FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: The White Stripes – The White Stripes

FEATURE:

 

 

Vinyl Corner

PHOTOGRAPHY: Ko Melina Zydeko/Heather White 

The White Stripes – The White Stripes

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THERE are a couple of big music anniversaries…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The White Stripes in 1999/PHOTO CREDIT: Doug Coombe

that are happening today. Not only is Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasure forty; Nirvana’s debut, Bleach, is thirty. Running another decade down is another debut: The White Stripes’ eponymous gem. The White Stripes was unveiled to the world on 15th June, 1999 - and it was a bit of a minor success. Think about what was happening at the end of the 1990s in the U.S. and U.K. We had seen Britpop and Grunge die; Alternative sounds were coming through but I don’t think there was a huge movement to end the 1990s the same way Hip-Hop ended the 1980s and Grunge started the 1990s. There was a burgeoning Garage movement happening in the U.S. towards the turn of the century. In many ways, The White Stripes helped spearhead and popularise the scene. Although it would take another couple of years for proper exposure to come the way of Detroit Garage – The White Stripes were formed and based out of Detroit – the debut from the duo was extraordinary. It was produced by Jim Diamond and Jack White (lead/guitar) at Ghetto Recordings and Third Man Studios, Detroit. Although Jack White would take over production duties very soon, he and Meg (White) were relatively new to the scene and did not have the commercial respect they soon gained. I look at bands around today and the raw sound they provide. Whether it is Post-Punk bands like IDLES or the likes of Fontaines D.C., I think there is a slight nod to The White Stripes.

I have been looking back at the late-1990s and how, in a way, The White Stripes was completely different to what was happening here in the U.K. Whereas we were seeing a new wave of Dance music, it seems strange to think there was something as bare and basic as The White Stripes in the world. Taking its cues from the classic Punk albums, the Detroit duo’s debut consisted of short songs with stripped production values and very few instrumental touches – The White Stripes would add more instruments to the fold later but, here, it was mainly guitar and drums (with a bit of piano here and there). One of the finest tastemakers the music world has ever seen, John Peel, was attracted to The White Stripes right from the off. He was drawn to the cover and the song titles; he developed an instinct and would be a big part of their success in the U.K. To be fair to Peel’s prescience, one looks at the cover photos of Jack and Meg; their what-would-become-standard kit of red-white-and-black and this rather minimal design – like a local band selling their debut record, with little money, at a local shop. Opposed to a lot of the glitzy and big artists of the day, The White Stripes’ introduction was pretty modest and under-the-radar. The songs on the debut mix in a few well-selected Blues covers (including a great rendition of Robert Johnson’s Stop Breaking Down), a Dylan cover (One More Cup of Coffee) and the remaining originals.

Jack White would take more of a songwriting role after the debut – in the sense there would be fewer covers – and he clearly had a vision of where The White Stripes were headed. The White Stripes is a relatively brisk and concise album, even though there are seventeen tracks on it – most are under three minutes and a few are under two minutes. Even though the songs are Garage/Blues-based, there is a lot of variation and nuance. Jack White’s incredible licks and natural abilities fuse with Meg White’s minimal-yet-essential percussion work. One almost feels like they are in a living room hearing the duo lay down their tracks, such is the style of production. From the rumble and rawness of the opener, Jimmy the Exploder, to the interestingly-named and memorable closer, I Fought Piranhas, The White Stripes is an incredible debut. The White Stripes would widen their palette with 2000’s De Stijl; they would score massive reviews and acclaim with 2001’s White Blood Cells and hit their peak with 2003’s Elephant but, to me, their finest hour happened right at the start! The sparse production allows this live-feeling album to resonate and strike. My favourite songs include Wasting My Time and Screwdriver: you could see that classic White Stripes sound developing and, with just guitar and drums (the duo never used bass at all), it is breathtaking to hear. Of course, the duo had been playing gigs before they laid down their debut but nothing on the level they would achieve.

For the most part, they were playing sets locally so it was sort of hard to gauge whether their material – a blend of early workings of their tracks and covers – would translate in the studio. Everything about The White Stripes is pretty lo-fi and low-key. Jack and Meg would tour more on their second and it wasn’t until White Blood Cells when they really became involved in music video-making. If critics prefer the duo’s work from White Blood Cells onward, one cannot deny the importance of the debut. It is simpler and less ambitious than their later work but, in my mind, The White Stripes is the birth of one of the last great Rock acts. Have we seen many bands since them that could make you feel like they did?! The White Stripes were not concerned with hitting the charts and following what was popular in 1999. About to head into a new century, Jack and Meg were putting down an album that meant a lot to them and was true to their roots. The stories throughout are original and rare; the chemistry between them is tight (not a surprise considering they used to be married) and the production allows that balance of live-sounding and studio-set. Also, like a lot of Rock and Punk bands today, the sound was not one-dimensional. Listen to their take of Bob Dylan’s One More Cup of Coffee and compare it to The Big Three Killed My Baby; match that with Slicker Drips and then place it with Astro. They all come from the some act but the songs are very different. Even though The White Stripes limited themselves in terms of instruments, the songs’ subjects and the sheer scope was definitely not confined.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The White Stripes is an amazingly confident and complete debut that definitely hinted and a golden future. AllMusic, in this positive review, highlighted the blend of sounds and genres:

Singer/guitarist Jack White's voice is a singular, evocative combination of punk, metal, blues, and backwoods while his guitar work is grand and banging with just enough lyrical touches of slide and subtle solo work to let you know he means to use the metal-blues riff collisions just so. Drummer Meg White balances out the fretwork and the fretting with methodical, spare, and booming cymbal, bass drum, and snare cracks. In a word, economy (and that goes for both of the players). The Whites' choice of covers is inspired, too. J. White's voice is equally suited to the task of tackling both the desperation of Robert Johnson's "Stop Breakin' Down" and the loneliness of Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee." Neither are equal to the originals, but they take a distinctive, haunting spin around the turntable nevertheless. All D.I.Y. punk-country-blues-metal singer/songwriting duos should sound this good”.

The White Stripes’ debut gave us this unique and promising force that was very different to everything in the music world. Jack and Meg would go on to pretty much conquer the planet and seduce people around the world. In this great feature from Consequence of Sound, they talked about how The White Stripes defied expectations and added something truly special to music:

Beginning with their debut self-titled record in 1999, spanning the likes of White Blood Cells and Elephant, and on into 2007’s Icky Thump, the duo made gigantic strides in the world of music. Riding the wave that was the garage rock revival, The White Stripes music was just as simple and grungy as the likes of The Strokes or The Von Bondies, but it transcended the confines of the genre by being so much more.

Stripped to the core and as minimalist as possible, the simplistic drumming of Meg White kept the steady rhythm for the wild guitar antics and virtuosity of Jack White. It was country, it was punk, it was blues, it was gospel; whatever it was, it rocked hard and quick and true. Every note was important, yet each sound created was free to interpretation”.

Stereogram are one of the few sites that have marked the twentieth anniversary of The White Stripes - and discuss the way the duo sort of saved the Indie-Rock scene from itself and provided much-needed guidance:

 “The White Stripes is an album of a band trying to understand itself by briefly attempting to become everyone it loves, and that works, too. Sure, they’re Son House on “Canon,” which uses a portion of House’s song “John The Revalator” for lyrical inspiration. And they’re Robert Johnson on a rendition of his old tune “Stop Breaking Down,” which, by the way, is a killer choice for track two on a debut album for a band. An introduction, and then an immediate stepping out of themselves. They’re also Dylan on a trembling and howling version of “One Cup Of Coffee.” But beyond the covers, there’s the sound and spirit of many, jumbled up into the music. They’re a bit of the Kinks, the wailing vocals of early AC/DC or Led Zep, the loud-quiet-loud dynamic of Pixies.

The White Stripes arrived in the middle of 1999 to save indie rock from its own self-analyzing. The band took its presentation and myth-building seriously, of course. But the songs themselves were playful, even when meditating on conventional or simplistic ideas…

This, too, is the blues. The blues aren’t just a musical mood, but also the way the mood looks when turned on its ear. The sad songs are also funny. The funny songs are sometimes about death. The blues is, among other things, an understanding that so much of living is absurd, and must be seen through as many lenses as possible in order for it to make sense.

For all of the other things about it The White Stripes is also an album made by a band that fell in love with songs, and then did their homework around those songs. It is an album that tips its hat to the past while restructuring old sounds for new audiences. Lineage fades when no one chooses to act as a lighthouse. More than just a great debut album for a band that would go on to invent and reinvent, The White Stripes was potentially also a starting point for someone who had never known what the blues were, and then found Son House, or Robert Johnson, or Ma Rainey. Someone who later bought a new amp, and stopped going to church as much as they used to”.

To me, there are few albums that sound as good and natural on vinyl. Jack White is a huge lover of vinyl and he is someone who you can imagine, even now, surrounded by records from the Blues masters. Because of that, there is something organic regarding the sound of The White Stripes. That attachment and knowledge of the Blues scene, combined with a ready-born genius means the debut from the Detroit duo will continue to intrigue for years to come. Make sure you grab yourself a copy on vinyl and allow this twenty-year-old treasure to…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Jack White at the Gold Dollar in Detroit on 27th November, 1999/PHOTO CREDIT: Doug Coombe

STUN the senses.

FEATURE: Comfort in An Age of Anxiety: How Portable Music/Audio Is Less About Blocking Out People and More About Silencing the Noise

FEATURE:

 

 

Comfort in An Age of Anxiety

PHOTO CREDIT: @thefakebhogra/Unsplash 

How Portable Music/Audio Is Less About Blocking Out People and More About Silencing the Noise

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ON 1st July…

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 ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Michael Ziska

the Sony Walkman turns forty and it is a great excuse to celebrate a breakthrough in music. Before then, music was not portable and one could not take their sounds around with them. People could carry stereos and devices but they were largely cumbersome and not especially slimline. To be fair, that way of life was great when it came to sharing music and taking it into neighbourhoods. Away from the radio and restrictive playlists, people could bring their own music with them and share it with others. It sounds pretty idyllic and not something we really see too much of these days. The Sony Walkman was a revolution: it opened up a new world and meant that people could walk around with their cassettes and not have to bother about disturbing people. One could listen to music on the move and enjoy all their favourite artists without lugging around something heavy. After 1979, technology companies were keen to take the Walkman to new heights. Various other versions were released and, before long, the C.D. version came about: the brilliant-yet-flawed DiscMan. It was a device that made it possible to listen to C.D.s on the go and, years later, technology took its next steps. The Walkman did not survive the turn of the century and, when C.D.s and cassettes started to decline, there was this move into digital music. Through the years, we have seen this switch from portable music that one could take anywhere to, well, the modern-day version of that. One can take a library of music around with them and shut out the world.

There are people that miss the older days…where you would have a boom-box or stereo and could play it to friends. I am old enough to remember those days but I was mesmerised by a device I could carry around with me and immerse myself in music. People say that we have come to the point where we are blocking out the world and not really focused on others. That debate as to whether people are blocking out the world or escaping noise has its representatives. I do like the fact that music is readily available and we can stream it on our phones. To be fair, I prefer portable devices and bespoke equipment rather than Smartphones. I love the older players where you could listen to music and not be distracted by visuals and have to block out people. I think people need to differentiate between technology that is distracting the eyes and attention and that which allows us to relax and feel comforted. I do agree that Smartphones, for the most part, are irrelevant and needless. We use them for various reasons but we can do without them. One walks down the streets and is greeted with a line of people all staring down at their phones and not looking where they are going. Not only is this practice rude and dangerous but it is completely needless. There is nothing people need to do when walking down the street other than the actual business of walking.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @le_buzz/Unsplash

I grew up seeing technology change and evolve but, at no point was there this lack of communication and sense of isolation. Nobody, anywhere needs to check emails, text others and play any games or look at the Internet! We are finding ways of avoiding eye contact and humans; unable to simply walk the street without grabbing our phones and avoiding the world – I never take my phone out and, instead, I only use it briefly and for the odd text and call. The likes of the Walkman never saw a future like we have now. Instead, it was only about music and the ability to be free and unleashed. One cannot link the Walkman to the sort of hell we have now: where eyes are always down and very few people can exist without constant staring at screens and texting. We need to differentiate between the Smartphone and useless distractions and what the likes of the Walkman has led to: a world where we can take endless music with us and actually block out the noise of the world. People that stare at their phones and do not look where they are going are avoiding the world and not concerned with the people around them. Those who have headphones on or earphones in – when listening to music – are silencing the noise around them. One can say that, with music and sound in their ears, people are unable to converse with others and help others out.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @sonance/Unsplash

If someone asks for directions or wants to strike up a conversation, can someone who is listening to music hear them? I do agree that, in towns and villages, that is more of a problem. If you take a big city like London, you do see a lot of people listening to music on the Tube and walking down the streets. In most cases, people are still looking around them and are not blocking out the world – the same way as people do when on their phones and not concerned with what is around them. I see people conversing in London and these interactions taking place but, with so many people around and there being a load of noise about us, we all need that sense of privacy and relief. If someone were listening to music and did not want any contact with others then that would be a different matter. The best thing about portable music and sounds is the fact we can feel inspired and energised; we can have anything from audiobooks, podcasts and radio in our ears and still be aware of the world around us. I see people listening to all manner of things and they can see other people; they can take their earphones out if someone approaches and they can balance interaction with escape. Forty years (almost) after the Sony Walkman revolutionised things, I still think its best aspects are present today.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @hyingchou/Unsplash

Maybe technology has moved music from the physical to the digital but where would we be without it? If we all had to sit at home and were unable to take music/sounds around with us, it would be restrictive and limiting. The freedom that we were given in 1979 exists today but the problem exists with the argument of ignorance/rudeness and escapism. If you, like me, live in a noisy and stressful city such as London, it can be very unnerving and anxiety-making. From the spate of ill people spreading germs (loudly) to the roar of traffic and the clamber of voices in the crowd…everyday life can be very distressing and tiring. I do admit that we need to be aware of people around us and actually be part of the world and, when you see people gawking at screens and not looking up, it is hard to achieve that. Even in a digital age, one need not stare at their phones and always be distracted – you can play an album through and select songs without glancing down too much. There is no way of bringing music into the modern age without putting it onto phones and into our ears – unless you want to annoy everyone around you. Not only can one listen to the radio or anything they want wherever they want but, indeed, they can rid themselves or distractions. People that say we are becoming less connected as a society and have lost the human touch are referring to, I would imagine, the stare-at-the-screen culture: those who are listening to music as they go fall in a different camp.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @antonio_dicaterina/Unsplash

The problem with trying to connect and interact with the masses of people around is that, more and more, there are more and more people in the world. People who feel we all need to be open to conversation need to differentiate between the crowded cities and how stressful that can be and less populous regions that allows one a sense of space and movement. Even those who are dedicated to sound and seem to shy away from human connection are not always slaves to muting the world – I do think there is a lot of misunderstanding. It is great having your ears and eyes open to roam and see the world, but one cannot ignore the size and busyness of things. So many people feel anxious and stressed walking the streets and travelling; having to listen to humans at their least considerate and negotiating with all the weird sound and effects that can be bamboozling, tiring and confusing. It is key that we are conscious of sounds we need to hear – people asking us for help and instructions – but there are myriad noises that can get into the brain and cause a lot of damage. More and more of us are suffering depression and anxiety and one wonders if it is possible to travel around and avoid that when you are not kept busy with music and sounds. I do feel like moments of quiet and calm does not require endless music and sound but look at the effects of modern life when it is shoved in our faces all of the time.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @stage7photography/Unsplash

Portable music and sounds can never completely cure and evaporate anxiety - but it does help an awful lot. I know a lot of people that run after work and they often take music with them. That was one of the things with the Walkman: it helped popularise aerobics and meant that people were more active because they could take music out with them. This same quality remains today and, if we can get more people out and about, that is a good thing. Being able to blow off steam after a long day is terrific and, if you are bringing music and sound around with you, that can provide release and inspiration. There is this ideal that you can take a walk or run and things are peaceful and calm – that is not always the way and, really, the distractions and noise can be unsettling! Making sound portable means that we can become more well-rounded and educated. Maybe someone is not a big reader but they can have an audiobook in their ears. Someone can erase the squall and slam of modern life without having to be too anxious and tired. Anything that can make modern life more bearable and tolerable is good in my books. We can listen to news on the move and we can also listen to the radio. I think this is very important. If we still lived in a time when radio/music was a less isolated and personal thing, it would cause ruction and offend people.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @thoughtcatalog/Unsplash

Now, we can stay informed and delighted all of the time and, at the same time, we are able to look at people and are not completely closed away. I still prefer people carrying books around with them but if you can have everything on one device, it seems more economical and less awkward. Personally, I do think the mere act of commuting and walking around can be very tough. There is a lot of noise around and the effect this can have over time is daunting. If one can take some of that ache away and learn something as they do, who are we to judge? Just listening to music as you walk about can inspire more curiosity and adventure; promote physical exercise and also make us want to go out more – rather than being kept inside and ignoring all people. On 1st July, we mark forty years of the Walkman and the way it transformed lives. I agree that the Smartphones we have now have made it easy to block out the world and spend insane amounts of time being distracted and mindlessly wasting time. The ability to still be aware of the world around us and having a way of muting the worst aspects of cities and busy communities – the traffic, noise pollution and irritations – can improve mental-health and make it much easier to cope. Everyone will have their own opinions but, from those who listen to music whilst running to the commuter who can experience a documentary without disturbing someone else, there are advantages to the rise in technology and what it can allow us. Freedom and choice is not the same as rudeness and isolation. If one chooses to listen to music/audio and ignore humans then we cannot blame technology companies – it is very much the responsibility of the individual. The experiences, joys; the possibilities and relief that portable music/audio has given us has helped enrich and improve…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @juja_han/Unsplash

SO many lives.  

FEATURE: The Beginning of a New Dawn: Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures at Forty

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The Beginning of a New Dawn

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ALBUM COVER: Peter Saville 

Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures at Forty

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THERE are a few albums…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Joy Division/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

that are celebrating big anniversaries this year but, when it comes to impactful albums, there are few that hit as hard as Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. The album was released on 15th June, 1979 and it was recorded/mixed over three successive weekends at Stockport’s Strawberry Studios in April 1979. Produced by Martin Hannett, it was a record that made a big impression upon release and is considered one of the most influential albums ever released. Guided by Hannett’s production techniques and with that iconic cover from Peter Saville, it is amazing to see how many people are discovering Unknown Pleasures to this day. The album is the only one released during Ian Curtis’ lifetime and many fans considering Unknown Pleasures to be the greatest achievement from the band. Joy Division formed back in 1976 and they came together during Punk’s first wave. Inspired by the speed, simplicity and effectiveness of bands such as the Sex Pistols at that time, it planted the seeds for Joy Division. Terry Mason on drums, Bernard Summer on guitar and Peter Hook on bass – Ian Curtis was the last addition to the ranks. The band made some changes and, when Stephen Morris joined by August 1977, the set was complete. Many have tried to encapsulate the sound of Unknown Pleasures and what it represents.

At a time when Punk was coming through and grabbing people – it would not last too long – this great alternative was around. True, Joy Division encapsulated some of Punk’s spirit but one cannot directly link the likes of Sex Pistols with Joy Division. Instead, the northern band’s music was more sophisticated; maybe a bit gloomier but it seemed more real and nuanced. Hannett’s production emphasised space and opened up new possibilities. Bands had not worked in this way before and the revelations that came out on Unknown Pleasures rocked the world. Some members of Joy Division wanted something more intense and guitar-based but, when you listen to Unknown Pleasures and the emotions that it evokes, the production is perfect. Unknown Pleasures initially started with a run of 10,000 copies and half of the copies were sold within the first two weeks of release. Things started slow and, boosted by the non-album single, Transmission, Unknown Pleasures caught on and ignited a new flame. There is guilt and claustrophobia in the album; a sense of looking at the future with feet very much in the present; a huge debut and emphatic statement that resonates and echoes to this very day. Whether you gravitate towards the classic interplay and connection within the band or Ian Curtis’ grave-yet-incredible vocals, Unknown Pleasures was unlike anything else in 1979 – it still sounds amazing and otherworldly forty years down the line.

Reviews in 1979 were positive and praise-filled and, when it comes to retrospective acclaim, there is plenty to choose from. AllMusic, in this review, beautifully articulated the qualities and threads of Unknown Pleasures:

Songs fade in behind furtive noises of motion and activity, glass breaks with the force and clarity of doom, and minimal keyboard lines add to an air of looming disaster -- something, somehow, seems to wait or lurk beyond the edge of hearing. But even though this is Hannett's album as much as anyone's, the songs and performances are the true key. Bernard Sumner redefined heavy metal sludge as chilling feedback fear and explosive energy, Peter Hook's instantly recognizable bass work was at once warm and forbidding, and Stephen Morris' drumming smacked through the speakers above all else. Ian Curtis synthesizes and purifies every last impulse, his voice shot through with the desire first and foremost to connect, only connect -- as "Candidate" plaintively states, "I tried to get to you/You treat me like this." Pick any song: the nervous death dance of "She's Lost Control"; the harrowing call for release "New Dawn Fades," all four members in perfect sync; the romance in hell of "Shadowplay"; "Insight" and its nervous drive toward some sort of apocalypse. All visceral, all emotional, all theatrical, all perfect -- one of the best albums ever”.

Pitchfork, in an effusive piece, talked about the relevance and beauty of Unknown Pleasures:

And then there's the music, a conflation of tribal primitivism and sophisticated art-rock that set the template for those twin poles of post-punk. A lot of credit goes to eccentric producer Martin Hannett, and it's the production-- not Curtis's well-parsed words or the band's suddenly ubiquitous biopic cachet-- that benefits most extensively from cleaned-up deluxe reissues of the band's two utterly essential albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer. Simply put, the group's debut full-length Unknown Pleasures, released in 1979, sounds like little that came before it. At its most familiar, it vaguely approximates the cold claustrophobia of Iggy's The Idiot or David Bowie's Low, but from the first notes of "Disorder" on, the music is almost as alien as its iconic cover art.

It's one of the most perfect pairings of artist and producer in rock history, but that shouldn't undersell the band's input. Joy Division, like many of their Manchester peers, were inspired by the DIY anti-ethos of the Sex Pistols; they just didn't know what to do with it at first. So, shaped and prodded by notorious provocateur Hannett (who would turn the heat in the studio down low enough for everyone to see their breath), the group embraced space, ambience, and an imposing austerity. It's noteworthy how many songs on Unknown Pleasures fade in like something emerging from the shadows. It's also worth noting how heavy songs such as "Day of the Lords", "New Dawn Fades", "Shadowplay", and "Interzone" are, while sinewy anthem "Disorder" and the discordant anti-funk of "She's Lost Control" are glorious anomalies in both their precision and concision”.

I do love all of Joy Division’s work but there is nothing that rivals Unknown Pleasures. It was almost as if the band knew they had created a masterpiece and were onto something special. Maybe it was because Punk was raging (in 1979) or there was this transition period. All genius and iconic albums fulfill a need or kick-start something that needed to exist. Some say Unknown Pleasures is the sound of an industrial estate and machinery; others feel it is the emotional bleeding of Ian Curtis whereas others struggle to put their feelings into words.

There are a lot of tributes and features running today that try to drill to the core of Unknown Pleasures. The Independent compliment the playing throughout the album and the way Hannett added fresh dynamics, possibilities and techniques:

Drummer Stephen Morris’s percussive instinct gives it the feel of a muscled beast poised to spring, and the battle for its melodic soul has been won, right from the start of the opening track, “Disorder”, by Hook’s bass, with notes played high up on the neck of the instrument. Sumner’s guitar comes in like an alarm, ringing with anxiety. There are no places to settle, no comfort zones, anywhere on Unknown Pleasures.

Aside from the electronic effects on “She’s Lost Control”, Hannett used techniques that created a sense of the music existing in a real, if empty, echoing space; the closing doors and smashing glass on “I Remember Nothing” create an atmosphere of creeping unease and violence. That same sense of fear pervades “Insight”, on which Curtis’s vocal was famously recorded down a telephone line. “I’m not afraid any more,” he sings… “I keep my eyes on the door”, he adds, suggesting otherwise.

Unknown Pleasures in some ways is still a bridge between the band they were – “New Dawn Fades” is surely the apogee of Joy Division as a rock band – and the more ambitious sound of Closer, but it remains utterly unlike anything else before or since”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Joy Division in 1979/PHOTO CREDIT: Pierre Rene-Worms 

NME spoke with members of Joy Division to celebrate forty years of Unknown Pleasures. Peter Hook was asked about Ian Curtis’ lyrics and whether, indeed, the late frontman ever revealed his inspirations:

Did Ian ever talk about what his lyrics were about?

Hook: “No. In fact, the ‘Unknown Pleasures’ session was the first time I’d actually heard Ian’s lyrics. You could never hear them live and we just couldn’t listen to the demo version we did for RCA because it was so horrible. So when I heard what Ian was singing, I was just really proud. It was a wonderful feeling of power and contentment to know that you had that in the band’s arsenal. I think people were very touched by Ian — his lyrics, his personality, and unfortunately his untimely demise. It struck a chord with a lot of lonely, depressed people who felt they didn’t quite fit in life. That connection started with ‘Unknown Pleasures’. It was me that used to handle the fan mail. And as time went by there’d be some horrific letters that got sent to us. After he died, we even got some that were written in blood.”

Did you expect the reaction to ‘Unknown Pleasures’ to be so positive?

Morris: “A lot of times when we did an interview, the journalist would say things like, ‘Oh well, there obviously is a deep symbiosis between the music you produce and the bleakness of your environment,’ and we’d look at each other and think, ‘What did he say? Symbiosis? What’s he on about?’ I think a lot of people had got into their heads that this album had come from the heart of darkness. We did try and contradict that idea but it didn’t do too much good, really. We’d rush out and buy NME because it was great that people were writing about us, but quite often we could only understand every 10th word! Sometimes, Rob would say to us, ‘We’ve got an interview, right, so here’s my idea: just let Ian do the talking.’ It was so people wouldn’t realise we were basically a bunch of idiots”.

I wonder how long the majesty and magic of Unknown Pleasures will last and how much of an impact it will make on future generations. It is clear that there are bands out there who take guidance from Joy Division; there are other albums that take their lead from Unknown Pleasures and have the same combination of sounds. In many ways, nobody has been able to match the immediacy, sense of surprise and brilliance of Unknown Pleasures. If you are new to the album then make sure you discover it now; if you are already aware and in love with it them use today as a good excuse to get the album back out and revel in all its triumphs. It is a marvellous album and one that has no equals or direct comparisons. There is not a lot else to say about it but, if you are curious still, look online because there are a lot of articles around and pieces that mark Unknown Pleasures’ fortieth. It has aged well and, as I said, it sounds as fresh now as it did back in 1979. Everyone will have their favourite tracks from the album but (Unknown Pleasures) is about the whole; the experience that is unveiled and how it makes you feel. I reckon Unknown Pleasure influence a whole new wave of artists and we will be talking about it in another forty years. There are not many albums that can boast that kind of acclaim and importance but, as I mentioned, I think Joy Division knew they had something special under their belts. Unknown Pleasures’ title suggests something mysterious and isolated but, forty years from its release, it remains adored and…

A big part of music’s history.  

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

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Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Anna of the North 

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

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AS it is that time of the week again…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Little Boots

let’s get to grips with the best female-led songs around. From great solo artists through to female-fronted bands, there is some awesome music around right now that deserves to be heard. Whether you prefer Soul, Pop or something with more grit, you will be sorted here! I have been searching around and listening to the best new songs around – and a few that are a few weeks old – and have put them in this playlist. Have a listen through and I am sure there is something in here that you will love. It is typical spring weather right now: rain is never far away and you are never quite sure whether it will be a washout or warm. In any case, here is some great music that will make the day…

IN THIS PHOTO: Black Honey

A lot brighter.

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

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Gold Mass Fade Out

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lennixx Swimming 

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Evan Petruzzi Warrior

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PHOTO CREDIT: @amdo_photo

Charly Bliss Chatroom

Anna of the North Thank Me Later

Marika Hackman the one

Snoh Aalegra Find Someone Like You

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Wallis Bird As the River Flows

Kelsea Ballerini Better Luck Next Time

Lizzy Land Braids 

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King Princess Cheap Queen

Anna Lunoe 303

Jade Imagine Big Old House

Annie Drury Daughter of the Moon

PHOTO CREDIT: CLASH

Lola Coca The One

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Luna Bec Over

Little Boots Secret

PHOTO CREDIT: Portia Maae Hunt

Tallsaint Skin Deep

PHOTO CREDIT: Katie Cook Photography

Nikita Alfonsa Good Morning, Sunshine

PHOTO CREDIT: Gwenaëlle Trn

Sinead O’Brien Taking on Time

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JoJo Worthington Argument

PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Dynan

Alice D Offline

Little Sparrow Corner of the Room

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Naaz TAPED

Sasha Brown How Far (Are You Willing to Go)

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PHOTO CREDIT: Flore Diamant

Tusks Mind

PHOTO CREDIT: Morten Rygaard

Kill J Silver Spoon

Ruby Duff Moon and Back

Arlo Parks george

Daniella Mason Girl in the Box

PHOTO CREDIT: Cáit Fahey

Sorcha Richardson Crush

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PHOTO CREDIT: Guðlaugur Andri Eyþórsson

Glowie Body

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Rachel Chinouriri Adrenaline

Black Honey I Don’t Ever Wanna Love

FEATURE: The June Playlist: Vol. 3: Shockwaves for the Kids in the Dark

FEATURE:

 

The June Playlist

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IN THIS PHOTO: Liam Gallagher 

Vol. 3: Shockwaves for the Kids in the Dark

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I always say how there is this switch between…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Bat for Lashes

weeks that are pretty calm and nothing too special to those that are explosive, packed and memorable. This is a week that belongs in the latter category! Not only is there new material from Liam Gallagher, Bat for Lashes and Madonna; there are tracks from Shura, Bruce Springsteen, Kate Tempest and The Raconteurs; Taylor Swift, Sampa the Great and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds! It is a distinctly awesome week for music where some of the world’s biggest artists are rubbing shoulders with one another! I am struggling to get my head around all the brilliant music out this week and, if you need a perfect playlist to get the weekend kicking and jumping, this is the one you want – where the very best is separated from the merely promising. Enjoy the music and take it with you; turn the volume up and cherish these…

IN THIS PHOTO: Noel Gallagher/PHOTO CREDIT: Mitch Ikeda

HUGE tunes!  

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @anttran/Unsplash

Liam Gallagher - Shockwave

PHOTO CREDIT: Francesca Allen

Bat for Lashes - Kids in the Dark

Sleater-Kinney The Future Is Here

PHOTO CREDIT: Valheria Rocha

Taylor Swift - You Need to Calm Down

Madonna Crazy

Shura - religion (u can lay your hands on me)

Sampa the Great - Final Form

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying BirdsSail On

Little Mix Bounce Back

Night MovesRecollections 

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Bruce SpringsteenWestern Stars 

The Raconteurs - Bored and Razed

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Kate Tempest Three Sided Coin

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PHOTO CREDIT: Michaela Quan

Jorja SmithGoodbyes

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Amber Mark - What If

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Anna of the North - Thank Me Later

Dermot Kennedy Outnumbered

Miles Kane - Can You See Me Now

Marika Hackman - the one

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Charly Bliss - Young Enough

Little Simz - 101 FM

PHOTO CREDIT: Hamish Brown

The Chemical Brothers - Eve of Destruction

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Honey Harper - Strawberry Lite

PHOTO CREDIT: Cara Robbins

Jackie CohenYesterday’s Baby

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MarshmelloRescue Me

IN THIS PHOTO: London Grammar

Flume, London GrammarLet You Know

PHOTO CREDIT: Rahi Rezvani

Editors Frankenstein

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IN THIS PHOTO: BANKS

BANKS, Francis and The LightsLook What You’re Doing to Me

Bastille - Another Place

Kelsea BalleriniBetter Luck Next Time

CrumbJinx

King PrincessUseless Phrases

KEHLIOne Last Kiss 

FEATURE: The Original: Prince and a Golden Vault That Keeps on Giving

FEATURE:

 

 

The Original

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 Prince and a Golden Vault That Keeps on Giving

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IN music…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty/Virginia Turbett

there are these rumours, extraordinary things and reliable stocks that endure for years. I briefly mentioned Prince when talking about Radiohead and the fact that, after material from their OK Computer sessions was hacked and held to ransom, the band put all the recordings out anyway – rendering any threats worthless and, in the process, providing fans with something terrific, personal and revealing. Whether all of the material from those days is worth listening to – I bought the recordings on Bandcamp and most of what is up there is solid – is down to the listener but, to me, that decision from Radiohead was a big one. It makes me wonder whether there are artists out there who have a lot of material sitting on the studio floor that they did not feel was album-worthy – maybe other people would like to hear it. Prince died back in 2016 and, as people know, the man was not exactly quiet - and, in his day, produced album after album of pure brilliance. It seemed like, just after one album was unveiled, another one would be working away and he’d be on a world tour or something else. He was a relentlessly hard-working artist who was always looking to push himself and put incredible music out into the world. After an artist dies, there is debate as to whether you should release anything that was left; if there is an ethical choice and whether the artist would have wanted it out there.

This debate has come into play when posthumous material from Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson has been released and, in the case of Prince, some quarters have questioned whether he would want all this music out there. There is this legendary ‘vault’ that Prince has that, it is said, contains all manner of unreleased cuts and interesting sounds. There is information about the vault and, with loving and loyal people ensuring that the vault is kept safe and material from it (is) treated with respect, it seems like there is no end what it will give us. In fact, back in 2018, Consequence of Sound ran an article that talked about this amazing treasure trove and the fact, unbelievably, Prince has stored enough material so that a new album can be released every year for a century!

According to Prince’s former sound engineer, Susan Rodgers, the vault pre-dates the release of 1984’s Purple Rain and was already at capacity she left three years later. “When I left in 87, it was nearly full,” she explained in an interview with the Guardian. “Row after row of everything we’d done. I can’t imagine what they’ve done since then.”

As Prince’s death was unexpected and he left no will, his estate had no way of accessing the vault as only Prince knew the door’s key code. After drilling it open, the estate’s archivist discovered enough unreleased music to release a new album every year for the next century.

PHOTO CREDIT: Associated Press 

The first batch of this discovered material has begun to see release, including a reissue of Purple Rain, the 1999-era “Moonbeam Levels”, and the original version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”, which surfaced last week. The estate has also struck distribution deals with Warner Bros. Records and Universal Music with plans for more unreleased music to be unearthed in the months and years ahead. An early draft of Prince’s handwritten memoir is also on the way”.

Check out the article and have a look at some of the photos. It is this mystical and eye-opening space where the late Prince stored all this material. Given the amount of albums he released in his lifetime, it is mindblowing thinking he had the time to keep all this unseen material away. Prince, I guess, wanted to ensure that, in the case of death, there was material we could hear and enjoy (which is cool). That is kind of tragic but it would be a shame if there was nothing – you always wonder what could have been and where he would have headed if he had of lived. The latest album from the vaults is Originals. There have been other albums from Prince’s archives, but this is the first collection of original songs.

Originals is the first posthumous stand-alone album of previously-unreleased studio material by Prince, and the fifth posthumous album release overall. The album is a collection of Prince's original versions of songs he gave to other artists for release. As a result, all songs on the album had been released by other artists. The final track had been previously released in the same form on the Nothing Compares 2 U posthumous single in 2018, at which point it was a stand-alone single.

PHOTO CREDIT: John Leyba/Denver Post 

Recording Process

The album is a compilation of tracks recorded between 1981 and 1990. Recording information is listed in chronological order below:

Chronologically, the earliest written track on the album is Wouldn't You Love To Love Me?, which is also among Prince's most-recorded songs. Initially the track was recorded in 1976 as a home recording on a basic cassette recorder, featuring some lyrics that were changed or removed for later recordings. It was then re-recorded twice in Summer 1978 at Prince's France Avenue Home Studio in Edina, Minnesota; once with Prince on vocals and once with Sue Ann Carwell on vocals. It was re-recorded again on 1 April 1982, at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, California, which is the version featured on this album. This version was worked on further in 1986 and was submitted to Michael Jackson for use on his album Bad. When it did not get included on Jackson's album Prince offered it to Taja Sevelle, who for her version simply replaced Prince's own vocals from the 1986 recording. It was released in 1987 as the second track on Taja Sevelle's first album Taja Sevelle and, in early 1988 was released as the album's second single.

Make-Up was originally recorded with Vanity 6 in mind, to be sung by Susan Moonsie. While specific recording dates are unknown, basic tracking took place in Summer 1981 at Prince's Kiowa Trail Home Studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota. It was released as the sixth track on Vanity 6's first and only album Vanity 6. The track was included as the b-side of He's So Dull, the album's third single, and soon after also the b-side of Drive Me Wild, the album's fourth and final single.

Gigolos Get Lonely Too, although written solely by Prince was intended for The Time and was credited to Morris Day when it appeared as the fifth track on their second album What Time Is It?, and was released as the album's third single. Basic tracking likely took place on 11 January 1982 at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, California”.

The reviews for Originals has been hugely positive and, as I said, where did Prince get the time to record all of this new stuff?! At his Paisley Park residence, it must have been a hive of activity and constant invention. NME have given their thoughts regarding Prince’s latest album:

 “Capable of upstaging Eric Clapton on guitar, releasing powerful pop that toed the line between apocalyptic and sexy, and contorting his voice to do just about anything, there was no limit to Prince’s abilities. But not everybody is aware the purple one was also a prolific ghostwriter, penning hits for everyone from The Bangles to Kenny Rogers and Stevie Nicks.

Prince nails the deep nasally vocals of a country singer on ‘You’re My Love’, a track he tellingly penned for Kenny Rogers, while his effeminate vocals channel the experience of being an independent black woman on ‘The Glamorous Life’, the hit single he wrote for frequent collaborator Shelia E. Hearing. Prince, singing two songs that are so different stylistically, reminds us just how insanely talented he was, with the artist possessing a chameleon-like ability to master practically any genre of music.

PHOTO CREDIT: Alamy  

‘Prince: Originals’ is at its best when Prince lets loose and embraces his cheekier sider. The phallic symbolism of ‘Sex Shooter’, which contains the playful lyrics “I need you to pull my trigger babe / I can’t do it alone”, is one hell of a ride, while the absolutely bonkers ‘Holly Rock’ sees Prince talking slick over a beat that sounds like it was crafted from a psychedelic pinball machine. Honestly, it’s a shame Prince ever gave these tracks away to other artists.

A lot of the songs on this collection have a playful innocence to them and it’s clear Prince enjoyed writing music for other artists, seeing it more as an opportunity to be experimental and loose, rather than a coldly technical chore. You can almost feel the beaming smile Prince was rocking while singing the original ‘Manic Monday’ (the smash, which he penned for The Bangles, is one of the highlights here) while ‘Jungle Love’ (a hit Prince wrote for The Time) is reflective of an era where music was about making you dance first and think second.

Both tracks are infectiously joyous, and if this collection is any indicator of the quality of the thousands of hours of unreleased music Prince still has in the vaults, then don’t be surprised if we’re still partying to new Prince music in 2099”.

Originals is, appropriately, Prince taking back songs he wrote for other artists; the master singing them how he envisaged and, when compared to the more popular versions, it is amazing to see the difference!

We know there is this vault out there and who knows how many albums, scraps and notes there are that will see the light of day. It is haunting to think that people will keep releasing Prince material after I have died – I am thirty-six and the next generation will be old before the Prince legacy starts to dry! Albums like Ultimate Rave and Piano & a Microphone 1983 have already been released this year and I wonder how many albums are coming in 2019. To be fair, Originals is new Prince material and, largely, what has been released is already familiar or reworkings of his existing songs. Released in December 2015, HITNRUN Phase Two was the last studio album Prince put out in his lifetime (Prince died on 21st April, 2016) and I can imagine there are other albums of original material that are yet to be unshackled from his legendary vault. Not only is there this possibility of new music but, as has been rumbling for some time, a Prince documentary could be coming. This story has been brewing for a long time but, as Joe reported last year, the wheels are definitely turning:

 “One of the more enigmatic musical stars of all time, shedding some light on his life would be fantastic for the millions of fans he has around the world, and currently Netflix are working on bringing a documentary series about his life to their streaming service.

According to Variety, "the project has the full cooperation of the late artist’s estate, which is providing [the documentary] with interviews, archival footage, photos and archive access", which includes some of his currently unreleased music.

The multi-part documentary series is currently in production, with no set release date on Netflix yet announced, but it has been confirmed that the project will be directed by none other than Ava DuVernay.

The Oscar-nominated director is best-known for her work on Selma, as well as directing the Netflix documentary series 13th.

The in-demand director is also currently working on the Central Park Five documentary series for Netflix, superhero movie The New Gods for WB and DC, and fashion show drama Battle of Versailles for HBO.

Despite having a full slate, DuVernay is reportedly overjoyed to be working on the project, especially as Prince reached out to her specifically about working together:

"Prince was a genius and a joy and a jolt to the senses. He was like no other. He shattered every preconceived notion, smashed every boundary, shared everything in his heart through his music. The only way I know how to make this film is with love. And with great care. I’m honored to do so and grateful for the opportunity entrusted to me by the estate".

I am not sure how close to completion the documentary is but, with fresh Prince material out now, we are not short of our fix! All of this makes me wonder if, at some stage, the public will be allowed to see his vault and have a look around. Maybe that would encroach the privacy of the recordings but I can imagine it would be a huge popular experience.

Also, three years after Prince’s death and it is heartbreaking the creator himself is not around to see this work resonate and delight the people. I am sure he would have been heartened seeing so many people discover his work and the impact his material continues to have. There is nothing we can do about the master’s departure but, as we look forward, it seems like there is this endless bounty in his personal vault. What will the next album give? Will there be more originals or some alternative versions of songs that we all know? Whatever is coming, it will be interesting and I am still stunned at the size and capacity of the vault! Years and years from now, it will still hold music we have not heard: songs Prince recorded a long time ago and, you’d imagine, was always planning on sharing with the world. Make sure you get Originals (the physical version is available from 21st June) if you have not already and the world will wait with baited breath; anticipating what is coming next. I am not sure whether the much-hyped and anticipated documentary is coming this year and what is happening with it – it is going to be fascinating watching it unfold and, when it does arrive, seeing whether the wait has been worth it. Even after his death, Prince is keeping people guessing and offering these sensational moments. With his vault crammed with treasure and endless brilliance, there is a lot more magic to come from…

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Helen Green Illustration

THE Purple One.

FEATURE: OKNOTOK…OKINTHEEND: Radiohead’s Victory Against Hackers Raises Some Interesting Questions and Possibilities

FEATURE:

 

 

OKNOTOK…OKINTHEEND

IN THIS PHOTO: Radiohead captured in 1997/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch 

Radiohead’s Victory Against Hackers Raises Some Interesting Questions and Possibilities

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THERE are not many musical events…

 IMAGE CREDIT: Radiohead

that turn the head and get you standing to attention! The normal daily news consists of album releases and the odd bit of gossip but, when Radiohead announced they had a lot of material stolen from their OK Computer sessions, it shocked people. Not only did hackers take the material but they held the band to ransom! If you did not hear about it, The Guardian have provided the details:

 “Radiohead have released a vast collection of unreleased tracks made during the sessions for 1997 album OK Computer, after a MiniDisc archive owned by frontman Thom Yorke was hacked last week by an unnamed person, who reportedly asked for a $150,000 ransom to return the recordings.

The band have now made the 18 MiniDisc recordings, most of them around an hour in length, available on Bandcamp for £18. Proceeds will go to climate activists Extinction Rebellion.

The band’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood confirmed the hack, and said: “Instead of complaining – much – or ignoring it, we’re releasing all 18 hours on Bandcamp in aid of Extinction Rebellion. Just for the next 18 days. So for £18 you can find out if we should have paid that ransom. Never intended for public consumption (though some clips did reach the cassette in the OK Computer reissue) it’s only tangentially interesting. And very, very long. Not a phone download.”

Thom Yorke wrote of the 1.8 gigabyte collection: “It’s not v interesting. There’s a lot of it … as it’s out there it may as well be out there until we all get bored and move on.”

The hack was first discussed on a Radiohead page on website Reddit a week ago, where a user described being offered the files for sale. “We originally considered pooling our money together, as our enthusiasm over the rare opportunity to share material of such high historical interest for a band we love peaked, but were concerned about the ethics of the situation,” they wrote. “According to [the leaker], they got the whole 18 hours of material by trading some other rare/unreleased material for it”.

It is egregious and downright outrageous for anyone to hold a band to ransom like this. The fact the hackers stole some hardware makes the story both shocking and oddly old-fashioned. Now, we assume – if there is hacking to be done – people will have data stolen online but, in a strange way, the fact music hardware was involved makes it kind of odd. It is no surprise but I love the fact Radiohead would not be held and cornered. A lot of artists might pay the money or not know what to do but Radiohead, knowing the full spread of material is not all 100% gold, relented and just put the music out there. I do not think we realise how much material is recorded during an album’s session. We assume there is one or two outtakes and B-sides but, when it came to 1997’s OK Computer, there is this wealth of other material.

Radiohead tried longer versions of some songs; acoustic renditions of others and there are these rare cuts that only saw the light of day a few years ago. In 2017, Radiohead put out OKNOTOK - that celebrated twenty years of OK Computer but allowed fans the chance to discover songs that had been, until then, in the vaults. Now, with everything on Bandcamp, it is wonderful to see people react and get behind the band. Not only have the hackers been foiled but, actually, there are some realty great tracks in the sprawl. I would urge people to spend the money on Bandcamp (I have paid over twenty pounds for the material so, in case anyone is wondering whether I am embedding tracks without paying, I have already made the purchase) – the link is in the quoted feature above – and dive into OK Computer’s heart and bones. If you want to separate the gold from the bronze, Pitchfork selected a few songs that are worth serious investigation:

Lift (Alternate Version)” [MD125; starts at 9:46]

The fabled “Lift”—the song Radiohead chose not to release as the first single from OK Computer because it would have made them “too big,” the song with a story longer than this leak—was finally heard in studio-recorded form on 2017’s 20th-anniversary reissue, OKNOTOK. This alternate version is even better. It’s not mixed very carefully, but it sounds scrappy and untamed, like the band is pushing it into the red unselfconsciously. It lives up to the myth. –Jeremy D. Larson

Hurts to Walk” [MD112; 52:23]

This previously unreleased track is pure yearbook-photo material, equal parts embarrassingly awkward and sweet. A simple, near-Britpop strummer, it sounds very nearly like Del Amitri’s inescapable 1995 hit “Roll to Me,” slowed down to half-tempo. Polished up in a studio, it could have soundtracked a late-’90s teen comedy, and you wouldn’t have blinked. –JG

Airbag (Mellow Version)” [MD111; 38:00]

This version removes the big old Tommy Iommi-style riff as well as the DJ Shadow-influenced stuttering beat from the center of OK Computer’s monolithic opener, and lo and behold, it becomes airy, sweet, nearly weightless—something an alternate-universe Radiohead could have performed on another MTV Spring Break. –JG”.

Instead of using a difficult situation to make money for themselves, Radiohead are donating all of the money to Extinction Rebellion. There are a few things that come out of this spectacle/controversy that have made me think and question. The first concerns protecting and making sure artists are not put in this situation again. I guess, if one steals a laptop or external hard drives then there is little way of getting them back. Back in the 1990s, one did not quite have the security we have now but, even in 2019, are artists vulnerable to hackers? The short answer would be ‘yes’, but I think there should be ways of ensuring recording material is safe and, if it falls into the wrong hands, artists are not blackmailed.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Thom Yorke at Glasgow Barrowlands in November 1995/PHOTO CREDIT: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

Radiohead are a rare case but what if a big band/artist steps into the studio to record an album and, from the sessions, material falls into the wrong hands and then is used to blackmail? There are few cases of this happening…but I do feel like Radiohead were put in an impossible situation. If they paid the blackmailers then that would have been awful and the material would, I guess, still have had to be put out due to curiosity and pressure. I guess there was no real intent to release what they did before this all happened but, actually, it does give fans a chance to discover something that would have passed them by ordinarily. I do wonder how many other artists have this trove of material from album sessions that are yet to see the light of day. Many argue that, as Radiohead have sort of said themselves, the quality is not always there so there are few gems in the trove. That said, I am interested in the big albums and hold them dear. What if there are rarities and alternate versions from artists such as Oasis, Paul Simon and Madonna that would provide fascinating insight? Maybe a Radiohead-like banquet might only allure the die-hard fans but you never know what you’d find when all that material is out there. Some might say (this approach) is over-exposure but the songs have been recorded and it seems senseless keeping them secret.

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 COVER CREDIT: Stanley Donwood

Even if an artist is ultimately unhappy with various versions of a song, fans might feel differently. I have checked out some of the songs on the Radiohead Bandcamp link and, yeah, there are some really good tracks. I like these special edition releases that have studio conversation and outtakes because they give fans a deeper insight into an alum’s creation and, I think, that means the material hits harder and stays with you longer. The as-God-intended album is wonderful - but I am always curious what was recorded at the same time and what was left on the cutting room floor. The Beatles put out fiftieth anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles in 2017 and 2018 respectively - and it gave people an opportunity to hear these cool outtakes and embryonic versions. Maybe only the proper-big artists will get this sort of attention and would one realistically want a smaller artist to put everything out into the world? I think there is a lot to be said for giving people extra material and stuff that might otherwise have been scrapped. There are going to be people that are asking whether other classic Radiohead albums – such as 2000’s Kid A and 2007’s In Rainbows – are going to get the OK Computer treatment. I would happily pay money to hear all the off-shots and scraps from the Kid A sessions because, as I said, I think it does provide context and paints a more variegated picture.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Colin and Johnny Greenwood in 1997/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch

Another thing that impressed me about Radiohead’s rebellion is the fact that, ironically, the money raised from this released material is going to Extinction Rebellion. I think it is funny that the words ‘extinction’ and ‘rebellion’ could be applied to the blackmail situation and the rebellious Radiohead are giving their earnings to ecological rebels. One might feel a tad uneasy if Radiohead had put the music out and all the money went to them but, rather than do that, they are giving it to an organisation that are doing great work. Radiohead have always been innovative regarding their work and promotions. We all remember their pay-what-you-like strategy for In Rainbows: fans could pay what they wanted for the record and had no complaints regarding the high prices of C.D.s and vinyl. Now, for under twenty quid, people can get hours of unheard material and can make their own playlists from the songs. One way of justifying artists releasing albums of rare material might be to tie it in with charity. I genuinely believe fans would buy this rare material because it does give you something unexpected and wonderful. Not all the songs are going to be great but the process of listening to everything and deciding what is great and what is not has its own pleasures. I am writing a feature about Prince tomorrow because, three years after his death, more and more material is coming out.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @iamjiroe/Unsplash

He recorded so much in his life and there is so much music we have not heard yet. One has to believe other established artists have these vaults and it would be great to see them explored. We all have a list of artists we adore and would like to hear more from. From the classic Hip-Hop albums of the late-‘80s to the classic Beatles albums, it is exciting to think what might be out there we have not yet heard. I do think Radiohead’s charity angle is great and they did something genuinely classy. Not only does it mean fans are doing something great but awareness is raised and there is that ethical dynamic. I love the sound of that and think it should be a way forward for bands. There is a lot of chatter regarding Radiohead’s latest move and how significant the archives are; whether what we have is a work of genius or mere curiosity. I have listened to a lot of the material and I love all the in-studio interactions and the false-starts. It is a window into, debatably, one of the best albums of the 1990s. I think Radiohead’s hacked MiniDisc opus expands OK Computer and provides new context and nuance. You already know the studio album but, with what is out now, you get more background and reveal regarding how these near-perfect songs ended up how they did.

 

The Guardian have written a short review and recommended a couple of other tracks to seek out – just in case you needed more convincing!

Yorke and Greenwood are absolutely wrong though. This is the holy grail – or perhaps Ark of the Covenant – for hardcore Radiohead disciples, and even has merit for less nerdish fans. It reveals the inner workings of what is regarded by many as the greatest album of the 1990s, showing how they walked alongside and then turned away from the brash Britpop that surrounded them. Here are some of the songs to look out for.

Unknown title (57:01 on MD113)

A peculiar jam that – truth be told – needs a lot more time in the oven. But it’s notable for the bright, crude synths, recalling Vangelis’s synthetic brass lines for the Blade Runner soundtrack, and there’s something seductive about its constant loping gait: it hints at the more purely electronic experiments that eventually ended up at Idioteque. This track comes off the back of what fans have called Thom’s Screechy Song, a pleasingly rough, ill-disciplined and noisy unreleased track with shades of Sonic Youth.

I Need a Job (22:10 on MD117)

There’s shades of 90s alt-rockers like Sebadoh to this choppy, strikingly straightforward tune – the kind of thing a conservative subset of Radiohead fans wish the band had continued to make instead of broadening out into OK Computer and Kid A. And to be fair, Yorke’s high, girlish voice does pair strongly with rather more knuckle-drugging guitars. Similar but not so good is MD115’s When I Get Bored Give Me One of Those, which, could easily have ended up as a bad Oasis imitation – but it equally could have been a National Anthem-sized experimental rocker”.

Not only have Radiohead bested the hackers but they have caused a stir! I love this new wave of OK Computer material but it makes me wonder how much more Radiohead have in the cupboard regarding all their other landmark records. Not that we all demand every album be stripped and available on Bandcamp but one wonders what an expanded Kid A or Amnesiac might contain. Radiohead have also raised awareness regarding privacy, protection and security when it comes to files and music – are artists safe and, if they are in a similar predicament, do they succumb to a ransom demand or release the material? Radiohead pulled a huge power-move and stymied the hackers but I do feel concerned about modern artists and whether, in an age where hacking is known and we are all vulnerable, more music will be kidnapped. Also, there will be calls and queries aimed at artists as to whether they will release rare material from their big albums; maybe not to the same extent as Radiohead but something along these lines. Maybe, with a charity tie-in, they could get people interested and it would start a new revolution. Others fear that giving too much away is excessive and unnecessary. I do not think that is the case and I for one welcome what Radiohead have put out there. Get onto Bandcamp and get their new crop of material because there is only sixteen days or so to go. The band might be a little jokey regarding the consistency and quality of all they have put out but, as an accompaniment and addition to one of the finest albums of my generation, their salvaged and hacked nuggets of sonic gold are…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Radiohead circa 1997/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch

WORTH every penny!

FEATURE: Spotlight: Madonnatron

FEATURE:

 

 

Spotlight

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Madonnatron

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THIS year is a busy one for albums…

and it still seems that the solo artist is taking the biggest chunk of the pie. By that, I mean they are more prevalent and it seems, when it comes to variation, they are leading. I think women are producing the finest albums of 2019 and, in the case of Madonnatron…that is definitely true. I do love the fact that there are some terrific young bands emerging that are adding something exciting and fresh to the scene. I am a big fan of bands like Amyl and The Sniffers (from Australia) and there is something wonderful happening with Brighton’s YONAKA – both bands are female-fronted but they are very different in terms of style and intention. I do think the days of male bands ruling have disappeared and I doubt we will ever see that rise again. The past few years have shown some evolution and change and, in terms of who you need to watch out for, I would recommend Madonnatron. They come from humble backgrounds but, with determination and a finger raised to convention, they are a bright and explosive force. They can switch from the funny and cutting but then go in with something unexpected and hugely forceful. Their emotional palette is varied and vast and their performances, live and on record, are tight and wonderful. The band are heading around the country and bring their new album to the people.

Check out their website and social media channels for details but, trust me, you will want to see them lay down their songs from the stage. I will come to their latest album later but, for a bit, let’s take it back a couple of years back. Madonnatron have been on the scene for a few years now and, through grit and a unique style, they have seen their fanbase grow. Back in 2017, they unleashed their eponymous debut album. The South London four-piece impressed critics and, as this review from The Quietus shows, they make one hell of a lovely racket:

Madonnatron have been going for a couple of years, after forming apparently quite haphazardly at venues and nights including Hank Dog's Easycome in Peckham and (of course) The Windmill in Brixton. When Liam May at Trashmouth first talked about making an album, they told him, “We only have five songs and we can't really play.” Lias Saoudi from Fat White Family has described their early gigs as “like listening to a kitchen falling apart in an earthquake,” and when I saw them last year they were still pleasingly shonky. They haven't become polished professionals since then, thank god. They are winging it. It is great, almost a rock & roll cliche joy, to have a bunch of chancers making music as good as this, especially when it's a gang of women who are clearly having a brilliant time.

All of a piece, the songs on this album belong together. Madonnatron are in the right place, too, signed to Trashmouth and produced by Liam May (who also worked on the submerged-unconscious vocals of Fat White Family's Songs For Our Mothers), and based in south London, part of a sprawling gang that includes Fat White Family, The Moonlandingz, No Friendz and Meatraffle. Like a lot of that gang, they are funny and deadly serious, chaotic and fully focussed, and making ace records”.

The fact Madonnatron had been around for a few years and had managed to hone their songs resulted in this incredible debut. The band’s live flair and sense of the unpredictable came through in their debut and the fact they managed to balance the professional with live-sounding gained them legions of fresh fans. In terms of who makes them buzz and which artists are important to them, one might think the likes of The Slits, Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney are at the top of the list but, as that might be stereotyping and being narrow, there are some unexpected idols in their collections. In this interview from 2018, We Are Raw Meat probed them about their influences:

 “We ask everyone what their favourite tracks or artists/ bands are from the past, the present, and who they think we should be listening out for in the future - I’d love to know each of yours.

Charlotte: Kate Bush is religious in status to me. I love the Broken English album by Marianne Faithfull. I'm a massive disco person and have an unabashed addiction to eighties pop. I think the eighties was a very interesting and experimental time with the advent of gadgetry and the trial and error factor when using all the new synths and ting.

Joanie: Love a bit of Throbbing Gristle, especially Hot on the Heels of Love. 
Stef: All sorts - Bongwater, La Femme, Delta blues, Italo disco. 
Beth: Also all sorts of things, Stooges, Can, a bit of Bronski Beat, Funkadelic, basically anything with soul and groove and/ or menace. 
Current bands we dig include 
Sex CellsWarmduscher, Deep Tan, Melt Dunes, Pink Eye Club, Jack Medley’s Secure Men, Black Midi and Amyl & The Sniffers”.

That is quite an eclectic blend of sounds! It would be a bit lazy to compare Madonnatron too readily to others but, when you listen close, they have their own style and sound. They are a vastly exciting young band who are going from strength to strength and are getting some great focus. They have appeared in session for Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6 Music a few times and always give such incredible performances! Their new album, Musica Alla Puttanesca, was released a couple of week ago and, aside from its kick-ass cover art, the music takes their talent to new levels. In terms of describing it, this is what Rough Trade say:

Having moved forwards emotionally from the wilds of dystopian stalking and associated hobbies, Madonnatron have instead been found frolicking through the green pastures of gangsta pimps, Hindu God wars, Cyber Men invasion, loveless nightclub hook-ups, modern Italian Nabokov, and revered screen goddess Elizabeth Taylor. Think of them as post-punk lab rats in the Secrets Of Nimh, feasting dubiously on back-dated episodes of Top Of The Pops. With notorious roaring guitars, chanting vocals and rabid drums they audibly glow in the dark, are strong-armed, and will probably bite you. Like their debut, which was released to much acclaim in July 2017, Musica Alla Puttanesca was produced by Liam D. May at Trashmouth Studios. Their atmospheric, raw, and confrontational live shows carry a sonic force that by turns will make you weep, cross yourselves, and weep again”.

More confident and daring than their earliest work, there is also more variety in terms of the lyrics and compositions; a sense of boldness than has come from a string of gigs and a lot of critical applause. I am struggling to take in all the great albums from this year and, as I say, women are leading the pack. Musica Alla Puttanesca is a terrific and has been gathering a lot of love. This is what Backseat Mafia had to say:

 “Moving away from the tales of dystopian stalking and associated hobbies, on Musica Alla Puttanesca the band tackle subjects including (but not limited to) gangsta pimps, Hindu God wars, Cyber Men invasion, loveless nightclub hook-ups, modern Italian Nabokov, as well as, well, Elizabeth Taylor. They wrap everything up in a wry humour, focusing on their skewed version of the world as if it were the norm, which by the end of the album, it seems to be.

But there’s more to Madonnatron than quirkiness. The music has this fearlessness about it – daring to make a post punk record and put string and brass into it (the sci-Fi thriller of NightRes in Silver being prime culprit) and a nod to X-Ray Spex with the added Sacophone on the brilliantly Super Hands.

From the opener, the fun-filled frothy Bone Dumb Grunt, right through to the mantra like theatric seems fun Venus & Rahu, Madonnatron  toy with the listener, contrasting the light of Sweet Serena, with the dark, almost suffocating Flesh Pond, with the taught anger of Super Hands, all wrapped up in melodies and chorus’ to hand on for dear life to. And in the glow in the dark Liminal Madonnatron have written something which shows everything great about them, and pop music.

Long live Madonnatron”.

That last line is a sentiment I can get behind. The fact Madonnatron have a sort of 1980s quirk to them with a bit of Pop mixed with some snarl and edge makes them an irresistible proposition. I have covered them a few times on my site and I genuinely think they are going to be huge. I do think bands are making a comeback and there is that change from the all-male Indie/Rock groups to a much more interesting group of new bands that are mixing genres together and, yeah, are lot of the very best are all-female or female-led. If you can see Madonnatron on the road then you will be in for a funny, sweaty and memorable experience! They are a band that have many more albums in them and I do wonder where they will go from here. The band have not put out too many interviews recently but I do wonder whether touring and recording is keeping them busy. It would be good to hear what they have to say and get a whole new press wave going. They are definitely on my list of artists to watch and I hope to catch up with them very soon! Madonnatron are definitely excited right now and, in addition to getting some big radio attention and love, they have a full calendar. People up and down the country will flock to see them and experience this dynamic and essential band do their thing. I can well see them getting gigs in the U.S. and further afield and, as word spreads, you wouldn’t bet against them embarking on a world-wide tour. Maybe that is getting ambitious but Madonnatron have the sort of music in their arsenal that transcends borders and translates around the world. Snap up their albums, go see them live and give them a follow online. Madonnatron are definitely growing in stature and making a name for themselves. Few bands deserve the acclaim more and, for that reason, I salute…

THE mighty Madonnatron.

PHOTO/IMAGE CREDITS: Getty Images/Madonnatron

FEATURE: Steal My Sunshine: Why We Need to Keep Hold of Escapism in Music

FEATURE:

 

 

Steal My Sunshine

PHOTO CREDIT: @gohrhyyan/Unsplash 

Why We Need to Keep Hold of Escapism in Music

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I do think that music has the power to transform…

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

and enrich lives around the world. There is no doubt that, on a daily basis, people are lifted and guided by music and its unique power. There are great artists out there who are making sure we are in a better mood and made to feel touched and protected. One such band is the always-reliable Hot Chip. The band has just played All Points East and their album, A Bath Full of Ecstasy, is out on 21st June. I am pleased they are about because the band is one of the very best out there. I saw an interview they conducted with The Guardian and there was something that struck me. Alexis Taylor, their lead, was talking about their music and what they want to achieve:

I wrote the [new] songs for people to bathe in, or be lost in an active way,” Taylor explains, as we order an Uber afterwards. “To have a deep listening experience with it, without any distractions, if they can.” Both have railed before about how they dislike mindless escapism in pop. “And escapism is the opposite of what we should be doing in our lives, for political and ecological reasons.”

They find the world around them frightening: Goddard regularly retweets anti-Trump and climate change messages. But Taylor would never write direct protest songs. “Rather than just saying, ‘Oh, there’s Brexit and there’s Trump in power’, instead we’ll write songs like Positive, which is about looking for positivity – asking people to support those around them suffering from mental health problems or facing difficulty with poverty or homelessness. I’m thinking in songs instead, to try and figure out an answer.” Mindful escapism, perhaps?

I do understand where Taylor is coming from regarding escapism and avoiding big issues. We are living in a time where the planet’s future survival is unsure and there is a lot of heavy sh*t around. Hot Chip are a band who look at environmental issues, mental-health and other subjects that we can all relate to. Rather than make these subjects quite severe and gloomy, they have a more comforting approach; putting their arms around people and making sure there is positivity among the hard-hitting words. ‘Escapism’ is a word that is pretty broad and I think, more and more, we need it in our lives. I can appreciate Taylor saying a more mindful escapism is good but, even when you add a positive and hopeful spin to ecological problems and mental illness, is that providing an actual distraction from the severity of the world?! I have complained about artists not addressing serious issues and being too mainstream and, whilst so many are stepping up and reacting, is there too much weight and not enough relief? How often does one hear a song that simply embraces life or is fun for the sake of it? I do feel there is a lot of Pop that is vacant and hollow but, in a music landscape that is becoming less and less fun, should we be advising artists to reject mere escapism – instead, put something with a deeper message out there?

 PHOTO CREDIT: @wildlittlethingsphoto/Unsplash

I think, so long as much has a bit of depth and nuance, it is great to give the people something a bit fluffy and simplistic. Hot Chip are an example of a band who can address what is important but put a slightly lighter spin on things. I do feel that Pop that is vacuous and aimless should be rejected but I think, reading that interview quote, there is a feeling that all music, if it is escapist, needs to come with a message. I reject the idea all music needs a purpose and we all need to address serious subjects. I know musicians have an important role and, the more they talk about environmental issues and get us to think what we are doing to the planet, the better that is. That is fine, yeah, but all of this can create quite a suffocating and one-dimensional vibe. We are all aware of the severity of big issues and many of us have to cope with an awful lot. The realities and pressures of modern life are shoved in our face all of the time. From the fatigue of the morning commute to the constant stream of bad news and dire warnings, it is hard to ignore the situation we are in. I genuinely think the average person is trying to do their best and we are all worried. I applaud artists who are using music to try and change things and open minds. It is important we all work together to make things better but music, for me at least, is a way of getting away from the world and finding some peace. I think one of the reason people look back and listen to a lot of classic sounds is because there is that guaranteed hit of pleasure and delight. I am not saying we all need to escape from serious music but, as we are all more stressed and divided, there is that desire to embrace something escapist.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @vespir/Unsplash

For me, I love a bit of classic House and Dance; songs that are about the pleasure of life and getting together. There is some great Pop from the 1980s and 1990s that did not necessarily hold a lot of seriousness and depth but, hey, it does make you feel a lot better! I do feel we all need this kind of music and we are not ignoring the world completely by mixing things up! I think there is a real lack of simple fun and uplift in music; something that does not have to be about anything other than having fun. Many might think there is a pretty healthy Pop scene that does that already…but I disagree. I think Alexis Taylor’s statement about vacuous Pop is right. What I want is for there to be more music out there that makes us all feel calmer and brighter; that sort of Summer of Love sound that can act as a contrast to everything else. The world has been in a pretty dire state in other periods and, even then, there was a balance of music. Look back at economic recessions and terrible governments. We were all strained then but, I feel, there was more in the way of relief and optimism.  Of course, we all do need to take note of what is happening to the world but rejecting non-mindful escapism is a bad thing. Why must all music be about the troubles we face?

 PHOTO CREDIT: @hannynaibaho/Unsplash

Does every artist need to be more responsible and use their voice to raise awareness?! I do not think so - and it would be an awfully bleak industry if this was the case! I think, as more artists tackle big subjects like mental-health, something fundamental is escaping from the industry: songs that make us feel better and let us forget about our problems. A few singles from this year have provided a good kick - but there is not a whole lot of hope around. I think more people are getting nostalgic because they want to bond with music that made them feel good and comforted. As the world is in a pretty unsure situation, I think escapism (small doses of it) is necessary. It means we can find that little retreat and area where we can switch off and recharge. If music is merely concerned with the big questions and issues then it does get to you and can be draining. I love artists like Hot Chip and their more optimistic spin on things. There are too many artists shoving reality in our faces and, if we can still hear songs that dig deep but have a smile, then that seems like a good balance. As I said, the planet has been in a worse state than it is now and, through warfare and political evil, artists have given us songs that we can wrap ourselves in and dive into; a pure escape that does a lot of good for our mental well-being.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @rosssneddon/Unsplash

This article was written in 2016 and talks about how good, fun music can provide heal and redemptive spirit:

Music is a barrier and also fuel. Losing oneself in a song is as much a ward against exterior misery as it is a reminder to keep going, to start somewhat fresh and anew. To dismiss lightweight music as an opiate de-legitimises the work of talented creators. While the Weeknd's Abel Tesfaye is a vocal supporter of Black Lives Matter and of awareness for Toronto's Ethiopian diaspora, he's also the "Starboy" who rode through 2016 in a variety of expensive cars without a care and scored the second-largest debut week of the year. The number one song in the U.S. is "Black Beatles," a song that defies any analysis deeper than it being fun as hell.

Music is a wonderful escape and there's nothing wrong with that," says Dr. Mel Borins, a professor of community medicine at the University of Toronto and practicing family doctor. Borins is a songwriter and performing musician who writes comedic tunes about pap smears and colonoscopies and he believes that music – any and all music – is a legitimate medicine of sorts that can help with depression and anxiety, along with laughter and other forces of joy. "What we have difficulty with as human beings is change, and any loss is a change," he says. "I don't have anything against distraction… escapism is a good thing, and on the other hand, music has a way of uniting people."

PHOTO CREDIT: @erik_lucatero/Unsplash 

In her New Yorker essay "The Worst Year Ever, Until Next Year," writer Jia Tolentino felt the great flaw of the social media era in times of turmoil is how overwhelming the information intake is, that "there is no limit to the amount of misfortune a person can take in via the Internet… no guidebook for how to expand your heart to accommodate these simultaneous scales of human experience." It's a continuous sensory overload of doom-and-gloom for those who follow the news. Borins defines burnout as "when you have nothing left, physically, emotionally and spiritually… you get discouraged about things, you think negatively," and while he's hesitant to apply the condition to the current climate, it doesn't seem too far off.

It bears reminding that the liberty of musical nourishment, to even forget about troubles, is in itself a privilege. Those who managed to escape the fate of the many thousands dead in Aleppo won't find slipping on earbuds to listen to Bruno Mars as easy a solution as those of us in Toronto, and the same holds true for the non-white families in the U.S. and Europe who worry about the fact they may no longer fit a suddenly narrower definition of their own country's cultural identity. Again, the larger scale of human suffering threatens to extinguish hope. And you know what? All of this does suck, but it shouldn't have to do so in an all-consuming manner. Pop music may not have the answers but it might just be one more thing that keeps humanity going, just as long as someone's listening”.

Our planet and country is going through some hard times right now and we do all need to work together to make things better. If musicians can raise awareness and send important messages out to people; get us all motivated and thinking, then that is brilliant. We definitely need music to play its role in that sense but I feel, with all this crap flying around us, there is a big place for escapism; good music that does not need to protest and summon – something we can listen to and instantly feel better in ourselves. If we ignore the power and important of non-mindful escapism then it is depriving people of a much-needed release. This is something, I for one, would hate…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @hannahbusing/Unsplash

TO see happen.

FEATURE: Director’s Cut: Is Now the Perfect Time for Another, Definitive, Kate Bush Documentary?

FEATURE:

 

 

Director’s Cut

IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush (circa 1978)/PHOTO CREDIT: Mirrorpix

Is Now the Perfect Time for Another, Definitive, Kate Bush Documentary?

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ON Friday…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush at her family's home in East Wickham, London on 26th September, 1978/PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Moorhouse/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kate Bush fans were able to see a documentary that first went out in 2014. Broadcast on BBC Four on Friday, the original capitalised on the news that Bush was returning to the stage for a residency – her Before the Dawn show was a raging success and her first properly extensive performance since 1979. I am a huge fan of Kate Bush – if you hadn’t already guessed!  - and I sort of regret not being able to see her perform in Hammersmith in 2014. Those gigs must have been something sensational and the reviews spoke for themselves. Everyone was raving, and so it was not a surprise that the BBC would want to make a documentary about her. The documentary, The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill, brought together celebrity fans (including St. Vincent and Tricky) and paired them with people who have worked with Kate Bush – including Del Palmer, David Gilmour and Sir Elton John. It was a huge boon getting all of these people together who paid tribute to Bush and shared their experiences. Lots of people tuned in and there were some healthy reviews for the documentary. The Guardian reviewed The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill and expressed their praise:

Guests, contributors and soon even formerly ignorant viewers like me were in awe of the talent displayed and then intelligently discussed and dissected by John, Kemp and other respected experts, such as David Gilmour, Peter Gabriel, John Lydon, Tori Amos and Del Palmer, Bush's bandmate and partner from the 1970s to 1990s. Neil Gaiman was on hand to hymn her fearlessly literary inspirations and lyrics, from – of course – Wuthering Heights (from which she derived her first single, in March 1978) to Molly Bloom's soliloquy from Ulysses in the title track of her 1989 album, The Sensual World.

Bush herself appeared only in old interview footage – so young, so fragile, so shy, but full of the sureness and certainty that only talent brings – but what emerged was a wonderful, detailed portrait of that talent. Although it gave her precocity its full due (she had written The Man With the Child in His Eyes by the time Gilmour came to listen to her when she was 14), it also gave proper weight to her evolution and her later, less commercial, still astonishing work. Why it chose to close on a stupid jarring joke by Steve Coogan, I do not know. But the rest of it succeeded in making Bush and her work less of a mystery but no less beautiful for that”.

There is a lot to recommend about the documentary and it did get some things right. The raft of big names that were collected together is its biggest bonus. Having Del Palmer there – who has been with Bush since the start and still works with her – was a big asset and having everyone from Tori Amos and Stephen Fry sitting alongside David Gilmour and Lindsay Kemp (her former dance teacher) was terrific. Instead of it being purely celeb-driven, there were people in the mix who worked on Bush’s material and had that personal connection. I do like the fact that quite a bit of her work was featured and we got a nice span of interview archives.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The fact that any documentary got made at all was an advantage and, rather than try to ride on the bandwagon in 2014, there was genuine intent and passion. For me, there were too many downsides and missed opportunities. The review above highlights how the documentary ended on a stupid joke. That seems to underline the documentary and some big mistakes. Why Steve Coogan was included so much baffles me and, fan through he is, he is hardly a big part of Kate Bush’s story. A lot of his ‘insights’ and words were not that revealing and fresh and he could have been omitted without too many people complaining. There were a couple of celebrity inclusions that provided little depth. St. Vincent and Tricky offered some good comments from a musician’s viewpoint and, whereas Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan was good value, the fact she said ‘The Hounds of Love’ rather than ‘Hounds of Love’ and was not sure about the name of a particular Bush song (it was the one with donkey braying, Get Out of My House) was a bit annoying – if you are a big fan then you get simple stuff like that right, you’d think. Guests shared their opinions on Kate Bush’s best songs and, rather than the songs being played in studios through speakers, they all whipped out their Smartphones and played these very tinny-sounding versions. It seems odd that this decision was made.

Bush is strict and passionate regarding sound quality and ensuring her music is as crisp and natural as possible. Having her rich and beautiful music bleached and distorted through technology was another poor decision. A couple more things got to me. The documentary was too linear and it did not deviate too much from the predictable and straight. At an hour-long, some albums were pretty much passed over; there were not enough interview and video inclusions and, considering The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill, was made off of the back of Bush returning to the stage, there was very little footage from her first live shows for the Tour of Life back in 1979. That groundbreaking live tour was a revelation and blew away critics back then. There is documentary and live footage of the shows and it is a shame that more was not included in The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill. With the BBC having direct access to the archives and their own material, why was so much omitted? The fact is that, at sixty minutes, you can just about skim the surface. I have tried to pitch a longer, multi-part Bush documentary to radio and T.V. producers but, each time, it is met with a bit of resistance. Many claim that, without Bush’s input, there is little attraction from them. That is near-impossible as Bush likes her privacy and there is no need to have her directly involved. Others say that the BBC documentary is conclusive and complete.

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IN THIS PHOTO: A twenty-year-old Kate Bush/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

That might be true if you only know a bit about Bush’s work but, if you are a true fan, that statement is completely false: the documentary could have been much longer and there were some serious gaps! It sounds like I am dissing the BBC and reducing their efforts and, whilst The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill, is by no means long and deep enough, at least there is something out there in the world. Hearing musicians talk about Bush in such fevered and loving tones is heartening. There are a lot of pluses regarding The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill but, as five years have passed since it was broadcast, there is a lot of new ground to cover. Not only has Bush completed her Before the Dawn residency but she has also remastered and re-released her back catalogue and released a book of lyrics. This sense of retrospection and correction (Bush wanting all her albums to be out there and have this great sound) is understandable and it is sure to have attracted new listeners and pleased her existing fanbase. A lot has happened since 2014 regarding Bush’s live pursuits and her existing material. There will be many, myself included, curious to see where she goes next. This sort of begs the question whether now is the perfect time to mount another documentary. I think, if it expanded on what the BBC did and retained some of its better points (the quality of contributors) and redressed some omissions (made it much longer and scrubbed away its mistakes) then something properly authoritative could come about.

Many would have noticed The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill lacked a real in-depth look at her albums, videos and wonderful interviews. The Tour of Life coverage and footage is great and, rather than going chronologically and being too narrow, there is room for mixing things up and not being beholden to convention. A three-part documentary would be best and, in addition to bringing back the best guests of The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill (David Gilmour, Del Palmer and St. Vincent among them), there is a chance to bring new faces into the mix – including artists inspired by Bush (Florence Welch among them) and people who have worked with her since the start (family members, older engineers and producers would be great). There are these new projects and released (the book of lyrics and her back catalogue available on vinyl) and one imagines there are new stirrings and plans. Given the fact that, by the time the new documentary is out, there might be new material makes me thing now is the perfect time to strike. I have a bit of a sixth sense regarding artists releasing albums and I feel like a new Kate Bush album will arrive this or next year. It has been nearly eight year since her last album, 50 Words for Snow, so it cannot be too long until another release comes out way.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush takes a friend for a walk/PHOTO CREDIT: Claude Vanheye  

With new additions and some improvements to be made, I think there is the potential to make a genuine striking, fulsome and complete Kate Bush documentary. I do like a lot of The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill but, for an artist who has been releasing music since 1978, there is a lot of ground to cover. I do feel like it is impossible to distil all of her magic and individuality into a single hour. For Bush, you need a few different parts that explore her songs, videos and live performances. Not only is it a great time for a new Kate Bush documentary to come about but I think there is always room for more than one study. I think there is this feeling that one (documentary) is enough but the likes of David Bowie have had several documentaries made about them exploring different aspects. Bush is no less intriguing and varied so I do feel like there is this desire and scope. It seems like, very soon, something new could come about and that will naturally lead to a wave of interest and huge buzz. There are few that want to interview Kate Bush more than I and I have read (several times) biographies about her. I feel like I have a pretty deep understanding about where she came from and what motivates her. The more you read about her, the more you realise there is so much to cover and endless scope.

Bush loves dance and film; some of her albums have not been properly explored and there are many different aspects of her music and personality that have not been brought to the screen. The excitement about Kate Bush never goes away and I do know that there are new fans coming through and others that have not experienced her music. People can seek out her records but I do think that an everything-under-one-roof approach would help bridge the gap. Lesser artists than Kate Bush have had more airtime dedicated to them and had more than a couple of documentaries made. I think that now is a great time to launch another project and, whilst Bush herself might not get involved, there are plenty around her that would lend their time. Until all of this happens – and I do hope that someone, somewhere gets the wheels going -, go look at Bush’s previous work and all the great interviews online. Her interviews alone are fantastic and always intoxicating. There is this whole world to explore and, the more you dig, the more in love you fall. I love everything she does and cannot wait to see what comes next. You can never tell what will happen with Kate Bush and that is what makes her unique and so captivating. There are numerous sides, angles and colours that have not been shown on the screen and, the sooner that happens, the better. I do recommend people look at the BBC’s The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill documentary but, as quite a bit of time has passed, it is now time to see Kate Bush’s story on the screen…

IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush shot in 2005/PHOTO CREDIT: Trevor Leighton/National Portrait Gallery, London

ONCE more.

FEATURE: Female Icons: Part Six: Joni Mitchell

FEATURE:

 

 

Female Icons

PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images  

Part Six: Joni Mitchell

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ONE can hardly do a feature about female icons…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Joni Mitchell in New York in November 1968/PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Robinson/Getty Images

and ignore the wondrous Joni Mitchell. To be honest, there are going to be gaps because, limited for time as I am, I am not able to span her entire career right now! Instead, I want to share my experiences of Mitchell; bring in a couple of interviews/features about her and, to end, present a (what I feel is a…) definitive playlist. To my mind, there is nobody finer than Joni Mitchell when it comes to penning ageless and unique lyrics. She articulates thoughts about politics and love more fervently and raw than anyone else. She can perfectly explain the twists and trials of relationships and the impact that has. Many might argue there are plenty of songwriters who can do that just as well but, for me, Mitchell is supreme. I have been listening a lot to Matthews’ Southern Comfort and their version of Woodstock – from Mitchell’s 1970 album, Ladies of the Canyon. That version of the classic song is sublime and they manage to take Mitchell’s words to new plains. The more I think about it, the more the lyrics stand out. Maybe Mitchell’s voice is her most divisive quality but the reason her songs are covered and stand the test of time is the linguistic power. Consider a song like Woodstock and its visions of an army of half a million-strong; bombers in the sky tuning into butterflies and this blend of the political, passionate and communitive. It is a staggering song that Mitchell wrote whilst watching Woodstock unfold on T.V. – in a way, the fact she was not in the thick of it meant she could detach and employ some imagination and license.

I love that song and the fact I have started with this is because Ladies of the Canyon is one of her underrated gems. It was only a year after the release of this masterwork that she released Blue – considered to be her finest hour. Mitchell’s work pre-1970 is wonderful and I do really love 1969’s Clouds. It is not one of her best-loved works but songs like Chelsea Morning and Both Sides, Now are instant classics. Again, it is the language and the way her voice wraps around the words that brings these visions to life. Look at Ladies of the Canyon and what was happening on that album. I think this is the moment her writing truly stretched itself and gave us a view of what was to come. Her range expanded and the themes explored – including celebrity and the complexities of love – were told in a very new and exciting way. I think, because Mitchell was becoming more successful, themes of isolation were particularly bold and present. The fact that her life was changing and relationships were, perhaps, a bit more challenging did feed into her work. Although a lot of the songs (on the album) are quite sparse, Mitchell’s association and friendship with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young did influence her own work. Listen to the dense harmonies and arrangements on tracks like Woodstock – its chorus is one of the most potent in Mitchell’s chest.

I love how Ladies of the Canyon mixes the ups and downs of love; the romance of tender scenes and the urgency of departing conversation with something heavier: the Woodstock generation having to face ecological degradation, warfare (the album was released when the Vietnam War was occurring) and tension. Out of all the turmoil and confusion around Mitchell, she was able to summon this beautiful music that was as evocative and thought-provoking as it was sensuous and graceful. It was 1971’s Blue that took these promising seeds from the canyon and turned them into something biblical and evergreen. Perhaps Blue contains less of the spritz and lightness of Ladies of the Canyon (in terms of the fact there are some positive moments); the songs are heavier and one gets the feeling this is the album where Mitchell is at her rawest and most open. I can’t remember where she said it and when but there is a quote from Mitchell where she compared herself to the wrapping you get on packets of cigarettes. In a way, that image provokes isolation, vulnerability and, in a sense, the thin layer that protects something toxic and dangerous – Mitchell feeling exposed and less comfortable in her skin. Blue sounds like a bleak record on the surface but it is not. It has harsh and emotional moments but there is so much tenderness and affection running through the record.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I mentioned how few songwriters can write about love as strongly and interestingly as Joni Mitchell and, during the writing of Blue, Mitchell was inspired by relationships. From 1968-1970 she dated Graham Nash. Songs such as River are influenced by that time and, just as Blue was taking shape, their bond was frail and not long for the world. Her relationship with James Taylor (it pretty much followed on from her relationship with Nash) clearly had a big impact. This Flight Tonight and All I Want directly reference Mitchell’s bond with Taylor and it is clear the love they had for one another was intense and pure. The relationship did break and end but, when they were together, Mitchell had someone she could confide in and trust. The rush of new-found love and the ghosts of lovers past coarse through Blue and there are so many reasons why it is considered a classic. So many people can relate to what Mitchell was experiencing: the capriciousness of love and how, when you have it, there is nothing as elevating and spiritual. Also, Blue was very different to a lot of the male-driven Folk at the time. This was a distinctly female expression of love and pain; a different beast to what was coming out in 1971. Mitchell had hit her stride by this time and there were few that could deny her brilliance. I also think Blue is an album that can produce and summon as much release as it does introspection.

You listen to the songs and can relate but you also feel paternal towards Mitchell; protective and worried about her. Because of that, there are nuances and layers that unfurl through time. It would be unfair to focus too much time on Blue but, as career highs go, it is pretty stupendous! Pitchfork, when writing about Mitchell’s catalogue for an article, seemed to sum up Blue perfectly:

“…About that follow-up: 1971's Blue is possibly the most gutting break-up album ever made. After Mitchell's relationship with Nash dissolved, she headed to Europe to lose the tether of her fame, eventually taking exile in a cave on the Greek island Crete. The trip would inspire the how-Joni-got-her-groove-back ditties "Carey" and "California". The album is suffused with melancholy for all that is missing: her daughter ("Little Green"), innocence ("The Last Time I Saw Richard"), and connection ("All I Want"). Mitchell bleeds diffidence and highlights it with spare notes plucked out on her Appalachian dulcimer. While her pals Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Laura Nyro were also pushing the singer-songwriter genre forward, none of them managed to stride the distance that Mitchell did here in a single album.

"Will you take me as I am/ Strung out on another man?" Mitchell pleads on "California". She was (in)famously strung out on other talents that were as mercurial as hers, fueling constant speculation as to whether this song was about Leonard Cohen, or that one about James Taylor or Nash or that puerile heartbreaker Jackson Browne.

The year Mitchell issued Blue, an album that would be a landmark in any artist's career, Rolling Stone named her "Old Lady of the Year," a dismissal effectively saying her import was as a girlfriend or muse to the men around her more than as an artist in her own right. Worse still, they called her "Queen of El Lay," and offered a diagram of her supposed affairs and conquests. She'd made the best album of her career and in exchange she got slut-shamed in the biggest music magazine in America”.

Mitchell’s albums post-Blue took a different tone but she continued this incredible run of releases. Between 1969 and 1976, she produced some of the finest albums around and barely put a foot wrong! For the Roses is not as lively as Blue but, like that album, there were relationship burdens and troubles. 1972’s For the Roses is one of her most underrated albums and, the fact it came right after Blue might mean people are reluctant to move on or compare the two. 1974’s Court and Spark contains some of Mitchell’s most imaginative and spellbinding songs. Help Me and Free Man in Paris are so rich with imagery and expressions. I cannot even put into words what those songs do to me – as you can see! – but you listen to them and are transported. The sheer beauty and intelligence of the lyrics, combined with effectively bold compositions and stunning vocals create this heady brew and strange magic.

1975’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns, again, is an underrated classic but does contain some truly incredible moments. I want to single this album out for special consideration because, as this retrospective review from AllMusic shows, Mitchell was on a truly hot streak:

Joni Mitchell evolved from the smooth jazz-pop of Court and Spark to the radical Hissing of Summer Lawns, an adventurous work that remains among her most difficult records. After opening with the graceful "In France They Kiss on Main Street," the album veers sharply into "The Jungle Line," an odd, Moog-driven piece backed by the rhythms of the warrior drums of Burundi -- a move into multiculturalism that beat the likes of Paul SimonPeter Gabriel, and Sting to the punch by a decade. While not as prescient, songs like "Edith and the Kingpin" and "Harry's House -- Centerpiece" are no less complex or idiosyncratic, employing minor-key melodies and richly detailed lyrics to arrive at a strange and beautiful fusion of jazz and shimmering avant pop”.

By 1976’s Hejira, things had changed in Mitchell’s world. She relying a lot on cocaine and she embarked on several trips across the U.S. The third involved her embarking on a trek with friends from Los Angeles to Maine; she then went to California alone and would travel without a driving license. She would drive during the daylight and don a wig and sunglasses during these trips, as not to be recognised.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

This disguise did not always work but, reading these words, Mitchell seemed like a fugitive. Whether she was escaping her own life or needed the danger, that time did inspire some of her best songs. It is amazing to think that with such change and turbulence in her life, she was able to create such cohesive and original work – few artists would manage to do so! By the time Don Juan's Reckless Daughter arrived in 1977, Mitchell was experimenting more with the Jazz fusions she had introduced in Hejira. The music was more expansive and not quite as tight as her previous work. She was evolving and moving forward but it meant that, naturally, critical acclaim was not readily by her side. Many were wondering whether Mitchell had lost her touch and whether things were getting too much. Perhaps she had left her golden period and was embarking on a new phase that, whilst not as stunning as her best albums, was still ripe with innovation and imagination. The Canadian’s last album, 2007’s Shine, was well-received and was a decided return to form. Mitchell left the music business in 2002 and few were expecting her to make another album. The seventy-five-year-old icon might not make another album because she has suffered some severe health setbacks. In 2015, Mitchell had a brain aneurysm. It was a devastating thing to happen and she required physical therapy and dedication. Although she did return to the public eye by 2016, her appearances since then have been quite sparse.

I do wonder whether we will see any music from Mitchell again because, as she still suffers from poor health, maybe she has had enough. Many can forgive this. She has given so much to music and enjoyed a successful career; inspired countless other artists and transformed the Folk scene. There are many growing up today that might not be aware of Joni Mitchell or fully appreciate her music. I will finish with a few snippets of an interview she gave but, back in 2014, The Guardian revisited a golden period in her career where, between 1971’s Blue and 1976’s Hejira, she released five classic albums. The writer Sean O’Hagan investigated further:

The sophistication of her songwriting and, in particular, her musical arrangements is the essential element that sets Joni Mitchell apart from her contemporaries and her peers, whether the troubadours of the early 70s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter scene or lyrical heavyweights such as Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and even Bob Dylan. And yet in the music industry, Mitchell has never really been afforded the kind of respect heaped on her male counterparts. Rolling Stone magazine once listed her at No 62 in its 100 greatest artists of all time, just below Metallica. She was belatedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, but did not attend the ceremony. At 70, she remains a defiant outsider and recluse, who has often expressed her disgust at the music business. And who can blame her?

IN THIS PHOTO: Joni Mitchell in 2015/PHOTO CREDIT: Norma Jean Ray 

Mitchell came up though the American trad-folk circuit of the mid-60s and was for her first two albums marketed as a fey, fragile hippy folk singer. She had already survived several setbacks. Her childhood in small-town Saskatchewan was fractured when she contacted polio, aged eight, in 1951. In 1964, she had fallen pregnant and, struggling financially, gave her newborn daughter up for adoption the following year. (The song, Little Green, from Blue, is an ode to her lost daughter and, on Chinese Cafe, a song released in 1982, she sang: “My child’s a stranger / I bore her / But I could not raise her.” She was reunited with her daughter, Kilauren Gibb, in 1997.) A brief, unhappy marriage to her fleeting musical partner Chuck Mitchell followed, before she set out on her own to be a folk singer.

After the richness of Hissing, the mood poems of Hejira seemed to me for a long time to be a muted coda to Mitchell’s golden period. Over time, though, the best of these often slow and brooding songs – Hejira, Amelia, Blue Motel Room – have kept calling me back despite my slight aversion to Jaco Pastorius’s relentlessly virtuoso bass playing. If Blue Motel Room is a study in longing and languorous sensuality – Prince has been known to cover it live – Amelia, an ode to the pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart, sees Mitchell in reflective mood, her confessional honesty now even more nakedly self-searing than before. “Maybe I’ve never really loved, I guess that is the truth”, she sings in the penultimate verse, “I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes…”.

In true Joni Mitchell spirit, she can never be beaten and she will never truly retire. The woman has been active in music since the 1960s and her legacy will last forever. I urge people who are unfamiliar with her work to go back and investigate. If you want to narrow down your purchases then I would suggest going for the golden period that was just alluded to – from 1971’s Blue onward. I think all of her albums hold merit but, for me, Ladies of the Canyon is hard to top! Mitchell’s storytelling, poetry and performances are so captivating and personal that you fall in love with her and are helpless to resist. I think John Lennon remarked at one time that some of her work was the result of over-education. Maybe that was a class difference but I think one can misconstrue over-education with a poetic intellect. Mitchell was an is involved in art and literature but her finest words have always come from her heart and soul; which is as a result of love and the experiences we all share. The true beauty in Mitchell’s work concerns how she can sound elevated and grand but, in reality, everyone can understand her work and feel listened to. She never alienated the listener or shoved her intelligence in their faces. I want to end by bringing in an interview from 2014, where Mitchell was asked about the new generation and the music industry:

Q: You’ve voiced concern over what you call the “push-button generation of today.” What is impairing us the most?

A: Everything is about channel changing. It has ruined attention spans. I spaced out in school but I didn’t develop attention-deficit issues because I placed attention on my imagination and ignored the curriculum. I didn’t have a million newsfeeds to contend with. It is just like when I have people over to my house to watch a film—it’s like living in a Robert Altman movie! They are always talking over each other. We are all losing the plot. It’s an addiction to phones and too much information.

PHOTO CREDIT: Norma Jean Ray  

Q: What repercussions do you think future generations will feel now that everyone is on their phone during concerts, etc.?

A: Here’s an example. My grandson and I were sailing on a boat and he said, “It’s boring.” I asked, “How can you say it’s boring? The sun is shining, we’re going across the water so fast . . . ” And he said, “Not fast enough.” Technology has given him this appetite.

Q: You’ve stated in your liner notes that the Grammys look like a porn convention. Many people consider Beyoncé to be subversive.

A: I once found the whole pimp-ho underbelly very interesting too. I’m not afraid or critical of that scene—I find it very colourful. But when it rises to the top and you find a five-year-old saying, “Plant it here, bitch,” we’ve got a problem. America loves to glorify its criminals. It’s not good for children.

Q: Sinead O’Connor wrote an open letter to Miley Cyrus pleading she not allow the music industry to make a prostitute out of her.

A: Right on. That’s what it’s become: “show us your tits!” I also got buried at Geffen Records because of it. Girls were being harassed and [executives] told me, “Your music doesn’t make me feel young and happy.” Whitesnake was their lead act and when the company got sold for the fourth time, I called the owner and said, “My name is Joni Mitchell, I am an artist on your label, did you know that?” He said, “No.” I said, “Of course you didn’t because you haven’t made a dime so the people buying from you don’t know either, so give me back my masters.” Well, he wouldn’t”.

Joni Mitchell is a true icon and someone who has inspired so many other artists. I think lyrical genius and Joni Mitchell are synonymous and her brilliance will never fade. I hear her songs on the radio now and they never get old and too familiar. One always picks up something new from her and discovers fresh revelation. I am so glad she her health is improving and that nothing will ever stop her. Even though we might not see another album from Mitchell, I do hope that everything is okay with her. She has given music so much. In a way, I wish we could preserve and protect Mitchell forever and have her around all of the time. That is impossible but, so long as we have her music, she will never die. I will leave things there but, once more, make sure you listen to as much Joni Mitchell as you can. It is impossible to define her work and I feel too many people use reductive terms of try to suggest that only a few of her albums are worth studying – where, in actual fact, there are scores of her albums that are absolutely wonderful. She is this rainbow and army of butterflies; she is green and blue and a rebel; she is a poet and tender lover; a sensitive soul and warrior that has embarked on strange trips, giddy relationships and horrible lows. Whether putting this into her music or keeping it private, Mitchell has lived quite a life! It is not a life that should be kept secret, and so, with her peerless music out there, we can all share Joni Mitchell’s experiences. A true icon and innovator of music; the adoring public will cherish her work…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Norma Jean Ray 

FOR the rest of time!

FEATURE: Good Vibrations: Sending Love and Support to the Wonderful Brian Wilson

FEATURE:

 

 

Good Vibrations

IN THIS PHOTO: Brian Wilson/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images  

Sending Love and Support to the Wonderful Brian Wilson

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EVERY one of us loves The Beach Boys

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

and it is impossible to ignore the brilliance of Brian Wilson. I mean, everyone should love The Beach Boys because they have been responsible for some of the greatest music of the past fifty years. There are few bands as varied and extraordinary as them and, yet, we sort of forget just how influential they are. From their Surf period where they talked about Californian sun and girls through to the iconic Pet Sounds – here is a band that has an enormous mark on the music scene. I followed them from my childhood and was hooked by their harmonies and insatiable choruses. When Pet Sounds came along, it was like being taken into another world. Although the band are not really performing at the moment – it is more Brian Wilson on his own now – we can look back at the incredible music left behind and how many artists have been inspired by The Beach Boys – including The Beatles, to boot! The leader of the group, Brian Wilson, has never had an easy ride. This curious genius has had to live with mental-health problems since he was young but the pressures of touring and music have taken their toll. There are sad reports that suggest Wilson is not in a good place right now and has had to step away from touring. Here, in this article, The Guardian give some details:

Brian Wilson has postponed a US tour scheduled to begin on Friday due to feeling “mentally insecure”.

In a statement, Wilson said he had “been living with mental illness for many decades. There were times when it was unbearable but with doctors and medications I have been able to live a wonderful, healthy and productive life.” He said that following surgery on his back, “I started feeling strange and it’s been pretty scary for a while. I was not feeling like myself. Mentally insecure, is how I’d describe it.

“I’ve been struggling with stuff in my head and saying things I don’t mean and I don’t know why. Its something I’ve never dealt with before and we can’t quite figure it out just yet.”

Wilson has been diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder for some time. He once described his symptoms: “For the past 40 years I’ve had auditory hallucinations in my head, all day every day, and I can’t get them out. Every few minutes the voices say something derogatory to me, which discourages me a little bit, but I have to be strong enough to say to them, ‘Hey, would you quit stalking me? Fuck off! Don’t talk to me – leave me alone!’ I have to say these types of things all day long. It’s like a fight.” He has partially attributed his mental health struggles to LSD use.

Wilson has maintained a robust touring schedule in recent years, playing shows across the US and Europe alongside former Beach Boy Al Jardine”.

It is heartbreaking hearing news like this and everyone in the music community sends the very best to Brian Wilson at this time. I guess we all assume our favourite musicians will be okay but we do not realise that they, like us, have these struggles and bad times. Maybe it was excessive LSD use but I think a combination of events have contributed to Wilson’s poor mental-health through the years.

It is staggering to see how long Wilson has been playing and the music he has put out since the 1960s. Here is a man who is always working hard to reach audiences and touch the people. The Beach Boys’ music has impacted us all hugely and I don’t know if there is another songwriter like Brian Wilson on this planet. His gifts are rare and huge and we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude. I think this will be a minor setback because I’d hate to see him stop touring and struggle so hard. Maybe this is a particularly bad turn but there are people worried about him and whether we will see him record/tour again. Everyone wishes the very best for him and hope that we see him very soon. Although there are more complex reasons as to why Wilson has pulled out of touring commitments, I think the general pressure and expectation on all artists is huge. Those who know Wilson and have interviewed him know how much he lives and breathes music. The interviewer from this Uproxx feature (in 2018) spoke with Wilson and tried to get to the heart of what keeps him going:

“On one hand, he’s an in-demand musical titan, revered by millions for helping to shape the sound and aesthetic of pop music for every single generation that came after him. As such, he gamely schleps around the world, and with the aid of his large backing band that includes fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine as well as Blondie Chaplin, he performs his oversized collection of classic hits – “California Girls” is his favorite — to audiences totally willing to see past any and all faults and flaws in presentation and performance, merely grateful to share the same oxygen as the man himself. On the other hand, he’s a tired, 76-year old man who just wants to have a comfy place to sit and be left alone.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Burnell 

“What keeps you going?” I asked.
“Well, it’s inspiration to meet people of all ages inspire me to write music,” he responded.
“Are you currently writing new music?” I wondered.
“I haven’t written anything for a while,” he replied.
“I heard you were thinking about doing a rock and roll covers album called Sensitive Music for Sensitive People. What’s kind of the status on that?
“You know, I don’t know. I don’t really know.”
“Do you still love to play for people?”
“Yeah, yeah, I do.”

Despite the allure of that comfy recliner, despite the fact that he’s got a wife and five kids set up in a pretty nice home in Beverly Hills where he goes for regular walks through a nice, nearby park and frequents a favorite deli for lunch, despite the fact that he once had a nervous breakdown on an airplane at the very height of The Beach Boys’ success in the ‘60s that caused him to swear of touring forever, he just can’t get out of the business of being Brian Wilson: Musical Genius. Having seen him live myself, it doesn’t outwardly appear he gets much personal joy from the adulation of the fans, and while I’m sure the money is nice, he can’t really need it at this point”.

I don’t think Brian Wilson will quit music for a very long time but it is important he rests and takes some time out to recharge.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There are few details regarding the reason behind Wilson’s sabbatical but it seems that he needs to address something personal. Although we know he will be back in the music world, there are a lot of concerned fans that wonder what this means. I do think Wilson will be okay but it is always alarming seeing someone so revered and legendary suffer like this. Whilst we all send love and support his way, take some time to acquaint yourself with the wonderful music of Brian Wilson. He is this truly sensational and enigmatic artist who continues to bring joy to our lives. As an interviewee, he is warm but somewhat distant (understandable given his psychological health issues) but he always leaves a mark on everyone who encounters him. We all do wish him the best and look forward to seeing him back on the road very soon. After hearing the news of Wilson’s health problems, I have been reacquainting myself with his music and genius. Whatever mood you are in, The Beach Boys’ magic is there to comfort, lift and amaze. At the centre of everything is the incredible Brian Wilson. I, as I said, have been following him since childhood and I feel this personal attachment to him. His music has inspired my life and soundtracked some of my happiest days. Lots of love and warm thoughts to the legendary Brian Wilson and I, and everyone in music, wishes him…

THE best of health.

FEATURE: Pride After a Fall: Music’s Ability to Change Attitudes and Bring Deeper Understanding

FEATURE:

 

 

Pride After a Fall

PHOTO CREDIT: @julfe/Unsplash 

Music’s Ability to Change Attitudes and Bring Deeper Understanding

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AWAY from ongoing dramas in British politics…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Chris were attacked in London earlier this week/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

something else has been making the news. It is Pride Month; a time when the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community should feel safe, respected and included. Rather than talk about celebration and togetherness, gay rights and inclusivity has made the news for the wrong reasons. If you did not hear the news; a gay couple, Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Chris were attacked by youths in London for not kissing. A group of young men wanted them to kiss and, after they refused and tried to keep to themselves, they were set upon. The photo of them post-attack, bloodied and shocked, has appalled the nation and raised huge backlash:

Melania Geymonat, 28, said the attack on her and partner Chris happened on the top deck of a London night bus.

A group of young men began harassing them when they discovered the women were a couple, asking them to kiss while making sexual gestures.

Four other males aged between 15 and 18 remain in custody, the Met said.

They are being questioned on suspicion of robbery and aggravated grievous bodily harm.

Speaking about the attack, which happened in the early hours of 30 May, Ms Geymonat told BBC Radio 4's World at One she had previously experienced "a lot of verbal violence".

But she said she had never before been physically attacked because of her sexuality.

Asked whether the attack left her less willing to show affection in public, Chris, who lives in north London but is originally from the US, said: "I am not scared about being visibly queer.

"If anything, you should do it more."

Ms Geymonat, who is a doctor but currently works for Ryanair as a stewardess, said she agreed.

Chris said: "I was and still am angry. It was scary, but this is not a novel situation."

Over the five years to 2018, reported homophobic hate crimes across London have increased from 1,488 in 2014 to 2,308 in 2018, according to the Met Police's crime dashboard”.

It is good that there have been arrests and, let’s hope, those culpable are imprisoned and it sends a message to those who want to commit similar attacks. It is 2019 and we still live in a nation where there are such horrific incidences; where people are attacked because of their sexuality. One can say that the case above is an isolated incident that is not widespread in Britain. Whilst there are not waves of brutal attacks against gay men and women, there are plenty of cases where their sexuality has been degraded and mocked; where they have been made to feel inferior and wrong. I know a few L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. musicians and they have struggled to get the same rights and exposure as their straight peers. Although the music industry is, largely, a place of love and support, it is still hard for many gay/bi-sexual/transgender artists to get a break and the same platform as everybody else.

I do think that music, where politics fails, has a role to play and can help bring about greater visibility and awareness. I have written about Pride and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. matters a number of times but, as we see images of hate in the news, it does make me wonder whether enough is being done to discuss the LG.B.T.Q.I.A. community and show that any prejudice is ridiculous and misguided. I am not sure what was going through the heads of the young men who attacked those innocent women in London but one suspects an ignorance and juvenile stupidity was their motivational force. Another case that has shocked and appalled people concerns protests that have been happening outside a primary school in Birmingham:

Protests against LGBT teaching at a Birmingham primary school are "homophobic" and must "stop now", the West Midlands mayor has said.

Andy Street said he was in "disbelief" at material distributed by protesters outside Anderton Park Primary.

The mayor, who is gay, told the BBC he had thought homophobia was a "non-issue in our city".

A High Court injunction is in place banning protests, which have been going on for months, outside the school.

Parents started to gather at the gates over concerns children were "too young" to learn about LGBT relationships. They also said the lessons contradicted Islam.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Street said the protests do not reflect the "modern, tolerant, inclusive place that Birmingham is".

He has also said the Department for Education (DfE) needs to strengthen its guidance around equalities teaching.

Anderton Park head teacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson previously spoke of receiving threatening emails and phone calls and Mr Street said the government was letting head teachers down by not taking a clearer stand in favour of the teaching.

The Conservative mayor has now called on the DfE to "stand actively behind the guidance it has given" around teaching about equalities”.

Of course, these are just two incidents of protest and anger against the LG.B.T.Q.I.A. community. From animalistic youths attacking two young women to parents and a community protesting against a school teaching children lessons about L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. issues. Maybe there is confusion as to what the children are being taught but, from the wave of protests that have been taking place, there is little confusion from those responsible. It is a blatant case of homophobia and, in a modern world where the sexual spectrum is broadening, does anyone have the right to interfere with sex education and lessons in this way?! It is not good enough for parents to say their children should not be subjected to L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. lessons and what they consider abnormal. I think it is abhorrent and reckless to protest against schools and send any threatening communications to teachers.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @charbutch/Unsplash

There is a lot of hate and anger in the U.K. right now and, at a time when we are unsure as to our status in the E.U., attacks against the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community are just adding to the intensity and division. Of course, there are many more cases across the nation where L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. and non-binary people are subjected to judgment and discrimination. There are shocking incidents where certain people are attacking Gay Pride Month and comparing it to a dictatorship. There are some Pride events happening across the country but it seems like there is a lot of hatred and vileness circulating. One does not need to be a member of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community (I am not) to know that we are all the same and, in 2019, why do we have to see such vile cases of people attacking others based on their sexuality?! I do think we need to come a long way and there has been slow progress regarding understanding. No matter your sexual preference, I do not see why there is such ignorance and intolerance. Running alongside a couple of nasty occurrences around the U.K., there is a lot of shame and desperation across the world – the so-called ‘Straight Pride’ movement is, as you can guess, is straight people celebrating their sexuality. I have seen so many people celebrating Straight Pride and asking why there is a Pride Month that recognises the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community – where is the special month for heterosexual peoples?!

In the U.S., ugliness has reared its head, and you only need look on social media to see the number of idiots who have been challenging Pride Month with their own entitled and offensive equivalent. I am not surprised there is a lot of negative reaction to a month/event that celebrates and highlights L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. people. We live in a world where someone, somewhere will attack and undermine something good and positive. It is unnerving seeing so many people show their ignorance and selfish motives but, as I said, you half-expect this kind of thing. I know there are great organisations and bodies that spread the positive messages of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community and I am always encouyraged to see the sort of unity and passion coming from social media and people out there – a lot of positivity and connection from all corners! The hatred that I am talking about is from a minority but, as you can imagine, any form of hatred and attack against L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. people is shocking. I have mentioned how the music industry is not excluded from hatred and ignorance. I have heard from artists who feel like they have to distil who they are in order to get acclaim and attention. It seems a shame that we have made leaps in some areas of society but there is still a lot of misunderstanding. Look at the mainstream and we do not hear a lot of messages regarding L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. matters – suggesting a lot of the artist who do talk about it are doing so away from the limelight.

 IN THIS PHOTO: L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artist Perfume Genius/PHOTO CREDIT: Hedi Slimane

I know there are a lot of great Pride songs and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists around but you do not hear many of them in the mainstream. The scene now, as it has been for decades, is so heteronormative and one wonders whether, in a way, we have gone backwards. We are living in a time when Pride Month is bringing people together but there is still a lot of judgement and attack. Whilst music is much more loving and tolerant than other areas of society, I think there is this huge platform that would not only allow L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists to get their voice heard; it would also allow a thread to run through music that is being supressed from a lot of mainstream education. One might think that, if we did hear more about the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community through music, there might be the same backlash as we have seen in the Midlands – and there might be more provocation on social media. I do think that there is this impression that heterosexuality is the desired normal and anything other than that should be marginalised and kept private. I am not suggesting music changes its colour and look but there is still this vast majority of straight artists ruling – fewer messages and songs concerning any other form of sexuality. The sexual spectrum is wide and complex and I think music has the responsibility to be more open and increase channels of communication.

So many great L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists and anthems are inspiring in the underground but there are many who feel fearful about letting their songs run free; fearing there would be less attention and some discomfort. It is obvious we have a long way to go before artists of all sexualities are given equal opportunities and focus but, right now, there is this fetid and unappetising scent of ignorance, homophobia and misogyny. Whether it is protests at primary schools or random attacks on buses, I am shocked that we have to witness such things. Music is an immensely powerful tool and, whereas some might think using music to talk about Pride and the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. spectrum is a form of propaganda, those with a more logical and loving mind, surely, can see the benefits. I do look out at the mainstream and you see the same thing: straight artist talking about heterosexual love. I also not saying we need to make allowances and write new rules so that a percentage of songs out there are non-heterosexual; that might not work in practice but, instead, labels and music bosses need to make the scene more open and balanced. I do think that musicians, L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. and straight, can help bridge gaps and bring about greater acceptance. Maybe that sounds undermining to those who are working tirelessly to create balance and tolerance but I mean to say music is immensely powerful and influential.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @clemono2/Unsplash

Artists are out there talking about division in the country and political strife; they are discussing mental-health problems and suicide but, when it comes to L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. rights and subjects, are we hearing enough of it? L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists are doing their bit but, away from them, there is a general silence. Anything that can reduce attacks and mindless ignorance is a good thing and I do feel music has a lot of sway. Whether it is L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists being given more time and airplay or mainstream artists bringing the sexual spectrum more directly into their music…I think that can help redress some of the hatred out there. I mean, there is more positivity out there than negativity regarding Pride Month but I do worry that there are so many people who are tarnishing its good name and intent with their own agenda and misunderstanding. I do feel music is turning into this alternative government where big subjects are being tackled and there is this important platform. It is great seeing mental illness being included into songs but, away from traditional love songs and heterosexual subjects, what of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community and Pride Month? I shall wrap things up but I, like so many out there, have been left stunned and upset by seeing cases of assault against L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. people; an intolerance and vileness that is hard to expunge from the memory.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @janasabeth/Unsplash

These perpetrators might be the minority but I think, in a wider sense, there is a lot of discomfort and misunderstanding regarding Pride Month and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists. Music is this channel and community of love and equality and, as we are seeing people actively push against L.B.T.Q.I.A. teaching, can music help readdress the problem and lead to change? I am concerned that there is still a long way to go before there is true equality and understanding – but there is a big voice out there and people getting involved. It is distressing seeing people ignored and attacked because of their sexuality and it really needs to stop. It is not a simple solution and plan of attack when it comes to music. True liberation and acceptance does not happen overnight but I do feel like music can play a vital role. There has been some shocking hatred out there but, when you look at social media love and lots of positive outpouring, it is clear the majority want to bring L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. discussions to the forefront. If we can help lessen the ruthless and mindless attacks, educate those who are attacking L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. teachings and ensure there is better understanding, that would be something. There are some terrific L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists spreading the word and, if the mainstream can open its doors and ensure there is a greater balance, sexuality-wise, at the top, that is a potent and powerful way of bringing the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community and voice…

TO the front.

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: ROZES 

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

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THIS weekend offers little…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Japanese Breakfast

in the way of consistency and stability when it comes to the weather but, with summer just around the corner, I think we can say that, soon, the conditions will be a lot fairer and more conducive to happiness. In the meantime, I have been looking around at the best female-led songs around. These are the brand-new – with some slightly older tracks – tunes that you need to get behind. From Pop and Country through to Soul, there are some belters in the collective. I am always excited and blown away by the sheer range and passion that is out there; provided by some incredible women. Take a listen to the songs below and I just know there is something in there that will…

IN THIS PHOTO: Friedberg

LIFT the spirits.

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

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Kat Saul Compromise

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Julia Church Square 1

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PHOTO CREDIT: Donna Lamarr McKeown

Grace AcladnaBrain Crush

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Amber Mark What If

WILDES True Love

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Kiiara Open My Mouth

Chlöe Howl In the Middle (Sad Banger)

Sabrina Carpenter In My Bed

PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Vu

Yohuna So Free

Sarah Darling A Boy Like You

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QUEEVA Young, Wild, and Free

Kalsey Kulyk Bad Liar

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PHOTO CREDIT: Max Parovsky

Friedberg Go Wild

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PHOTO CREDIT: Amber Carpenter

Kate Bollinger Candy

PHOTO CREDIT: Salim Garcia

Crumb Fall Down

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Stef Chura Jumpin’ Jack

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Japanese Breakfast Head Over Heels

Tanya Tucker The Wheels of Laredo

Pip Blom Bedhead

Kiana Ledé If You Hate Me

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Carlie Hanson - Hazel

Nicole Easy I’m Leaving

ROZES Call Me

Middle Kids Real Thing

Sophia Messa offyourface

Gia Woods Feel It

Mabel Mad Love

Hanne Leland Weak for You

FEATURE: The June Playlist: Vol. 2: A Bold Reinvention, Hesitant Lover and Shadowy Dance

FEATURE:

 

The June Playlist

IN THIS PHOTO: Bon Iver 

Vol. 2: A Bold Reinvention, Hesitant Lover and Shadowy Dance

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THIS is one of these weeks…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna

where there are some really big and popular releases and a lot of smaller tracks. That is no slight against this week’s music but, when you look at the split in the playlist below, you can see a real divide. I like the less prominent songs but, with material from Madonna, Róisín Murphy and Bon Iver around, we are guaranteed some pretty titanic moments. It is an interesting week at the very least and it is good to see that clash of the mainstream and the under-the-wire. Whatever music you are into, I think you will find something in the rundown that you will love. Take a listen to the great songs below and they are guaranteed to get you in the mood and make sure the weekend gets off with a kick. Despite the lack of humungous releases, there is enough gold to satisfy, that is for sure. Here is another excellent assortment of songs that will get you…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Róisín Murphy

ENERGISED and hot.  

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

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PHOTO CREDIT: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock.com

Bon Iver Hey, Ma

 PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Nodland

Róisín Murphy Incapable

Madonna Dark Ballet

Liam Gallagher Shockwave

PHOTO CREDIT: Travis Shinn

PIXIES On Graveyard Hill

AURORA Daydreamer

Jai PaulDo You Love Her Now

PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Knowles

Foals Sunday

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Bastille Those Nights

Mabel Mad Love

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IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Marten

Sonny Santos and Billie Marten - swear 2 g-d

Avicii Heaven

Sløtface - Telepathetic

RussParanoid

Dinosaur Pile-Up Backfoot

The Divine Comedy Infernal Machines

Luke CombsEven Though I’m Leaving

WhitneyGiving Up

Chase RiceLonely If You Are

Yoshi Flower space

PHOTO CREDIT: Florencia Lucila

YounghusbandSister

Black Eyed Peas (ft. Snoop Dogg) Be Nice

Keane The Way I Feel

PHOTO CREDIT: Jonathan Weiner

The Glorious SonsPanic Attack

Yizzy On a Low

Kiiara Open My Mouth

Jamie Cullum Mankind

Swimming Girls I Don’t Wanna Get to Heaven

Gia WoodsFeel It

MUNA Number One Fan

Olivia Reid - Norfolk Drive

GASHIRoses

FEATURE: Spotlight: Jamila Woods

FEATURE:

 

 

Spotlight

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PHOTO CREDIT: Bradley Murray 

Jamila Woods

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I understand I have been a bit full-on regarding…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Reviler.org

feminism and gender equality over the past few weeks but, as you can appreciate, this is something that is dear to my heart – and something that I need to get off of chest. I feel like, before long, the industry will wake up when it comes to parity and recognising the great women out there! I shall put aside my arguments for now but, when thinking about the best female talent right now, one is spoiled for choice. I think 2019 is a huge year when it comes to eye-opening artists who are talking about something important. If you are unaware of Jamila Woods then you need to make sure she is part of your life. I must confess that I am relatively new to her music before, as soon as I heard it, I was hit. Her album, LEGACY! LEGACY!, came out earlier this year and blew critics away. In terms of compositions, the sound is a cross between Neo-Soul and R&B I guess. There are other tones in there but one gets a mix of the sensual, physical and spiritual – a potent combination that augments the power and depth of Woods’ words. I love her vocal style but, to me, it is her words and the passion she puts into the songs’ messages that hooks and amazes. Reviews for LEGACY! LEGACY! Were impassioned and, as Pitchfork explained, the songs themselves are fascinating, original and challenging:

On “Basquiat,” Woods explores how the behavior of an artist of color unfairly becomes fodder for public opinion. She draws inspiration not just from her own run-ins with the media, but chiefly from an interviewer who once asked the renowned artist “what makes him angry,” suggesting that the “rage” seen in his work could be summoned upon command: “These teeth are not employed/You can’t police my joy.”

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/Jamila Woods

The song simmers along on a jazzy hip-hop groove for nearly seven minutes, peppered by a staccato call-and-response (“Are you mad?/Yes I’m mad”). Tellingly, the song never erupts, and when Woods sings “They wanna see me angry,” she’s sighing, not shouting. Her exhaustion is palpable, resigned to wear the mask that “grins and lies,” as poet Paul Laurence Dunbar once said—the mask that she must wear to quell the seething rage she feels when asked, once again, to explain herself.

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

That is just a sample review but, as you can see, Jamila Woods is providing the world with something hugely accomplished and necessary; music that transcends mere beats and hooks and confronts the listeners with real lessons. The album is never preachy but, instead, it is educational, inspiring and incredible immersive.

In regards to Woods herself, she is a twenty-nine-year-old from Chicago who is a graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep and Brown University. She is also the Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors and, through that, she aims to lift the youth voice through arts and education. Through YCA, she helps to organise Louder than a Bomb: the world’s largest youth poetry slam festival. She has this determination to make the world around her a better place and to improve lives; make aware the presence and important of black women and ancestor; the desire to promote self-love and acceptance. One could hear these seeds growing on her debut album, HEAVN. Released in 2016, it gained a lot of love and traction. This review from AllMusic shows that, right at the start of her career, Woods was raising the bar:

On the title song, Woods floats over a rolling groove, quoting the Cure's "Just Like Heaven" and then twisting it a bit, beaming "I don't wanna run away with you/I wanna live our life right here." She later sings "I don't belong here" and "I'm an alien from inner space" in "Way Up," and dreams of leaving this planet in "Stellar," but Woods otherwise isn't one to promote escapism, not when she's sustained by friends, family, and fellow musicians -- including most of the above-mentioned -- who inspired and/or helped create this album.

Some moments regard an intimate relationship and independence, occasionally both at once, like when she affirms "Nobody completes me" in "Holy." A larger portion concerns communal matters like survival, resistance, sisterhood, and how to thrive in conditions designed to perpetuate oppression. The resolutely nurturing and buoyant qualities make it easy to miss out on some of the wisdom and stirring lines such as "Grandma loved granddaddy even after he forgot our names," related over Nico Segal's trumpet and the kaleidoscopic swirl of Stereolab's "The Flower Called Nowhere." Originally a digital-only release from Closed Sessions, HEAVN was expanded and reissued a year later by Jagjaguwar, made available on physical formats with a track list that added six interludes and a thick reprise of "Holy." The interludes, especially the one in which children recite an Assata Shakur quote -- inserted as a brilliant setup for "Blk Grl Soldier" -- are not extraneous”.

 IMAGE CREDIT: @jamilawoods

Right now, there is (rightfully) a lot of talk around Woods and what her music is doing. I think LEGACY! LEGACY! Is the best album of the year so far and, as I explained, manages to put something arresting and important on the page without making the listener feel exhausted or lectured. That might sound wrong but, by that, I mean the music easily sinks into the skin – because of the terrific melt of vocals and sounds – but you will come away with the lyrics ingrained in the mind. If one can feel soothed by the compositions but enlightened by the words, then that seems like a perfect combination. Woods has been busy promoting LEGACY! LEGACY! and, in this interview with The Guardian, Woods talked about her upbringing and the importance of ‘legacy’:

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

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

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

Artists like Jamila Woods are filling gaps that should be occupied by political leaders: talking about what really matters and putting the people first. She has a deep connection to her ancestry but is acutely aware of the future and what will happen if changes are not made. This is not to suggest, for a moment, Woods is a political artist: in fact, her words are delivered in such a manner that she projects that right balance of urgency and delicacy. In many ways, Woods sings sermons; never too forceful but, inside it all, you can hear the passion bubble and fizz.

Woods is busy promoting LEGACY! LEGACY! and there is a lot of demand for her right now. In this interview she gave with London in Stereo very recently, she talked about her music and the intent behind it:

 “Each song on LEGACY! LEGACY! takes its name from pertinent, inspirational artists and activists within black history, including James Baldwin, Eartha Kitt, and Basquiat, to mention a few. With these tracks, Woods offers poetic, meditative testaments to the influence these figures have had on her, whilst weaving her own personal narratives into this. “The tracks are named after people but are very much autobiographical songs,” Woods emphasises. “I’m singing about my own experiences almost like self-portraits, through the lenses of the different people and what I’ve learnt from them.” Woods’ lyrics are poetic works in themselves, crafted with astute linguistic potency and precision. Melded with the glistening, soulful melodies that saunter through the record, this verbal and aural harmony is steeped in vivid, emotive poeticism

While the issues and ideas that Woods explores on this record feel vital and pertinent in the context of the current political climate, she states “I don’t really resonate with the idea that something is important now more than ever. It’s more just like I wanna feel free to follow where my inspirations lead me”.

Wood is performing in the U.S. at the moment but she heads to the U.K. later in the year. Take a look out and make sure, if you can, you go and see Woods live. She is a sensational talent who fuses Soul and Neo-Soul together with these inspiring songs; a voice that gets into the heart and a spirit that cannot help but intoxicate. Woods is definitely capturing a desire and wave right now and, if you get the time, settle down with LEGACY! LEGACY! and experience an artist who is…

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

OUT of this world.

FEATURE: Step Back in Time: Kylie Minogue’s Five Finest Albums

FEATURE:

 

 

Step Back in Time

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IMAGE CREDIT: Kylie Minogue 

Kylie Minogue’s Five Finest Albums

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AS the legendary Kylie Minogue

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue 

readies herself for a slot on the appropriately-named ‘legends’ stage at Glastonbury this year, it has got me thinking about her impressive back catalogue and the fact that, with each album, there is evolution. Minogue releases her definitive collection, Step Back in Time, on 28th June and it will give fans existing and new the chance to revel in the multiple sides of the Melbourne-born icon. This year is a big one for her because, not only does Minogue have that Glastonbury slot and is releasing her greatest hits; there will be many wondering what comes next; how she will follow 2018’s Country-tinged album, Golden. I think, as she is in her sixth decade of life, we will actually see more of a return to her Pop roots rather than a repeat of what she gave us last year. In any case, there are a lot of people excited by what is coming. Even though her definitive collection spans her entire career, if you want to narrow down to the finest Kylie Minogue albums, I have been investigating further. Here, in my view, are the five Kylie Minogue album every fan needs…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Audoin Desforges

IN their collections…

ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images/Kylie Minogue

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Rhythm of Love

Release Date: 12th November, 1990

Labels: Mushroom/PWL

Producers: Stock, Aitken, Waterman/Keith Cohen/Stephen Bray/Michael Jay/Rick James

Standout Cuts: Better the Devil You Know/What Do I Have to Do/Shocked

Key Cut: Step Back in Time

Review:

Yes, it's still simple Stock-Aitken-Waterman dance-pop, but Rhythm of Love is leaps and bounds more mature than Kylie's first two releases. The songwriting is stronger, the production dynamic, and Kylie seems more confident vocally. And while Kylie and Enjoy Yourself were collections of songs to back up singles, this is a more complete album, with many of the tracks -- "Things Can Only Get Better" a prime example -- single worthy. Definitely her best work from the Stock-Aitken-Waterman era” - AllMusic

Kylie Minogue

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Release Date: 19th September, 1994

Labels: Mushroom/Destruction

Producers: Steve Anderson/Dave Seaman/M People/Pete Heller/Terry Farley/Jimmy Harry

Standout Cuts: Surrender/Pure Yourself in My Place/Falling

Key Cut: Confide in Me

Review:

Meant as a statement of her new direction, Kylie Minogue's fifth album no longer featured the Stock-Aitken-Waterman production gloss and found the diminutive singer working with hip dance producers like David Seaman. From the first notes of the opener "Confide in Me," you know this is not the teen pop queen of old. Kylie Minogue (also note the use of her last name on the cover) wanted to sound grown up, and she pulls it off with ease. While it is still dance-pop, there's atmosphere and style in the songs that wasn't there on Let's Get to It. Definitely the start of the second phase of her career” – AllMusic

Impossible Princess

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Release Date: 22nd October, 1997

Labels: Mushroom/Destruction/BMG

Producers: Kylie Minogue (uncredited)/Dave BallJames/Dean Bradfield/Brothers in Rhythm/Jay Burnett/Rob Dougan/Dave Eringa/Ingo Vauk

Standout Cuts: Cowboy Style/Some Kind of Bliss/Did It Again

Key Cut: Breathe

Review:

Impossible Princess runs the gamut of styles, but manages to remain cohesive and fresh, even six years later. The sleek trip-hop of “Jump” and the deliriously spacey “Say Hey” fit like puzzle pieces next to the Chemical Brothers-style techno/rock hybrid “Limbo” and the frenetic “I Don’t Need Anyone.” Minogue fiercely declares her independence, but admits to her innate vulnerability: “I don’t need anyone/Except for someone I’ve not found.” Co-produced by former Soft Cell synth-master Dave Ball, “Through the Years” evokes Björk’s “Venus As a Boy,” but creates its own smoky atmosphere with muted horns, experimental vocal tracks and elegiac lyrics: “Too many a twisted word was said/My body was porous/I savored every drop of you” – SLANT

Light Years

Release Date: 25th September, 2000

Label: Parlophone

Producers: Steve Anderson/Guy Chambers/Johnny Douglas/Julian Gallagher/Mark Picchiotti/Steve Power/Mike Spencer/Graham Stack/Richard Stannard/Mark Taylor

Standout Cuts: On a Night Like This/Your Disco Needs You/Kids (with Robbie Williams)

Key Cut: Spinning Around

Review:

On a Night Like This and So Now Goodbye keep up the tempo and disco antics - you can feel the heat from the swirling multi-coloured lights as you listen to them - adding empowering notions of grabbing the best looking man in the club, then ditching him when you feel like it. But Minogue knows better than to think she can do it all alone. It was the less than subtle tweakings of Stock-Aitken- Waterman that gave her success and now she has turned to some more male musical heavyweights to get her back on track. Spice Girls collaborator Richard Stannard adds some polish to the flamenco flavoured Please Stay, while the songs co-written by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers give Minogue the best lines.

There's the fantastic Kids, a duet with Williams also featured on his new album, and Loveboat, a homage to the 1970s TV show of the same name. The latter is a female response to Williams's Millennium - it sounds very similar but has a less cynical approach to love. The familiar references to martinis, bikinis and 007 are all there - Williams really should try joining a new video club - but so too are the verbal come-ons that'll either make you squirm or laugh out loud. "Rub on some lotion," Minogue pleads breathily, "the places I can't reach." More amusing still is Your Disco Needs You, a call to arms that the Village People would be proud of. Minogue has her tongue firmly in her cheek for this camp slice of epic disco that will doubtless become the obligatory soundtrack to every Christmas office party.

It's only when Minogue deviates from the fun that the album falters. Bittersweet Goodbye is an overblown ode to love that seems like an excuse for a video featuring satin sheets, while the title track is suitably spacey, though it still left me singing Brotherhood of Man's Angelo at the end. Ultimately, Minogue shines brightest in the blinding lights of a club and Light Years is an album that should be played as you force your boob-tube into place and drain the remnants of that can of hairspray before you go out. This time round Kylie's got it right” – The Guardian

Fever

Release Date: 1st October, 2001  

Label: Parlophone

Producers: Steve Anderson/Rob Davis/Cathy Dennis/Greg Fitzgerald/Pascal Gabriel/Julian Gallagher/Tom Nichols/Mark Picchiotti/Richard Stannard/Paul Statham/TommyD

Standout Cuts: Love at First Sight/Come Into My World/In Your Eyes

Key Cut: Can’t Get You Out of My Head

Review:

By 1997, she moved on to working with writers outside the genre. While this may have translated into poor record sales, her motives were in the right place. With 2001's Fever, Minogue combines the disco-diva comeback of the previous year's Light Years with the trend of simple dance rhythms which was prevalent in the teen dance-pop craze of the years surrounding the album's release. While on the surface that might seem like an old dog trying to learn new tricks, Minogue pulls it off with surprising ease. The first single, "Cant Get You Out of My Head," is a sparse, mid-tempo dance number that pulses and grooves like no other she's recorded, and nothing on Light Years was as funky as the pure disco closer of "Burning Up."

And while it's hard not to notice her tipping her hat to the teen pop sound (in fact, on this record she works with Cathy Dennis, former dance-pop star and writer/producer for Brit-teen pop group S Club 7) on songs like "Give It to Me" and "Love at First Sight," her maturity helps transcend this limiting tag, making this a very stylish Euro-flavored dance-pop record that will appeal to all ages. Not one weak track, not one misplaced syrupy ballad to ruin the groove. The winning streak continues. (The U.S. version, released in early March of 2002, included the hidden tracks "Boy" and "Butterfly" -- a B-side and Light Years album track, respectively)” – AllMusic

FEATURE: Retuning the Bandwidth: Are Radio Playlists Varied and Balanced in Terms of Genre and Gender?

FEATURE:

 

 

Retuning the Bandwidth

PHOTO CREDIT: iStock 

Are Radio Playlists Varied and Balanced in Terms of Genre and Gender?

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I have been thinking about radio…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @joaosilas/Unsplash

a lot recently because I think, more and more, it is a hugely influential medium. Not only does radio provide a platform for rising artists and big names but it gives guidance to festivals when it comes to booking acts. Look back at your childhood and I think we can all agree radio was hugely powerful and exciting back then – whether it was listening to the charts or discovering a great new artist. I grew up listening to the charts and what was buzzing in the 1990s and have been a fan of radio ever since. One’s own tastes and habits might be a bit restrictive but, with radio, you get this spread and sense of diversity! That means we are all more open and educated regarding music; not sticking with the same thing and able to experience a lot more. There are stations I tune into all of the time but, more and more, I wonder whether radio playlists are as eclectic and bold as they should be. I keep mentioning (my favourite station) BBC Radio 6 Music because it is awash with great music and options. I have been listening hard lately and found that, like a lot of stations, there is that chance to go further. They are beholden – like most commercial options – to regular playlists which means, invariably, one will hear the same song repeated frequently through the day; this can often go on for weeks before a new playlist is introduced. That is fine if the song being rinsed is wonderful but, if not, that can start to grate…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @alicemoore/Unsplash

I will not name any songs - but you do start to hear the same things repeated and, yeah, it gets a bit annoying. I know why this is done: to make sure as many people hear that song; not everyone listens daily so it makes sense to repeat the songs quite a bit. Because the market is less singles-orientated and, I feel, the album needs more exposure, I wonder whether that radio strategy is wise. It is nice hearing the new releases played but I wonder, rather than a static, one-month playlist that plays these same numbers over and over, why not refresh it every week? I find that, too, stations tend to focus on the bigger artists. I know there are remits and guidelines but it would add more range and variation to playlists if rising artists were included. Getting back to that single vs. album argument, and you often get artists who have new album out and the same single from that album is featured in the playlist – why not include other tracks from the album? I do understand that there is a lot more to playlists than personal tastes and random pickings: there is a lot of maths, science and statistics included in the process. Not only are rigid playlists a bit of a downside regarding radio but, look at the big stations and the music they play, and can one say that the gender balance is right?!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @vidarnm/Unsplash

There are some D.J.s that are keen to include as many women into the mix as possible but I feel there is this general ignorance. So many D.J.s play men back-to-back and throw the odd woman in there. It means that, across the broad, you get this male-heavy playlist. I can understand how hard it is to have a fifty-fifty split across the board but, look at new and older music, and you are spoiled for choice! I do worry producers and bosses are not making enough effort to ensure the gender breakdown of their playlists and schedules are even. I guess it is okay for shows to tip a bit in favour of the men but, on some shows, there is a huge gulf in terms of men and women. Not only does that create a homogenised and rather limited sound but it sends a bad message to female musicians who are trying to get their music heard – stations favouring men more might lead them to believe they do not stand a chance. I think it is important to be conscious of sexism issues in music and relate that to festivals. Festivals do take a lot of inspiration from radio stations regarding their bookings and, whilst one cannot blame stations for the gender disparity at festivals, I think a more gender-balanced outlook would help festivals achieve greater parity. Maybe these are small grumblings but it is not hard to retune the playlists and make them more exciting, varied and gender-balanced.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: iStock

Not only do I feel there are limitations regarding gender and new tracks but I also think stations are not that bold regarding certain artists. It is great hearing the same big songs played by those familiar artists but it can be a bit samey. Think about legendary bands like The Beatles and, when it comes to their music being played, can one say stations are digging through the archives hard enough? Quite often, I hear the same six or seven Beatles songs played; some albums/songs rarely get an outing and it makes me a bit miffed. Familiarity is great but, when you open things up and play one of those lesser-heard songs, it is really exciting. David Bowie, Joni Mitchell; Pink Floyd and The Cure – do we tend to rely on the same songs from these artists when, it reality, there is a huge number of golden slices to select?! It is funny because, on some radio stations, they announce which band/artist is coming up and you can almost guess what song it is going to be before they play it! I think, if we want to inspire listeners and make them more aware about great artists’ full range, stations need to make more of an effort to be a bit more eclectic regarding song selections. This sense of boldness should also apply to the balance of mainstream/established artists and rising acts.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles/PHOTO CREDIT: David McEnery/REX Shutterstock

It is impossible to please everyone but I do feel like, with certain artists repeated and there being this rather samey outlook on some stations, there is a whole layer of music ignored. So many great approaching artists do not get played; some iconic acts miss out and, in terms of genre, stations are missing a tricky. I do realise stations have their demographics and guidelines but that does not mean they are as honed as their playlists suggests. So many stations are restricted when it comes to the length of a song, too. Some of the cooler brands take risks but there is still that rule regarding playing long songs: ensure most of the tracks run around three or four minutes. We are told that is the ideal length for a Pop classic and instant hit: this does mean that so many artists and genres are not getting the exposure they deserve. I do wonder whether stations are at the mercy of strict guidelines and old conventions. The music landscape has changed a lot and, whilst some radio stations are keeping their finger on the pulse, others seem to be languishing behind. Music tastes and demands are, I guess, subjective – so everyone will have their own ideals of what makes great radio and whether there needs to be improvement. I do think that there needs to be more done to tip the gender imbalance and, regarding fresh artists, maybe a bit more room in the schedules.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @schneidermann/Unsplash

It is hard to tick all the boxes and make sure everyone is represented. I used to see a lot of the classic albums getting a nod from stations. Again, one cannot include every big anniversary that comes along but I think it is important to celebrate these records to younger listeners and give them their due. I miss the classic album series that used to be on T.V. and, as many titanic albums get a mere nod from stations, could more time be set aside to give these iconic albums a proper celebration? I love radio right now so, regarding these critiques and recommendations, they are very small and not meant to give a false view. I think British radio is doing a great job regarding getting on top of it all; the great new music around and making sure the classics are not ignored. To me, a simple bit of expansion and malleability would give the gold an extra gleam. From ensuring there are more female artists on the playlist to being a bit more adventurous regarding the best-known acts; maybe thinking about the monthly playlists and their impact. I am not expert but, as a listener, I have heard from quite a few other people who share the same concerns. Radio is the most powerful tool in music regarding getting the word out about new songs; making sure we experience as much different music as possible. It is brilliant and I tip my hat to the D.J.s, producers and stations around the country. Maybe, with a few subtle tweaks and adjustments, British radio could become…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: iStock

SIMPLY unbeatable.

FEATURE: Spotlight: Amyl and The Sniffers

FEATURE:

 

 

Spotlight

PHOTO CREDIT: Amyl and The Sniffers 

Amyl and The Sniffers

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IT is not like Amyl and The Sniffers

 IMAGE CREDIT: Amyl and The Sniffers

are new to the world but, for us in the U.K., maybe the Melbourne band are fairly fresh. The band released their eponymous album very recently and, whereas I shall come to that, they have been putting out music for several years now. This year has been a busy one for the gang and, with an album out, there are gigs demands and rounds of publicity. Before I come to any of that, here is a bit of biography about Amyl and The Sniffers which tracks from the start to 2017:

Amyl and the Sniffers are a punk band possessed by the spirit of seventies Australian rock. Amy Taylor (vocals), Bryce Wilson (drums), Dec Martens (guitar) are former housemates who formed the band, wrote a handful of tunes and released their debut EP, Giddy Up, all in a span of twelve hours.

Completing their line up with Gus Romer on bass, the band take their cues from a diverse bunch of legends including AC/DC, Cosmic Psychos, Dolly Parton and Die Antwoord, setting out to have as much fun as possible.

Their 2nd EP, Big Attraction, was released in February 2017, kicking off a stellar year for these young punks. Growing buzz around their blistering live show made the band a hot tip at Bigsound in Brisbane, while the band was added to festival lineups including Meredith and CherryRock17. The band and were invited to join the Cosmic Psychos on their forthcoming November/December tour and capped off the year with a sellout NYE show at the legendary Tote in their home town of Melbourne”.

From the opening track of their eponymous album, Starfire 500, the band set fire to the speakers and create this special world. That song and the closer, Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled) are the longest on the record – most of the songs are tighter and deliver that swift, quick kick. I must admit that I am not new to the band but, with their album out, I have been making up for lost time and experiencing their unique cocktail. I know there are a few Pop/Post-Punk bands with a female voice at the front but, to me, Amyl and The Sniffers are in a really strong position. Amy Taylor is able to convey so many emotions and colours. Listen to the Amyl and The Sniffers album and every song is vividly brought to life by Taylor’s relentless energy. I would not be surprised if the Australian band’s album cracked a lot of critics’ top-ten lists come the end of this year. The reviews for the record have been largely positive. NME were full of praise:

 “Loud and aggressive, for sure, but it’s singer Amy Taylor’s insightful yet chant-worthy lyrics that make this more than just a ear-bleeding exercising. ‘Angel’ is a sweet love song caught up in a whirlwind of sound (“I’m shaking, I can’t take it, bent over back all day waiting for you”), while ‘Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled)’ is defiant and empowering, while retaining the stickiness of the rough carpets of the pubs they frequent.

It’s “pub-punk” for now, but there’s a good chance it’ll take them to much bigger stages sooner rather than later. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but it’s a bloody hoot”.

Pitchfork had a slightly different slant when they approached Amyl and The Sniffers’ album:

By the very virtue of being released on a major label, Amyl and the Sniffers reverses that equation. While the group still tends to run lean—most of the album’s 11 songs clock in well under three minutes, with the whole thing rushing by in half an hour—all of the songs feel formed. Give some of the credit to producer Ross Orton. A veteran of the Sheffield scene—he played drums in Add N to (X) and floated through Pulp’s circles on his way to working on M.I.A.s’ Arular, gaining a noteworthy credit by producing Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 LP AM—Orton gives the band a beefier, bolder sound. This increased heft accentuates how Amyl and the Sniffers can sound like heirs to the sharpie rockers of Australia, a dirty underground movement of the ’70s that traded upon glam and nascent heavy metal—a sound that eventually wormed its way into the gnarly riffs of AC/DC and Rose Tattoo”.

Reviewers around the world have been bigging-up the Melbourne band since last year – in fact, the buzz has been building before then. The band are on fire right now and there has been a lot of anticipation surrounding their long-awaited album. The interviews have been thick and fast but, looking back last year, DIY caught up with the band as they set about recording their debut.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jenn Five for DIY

The band tried to define their sound and explained how their unique flavours were compelled by myriad sounds and decades:

The point, says Amy, was to have something to bring to the table at the “house parties and shed shows” that the friends all used to frequent – raucous, DIY gigs with bands called things like Drunk Mums and Dumb Cunts all getting sweaty in pleasingly shitty small rooms. From that first EP (entitled ‘Giddy Up’) of scratchy, short’n’sharp garage rock – its four songs clocking in at just seven minutes in total – the band got their first gig. “There weren’t many people there and we fucked up heaps, but it was so fun and the best thing ever,” the singer enthuses. “We covered four songs because we had no songs to play and then the bartender [took the piss] because we only played for 15 minutes. But it’s nice when you start something new and you haven’t figured it out yet; the exciting part is learning and working out what you’re doing.”

Influenced by the garage rock scene they grew up around, as well as “bad Aussie rock’n’roll from the ’70s and ’80s: the classic Top 100 hits that your parents would listen to,” theirs are tracks that channel a different kind of punk to the influences touted around from their US and UK counterparts. Filled with a funny, unaffected bogan brattiness, Amyl might claim to sing about “everyday experiences”, but they do it in a way that seems more feckless and uninhibited than most. Take ‘I’m Not A Loser’’s claim of “My friends may think that I’m a cunt / But I pay the rent on time every month” by way of example. Led Zeppelin, it is not”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Ford for NME

There is a lot to love about the band. They are very honest and open and, when it comes to their conversation, they are often frank, funny and filthy! There is no ego where Amyl and The Sniffer are concerned – sometimes the bawdiness and crass edge can get a bit wary. The music is the thing that matters most and, when you immerse yourself in their magical blends, you are captivated and seduced. The band spoke with Gigwise earlier in the year and stated how, although they love recording, they are much more of a live band; one that has the world at their feet right now:

Singer Amy Taylor, a diminutive presence in her own right, is quick to reaffirm this. “We’re definitely more of a live band. Even our first recordings. We only put them out because we wanted to get booked so bookers knew what we sounded like and bands too so we could play with them. It’s the best feeling ever! Even if there were only ten people watching us every night I’d still feel the same way.”

Now firmly at the forefront of Rough Trade’s glowing roster. Not only for 2019 but also well into the future. While signing to such a prestigious label would be a daunting prospect to some, Amyl and the Sniffers appear to have taken it all in their stride.

“There were a fair few labels talking to us at the time,” admits Romer. “Geoff (Travis) heard about us after The Great Escape then he saw us in Hamburg along with Jeannette (Lee) from the label. After that, Rough Trade was the only place we wanted to be. They’ve done some incredible releases and have an amazing history. They take super good care of us and everyone is lovely. It’s awesome.”

“We love working them now. We’ve become part of the family,” adds Taylor. “It’s a really strange thing for me. Coming from Australia, I didn’t know that much about overseas record labels so it was really exotic and foreign coming to meet them but I’m so glad we went with them because that’s what it’s like; being part of a family. They come to our gigs and we just hang out”.

The band are all over the place right now and keen to share their stories with the media. You need to keep an eye on their social media channels because, with some hot material in the world, the band is hot on the live circuit. You can buy gig tickets and discover where the band is heading next. Before wrapping things up, I want to bring in an interview the band gave with NME and, during the chat, they talk about their start and how they decided to get a band together:

The group grew up all over Australia – Amy and Bryce are from tourist town Byron Bay, while Gus came from Tasmania and Declan from Perth. Bryce and Declan had been in bands before, and Gus would join the band a bit further down the line, but this was Amy’s first foray into music. The band met at a pub/venue called the Grace Darling in Melbourne’s Collingwood district. There was no fabled “moment” they say – Declan just recognised Bryce from a recent club night and introduced himself. A connection was made, and soon after, Declan had moved in with Amy and Bryce. No-nonsense, then.

PHOTO CREDIT: WDZIEKONSKI

The idea for the band came up at some “wasted kick-ons,” Declan says. Kick-ons means after parties, apparently. “We only made the first EP so we could get gigs” Amy says. The result, ‘Giddy Up’, was recorded in their shared house in 12 hours and runs for a grand total of five minutes. “The bookers never said we needed 15 minutes worth of music until we got off stage after eight,” Amy laughs. Following their instincts and making the EP as quickly as they could was the key to its magic. “The more you think about something, the less you know,” Amy says, gnomically”.

Make sure you get involved with Amyl and The Sniffers’ music and follow them on the road if you can. It is still early days for them but, from their previous songs and their new album, you can tell they have matured and are coming on leaps – even if they have kept the spit and attitude key to the core of their music. They are an exciting new band and I would not be shocked to see them appearing at big festivals in the U.K. next year. Right now, they have the world to tour and they are getting their debut record to the adoring masses. I am excited to see where Amyl and The Sniffers will head next and just how far they can go. Even though I am new to their music, I am making up for it and diving into their warm waters. The Australian band is in rude and brilliant health and it seems like they are not going…

AWAY anytime soon.

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Follow Amy and The Sniffers:

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FEATURE: Hymns from the Love Ghetto: Neneh Cherry’s Raw Like Sushi at Thirty

FEATURE:

 

 

Hymns from the Love Ghetto

ALBUM COVER PHOTO: Jean-Baptiste Mondino  

Neneh Cherry’s Raw Like Sushi at Thirty

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NOT that I am representing every major album…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Neneh Cherry circa 1989/PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Eichner/WireImage/Getty

that is celebrating in a feature but, as Wednesday marks thirty years since Neneh Cherry’s debut album, Raw Like Sushi, was released, I only felt it right to mark that! I was originally going to put it in my Vinyl Corner feature but, having looked online, I cannot find a good copy! I am not sure whether Cherry is going to put Raw Like Sushi on vinyl but it seems like an album that would sound perfect coming from a record player! I remember the album coming out on 5th June, 1989 and, whilst my memory as a six-year-old is spotty, it is a record that sounded pretty different to everything else that was out at the time. I have put Raw Like Sushi under the spotlight before but, now that it is thirty, I felt it warranted another spin. I will come to the modern output of Neneh Cherry in the final parts but, to start, it is worth looking at Raw Like Sushi and its impact in 1989. Whilst a few producers and musicians helped make Neneh Cherry’s debut a success – including her husband, Cameron McVey -, it is Cherry’s unique and incredible talent that shines from every note. In a year where some stunning Pop and Hip-Hop was thrilling people, there was some wonderful R&B working in the mix. It is amazing to think of all the epic albums that arrived in 1989 and how, in its way, Raw Like Sushi slipped right in.

Whereas Cherry was tackling big subjects like the inner-city and men who need to do some growing up, there was an accessibility and common touch that meant the songs connected with fans and critics alike. One reason why Raw Like Sushi impacted in 1989 and sounds fresh now is because of all the sound pollination and how genres are spliced together. Cherry brings together brass, guitars and myriad sounds to create this wonderful spritz and explosion. Cherry, even that young, was talking about her experiences of motherhood and her own upbringing. Not many artists have that sort of experience and background – giving Neneh Cherry more clout and depth when it came to her songs. It is clear that, whereas her contemporaries such as Madonna (her debut arrived in 1983) went in quite commercial and safe, Cherry was pushing boundaries and digging deep right off the bat. I guess there was something about the late-1980s that inspired artists to be bold and challenging. I mentioned how Hip-Hop was reaching heights in terms of scope; sampling was common and the lyrics being addressed by artists were a lot more eye-opening than what was happening in Pop. Cherry, whereas she might have been marketed more in a Pop vein, had more in common with the Alternative bands and Hip-Hop artists that ruled 1989. I have talked a lot about the album’s themes and strengths and, at the time, Raw Like Sushi resonated.

Critics in 1989 saw this bold and brilliant artist come through whose music was dizzying and electric. Contemporary reviews are ecstatic and it seems that, almost thirty years after its release, Raw Like Sushi is gold. AllMusic, in this review, had their opinions:

 “Those arguing that the most individualistic R&B and dance music of the late '80s and early to mid-'90s came out of Britain could point to Neneh Cherry's unconventional Raw Like Sushi as a shining example. An unorthodox and brilliantly daring blend of R&B, rap, pop, and dance music, Sushi enjoyed little exposure on America's conservative urban contemporary radio formats, but was a definite underground hit. Full of personality, the singer/rapper is as thought-provoking as she is witty and humorous when addressing relationships and taking aim at less-than-kosher behavior of males and females alike. Macho homeboys and Casanovas take a pounding on "So Here I Come" and the hit "Buffalo Stance," while women who are shallow, cold-hearted, or materialistic get lambasted on "Phoney Ladies," "Heart," and "Inna City Mamma." Cherry's idealism comes through loud and clear on "The Next Generation," a plea to take responsibility for one's sexual actions and give children the respect and attention they deserve”.

Pitchfork approached Raw Like Sushi from a slightly different perspective in their review:

 “Manchild,” the second track on the album, is probably the best example of Raw Like Sushi’s widescreen view; it reunites Cherry with Wild Bunch member Robert “3D” Del Naja, who by then had formed trip-hop collective Massive Attack. Anyone expecting something like “Buffalo Stance II” to be Sushi’s second single was probably surprised. Its shape-shifting, woozy synths, which floated in and out of keys, led and were led by Cherry’s soulful yet pointed vocal. She’s acting as the prodding yet sympathetic sage to a flailing other, rapping about “R-E-S-P-E and C-T” while chords quiver and hover.

Audacity was what made Raw Like Sushi such a thrilling album three decades ago, and it’s also a big part of why today it looms large, both as an example of musical possibility and as a totem of womanhood. The front of Raw Like Sushi shows Cherry in full-on Buffalo stance, her arms crossed, her gaze set, her pout square. Its back cover, however, shows Cherry in flight and lost in the music, her curls midair, her arms splayed—realizing the joy in pure possibility, and dancing along with it as fast as she can”.

It doesn’t get talked about much, but I do think a lot of Pop who arrived after Raw Like Sushi was released owe the album a lot. The way genres were mashed and that distinct Neneh Cherry quirkiness; I can hear that in artists today. Very few artists before Cherry were covering the sort of themes she was and I think her subsequent albums helped cement that quality and influence – 1992’s Homebrew and 1996’s Man were huge albums that saw Cherry grow and expand. I will finish with my own thoughts but, in this great retrospective from 2014, The Quietus dove into Raw Like Sushi:

“…Even today, Cherry remains one of the most disorientingly eclectic of artists. On her debut album, Raw Like Sushi (1989), most of the tracks are catchy yet confusingly dense, throwing us off with their mood changes and far-flung references. Her voice switches nationalities within a single breath; she can come across as a sage or a brat, sophisticated or cacklingly malicious. Her tough persona implies a straightforward approach to her craft, but what the music presents is harder to decipher.

When we get to the critique of the pimp and the girls, Cherry's voice is superior and strident; throughout the album, there tends to be a view of boys as dominated and unripe, while the girls are predatory, standing around "wearing padded bras, sucking beer through straws." Men may be limp, but these young women are even less sensual, with their lacquered lips pursed over a can. So this first part of the song is rather abject, with its hawking voice, and its allusions to gross female display.

Cherry and McVey's style is not the warm, full-bodied sound of R&B: it has a much more inorganic feel, favouring fizzy noise over the deep tones of funk or soul. 'Buffalo Stance' has a coiled, compressed sound; beats form little eddies and bubbles which correspond to the blooming digital shapes of the video. The synth is thin and airy, evoking something crude and mass-produced: that's what makes the track distinctive rather than generically tasteful. Audiences may expect great music to be rich and rootsy; Raw Like Sushi remains strange because its sound is exactly the opposite – bright, sharp and cold, a rejection of the past.

Although she clearly draws from a wealth of cultural influences, Neneh Cherry has never been anything so wholesome as a "world" artist. Released at a time when both hip-hop and sushi were considered alternative, this album still stuns with its unique take on rawness: not the fuzzy lo-fi kind, but a sound which is actually grating and alarming to the ear. Raw Like Sushi is proof that great albums don't have to take on heroic structures; the record's most distinguishing feature is its exploration of superficiality and tackiness on both sonic and verbal levels. Instead of a sense of grandeur or orchestration, transcendence is achieved through an accumulation of small detail: a sampled screech, the odd tinny note, an image of tiny-mouthed women sucking through straws. Soulful phrases are combined with synthetic textures, so that each sound retains its own idiosyncrasy, rather than being refined into a whole”.

To me, Raw Like Sushi represents the introduction of an artist who startled the music world and opened minds. We can talk about the standout hits like Manchild and Buffalo Stance but there are also the more challenging and evocative tracks such as The Next Generation and Love Ghetto. I was very young when Raw Like Sushi came out but, through the 1990s, I followed Cherry closely and Raw Like Sushi gained new light. It is an album that does not sound dated and, every time I play it, I pick up fresh revelation and glory. It is a truly wonderful debut and, although Cherry has released some fantastic albums since 1989 (her latest, 2018’s Broken Politics, is exceptional), I do not think she has created anything as staggering and ambitious as Raw Like Sushi. I can spin these brash and wonderful songs but, as you play the whole album through, these other gems emerge. Neneh Cherry plays this year’s Glastonbury - and it will be a great opportunity for songs from Raw Like Sushi to reach new ears. I do wonder why Cherry wasn’t selected as a headliner this year but, with such a fine body of work under her belt, she will delight and excite those who are lucky enough to see her. If you have not heard Raw Like Sushi, make sure you listen to it and experience this phenomenal album. On Wednesday, it turns thirty and I do think it warrants fresh inspection and praise. 1989 produced some world-class and iconic albums but, riding high in the pack, is Neneh Cherry’s…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: David Burton

IMMENSE and timeless debut.