somewhat tentative beginnings, Tegan and Sara have grown into one of the most captivating and inspiring acts in modern music. They are a lesson to any artists of the moment regarding sustainability and popularity. One looks to the future and wonders where they can go. I do think Tegan and Sara will bring new sounds to the fore but I feel they are on a level footing right now. I will talk about the sisters’ bond and relationship in a bit but it seems like there is harmony and agreement in the camp. There have been tough times but they have weathered the storms and continued to thrive. I will move on because there is a lot to discuss. It has been amazing looking back at Tegan and Sara’s career and seeing how they have moved. I think all the best and most enduring artists change between albums but keep their personalities and identity true. In modern music, I wonder whether we are conscious and accepting of great queer artists. I have recently reviewed Shura – another queer artist – but, in the wider field, are these artists being embraced and promoted?

 PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

Tegan and Sara openly identity as queer artists and have done from the start. It was a pretty brave and bold move discussing their sexuality at a time when there were not many queer women in music. In a way, they lead a bit of a breakthrough but I do wonder whether the mainstream has opened up and are shining a light on queer artists. We hear a lot of talk about LG.B.T.Q.I.A.+ rights and the discussion is moving forward. I do think that, in 2019, we are not as progressed as we should and so many L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ artists are undervalued, overlooked or side-lined. I am pleased Tegan and Sara have lasted for years and grown into this hugely popular act. The fact that they have managed to grow and discuss their sexuality so freely is because of their loyal and loving fanbase. I will move on but, before then, I want to bring in a feature from last year where gender fluidity was discussed and Tegan and Sara talked about a sense of isolation and misunderstanding:  

As their career gained momentum, the pair also had to navigate the fraught gender and sexuality expectations they faced as queer women musicians without much modern precedent. In a poignant interview for The Con's tenth anniversary in 2017, Sara expressed regret she hadn't found a mentor earlier in her career. "I'm not blaming any one person," she said, "but I just feel like we were isolated from the queer scene, we were isolated from the indie-rock scene. We never really fit in for whatever reason." But in recent years, this dream of a support system and inclusive community has come true: After nearly two decades of honing their sound and pushing back against sexist and homophobic stereotypes, Tegan and Sara have amassed a fiercely loyal fanbase that celebrates the siblings' radical individuality.

This spark of singularity was present even early in Tegan and Sara's career. Signed to Neil Young's Vapor Records, the pair started off playing spunky folk-pop — their first widespread release, 2000's This Business Of Art, was a funky album with debts to hip-hop, Ani DiFranco and Alanis Morissette — which soon evolved into something musically undefinable.


PHOTO CREDIT: Lindsey Byrnes

On 2002's If It Was You, the swaggering "Time Running" benefits from churning guitars; the brisk "Monday Monday Monday" is a kicking-leaves-in-autumn acoustic pop tune with a bittersweet core. Later, on 2004's So Jealous, fizzy-candy keyboards pockmark the pogo-pop "Speak Slow."

Both Tegan and Sara openly identify as queer, and the latter wrote "I Was Married" about her then-common-law partner. Although the song represents one of the pair's first deliberate lyrical references to their sexuality, neither woman has ever hidden this fact; they both came out before the band blew up. Still, the sisters have never wanted to have their art pigeonholed by their sexuality, gender or even twin sisterhood, Tegan once told an interviewer — although she later admitted that they "accepted that we were going to be seen as a 'lesbian band'" once they found a niche in the alternative music world. "We were okay with that," she said”.

Things have changed for the better in terms of acceptance and inclusivity but I do feel there is a long way to regarding true balance and understanding. The duo have faced a sense of unease and isolation from the very start but I do think they have opened the way for so many other queer artists. I just mentioned Shura but there are so many more who have seen what Tegan and Sara have done – regarding their passionate music and the fact they openly speak about their sexuality – and have taken that to heart. I just want to crib from a 2016 article where, again, Tegan and Sara’s sexuality is covered:

And the pair don’t mind talking about their sex lives. Sara has been in a relationship for six years; Tegan is seeing someone new. For eons, they feared their identification as queer women would trivialize their music, as the media didn’t used to have  such a capacity for intellectualizing sexuality and gender. Sara, in particular, was shy about her girl crushes. “I still am!” she clarifies.

“I still struggle with being out. When I say, ‘I’ve got a crush on Rihanna,’ there’s some part of me that thinks, Am I being gross?” As a heterosexual woman, I wouldn’t think twice about admitting such frivolities. That’s privilege”.

The fact of the matter is that, even when you are in a group with a sibling, that does not mean the bond will always be stronger and unbreakable. In fact, I think there is an extra pressure when you are playing with a brother or sister. Maybe it is the fact that you have grown up together and there is an extra weight and sense of expectation. From Oasis and The Bangles through to Arcade Fire and Kings of Leon, there are cases of siblings playing together successfully for years – although, when it comes to Oasis, that once-solid bond sort of broke and remains to this day! Tegan and Sara are together still and seem more assured and happy than they have ever been. Whereas non-related members might have walked away from each other when times were tough, Tegan and Sara have remained resolute and have worked through that strain. In this article from 2016, they talked about their new album but also discussed their relationship and how that has changed through the years:

The follow-up, Love You to Death, picks up where Heartthrob left off – 10 sparkling songs that tackle topics ranging from gay marriage (BWU features the line: “Save your first and last dance for me/I don’t need a white wedding”) to their own volatile relationship, which is documented in brutal terms on White Knuckles: “Black and blue now/Breaking each other like/Knuckles in a fight.”

The twins’ tumultuous partnership is no secret, but it’s the first time they have dared put it so explicitly on record. It must have been weird for Tegan to hear certain songs by Sara and think: “Oh, that one’s about me punching her.” Or maybe not ...

“The truth,” Tegan says, “is that I listen to Sara’s songs as if she’s a band that I like. So, when my inbox has a new song from Sara in it, I get excited, as if Beyoncé just dropped a track. It wouldn’t occur to me to ask what it’s about, because I immediately make it about myself, like any fan would.”

On White Knuckles, they sing about making “excuses for the bruises we wear”, which refers to one scarring encounter. So, what were their excuses? Sara thinks for a second. “Probably just not acknowledging that there were any bruises. We would look at people as if to say: ‘What do you mean? What are you talking about?’”

Tegan agrees: “We were often out on our own. And the second Sara and I had conflict, everyone would leave. It was alienating and awful at times. We’d look around at [other bands] and think, ‘You’re having so much fun,’ ’cos they were friends. Whereas we were out there and it felt like some weird punishment or prison sentence. But we couldn’t acknowledge it to each other. I couldn’t say: ‘I hate this, I hate being onstage, I’m uncomfortable in my skin, I feel scared, alone, broke.’ Because [Sara] could have just been like: ‘Me too, let’s quit’”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

I feel like modern Pop music is quite diverse and open. There does seem to be a shift between the underground and rising artists and those in the mainstream. There are some terrific modern Pop artists around but I still find the most popular and covered are not as deep and interesting as the press makes out. Not to single out someone like Taylor Swift but she is getting a lot of hype and love right now. Her new album, Lover, has picked up some positive reviews but you listen to the music and a feeling of familiarity comes through. There does seem to be this sense we have heard this before; a modern formula that means the songs and production all sound the same. Maybe I am not her target demographic but it is a bit depressing seeing these big Pop artists release albums that have no nuance, sense of the original and chance of remembrance. How long are we going to listen to artists like Swift? She is popular now but, in decades to come, will people pull out her records and talk about them? I think so much of today’s music is light and transient; subject to entropy and quite dismissal. The real and most promising artists are those who can take genres like Pop and add something new. Tegan and Sara started out with more Folk and Indie sounds but then added in Punk and Pop threads. I think their blend and eclectic nature means that the music sticks and remains. You listen to the tracks and they are so much more alive and appealing than a lot of what is happening in the mainstream. Even when Tegan and Sara have been more commercial-looking, their music has always been far stronger and deeper than their peers’ efforts. I shall move on in a second but, with a new track out, there is a lot of talk. I’ll Be Back Someday is a fantastic cut and one I am keen to explore.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Trevor Brady Photography

There is something youthful and charmingly throwback when you hear I’ll Be Back Someday. That is not to say the song is light: it is one of the most engaging and wonderful of the year. I mean, one gets a blast of the early-2000s and some of the Pop-Punk that was around at the time. There is a nod to the past but, as always, Tegan and Sara keep things in the present. They always bring that combination of mystery and the direct when it comes to their lyrics. They talk about watching T.V. and whatever is on right now will make things better. The heroines want to dial someone up and ask how they are. There is something wonderfully spirited and optimistic about the words but one wonders whether there is some more pained backstory. I am not sure whether they are talking to a friend or lover but, maybe, there has been some friction and fracture. There is hesitancy regarding that call; a sense that the numbers cannot be dialled – what is causing that reluctance? The composition has a chug-and-charge that mixes the best of modern Pop-Punk with a sound of the 1990s and early part of the previous decade. The sisters’ bond and connection means the song leaps from the speakers and make the listener wonder. The chorus seems to contradict the early feeling that there is this friendship bond and need to connect with someone – “I run, run, run, run, run away/Get, get, get, get, get away/I run, run, run, run, run away/Get, get, get, get, get away/But I'll be back someday/I'll be back someday”. I love the fact that, in the video, there is a landline being used and referenced. In fact, when you hear the song, one gets these visions of a proper phone, perhaps corded, that is being used. Again, one gets visions of a past (better) time when we did used to communicate verbally. At a time when we are texting and technology is taking over, there is something brilliant rare hearing a phone being used in a song – one that is not packed with apps and distractions!



As the song progresses, the sound and energy levels raise. The chorus is huge and there is so much life and drive to be found. It is impossible to ignore the physicality and addictiveness of the chorus and how it sort of sweeps you off of your feet. Against the more wracked and troubled verses, the chorus provides this sunshine burst that, whilst documenting the heroine(s) running away, is much-needed. On the surface, it seems like Tegan and Sara are fleeing and they are abandoning someone. The fact that they will be back and have resolved to return means that, perhaps, they just need to get away and think. Lyrics talk about reading all night and doing so until they fall asleep; a cold feeling that is hard to shift – the song asks how to get rid of these troubling and hard feelings. When listening, I wondered whether this song was a message from the duo to a friend (or a single perspective) or it was a message between the two them. Certainly, the sisters have had their problems in the past but, rather than the track being a sort of veiled message between the two of them, I do think it is a single story aimed at someone who means a lot but has to accept the fact things have changed; the heroine needs to get away but will be back. It is not a shock to hear the 1990s make its presence known because, as with many songs on the upcoming album, this was an older song that has been re-recorded. I am not sure why it did not get a full release years ago but, in many ways, it sounds more relevant now than ever. There are a lot of modern Pop-Punk artists taking guidance from the 1990s so it is pleasing to hear something modern-yet-nostalgic come from Tegan and Sara. I’ll Be Back Someday is the first single from Hey, I'm Just Like You but I am sure there will be others before the album is released on 27th September. I love everything they do but I think, now, they are at their strongest. The songwriting is amazingly assured and I feel like there is this solid bond between the sisters. Where they go from now is uncertain but it seems like there are positive and productive juices flowing through the Tegan and Sara camp right now.

Tegan and Sara are pretty busy on the road right now and are gearing up for autumn and winter shows across North America. I am not sure whether they are coming to the U.K. at any point but there are a lot of people here who would love to see them. The sisters have been revisitng their past for their memoir and a lot of this upbringing and younger spirit comes through on Hey, I’m Just Like You. Released on 27th September through Sire, I think the record will be one of the most celebrated and well-received. There has always been a lot of love for Tegan and Sara but I think, as the sands shift and modern music changes, they will get even more credit and attention this time around. I do feel Pop-Punk is a huge thing right now and there are not many treats regarding the biggest names. Tegan and Sara are making music at a time when L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ artists are becoming more visible but have not received the support they deserve; wen Pop is evolving and we need something sunnier and more hopeful. This year has been an extraordinary one for women and I do think that, with the best albums coming from them, more needs to be done in order to accelerate gender equality and change. The scene is so rich right now and I do not think women are getting the opportunities they deserve. Think about festivals and airplay and things are still skewed towards men. I hope this does change but one cannot fail to ignore the sheer weight and wonder coming from women in music. I shall leave things now but I urge people to pre-order Hey, I’m Just Like You because it is shaping up to be one of 2019’s very best albums. The duo are constantly evolving and adding something new to their music but, in whatever they do, they are…


ALWAYS spectacular.


Follow Tegan and Sara

TRACK REVIEW: Declan McKenna - British Bombs



Declan McKenna


PHOTO CREDIT: @citizenkanewayne 

British Bombs





The track, British Bombs, is available via:




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


Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited


19th August, 2019


MAYBE this contradicts what I was saying yesterday…

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


  PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

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

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

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


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

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

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


  PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

  PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali

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

HUGELY impressive.


Follow Declan McKenna


TRACK REVIEW: Bat for Lashes - Jasmine



Bat for Lashes






The track, Jasmine, is available via:




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


Bat for Lashes/AWAL Recordings Ltd.

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


EVERY big artist I review…


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

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


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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Dewe Matthews

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

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

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

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


 PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Legato

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

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

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

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

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

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

What switched you on to music?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Dewe Matthews

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: David Levene

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

WHERE she heads next.


Follow Bat for Lashes

TRACK REVIEW: The Murder Capital - More Is Less



The Murder Capital

More Is Less





The track, More Is Less, is available via:




Dublin, E.I.R.E.

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


16th August, 2019


Human Seasons Records


ON this occasion…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie MacMillan

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

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

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

But the city is still home.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


 PHOTO CREDIT: Neelam Khan Vela

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Molly Keane

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Neelam Khan Vela

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


 PHOTO CREDIT: Imogen Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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


 PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie MacMillan

THIS incredible band.


Follow The Murder Capital


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



Michael Kiwanuka

You Ain’t the Problem




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




London, U.K.


13th August, 2019

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


Polydor Limited


THIS year has been a pretty…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jodie_canwell

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

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


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


 PHOTO CREDIT: Ian Laidlaw

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jodie_canwell

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: yardmanflo

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jodie_canwell

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


VERY valuable indeed.


Follow Michael Kiwanuka


TRACK REVIEW: Slipknot - Red Flag





Red Flag





The track, Red Flag, is available via:




Iowa, U.S.A.


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


9th August, 2019


Roadrunner Records, Inc.


ONE might notice a bit of a shift…


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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



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


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


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


IN all of music.


Follow Slipknot

TRACK REVIEW: Lana Del Rey - Looking for America



Lana Del Rey

Looking for America




The track, Looking for America, is available via:




Los Angeles, U.S.A.


9th August, 2019


Universal Music Operations/Polydor Records

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


WHEN thinking of my review subject…

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


 PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Nodland/Shore Fire

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

ANYTHING is possible.


Follow Lana Del Rey





Summer Girl





The track, Summer Girl, is available via:




Los Angeles, U.S.A.


31st July, 2019


Universal Music Operations/Haim Productions Inc.


THIS time out…


 PHOTO CREDIT: Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

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

On the bond between sisters

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


On being from a musical family

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

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

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


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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Vogue Russia

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: London Evening Standard/eyevine/Redux

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP

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

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

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


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

SEE where they go next.


Follow HAIM

TRACK REVIEW: Sleater-Kinney - Can I Go On




PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Can I Go On





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




Washington, U.S.A.


31st July, 2019

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


THESE are interesting times for…

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

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Rozette Rago for The New York Times 

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

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

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

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

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

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


 PHOTO CREDIT: Jonny Cournoyer

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Konstantin Sergeyev

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

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


 PHOTO CREDIT: Suki Dhanda

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rozette Rago for The New York Times

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

FOR a very long time.


Follow Sleater-Kinney

TRACK REVIEW: Taylor Swift - The Archer



Taylor Swift

The Archer




The track, The Archer, is available via:




New York, U.S.A.


23rd July, 2019

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


THIS is a bit of a departure for me…

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Valheria Rocha

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @ashleyophoto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A definite role model.


Follow Taylor Swift


TRACK REVIEW: The 1975 - The 1975



The 1975

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

The 1975




The track, The 1975, is available via:


Spoken Word


Manchester, U.K.


25th July, 2019


Dirty Hit


IT might be a bit unfair to claim that…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Anders Hellberg

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/The 1975

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jordan Hughes

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

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/The 1975 

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jordan Hughes

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


 PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Campanella

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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


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

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


ONE of the biggest bands around.


Follow The 1975