TRACK REVIEW: Miles Davis (ft. Ledisi) - Rubberband of Life

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Miles Davis (ft. Ledisi)

Rubberband of Life

 

9.5/10

 

 

The track, Rubberband of Life, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayx93w3dyrI

GENRES:

Jazz/Neo-Soul/R&B

ORIGIN:

U.S.A.

LABEL:

Rhino Entertainment Company

The album, Rubberband, will be released on 6th September. Pre-order the album here:

https://rhino.lnk.to/Rubberband19

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IT is not often that I get to look at…

a Jazz artist - no less an icon who has helped redefine and revolutionise the genre. Before I talk more about Miles Davis and why this posthumous project is exciting, it is worth talking about a few other subjects. I wanted to look at Jazz in general and how, for years, it has been a maligned genre – and one that is coming back and has plenty of potential. I also wanted to address posthumous releases in general and an artist’s life after they have departed; a general look at broader music tastes and widening horizons; a sense of where Jazz can go in years from now and music that contrasts the mainstream with something much more satisfying and rich – I will look at ahead to the Miles Davis album, Rubberband, and what it might contain. It is worth looking at Jazz legends and how they have inspired the genre but, right now, let’s investigate Jazz. I do think many of us get into our heads this impression of Jazz that is quite old and limited. I have raised this subject when reviewing Jazz in the past but I think we all associate the genre with something quite stuffy, dry and long-winded. Rather than the exciting and varied style we have today, many still link Jazz with noodling, a certain impression and something they will not like. To be fair, there are still some corners of the Jazz world where improvisation rules and it can be quite hard to digest. Other Jazz artists tend to be quite plain and do not really allow much imagination to come out. For the most part, Jazz today is broadening and there are some terrific artists emerging. In Britain, there are some fantastic Jazz players coming out of London and, when you think about how Jazz is integrated into other styles of music, one can appreciate the genre in some form or other. I think the likes of Miles Davis represent an old order that, whilst inspiring, are part of the past.

The newly-charged and evolved Jazz we hear now is a different beast altogether. I am not a huge fan of Jazz that goes off on tangents and consists of wild freestyling but, if you look hard enough, there are plenty of options. It is a shame that, to many, Jazz is this limited genre that is for the outsiders and cannot integrate into the mainstream. Maybe people feel that, like Classical, Jazz is vocal-less and not something that is easy to get to grips with. True, a lot of Jazz is instrumental but there are Jazz artists who have singers and, with modern artists like Kamasi Washington mixing instrumentals with singer-fronted pieces, Jazz is a lot more eclectic than you’d think. I love how Jazz has changed and always had time for the genre. I do like the more composed and calm pieces that are pretty easy to appreciate but I like how artists such as Miles Davis took Jazz in new directions with longer, more psychedelic experimentations. There are modern Jazz artists who are mixing in other styles like Pop and Hip-Hop; some that are merging cooler Jazz with something more fired and exciting. I do not think we can easily define any genre but Jazz always gets this bad reputation. It is hard to convert everyone to Jazz but have a listen to what is coming out now and you will love something, that is for sure. Consider Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming, They are splicing together different genres and providing this very tangible-yet-oblique music that paints pictures without words. It is Jazz that thrills the blood and hooks you but, rather than rely too much on traditional Jazz instruments, there is a fusion of genres. One might say that modern Jazz, then, is not that pure and is having to assimilate other styles of music to become credible. I think there is some truth in this but, like every genre, Jazz has developed and changed through the years. At the core, there is still this very traditional sound but, with so many different kinds of music available to the world, it is only natural that modern Jazz artists would sprinkle that into the pot.

I am going to be talking about Amy Winehouse later and, when considering her, there are all sorts of plans regarding her material and touring – despite the fact that she has been dead for years. It is understandable fans want to hear more material from artists after they have departed but where do you draw the line? In the case of Winehouse, there has been posthumous material released and there are plans for her to go on tour – in the form of a hologram. It is a bit ghoulish and weird considering that and I do think there needs to be lines drawn. Prince is another artist who has been gone for years but there is new stuff coming out regularly. In his case, there is this archive of material he recorded that will satisfy fans for many years to come. Some say there is almost a century’s worth of music that is available. That is quite an impressive haul but you have to ask how much is going to be relevant and whether you release everything or stop at some point. It is the case with any big artist that has gone. Do you mine every inch of their archives to see what can be sold or do you simply accept that, now that they have gone, that is the end of their recording life? It is a hard balance and situation but I do feel like only the most worthy and quality-driven material should be released. In the case of Miles Davis, Rubberband of Life has already been put out into the world but it is a first taster of what is to come; an album called Rubberband that he started recording back in 1985. Here, Pitchfork explain the situation:

 “In 1985, Miles Davis began recording an album called Rubberband, which was set to be his first album for Warner Bros. Records following his departure from longtime label Columbia. That record was ultimately shelved; his first album for Warner would be 1986’s Tutu. Last year saw the title track to Davis’ album, “Rubberband,” released on an EP of the same name.

Today, it’s been announced that Rubberband will now be released in its entirety, completed by the original producers—Randy Hall and Zane Giles—alongside Davis’ nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr., who performed on the original album sessions. It arrives September 6 via Rhino. Find a tracklist below.

Featured on the album are Lalah Hathaway and the R&B/jazz singer Ledisi, who guests on an alternate version of the title track, “Rubberband of Life,” which appeared on last year’s EP. Find that below as well. In April, it was announced that Davis’ full recordingsfrom his sessions around Birth of the Cool would be coming to vinyl”.

It is great that we have this new release coming because I don’t think Davis is one of those artists who has a lot of scrappy stuff lying around that could be released just to cash in. Maybe I am wrong but, with some deceased artists, there are half-baked songs and demos that estates put out just because it is there. It can somewhat distil the legacy of an artist and is a shame to see. I can appreciate why people want to keep an artist alive but there has to be this point where you have to weight things up and consider whether the unfinished material is really worth putting out. Mile Davis always intended this full album and, for various reasons, it is only seeing the light of day now. It is interesting that we get to hear contemporary singers front Miles Davis songs. In his lifetime, he released few albums where there were singers on. For the most part, his music was instrumental so it is quite refreshing seeing these arrangements with singers on. Rubberband is the realisation of Davis’ work from the 1980s but it has that modern twist to it. With Ledisi scoring the current single from the album, there is that mixture of generations and, as I explained before, Jazz and other genres melting together – in the case of Rubberband of Life, there is some Soul and R&B in the mix.

One cannot listen to artists like Miles Davis, Sons of Kemet and Jazz artists such as Nilüfer Yanya and say that there is limitation. Jazz is always changing and moving in fresh directions so, if you do not like one form of Jazz, have a look around and there will be something out there for you. I feel we underestimate how important Jazz is and how, in terms of moving Hip-Hop on, it is essential. So many of the classic Rap and Hip-Hop artists cite Jazz as key; their albums incorporating Jazz in a very primal and affectionate way. Maybe pure, un-distilled Jazz is still resigned to specialist radio stations but so many modern artists are bringing in touches of Jazz to heighten their own music. Without realising it, most of us are listening to Jazz on a daily basis and actually enjoying it! It is easy to get into a habit where you only listen to stuff you grew up around or stick with a particular genre. Sometimes, we let our tastes widen but so many of us do not take leaps and experience something different. I think a music consumer is richer and happier when they listen to as much as they can. I do feel like it is impossible to like everything and embrace all music but I myself have started to investigate genres that I ignored until now. It can be very boring listening to the same music so, when you can, have a listen to something else and I am sure you will enjoy it. Maybe some of what is coming from the Jazz will not strike your mind but I am willing to bet that there is something from the world of Jazz you will like. I know it is hard to sort of break from a listening pattern and bring something new into the fold. Many of us, as mentioned, do stick with what we know and feel that anything we do not listen to isn’t worth the time.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Cameron Photography

I have started to listen to a lot of modern Country and Folk – something I have neglected for some time. I have also checked out a few Drill artists and, whilst it is not a genre I can see myself truly getting behind, there are some interesting sounds coming through. Before long, this natural sense of investigation reveals some fresh treasure and your music collection will be broader. I feel like the more aware we are of music’s spectrum and full extent, the more enriched and educated we are. Not all music is great and worth the trouble but few of us actually step out of our comfort zones and discover something fresh. Maybe this has to change and I am not sure what is responsible for this trend. Perhaps it goes back decades but I do feel modern playlists and streaming sites do not do quite enough to bring classic sounds to new listeners; a lot of genre-specific playlists are not broad enough or they are too concerned with promoting new music and neglect older sounds altogether. We do need to change practices and ensure that as many people as possible are exposed to more music. What bothers me is how people dismiss genres without ever listening to it and knowing what it is about. Jazz is one of those genres that gets a brunt of ignorance with people turning up their noses. It is not the only genre that gets a sniffy response but I feel like, if we all spend a bit more time expanding our tastes, then we will all be better for it. I shall move on now because I am aware there are other things to talk about. It just perturbs me that, with so much music out there, so many are unwilling to embrace this wave with any real interest and determination. One of the greatest joys imaginable is stumbling on a terrific song or artist that you were not aware of; discovering a genre that was foreign before and having this new obsession.

I have already mentioned Jazz and the fact that it sort of gets this rather cold reaction. Away from the true fans and aficionados, trying to dispel the myth that Jazz is pretty boring is a hard job. Aside from exciting British talent, there is a lot of variation and choice for those who are new to Jazz. I do feel like the world of Jazz that Miles Davis inhabited is a lot different to the one now. Back when he was reigning, there wasn’t the same scope and variation we have now. Maybe he was a pioneer in the sense he opened up Jazz and took it to new places. Look at an album like Bitches Brew and it has hallmarks of Prog-Rock. The way songs (on that album) went in all directions and were longer than traditional Jazz pieces; one can draw a line from Miles Davis’ more experimental songs and Prog-Rock. I do love Jazz in general but I admit that, back in the 1940s/1950s/1960s it was a little restrictive. Geniuses like Davis shook Jazz up and, with it, inspired generations of musicians in all genres. I do love the fact there is this new album coming; something that will introduce Jazz to new listeners and shows that, yes, Jazz is not as one-dimensional as you thought. I think the mid-1980s was a period where, to be fair, he was not producing his best work but there was still that determination and passion there. Davis died in 1991 but one cannot understate his impact and influence on the Jazz scene. He was at the forefront of stylistic changes in Jazz and, like all the best influencers, ensured that Jazz still has a voice today. If it were not for the likes of Miles Davis, maybe Jazz would have been relegated to the side and not have been taken to heart but so many Hip-Hop leaders.

They, in turn, have made Jazz accessible to the new generation who are bringing other genres into Jazz. All of the time, Jazz is changing its chemistry and shape but, at its heart, it remains true. Jazz is a genre that will never die and, in fact, with modern broadening things out, I feel like Jazz will become much more integrated into the mainstream. It may sound a little compromising but, the more accessible Jazz is, the more likely it is to be employed by modern artists. By that, I mean splicing other genres together with Jazz creates this more arresting and popular sound and it means people can experience Jazz in a new way. Direct, unfiltered Jazz still has its place but I do worry a lot of people are unwilling to accept it and spend the time listening. Instead, there is this strand of modern Jazz that is captivating, physical and deeply impressive. This will continue for many years and, as new sub-genres spring up, Jazz will integrate them and compel the next generation. Jazz is a genre that is moving forward all of the time and is a part of the fabric. One might say that, the more Jazz steps away from its roots, the more it betrays the original pioneers. Look at any genre and one can see how it has changed through the years. Modern Folk and Country is a lot different to what was being produced in the 1960s. Modern Punk is a different thing to the original movement in the 1970s; Pop today is completely different to what was out there decades ago. Music is always changing and that is a good thing. It might be hard convincing everyone that Jazz warrants your energy and time but we need to dispel these myths regarding its limitations and past. Even if you are a little unmoved by the older Jazz from the likes of John Coltrane, the modern breed is a lot different. Miles Davis has been responsible for Jazz’s continued appeal and place; the way it has changed and how it has helped reshape music in general.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Ledisi

It is harder to review a track that relies more on instrumentation than vocals. That said, there is plenty of life in Rubberband of Life. Opening with Davis repeating the word ‘rubberband’, there is a rumble of percussion and the sound of traffic. In terms of Davis’ playing, there is more in common with Kind of Blue and Birth of the Cool, I guess, compared with his more experimental work. The trumpet work has a definitely spiciness and heat but it is tempered compared with what we saw on his more groundbreaking albums. In a way, that style suits the song a lot better. One detects suaveness and cool emanating from the song. You hear the drums roll and this sass filter through the speakers and are transported somewhere special. When Ledisi comes to the microphone, she talks about making sacrifices if you want to make a life. Looking at the song’s title, you get impression of flexibility or being this rubberband – stretching in different directions and being subjected to the unpredictable forces of life. Ledisi’s voice is gorgeous but holds a lot of power and strike. Backed by insatiable horns and this strange groove, Ledisi offers this gravity and seamlessly blends into the brew. Her cool and uplifting vocal is almost like a mantra. One has their own impression regarding the lyrics and will paint their own scenes. It seems that struggle is part of the agenda; the way we all have to battle in order to make a successful life for ourselves. I mentioned how Jazz, great Jazz, is not restrictive and is not solely for certain people. We have the backbone of Miles Davis and his brilliance but we get the sensational and vibrant vocals of Ledisi. I am not sure how the partnership of Ledisi and Davis came about but there is this perfect partnership. Of course, that decision was not made by Davis himself but the chemistry between them is wonderful.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @rontyoungphotography

There is a fire burning inside, it is said, and it is wonderful how the Neo-Soul and R&B of Ledisi creates this warm wave against the hotter and more forceful tones coming from the back. Redemptive, inspiring and resolute, Rubberband of Life is a call of strength and fortitude against the rocks. The heroine talks about burning in the soul and how you want to make a life? If you do, then you need to show that determination and realise that there is greatness inside of you. Although the combination of Ledisi and Davis was not intended back in 1985, this new recording is incredible. We hear snippets of Davis and, of course, his incredible playing drives the song forward. It is often difficult pairing two different worlds in music but, on Rubberband of Life, the combination is successful. You are hooked by the smooth and sensuous rush of the foreground and attracted to the blasts and elements from the back. It all blends together marvellously and it is impossible to hear the song and not be moved. In many ways, I feel Rubberband of Life has a lot in common with the great R&B/Neo-Soul songs of the 1990s and early part of the last decade. That is no bad thing and, actually, one gets this blast of nostalgia and old-school vibes. I have listened to Rubberband of Life several times and, each time, new stuff is revealed. The inspiring spirit of the track will lift you up and brightens your mood. The song does calm a bit past the half-way mark; where there is a bit more chance for the composition to breathe and for the images to sink in. The heroine sings about letting it go and, maybe, she is referring to the tension of a rubberband and how we need to let that go. Whether you are familiar with the work of Ledisi and Miles Davis or not, this is a song that has its own spirit and brilliance. Originally released on the Rubberband EP, it will feature on the Rubberband album, as the opening tracks, and is an interesting combination of new vocals and Davis’ older input. I love the track and have heard many positive comments regarding it. Have a listen to it and feel all the stress and strain of life fade away.

  PHOTO CREDIT: @rontyoungphotography

Rubberband is out on 6th September so make sure you pre-order it. The album features these Miles Davis sketches with some great modern singers on them. Ledisi fronts the amazing Rubberband of Life but there are other terrific tracks (on the album) that will stick in the mind. It is weird to think that there is new material coming from Davis, almost thirty years after he died. I guess, like Prince, there was a certain amount of material left in the vaults when he died. It is intriguing to consider there might be other Davis works that are begging for release. Maybe there are fewer songs in the Davis vault compared to Prince but I would be interested to see more Miles Davis music. It goes back to my line regarding posthumous albums and whether there is a line one needs to draw. If you release everything and do not consider the quality then it is a disservice to the artist. I do feel uncomfortable that certain artists – such as Amy Winehouse – are being talked about in regards new material and touring…despite the fact that she has no say in any of it. I guess fans will always demand new work but there is a point where you have to say enough is enough. Miles Davis is a different case altogether. He has been dead for a long time and there has not been a huge amount of posthumous work. Now, a new generation can discover the master and see that fusion of modern artists with slightly older blueprints. This is the point of a review when I look ahead and see where the artist is going. Obviously, we cannot do the same with Miles Davis but I do urge people to listen to his work and see how amazing it is. From the peerless Kind of Blue and Birth of the Cool through to Sketches of Spain and In a Silent Way. There is so much to enjoy and, when it comes to styles, you cannot pin the man down. He was genuinely at the forefront and one of those people who wanted to take Jazz to new worlds. Because of that, if you are a bit picky when it comes to Jazz, Davis is a perfect artist. There are raw and exhilarating moments and those more cool and collected. Even though his songs are, largely, instrumental, there is so much imagery and texture projected. I shall leave things here but I want people to give Jazz a bit more time and affection and, if you can, get a copy of Rubberband – it is a fantastic album and will provide much delight. It is not often I get to review Miles Davis but, along with Ledisi, we have this Jazz treasure that shows what an exciting genre (Jazz is); how amazing it can truly be and what power…

IT holds.

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Follow Miles Davis

TRACK REVIEW: Sampa the Great - Final Form

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Sampa the Great

Final Form

 

10/10

 

 

The track, Final Form, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2lvgKDpiSA

GENRES:

Hip-Hop/Pop/Soul

ORIGIN:

Melbourne, Australia

RELEASE DATE:

5th June, 2019

LABEL:

Ninja Tune

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THIS is an exciting weekend...

for reviewing because I get to look at, tomorrow, an old Jazz legend who has a new song out – Miles Davis is, it seems, still producing great songs long after his death! It is an interesting project and revival ad one I shall expand upon in more detail when I get there. Today, I am with Sampa the Great. I want to talk about a few things before I get to her latest single, Final Form. I wanted to talk about sound fusions and mixing genrews together to huge effect; Melbourne and the reasons why we need to look outside areas like London; potential singles of the year and what is defining this year’s music; more optimism and drive in music and the memorability inherent in that; a bit about upbringing and music coming into your life early – I will end by seeing where Sampa the Great is heading and what might be next for her. One listens to the opening bars of Final Form and you know it is going to be a great song. There is something about it that gets you moving and involved. I love the song because it gets you grooving and there is so much working away. What I love is how Sampa the Great has managed to fuse 1960s Soul and Pop with some modern Hip-Hop and global strands. I do think there are some artists mixing different sounds together and doing so in an effective way. I do think that music, too, can be a bit too simplistic and doesn’t rouse the spirits like it should. By that, I mean there needs to be a bit more boldness and experimentation regarding genres. Listen to Sampa the Great and she is s daring and original. Her songs seem to hop boundaries and borders and you are instantly intrigued by what she puts out. On Final Form, there is this incredible blitz that fuses with something more soulful and chocolate-rich. I do think that artists, for some reasons, are not putting together disparate and interesting sounds together.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Ying Ang

Maybe it is difficult to realise something quite ambitious or it comes down to sampling. Listen to Sampa the Great and you imagine you are hearing this song with loads of samples running through. I recognise that there are artists who take big steps and can integrate genres but what Sampa the Great is doing is amazing. I love her work and do thing that others should take a lead from her. I think it is important artists combine different genres and decades but it means listeners will be curious and go back to the original source, as it were. From Final Form, I was compelled to have a listen to Soul records and try and see where Sampa the Great was coming from. I think her eclectic nature and fusions result in an itinerant musical upbringing and living in an area of the world where there was this freshness, excitement and colour coming from music. I will look at optimism in music soon but, before then, listen to all the beats and rhythms that are in Final Form and one can only imagine the kind of music Sampa the Great grew up around. You listen to the song and are transported to a new world; a place that is full of life and adventure. Music’s physical power is amazing and Sampa the Great is one of those artists who can move people and get reaction. I do feel that certain areas of music, especially the mainstream, are becoming a bit stale and there is not quite the life and ambition you’d hope for. Away from the Pop core and the radio-friendly artists, you get a lot more fire and chemistry. Listen back to Sampa the Great’s catalogue and she has always had this sense of wonder and dare. A lot of artists might mix together genres and sounds and it would come off reckless and lazy. Sampa the Great has a great knowledge and passion and, in every song, she is in control and wonderful. From an artist so young, it is amazing to hear such ambition and quality.

That might sound a little bit patronising but I am always blown away by artists who sound complete and on top of their game so early on. In any case, Sampa the Great is based in Melbourne and, when it comes to musical areas of the world, do we look at Australia? I think that, still, London and New York are favoured when it comes to the best music around. Kylie Minogue, The Avalanches and Courtney Barnett are all from Melbourne and, dig deeper, and there is this wave of new talent emerging. It is understandable why there would be so many great musicians working in Melbourne. The city mixes art and history together but it has a contemporary vibe. That effortless assimilation of the classical and new inspires the mind and the mixture of people provides different accents, languages and movements. Great music venues such as The Tote are around and, if you walk around, there are brilliant spots to watch gigs and all sorts of music coming through. Maybe Melbourne is not quite on the same level as London when it comes to options and big venues but it is a city that has a huge quality of life and it is keeping native artists there. I do feel that too many concentrate on the U.S. and U.K. and forget that there is music coming from all areas of Australia. From Darwin and Hobart through to Sydney and Perth, there is so much to see and hear! Melbourne is a wonderful area of Australia and a naturally inspiring place in which to write and create. Sampa the Great was not born in Melbourne but she has adopted it as her new home. I do feel people get an impression that there is not the same sort of eclectic spirit in Australia; that the music is more narrow and predictable. You only need do a bit of research to understand that Melbourne is this happening and rich city that is among the most exciting in the world.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Koury Angelo

I am desperate to get to Melbourne because it is a place that calls to you; it gets into the mind and you cannot forget it. In musical terms, there are brilliant acts emerging but I feel like people need to be a bit bolder regarding their music tastes. We do get too fixed on what is coming from the U.S. and U.K. and this can limit our horizons. Aside from artists like Courtney Barnett and Kylie Minogue, we are not spending enough time with Australian artists. It is hard for musicians in Australia to get credit and recognition in the U.S. and U.K. because, obviously, travelling here to perform is not always possible. They have to rely on radio play and, a lot of times, there are few eyes trained their way. It is a shame that cities such as Melbourne do not get the credit and attention they deserve because, as I said, there is a rich seam running through the place. The artists here are strong and passionate and I do feel like they warrant more time. Sampa the Great definitely helps regarding putting new Melbourne music on the map. I think she brings together her childhood and musical upbringing with what is happening in Melbourne right now. Instead of following the mainstream pack or copying everyone else, she is trusting her gut and pushing boundaries. It is thrilling to see and I’d be willing to bet, if you spend some good time in Melbourne, you’ll hear other artists like Sampa the Great working away. Let’s move on in a bit because I am eager to talk about this year in music and what is going on. If you do get a chance to check out some Melbourne-based music, make sure you do – it is definitely rewarding and you might discover some new favourites. It seems that, with every week that passes, a potential ‘single of the year’ is born and blows me away.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Ying Ang

This year has been especially strong for music and I am damned to figure out why. I guess you can never predict what is going to happen or who might come through but, in sheer quality terms, 2019 has been a blockbuster. You only need look back at all the singles released so far and you are not short of quality and brilliance. I think Final Form is making a bid for the best single of the year so far and, to be fair, it might be hard to shift! I feel that women are leading the pack this year and showing why the industry needs to pay more attention to them. What amazes me is how varied female-led music is and how we often assume women will be quite limited. The music industry has never been too receptive regarding women and giving them a proper place but 2019 is a year where the finest female artists are stepping up and showing why they warrant proper respect. There are other reasons why 2019 has been a big one for music. I do feel like the new artists around are naturally building on what came before and trying to be different. If you repeat what has come before then it creates a stale scene but, in terms of the best and brightest, they are taking more risks and looking away from the tried and tested. Conventional mainstream music has its place but I am always attracted to artists that have a rare scent and special way of working; that ability to transcend the ordinary and go deeper. In terms of themes, artists are addressing what is happening in the world and the chaos around us. It is a tough time for us all and, more and more, musicians are bringing that stark reality into the fold. The striking and eye-opening nature of their work is resonating and people are discovering something potent and stirring. Also, there is a lot of the opposite: artists who want to provide some catharsis and distract us from the turmoil swirling around.

This blend and clash means that we have very evocative and real music that is getting into the head but we have the relief of release. I am not saying that disconnection and stress seems to breed quality but there is something in it. As the country and world is splitting and becoming less united, there is this force in the music industry that is bringing us together. Artists are speaking louder than politicians ever could and they are ensuring that the power of their work makes us feel better, more clearly or, at the very least, just makes us think. I do wonder where the rest of 2019 will take us and what we have to come. In terms of the genres that are ruling, it is hard to pin it down. Listen to Sampa the Great against the music of Fontaines D.C., Little Simz and others and there is difference. It depends what you like and go after but I just think there is an amazing vibe and electricity running through music. I will move on again but I have been bowled over by all the brilliant sounds that 2019 has produced. I do feel like Final Form can mix it up with the very best and will be challenging for the best single of the year. This rate of progression – and explosion of quality – leads me to believe that next year might be stronger still. I am not putting down last year and what has come before but 2019 is particularly awe-inspiring and memorable. It is rewarding to hear so much terrific music around of all shapes and genres. I will return to Sampa the Great and her fusions but, when I think of the best tracks of the year so far, I am drawn to the textures and sonic weaves as opposed the lyrics and anything else. I wanted to nod to Sampa the Great and where she started life but, on the theme of quality music and what defines it for me, a sense of optimism and fun must come into the fore.

Last week, I was reviewing The Divine Comedy and, whereas the Office Politics album looks at the workaday world and the annoyances we all have to encounter, there was so much brilliance and fun to be discovered. It is no surprise where you realise how great a songwriter Neil Hannon is but, in every track, there was something to turn the head and heart. Sampa the Great, right from the opening notes on Final Form, gets the head spinning and the body moving. One of my biggest complaints regarding music is how fun seems to be on the back-burner. Maybe things are changing this year but, in years past, there has been too much seriousness and not enough excitement. I do think we need to address what is happening in the world but there is a definite need for something escapist and thrilling. We all need to feel better and adopt a more positive outlook and I think music has that power. Sampa the Great, again, does focus on some bigger themes but the composition and vocal delivery has so much energy and spirit that you cannot help be intoxicated and drawn into it. I love that and I do feel more in the industry need to follow her. As an example of what can happen when you fuse sounds and go for something positive, the effects are spellbinding. Final Form, for that reason, is a song that stays in the mind for ages and, as I suggested, is one of the best singles of the year so far. Again, maybe it is Sampa the Great’s early years and roots that naturally grew into this positive outlook. If you are brought up around music that has a definite verve then that is going to inspire you and impact what you write yourself. If you do need to be lifted and discover your smile, may I suggest you investigate Sampa the Great and all she has to offer? It is a perfect tonic and blast of sunshine that will get you motivated and refreshed.

I do need to crack on with reviewing itself and the song in question but, before I do, it is worth mentioning that Sampa the Great was born in Zambia. She was raised in Botswana and she discovered Hip-Hop at an early age. Like she does on her recent cut, her earliest work was defined by heavier themes given a lighter touch. She moved to Australia where she has found acclaim and love but, listen back to her music and how she approaches things, and one can definitely hear her African roots running right through. I think it is that love of Hip-Hop and its naturally powerful, eclectic and fantastic nature that has influenced her the most. In this interview with HUCK, Sampa the Great was asked about Hip-Hop and when it came into her life; living in different areas and whether, truly, she feels like she has deserved the applause she has garnered:

 “Do you remember your first introduction to hip hop?

I went upstairs to my cousin’s bedroom and he was playing ‘Changes’ by Tupac. Everything stopped. It sounded like poetry and music together. Then ‘Until The End Of Time’ played and I was like, ‘Woah… what is this?’

Why do you think it resonated so much?

It was different but familiar as well. I guess I saw the similarities with music that I listened to, where it sounded like people were speaking on top of a song, rather than singing. That is what rap is to me: poetry spoken over beats. I was hooked.

You’ve travelled and lived in a number of different places. How has hip hop played a role in those moves and transitions?

I think the one thing I found within these culture shocks was that laughter and music were universal languages. Everybody knows how to speak them. Hip hop crosses all these borders and boundaries – it’s this language already.

I remember reading a past interview in which you spoke of “imposter syndrome”. How did you overcome that?

At the beginning there were times when I struggled with imposter syndrome. I don’t get those feelings anymore. You overcome that fear by taking stock of the work you’ve put in. Just because you didn’t do it professionally, or it wasn’t in the public view, doesn’t mean the skills were’t being refined. Knowing you actually did the work is enough”.

 IMAGE CREDIT: Beats 1

The head is mixed and shaken right off the bat with Final Form. There is, what sounds like samples working away (but they might be original cuts) and there is this phat beat that gives the song plenty of swagger and boost. The horns work away and there is this combination of Hip-Hop, Soul and Jazz that gives the introduction such weight and authority. You are hypnotised and moved by the incredible flair and panache of the introduction; the way it makes you feel and the body move. It is an incredible opening that brings to mind the classic Hip-Hop records. When Sampa the Great comes to the microphone, the lyrics definitely make you wonder. “The lace lady/Travel with grace baby/I can’t afford to cover the costs of course maybe/Settle that one in court ‘cos/Judging by the basics/Y’all already comfortable stuck up in the matrix”. One gets that mix of oblique and direct with Sampa the Great so you might know what she is trying to say but there is always that doubt. Her worldplay is great and I like the fact there is a bit of mystery. Rather than convey something personal and overly-clear, there is this room for interpretation and configuration. One is amazed by the flow of the song and the way Sampa the Great seamlessly blends in and guides the song forward. Part of your mind is hooked on the foreground and what Sampa the Great is laying down whereas another part of the brain is focused on the electricity and joy from the back. The video is shot in Zambia and there is colourful cast of dancers who all look splendid. Production by SILENT JAY and mixing by Jonwayne, it is amazing song that manages to unite the very modern and traditional with Sampa the Great’s heritage. The sheer confidence of her voice and the way she can make every line pop and crackle…that is the sign of a truly great artist! There does seem to be this insecurity and lack of confidence from the artist; maybe she feels like she has tried to find her place in the world but, in terms of sheer conviction, she is laying down a new classic.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Ying Ang

That slight feeling of being lost is replaced by a sense of purpose and ambition that is hard to ignore. Never boastful or showing ego, you are behind Sampa the Great as she strides forward and lays it all out there. One does not need to be a huge fan of Hip-Hop or know where Sampa the Great is coming from to appreciate the song. There is vocal scratching and samples (I am not sure whether the voice you hear in the background are from old records or created in the studio) that gives Final Form that vintage edge; spliced with the very raw and modern sound coming from the vocal and beats, it is a dizzying revelation that gets every sense fired and flamed. The beat is superb; the backing vocal (a bit Prince-like) adds shiver and rush whilst the sounds deployed makes Final Form a real cracker. At the front is Sampa the Great and, if you watch the video, you can see her own and rule. Sampa the Great talks about black power and the hope that Africa will replace America in terms of ethics, passion and kindness; black artists and voices getting more of say, perhaps. She also nods to Zion and Bob Marley and, again, one hears the combination of classic roots and leaders and what is happening in the world now. Whether you are thrilled by the chorus or generally stunned by the song as a whole, I would be very shocked if Final Form was not named the best track of 2019. It hits you instantly and will stay with you for a very long time! Blending classic Hip-Hop and epic beats with a patented blend from Sampa the Great, this is a titanic song that cannot be ignored. Instantly, it makes me curious whether there is more material coming and whether it will sound anything like Final Form. It is obvious Sampa the Great is in inspired form and there is no stopping her – who would want to, frankly! An amazing song that will put you in a better frame of mind and bring to your thoughts this incredible artist, Final Form is a masterpiece.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Maya Adjeley

It seems that Sampa the Great is always moving and it is her sense of transit that makes her songs so feel alive and exciting. Even though she is in Melbourne right now, what is to say she will remain there? Maybe she will live in New York and bring her unique blends to the scene there. Maybe she’ll come to London for a bit or she might favour a stay in Berlin. I do like the fact Sampa the Great has this energy that makes her music so wonderful and memorable. Final Form is her latest gem and one hopes that there is more music coming very soon. Keep abreast of all her happenings via social media and I am sure there will be more music coming along. I do really love the way Sampa the Great works and how far she has come. In a music world where it can be hard to stand aside and find footing, here is an original that has very few equals. It might be too early to call the single of the year so far but I do think Final Form is definitely in with a shout! What comes next is down to her. I know there will be people around the world who want to see her perform and get to witness the music up-close. This special artist is definitely hitting a peak right now and it is thrilling hearing these incredibly vibrant and vivacious songs. I am sure Final Form will be in my head for many more weeks and, to be fair, I do not want it shifted anytime soon! Let me wrap things up now but, after you have done reading and listening, make sure you do keep informed regarding what Sampa the Great is doing and where she steps next. Many people are new to her work so it is important to look back and get involved. There are very few as great and powerful as Sampa the Great and I do hope that many, as I keep saying, realise that the strongest music right now is being made by women – let’s hope this translates to greater recognition and equality. On a sunny Saturday, Final Form sounds like the perfect accompaniment as you head into the day. I keep saying how it is early to predict the singles that will grab the critical headliners but, when it comes to pure brilliance that rides high, Final Form, right now, is very much…

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PHOTO CREDIT: @Theol_Home

THE song to beat.

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Follow Sampa the Great

TRACK REVIEW: The Divine Comedy - Infernal Machines

TRACK REVIEW:

 

The Divine Comedy

Infernal Machines

 

9.6/10

 

The track, Infernal Machines, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95B31Xpd88Y

GENRE:

Chamber-Pop

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

The album, Office Politics, is available via:

https://open.spotify.com/album/4pnX8RkztAQj5EgyKKPHyL?si=Rp5Sa4bNRlGpy_2UG8CYAQ

RELEASE DATE:

7th June, 2019

LABEL:

Divine Comedy Records

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EVERY time I think about The Divine Comedy...

I get into this sort of warm headspace full of charming characters and wit. Neil Hannon’s band, in a sense, represents a type of music that doesn’t really exist anymore. Before looking at a great song from The Divine Comedy’s new album, Office Politics, I want to discuss humour and wit in music; characters and building stories away from love; concept albums and how there has always been a bad impression of them; Neil Hannon as a figure we should all look up to and adore; a little on the world around us and why we could do with more of The Divine Comedy – I shall end the review by seeing where Neil Hannon is heading this year. I will start off by talking about music and why, right now, there is not a lot to smile about. That sounds rather dismissive and harsh but I think we can all see that music is pretty serious and does not provide the catharsis we need. I do not want musicians to forget about what is important and stray away from serious subjects but, as we all need something to smile about, music does not really offer that. It is nice to have music that gets to the root of things and can make you think but, if one wants a bit of humour or something lighter, where do they go? That is not to say that Office Politics lacks seriousness and any sort of clout: there is a lot of depth and teeth when required. What I mean is Neil Hannon has always been able to write these songs that make you grin and have this comical edge. Often, he deals with characters that are quite mundane and have the common touch. In this recent interview, he explained how, actually, he does not have the common touch – there is something distinctly him when it comes to songwriting:

I don’t have the common touch, as everything I do is for me,” he confesses. “I never take the general public into account at all, which is half the reason I’m still here. If people like my stuff, they really like my stuff… [which] is sort of idiosyncratic or idiotic. It does mean that I’ll never be a world-beating person, because I just don’t please enough people.”

It seemed to free him up lyrically, allowing his wild imagination free rein.
“Part of the reason for making this a double album is to keep some of the weirdness,” he says. “Quite often with structured, 12-song albums, you end up weeding out the stuff that is not quite honed and in recent years I’ve been trying to keep more of the oddball stuff, because I think it’s equally useful.”

“Contemporary pop music is in a bit of a state,” he adds. “There is an awful lot of music that seems completely surplus to requirements. There’s the caveat that we said that about 80s pop music as well, and some of that was really good. It was very tribal at the time – ‘Well, the girls like Wham! so we can’t possibly’ – but I really like some Wham! and Duran Duran as well…

I shall come to the double album and why it is a brave move from Hannon but, I guess, he is one of those writers that loves to let his imagination go and does things his own way. As he states in that interview, the modern Pop scene is not too sharp and there does seem to be a lot of repetition. There are very few writers that have a distinct personality and capture you. Right from the earliest days of The Divine Comedy, Neil Hannon has written these wonderful songs that switch from the mundane and routine to the fantastical. The reason I love his music so much is because, even when he is writing about something quite straight, there is a little wink and bit of cheekiness that can balance things out. I do think that modern music could do with a bit of a shake-up and rethink. The fact that Hannon made that comment regarding expendability leads me to believe there are few modern Pop artists that have their own skin and voice. Not only does Hannon bring in something witty and imaginative into his music but he has a great grasp of characters and real people.

I love the fact that Neil Hannon can write music that has an absurd edge but there is this realness at the heart. A recent single, Norman and Norma, Hannon addressed this couple that grew older together and, just as you think their lives were going to head into tragedy, they were given this reprise; Hannon had this reinactment of the Battle of Hastings and a rather whimsical turn. He can talk about these real-life characters but add that special twist. Maybe I am getting a bit carried away but I do think that Neil Hannon is a rare writer who many should be looking up to. In another interview, Hannon talked about why he uses humour in his songs – but there is more to his music that gags and witticisms:

 “Hannon has gained a reputation for inflecting humour into his songs over the course of his career and it's fair to label him one of the wittiest songwriters of his generation; something songs like Something For The Weekend, Becoming More Like Alfie and the joyous National Express will attest to.

When I ask about the comic streak in his songs, he says: “I have that reputation because that’s the kind of song I like to write. I can’t really change that.

“I think my songs have a range, but even the ones that are about rather dark, serious subjects have moronic flippancy. I think that’s just my way to dealing with those subjects,” he continues.

Speaking about his approach, Hannon went on to say: “I don’t there are gags in a lot of songs, but there are maybe witticisms and turns of phrase. They’re all designed to try and point you in the direction of what I’m trying to say. They’re not there just for a laugh".

From the mixed variations and relatable characters on the hit, The National Express, through to the people he dissects on Office Politics, The Divine Comedy’s work has always captured the eye and the mind. So many songwriters discuss themselves or write about people you cannot relate to. Hannon is masterful when it comes to these average-yet-extraordinary people. It means the songs connect more easily and they stay with you longer. I will talk more about his characterisation and skill but, right now, I wanted to look at why Office Politics excites me.

There is still this reliance when it comes to love and personal relationships. Most artists put their own lives onto the page and concentrate on relationships. That is not too bad but I feel, when you hear it so much, you want something a bit different. I look out at music now and there is very little that interests me in terms of subject matter. I do feel it is important to document personal issues and something deeper but, when you want that leap of imagination or something that has original edge, you are a bit stuck for choice. Love is this over-used commodity that tends to get a bit boring after a while. Hannon puts in a few relationship-type songs on Office Politics but there is an emphasis on the workaday lives and focusing on other subjects. Through this concept – which I shall talk about very soon – we get these vivid and tangible characters talking about things you and me think about. One of the problems with an over-reliance on love is the fact that is can be pretty personal and it does not always mean people can relate and understand what is being said; a little separate to the conversation that is happening. With an album like Office Politics, the frustrations, tests and ordinariness of everyday life is uncovered and presented in this very colourful, fascinating and human way. To some degree, we have all interacted with the images on the album and the types of situations played out. I do feel that music lacks a certain reality and relevance at the moment. There are a lot of artists talking about deep and challenging issues but one yearns for something a bit more run-of-the-mill. That might sound strange but I do think songwriters are afraid of revealing the routine and normal because they feel it is, maybe, a bit boring or hard to make interesting at the very least. Neil Hannon shows just how interesting and eye-opening music can be when you actually look at the people around you and put that onto the page. Songwriters used to do it a lot more years ago but we have lost a lot of those acts. I am glad we have Neil Hannon in the world; a man who puts the ‘extra’ in ‘ordinary’.

PHOTO CREDIT: Martyn Goodacre

Office Politics is an album that is built around a concept. A lot of the songs, as you can imagine, are based on office politics, machines and technology; the commute and the stresses we all go through. The double album is not beholden too strictly to the ins and outs of the office day but there is this arc that takes us through the traverses and tribulations we all face; a bit about general politics and other songs that deal with relationships and interesting people. I guess, rather than a strict concept regarding office politics, it is a representation of a working week and the experiences we all go through. Hannon takes us into different office and through different windows. He leads us into stern scenarios and then backs us out with something quite ribald and unexpected. One might look at the words ‘concept album’ and get the wrong impression. I think I have covered this before but many of us think about the concept album as a rather pretentious and long-winded thing. I think this all harks back to the Prog-Rock bands that would bring out these concept albums that were quite ridiculous and interminable. We would listen as there were endless guitar solos and songs about the most insane thing. It is hard to write a great concept album because the music is built around a theme and has to have that focused narrative. It is hard to write a concept and keep the listener’s attention I think. I do think, with short attention spans, maybe people will get a bit bored or want something different. I love concept albums because it tells a story and you get something cinematic and theatrical unfolding. There is this sniffiness because of the older days; where bands would take forever to reach their point and it would be quite ponderous. Through recent years, there have been some great concept albums. From The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free – about Mike Skinner losing a grand and then it (the money) bring found at the end – through to Green Day’s political album, American Idiot.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Alain Bibal

There have not been that many over the past decade but I do feel like The Divine Comedy can inspire others. Journalists will turn their noses up at concept albums but I do feel that, if the balance is right and you strike the right tone, they can be fantastic. In this case, Neil Hannon is looking at the machinations of office politics and the challenges of daily life. Although there are deviations and some left turns here and there, there is this abiding theme and concept. I do think the world is pretty strained and divided at the moment so we all need something that offers a bit of relief and fascination. Modern music has its moments but there is something wonderful about Office Politics that lifts the imagination and makes you smile. Does this mean that other artists will follow The Divine Comedy and write a concept album? I do think that, soon enough, we will see more artists stray from the conventional and write in a slightly different way. There is this sort of saturation point where we have pretty much heard everything about love and, when looking at artists like The Divine Comedy, there is this wonderful alternative. I shall move on to a different theme in a second but I think we all need to put aside our reservations and impressions regarding the concept album. We get a bit hung up on what it will sound like and the sort of thing we will get. Modern artists – such as The Streets and The Divine Comedy – have that common aspect (even though Hannon argues against this) where they can bring the routine and familiar into the light; do so in a very exciting and unique way. I have been listening to recent interviews Neil Hannon has given and, more and more, he strikes me as one of these people we should all be looking up to. That combination of wit and accessibility makes him this very inspiring and wonderful figure.

 PHOTO CREDIT: David Conachy

I love listening to Neil Hannon speak because he has this warm and wonderful tone that he projects. You get great anecdotes and insights form a man who can really speak with people. By that, he comes across as very grounded and ordinary. So many artists have this aura of being quite distant and hard to relate to. Maybe it is a perception of who they should be and how they should act but I do feel like a lot of artists are difficult to appreciate and understand. With Neil Hannon, you feel this like-minded soul that is writing about us and for us. His music has this quality where you can appreciate every word and know exactly where he is coming from. Hannon’s humour and way with words is legendary and he strikes me as a songwriter that does not get the credit he fully deserves. There are very few out there like him and, at a time when there are so many lookalikes and artists that follow the pack, we need to use the likes of Hannon as examples of what could be. Lots of people know about The Divine Comedy and what they have produced and it would be great to think that, in a few decades from now, the music is still being played and examined. I do think a lot of the modern day ‘best’ will fade because it does not really stand out. It does not have a lot to say and, largely, we will pass it by. Neil Hannon is a writer who wants to make the music last and you see and hear every ounce of his being in the music. That is a rare quality to find and I think, because of that, The Divine Comedy will endure and influence other artists. I shall stop prattling on now because there is a song, Infernal Machines, that I must get around to. It is a brilliant number and a prime example of the quality that can be found throughout Office Politics.

  PHOTO CREDIT: Alain Bibal

Infernal Machines opens with some crackle and far-off noise. It sounds like machinery or rubbish being dispensed. It is hard to identity the exact sound but there is something rumbling in the distance. Just then, we get a bugle playing that seems to summon the upcoming army; a mood change that does hit rather unexpectedly. One thing I was not expecting was a rumble from the drums and some epic riffs. In a way, it is almost like The Divine Comedy sounding a bit like Kasabian! That is no bad thing and, in fact, it takes you completely unprepared. I guess I am used to hearing something more calmed and composed and, when you hear this rawness and Rock, it takes a while to settle. There is no predicting what The Divine Comedy will do and you are always kept on your toes. I guess, considering the song is about machines taking over, you need something a bit gritty and intense. Hannon comes in and talks about machines asking us to do this and that; us being ordered around and being led by technology. Instantly, I was thinking about computers and the work routine; the way we are reliant on machines and their orders. There is a nice groove to the vocals as, backed by the guttural guitar, Hannon lists all the things that machines can do. They are in our schools and shops and can do the things we cannot. They can make our lives better and easier but they also dominate and distract. Listening to the song, you are caught in this hypnotic pull that sort of drags you in to another world. I do love the fact that the sound of Infernal Machines is a mile away from a song like Norman and Norma. In the space of a few songs, Hannon has changed directions radically. It makes for a much more varied listen and it is staggering to see the sheer range and boldness on display. Infernal Machines is this wonderful song that has a rude beat that gets you swaggering - and you are helpless to resist.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @simonlittle

As the song goes on, there are yet more and more uses for machinery. Not all of them are good but, as time elapses, we understand just how many different types of technology are used and how we sort of lean on machines. There are machines up and above; machines making love and making toast. One can say that a song like Infernal Machines would have been relevant decades ago considering how omnipresent they have been but, in recent years, they are completely taking over. Technology in general is more rampant than ever and we cannot discount the fact that, for every demand and possibility, there is a machine that can do the job. In a way, Hannon is talking about the technological takeover and how it is impacting our jobs. People are losing their jobs because they are being replaced by machines. We think less and are being spoiled with machines that are doing things that human beings should be doing. There are machines – as the list continues – that know right from wrong and have all these different sounds. Infernal Machines precedes a track called You’ll Never Work in This Town Again and it sort of explores the way people are outsourced and made less essential by technology. I have not really heard The Divine Comedy use guitars and drums in such a way. Infernal Machines is never too intense: instead, it has a funkiness and odd wiggle that has a catchiness and coolness. You listen to the song again and again just because of the composition and its physicality. We get some piano and other sounds but it is the central force that gives the song an appropriate menace and chug. The track changes direction and, after the propulsive and grumbling centre, we get a little bit of piano and deviation. We are told there are machines that will take over the world and machines for boys and girls.

You hear Hannon recite all the different types of machines but there is a deeper meaning. It is not merely an idle list of machines but there are deeper meanings. He talks about gender and jobs being lost; the fixation we have with technology and how companies are exploiting people. As the song comes to its end, the instrumentation rides out and we get some cogs, bubbles and noises that reminds me of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. It is impossible to forget the riff of Internal Machines and the incredible vocal from Hannon. You might need a few listens to take in all the different images and use of machines Hannon brings in. I was not expecting anything like Infernal Machines to come from The Divine Comedy but, with Office Politics, this is them/Hannon broadening their scope. It is a fantastic song and one I was very keen to review. Make sure you check out the whole album because it is a masterful work and, in my view, one of the best albums of this year. Infernal Machines has serious messages but there is a lot of fun to be found. With The Divine Comedy, there is always this cheeky grin and wit that keeps things fresh and light. I do hope we never lose the magic and mystique of Neil Hannon from music.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music

Office Politics is receiving rave reviews right now and I think it is one of the best-received albums from The Divine Comedy in quite a while. Maybe it is the nature of the songs and the fact there is this concept that has resonated. We can all relate to what is being said through the album and we it is easy to dive into the songs and appreciate their messages. The Divine Comedy always produce sensational music but I think Neil Hannon has really struck a chord here. There are tour dates coming up and The Divine Comedy will be busy through the rest of the year. There are dates around the U.K. and Europe and it will be exciting seeing the music reach new people. With another big album under the belt, make sure you go and catch them play and see this incredible central figure, Neil Hannon, seduce and amaze. I do think there will be changes in music regarding themes artists explore and what is discussed. I am getting a little bored with hearing the same thing and I think Office Politics should act as a hand guide to others. Every now and then, we need to explore something different and stretch the imagination a bit. Neil Hannon has always done this and it would be good to see more artists follow from him. I am not sure whether there is more material bubbling away but I suspect we will see another album come through in the next couple of years. Right now, Hannon and crew are busy with promotion and preparing for some big tour dates. If you are new to The Divine Comedy, Office Politics is a great place to start but I suggest you trek back and investigate all the albums. I am not sure whether, on a future album, Hannon will do something similar to Office Politics - but you never know with him! He is this masterful and unpredictable songwriter who has a voice we should all cherish. I do not think there is another songwriter out there like him; one who can make us smile and think in quite the same way! Long may he continue to put out music of the highest order because, right now, the world needs him. I will leave things here but I encourage people to check out Office Politics and let it swim in the blood. I chose Infernal Machines for consideration but, in truth, the (double) album is packed with gems. At a time of consternation, uncertainty and fear, we definitely need to embrace the wonderful music of The Divine Comedy. It does not shy away from the realities of the modern world but there is humour, ordinariness and wonder to be found. Step into the world of The Divine Comedy and everything seems more settled and better. If more artists could do what Neil Hannon is doing right now and I think it would be a much more interesting and happy…

MUSIC industry.

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Follow The Divine Comedy

TRACK REVIEW: Róisín Murphy - Incapable

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Róisín Murphy

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PHOTO CREDIT: Fraser Taylor 

Incapable

 

9.7/10

 

The track, Incapable, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-nI_z4ZHUY

GENRES:

Electro-Pop/Dance-Pop/Art-Pop

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

5th June, 2019

LABELS:

Mickey Murphy’s Daughter Limited/Loaded Records Limited

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IN this review...

I get to talk to someone who I have admired for a very long time and not reviewed for a long time. I think the last time I featured Róisín Murphy was when I featured her album, Take Her Up to Monto, for a publication I used to work for. I gave the album four stars and, on Twitter, she wondered what it would take to get a five-star review – given that I gave the album such a glowing and effusive review. To be fair, she had a point: I was honest and generous and it should have been full marks but, as instructed by my editor, five stars are given out for rare occasions. This time around, I have (to some degree) corrected that when assessing her latest single, Incapable. I want to talk about a few things before I get there. First, I will describe the new Murphy’s Law; the way the songwriter has this consistency and is showing other artists how to do things; the showstopper Murphy who, I feel, warrants some British headline attention; the reason we need Murphy to keep producing music; those with true personality in the industry and what comes next for her. The ‘normal’ Murphy’s Law states that, if something can go wrong, then it probably will. That seems to apply to everything our Government is doing right now. In terms of music, there is someone who is getting everything right. Róisín Murphy, I feel, has not dropped a step as a solo artist and always seems to hit these rare heights. I think that, when it comes to producing original and stunning material, there is nobody like Murphy around. She is this incredible creator who ensures everything that she puts out is of the highest standard. Although I have employed some wordplay and there is, so far as I know, no Róisín Murphy’s Law, I think there should be. She is one of the best artists around right now and I cannot think of anyone on her level.

The reason I brought up this subject is because, in music, you do not get this sort of consistency that often. There are some artists who have a good run but, in terms of pushing to new levels and stretching the imagination, Murphy is a rare example. I will move on in a second but look at her previous albums, Take Her Up to Monto (2016) and Hairless Toys (2015). Although I didn’t give the former the full respect it deserves, the album resonated with critics and was a big success. I do wonder whether there will be another album from Murphy coming very soon but one only needs to look at Murphy’s solo career and work with Moloko to see what a body of work she has produced. At a time when there are few big smashes and artists that capture the imagination, Murphy is this ball of fire that keeps releasing these staggering songs. I do think that we need something uplifting in music because, the more you think about it, the more it makes me wonder whether music has become too glum. Thankfully, there is Róisín Murphy who always gives the world these stone-cold smashes. Maybe it is me being dewy-eyed but I do really love what she is doing and it is amazing to see the leaps she takes. There are very few other artists around who can release a series of singles that all have their own personality and voice. That is worth noting when we look at Incapable. Right now, Murphy is putting out singles and, so far as I know, there is no album title revealed yet. One suspects there will be a release very soon but, rather than bow to convention and the usual cycle, we get these great singles from Murphy. There have been a few put out but, up until now, Jacuzzi Rollercoaster was my favourite. Now, with Incapable doing the rounds, I get to cherish another slice of gold.

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I was mentioning how, between singles, Murphy changes sound and evolves – and this is highlighted on her latest track. Very few can draw a straight line from the likes of Jacuzzi Rollercoaster and get to Incapable. You know the songs are from the same artists but, in terms of themes and sounds, there is a bit of a leap. Not only that but you have these classics songs that stand in their own right and do not need to be part of an album. I do feel other artists need to look at Róisín Murphy because she is not someone who follows the pack and does what is expected. I was watching a Top of the Pops special yesterday night that took us back to 1988. I noticed a couple of things from the programme. Not only was the music – Pop/House and Rap – pretty fun and funky but there was this sense of unpredictability and energy. I do feel there are a few songs bubbling about that have a sense of fun but there are not that many. Also, one feels that singles and albums are laboured and there is little sense of mystery. If out Róisín Murphy’s Law dictates that, if things can go right and upbeat then they will; maybe we should also throw in another codification: She will not be prone to the weary promotional cycle and will be able to express herself in a unique way. By that, I mean the songs are not being teased endlessly on social media and they do not have that key ‘impact date’ – the ‘perfect’ moment a song is released so that it makes the biggest mark. No. Murphy seems to take us back to a time when singles were a very important part of the musical landscape and, indeed, there was an element of surprise and joy. Not that music has lost all of that but I do like the fact there are artists who just release singles and want to make these separate works – not necessarily leading to an album or part of some big campaign.

Perhaps this is just me showing my age but I am so glad we have pioneering voices like Murphy’s in the music business. Not only is Róisín Murphy a terrific songwriter who keeps producing these epic hits but, when you see her live, she sort of takes the breath. I have seen photos circulating of her killing Primavera Sound. This is a festival that is very important because of its diversity and sense of equality (more on that later). Murphy was part of this eclectic and wonderful line-up and was a definite standout. In fact, look at her profile page from the Primavera Sound webpage and it sort of describes what you get from her shows:

Róisín Murphy is a painting. Róisín Murphy is a sculpture. Róisín Murphy is a loud outfit. Róisín is (of course) a song that surprises, disrupts and moves. Róisín is… Art. Pop art, of course. She could limit herself to filling studios with her voice, but she has always wanted to assault our senses in a three dimensional way. The control on all the aspects that makes music an audio-visual artefact has led her to being an icon dressed in cubist fashion, to rolling up her sleeves, and getting behind the camera to direct all her videos from Hairless Toys to the string of new models of disco music that she has released in single format during 2018”.

I am yet to see the great Murphy in the flesh of the live arena but I have seen video footage and read enough reviews to know Murphy is a very special performer. Not only does one get a range of outfits and fashion choices – Murphy does like her clothing and to explore the boundaries – and you always get this arresting visual aspect. Although there is a lot of drama, spritz and the theatrical, at the heart of things, Murphy wants to connect with the audience and get to their hearts. It is clear that she does this and, for that, we are all very thankful. I do feel that songs such as Incapable will sound great performed live – it might have already gotten an outing – and it will be cool seeing it paired with her Moloko work.

Let’s, before, I go on, add a third bullet-point to Róisín Murphy’s Law: we shall have f*ckinhg fun and everyone will join together. Maybe I should put these laws/rules in quotation marks (?) but I do think that, as a performer, Murphy places togetherness and interaction above all else. I have been following Murphy since the early days of Moloko and I have seen this artist grow and expand. I do wonder whether, with performers like her around, she will get that all-important headline slot. Think about all the great work Murphy has put out into the world and how great she is right now. I suspect there is an album coming along soon enough but there is ample material around to justify a Róisín Murphy headline slot. I have long-complained about the lack of women booked when it comes to headlining and, whilst I shall not repeat myself now, look at Murphy and what she has given the world. In a way, getting to a headline stage is like receiving an honour; an acknowledgment that you are at the top of your field. Although Róisín Murphy has yet to step onto the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in the prime slot, I do think that she has warranted that respect. Look at the songs she has under her belt and think about the electricity one gets from her shows. I am sure The Killers and The Cure will put on something pretty good at Glastonbury but I do wonder why she has not been asked to headline. Maybe it is just me getting all angry but I do worry we are ignoring great female artists in place of the same old, boring male acts. If you do get a chance to see Róisín Murphy play, make sure you do. I hold a lot of genuine affection for Murphy because she is one of the hardest-working and nicest people in music. Maybe it is her Irish roots but you get no bulls*it with her: just this open and bright woman who puts her heart on the page and gives the world this magnificent music.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @Annadaki

I want to quote from an interview she recently gave with London in Stereo where (the interviewer) mentioned the financial struggle in the industry years ago; how that affected the likes of Murphy and how she has adapted:

Of course, the industry has changed since that initial release 12 years ago. Reflecting on what happened in the following years after Overpowered’s release, Roisin touches on the financial crash of 2007 and how it had an impact on the industry, as well as herself. “EMI actually fell apart straight away after we put the record out, the whole thing ended,” she says. “Now everything has become compartmentalised. For an artist like me, there’s more options in terms of staying independent, and being able to just sort of do deals for specific projects in mind. I’ve done that for a little while and that’s been quite good in a way. Certainly creatively very good because whatever I want to do, I just go ahead and do it.”

This artistic freedom and sheer drive that Roisin exudes is something that’s helped her stay on top form throughout the years. “I don’t think there’s a secret to longevity, but I think my secret is just the people I work with, the fact that I can just change everything on every project by changing who I collaborate with.” She says, “The music is always the beginning of everything, while I’m a very visual artist and I make the videos and concept the art, deep, deep, deep, the music remains the very centre of it all. It’s the seed of everything.”

Driven by her love of music, and constantly evolving through her collaborations, Roisin is a force within the industry, but her adaptability, endurance and humility make her a true icon. As we wrap up, she says, “I love making the music, love the visuals and I love performing. I’m delighted to be able to do this job, I’m so blessed it’s stupid”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Parsons

Adding a penultimate addition to the Róisín Murphy Law and I want to include this: “The personality and spark is not fake: this is the real deal, you see?!”. That sounds like an odd sentence construct – and it might not be proper English – but there is an awful lot of bullsh*t and fakery in music. That might be axiomatic but we still get these fake artists who seem to be all talk and, look under the skin and you get someone very different. Not only is Murphy a consummate and stunning performer and songwriter but she is someone who dazzles and seduces in interviews. I have yet to meet Murphy – I really do need to get out there! – but she is someone who is frank and honest. Instead of practiced answers and this sense of caution, you get an open and engaging artist who gets under the skin. I will leave things there – because I want to review Incapable – but I do recommend that everyone gets behind Róisín Murphy and follows her music. She is a wonderful artist who keeps on surprising and producing music of the highest quality. I expect this to continue for a long time but, before then, she has put out a single that is very different to everything that has come before. Maybe that shouldn’t come as a shock when we look at Murphy’s past but, the more you listen, the more this wonderful number gets into the head. There is so much to love and cherish about Róisín Murphy and I do think that Incapable ranks alongside the best she has put out there. I am not sure what the exact inspiration behind the track is – whether it is culled from real-life experiences – but Incapable is a song that will strike a chord with many people out there. On a very wet and overcast day, it is that burst of energy and sunshine that we could all do with!

I am reviewing the edited version of Incapable – check out the eight-plus-minute version – because, the way I write, you would need a few days spare to get through it all! The opening notes of Incapable gives us this smooth and tense beat with a combination of Disco and Pop. The beat pushes the song forward and there is a catchiness that gets right into the head. It is hard to describe the sensation one gets from the introduction but, as you bed-in, the music makes its way through the veins. Murphy talks about the weather being a bit crap and one senses it is more a metaphor. Maybe things were sunny and hopeful but, in this moment, the conditions have changed and the atmosphere has grown a little cold. It seems like there was this chance for unity and passion but it has been lost. I do think there is this balance of strength and vulnerability in the song. We have someone who knows that love was very close – she talks about this inevitability and natural connection that has somehow been denied – but there is this incapacity. Murphy seems confident on the surface and can tolerate the storm but she does wonder why love misses her shore. I am not sure how the man was who is in her mind (and whether it is fictionalised) but one feels like they are meant to be together. Murphy’s vocals start breathy and slow as she is backed by handclaps and this propulsive groove. Soon enough – by the time the pre-chorus arrives – the energy kicks up and there is this sense of denial. She might never have had a heart broken and been lost because, in some ways, she has never given her heart fully. I don’t know. If she is not involved that deeply and in love then does that mean her heart is protected and she will never feel this pain? Murphy wants to connect and give her heart; get over this blasé sense of detachment and actually give her all.

Whereas a lot of artists would talk about personal limitations and deep questions with dour resignation and moody music, Murphy manages to elicit a genuine sense of hope. She does ponder some big questions – whether she is incapable of loving someone – but there is this need to find answers rather than wallow in a sense of defeat. Backed by the always-present and ready composition behind her (that seems to get more intoxicating and influential as time goes on), Murphy is looking inside herself and probing. I am not certain whether this time around there was a near-miss and a few nights of passion but, when it comes to transitioning from lust to a full-blown commitment, there is something holding her back. Maybe we have all been there but, rather than move on and chalk it down to one of these things, Murphy sees a pattern emerging. Is she someone who does not want to be too open with another and feels unworthy? Maybe. I do think there is this final straw where she does not want to make the same mistakes or, at the very least, discover direction and a reason behind her lack of commitment. One of the most interesting lyrical clashes is where Murphy says how she has never had a broken heart but, at same time, never been available and committed. Is the fear of getting her heart broken the real reason she does not want to dedicate herself to a deep relationship? One can feel real gravity and meaning in the words (even though, I believe, Murphy is in a committed and happy relationship right now); a need to stop this cycle that is bringing her down. Murphy has balanced a very hard-hitting and personal foreground with a background that keeps the mood buoyant but never cheapens the seriousness of the words. Look at the cover art of Incapable and, aside from some truly awesome hair, I get the impression of a heroine from the 1980s who has been on the town and looking for connection.

She has this confidence and sass but, when it comes to connection and longevity, she runs away. Maybe Murphy has been hurt by love before so feels that things will go sour if she gives her heart. I t is easy to be swept away by the giddiness of the beats and claps; the rush of the electronics and the way Murphy’s voice opens and flies. If you listen carefully, you can detect so many different emotions working away in the song. I have listened to Incapable several times through and pick up fresh things every time. On the surface, one might think it is simply about being scared to love but I think Murphy has something deeper working away. True, she is not giving her heart truly but I do think there are many reasons why commitment is so difficult. Maybe there has been this hurt before and men letting her down. I think she wants to have a sense of freedom that a relationship doesn’t offer and there is that need for a bit of control and separation. Perhaps being too open and deep is scary and getting too heavy with someone threatens a degree of stability. One has their theories and reasons but I do feel Incapable is a song that means different things to different people. Not only are the lyrics engaging and fascinating but you cannot help move to the alluring and wonderful composition. It is this wonderfully rich and motivating thing that gets the body moving and will put a smile on the lips. The version I have been reviewing (the edited, radio version) is great but one gets fresh experiences with the longer edition. In any case, Incapable is another solid-gold offering from the always-wonderful Róisín Murphy. I am always in awe of her music and do not feel there is anyone out there who can compete. We definitely need to see and hear more from her – I do wonder whether an album is not too far away. The weather might be bad today but one blast of Incapable eradicates the clouds and raises the temperature. I do hope Murphy has received the answers she needs and has managed to find some happiness and peace.

I am not sure whether Róisín Murphy is releasing another single soon but, as we can add a final line to Róisín Murphy’s Law – you never know what you are going to get – I do think there will be a lot bubbling up. Incapable is the sound of a woman who is hitting a new peak and exploring fresh directions. Keep your eyes on her social media pages because I am sure there will be some movement very soon. I do really love what she does (if I haven’t said that enough?!) and it is great to have her in music. I do know that Murphy is busy with gigs and promotion right now and I wonder whether, when all this cools down, we will get a record. My eagerness is a reaction to what is out in the industry at the moment and how there is a Róisín Murphy-shaped hole. She has this balance of sounds that nobody else can provide; a sense of bang and spark that cannot fail to impress and a charm that is all hers alone. Let us end this review because, one suspects, I have gone on for a bit long. I do hope that I have covered as much ground as possible and, if you are new to Róisín Murphy, then you have a bit more information. When you have done listening to Incapable (again and again), make sure you dig back through the archives and unearth as much of Murphy’s gold as you can. From the earliest seeds of Moloko through to the alluring magic of Incapable, it is clear there is nobody like Róisín Murphy around. So many people have thrown love her way over the past couple of weeks because of her new track and the magic summoned at Primavera Sound. I do feel that a Róisín Murphy headline slot at Glastonbury is overdue and, if there are plans for an album, it will definitely be hotly-anticipated. Long may her reign continue because, in a changing and tense world, Murphy does give us something special and cathartic. She is this artist that does not follow templates and lets her own voice sing loud. I do hope she will forgive me for short-changing her regarding Take Her Up to Monto but, when it comes to Incapable, I think I have redressed the balance. If you want to hold dear a songwriter who can lift the mood, make you think and get in the bones then look no further than the epic Róisín Murphy. She is a truly amazing artist and someone, I hope, who will be around for many more years to come. As I close this review, Incapable is still bouncing around my head and, in fact, there is a longer version available online that I recommend people listen to as well. I am off to spin Incapable one more time but, as today is pretty crap in terms of the weather, why don’t you do yourself a favour and play a song that is guaranteed to…

PUT you in a better mood.

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Follow Róisín Murphy

TRACK REVIEW: YONAKA - Wake Up

TRACK REVIEW:

 

YONAKA

Wake Up

 

9.5/10

 

 

The track, Wake Up, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbLptuA9XQo

GENRES:

Alternative/Pop

ORIGIN:

Brighton, U.K.

The album, Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow, is available via:

https://open.spotify.com/album/20XIFoAtLYdFGnDoqNwnbf?si=tenVP1fFQFeYYJQVWIX9MA

RELEASE DATE:

31st May, 2019

LABEL:

Asylum Records UK

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THIS time around...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rory Barnes

I want to talk about bands and artists coming out of Brighton, addressing subjects like toxic relationships in music; mixes of Pop and Alternative in music; female-fronted bands and why festivals/the industry needs to take more notice; a bit about underground artists are their future in the industry – I will end by speaking about YONAKA and where they might head. It is interesting addressing YONAKA because I have been following them for a little while now and have seen them grow as a band. Their album, Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow, is out and it is the culmination of years of grafting and hard work. The guys have a really tight connection and great sound that they have forged through live gigs and regular play. It is testament to their chemistry and abilities that they have released an album that is gathering great reviews and going down a storm with the fans. They have got a lot of exposure in London but I think it is their roots in Brighton that has helped them to stand aside from the pack. I live in London but I know full well that there is more room and time to breathe in Brighton. It is a part of the country that inspires the senses and allows one to recharge. There is far less bustle and stress than in London and the people are fantastic – there are nice people in London but nearly as many as in Brighton. It seems like, despite one or two venues closing, there is a really strong live scene and some great artists bursting through. There is a lot of emphasis on London – because this is where most of the big venues and labels is – but one cannot discount the appeal and strength of Brighton. It has a fantastic mix of people and great venues like The Green Door Store give space for artists to cut their teeth and hone their craft. More than that, there is this feeling of community and support that one does not get from other parts of the world – there is also the convenience of being quite close to London in terms of commuting to gigs.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Saradjola

I wonder whether a lot of people are aware of Brighton and why bands like YONAKA are thriving. You only need to go down to Brighton and spend some time there to understand there is something in the air; a sense of wonder and relaxation that gets into the bones. The variety of music on offer down in Brighton is also impressive. You can find all sorts of genres and styles to suit your tastes; this real blend of colours and textures to amaze and dazzle. Great record stores like Resident provide a chance for in-stores and inspiration; festivals such as The Great Escape display a banquet of artists and give local groups the chance to ply their trade and impress the crowds. This year has seen Brighton in the spotlight. I think The Great Escape – where YONAKA featured – is more balanced (in terms of gender and genre) than most festivals and brings a lot of new followers and faces to Brighton. There is so much emphasis on London and what is happening there but I feel so many people are heading there and it is getting harder and harder to stand out. I think, in terms of YONAKA’s sound, they sort of take from the scenes and sights around them but they possess a sense of innovation and brightness I do not think they’d have if they were in London. That might sound strange but I think they are influenced by their surroundings and the people of Brighton. It might be the case that they relocate to London so they can find more opportunities but, as Brighton is so close in terms of a commute, I do hope that they remain put for a while because, as their new album takes hold and gets buzz, they will get a lot of gig requests and love from Brighton. I shall move on but I think it is interesting in Brighton right now. I went down there a few months ago and saw pubs and venues boasting live music; a general vibe that is hard to ignore and a happiness that one does not get from London. Maybe the reality is different but one goes to Brighton and they are instantly lifted; their troubles melted and their mind opened.

It is interesting addressing YONAKA because I have been following them for a little while now and have seen them grow as a band. Theresa Jarvis, the lead of YONAKA, brings a lot to the party on the band’s album. Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow’s title suggests taking the bull by the horns and seizing the day. There is that need for urgency and getting out of bad situations; not putting things off and taking chances when they come your way. I will quote an interview from YONAKA in a bit but, when looking at themes on the record, it seems that toxic relationships play a big role. I am not sure whether Jarvis has been on the receiving end of bad love and mistrust but it seems like she is taking from her own experiences. Everyone can relate to situations where one person in a relationship is controlling or is exerting a lot of pressure. Getting away from that and moving on can be hard but YONAKA’s lead feels that it is possible – taking those steps and realising you do not need to be with that person if they are bringing you down. There is more to YONAKA’s album than relationships alone. The band address mental-health (on the album) but manage to fuse serious messages with songs that have a distinct bubble and pop to them. Look at this interview YONAKA gave NME earlier in the year and they explain what inspired their recent material:

I want them to feel strong,” starts Theresa Jarvis of what she wants people to get from Yonaka’s debut album. “I want them to feel empowered. I want them to feel like they can kick the door down and go get what they want.”

It’s a strutting, confident message from a band who’ve spent the past few years growing in strength; collecting their power and kicking down whatever doors have been stupid enough to stand in their way. The end result is ‘Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow’, a record that captures all that growth and, alongside a blossoming belief, twists it into a celebration of everything that the band stands for…

“I definitely do think what we’re doing is important. When we get offstage, all these young girls come and speak to me saying we’ve given them confidence to do this or ‘thank you for talking about this, you’ve made me feel better’. If young girls are saying that, that’s fucking amazing. It’s definitely important,” beams Theresa. “We were getting the album together at that point as well, which helped solidify it,” continues George.
“It’s saying reach out to someone, change something or do something about it. Don’t leave it too late. I was going through some really bad anxiety myself. I couldn’t sleep properly and I was feeling really shit. I started reading Matt Haig and his writing captured exactly how I felt, but couldn’t explain. That was really important.”

She continues: “Sometimes you feel really lonely, like ‘It’s just me, I’m going to die’. To know someone else feels the same way I do, that helped me when I wasn’t feeling good. I’ve got family and friends who suffer with depression and it really gets heavy on people. People’s brains, they can take over and put you in this horrible place. ‘Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow’ is a message to let you know you’re not alone. Other people are going through the same stuff and you can reach out and talk to someone”.

It is great that YONAKA have managed to inspire young girls when it comes to big subjects; stuff that is not necessarily being broached by their friends and at school. YONAKA put mental-health at the front and, when it comes to loneliness, they know that there is someone out there who feels the same – Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow is that realisation that we can all find someone to relate to and we need to discuss these sort of themes. Whereas a lot of artists are still concentrating on their own struggles and very narrow themes, YONAKA are a part of a new wave who are going deeper and being more inclusive with their sounds.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Elina Lin

It is hard to describe the sound of YONAKA but they seem to mix Pop, Punk and Alternative together. I look the Pop edge because it gives their music a sense of colour and lightness. When they address themes like toxic relationships and loneliness, it is important the messages resonate and strike but, in terms of memorability, they have made the palette a bit less stressful and tense; it allows the songs to convey something important but make people move at the same time. I do think modern music lacks a sense of smile and fun and, even though YONAKA are dealing with some serious stuff on Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow, they are able to write some big choruses and lace in something charming. Led by Jarvis’ excellent vocals and intoxicating spirit, the band come together wonderful and have this busy and exciting sound. I guess there are artists putting together Alternative and Pop but I do feel it is a style of music that should be more popular and exposed. There are too many downbeat songs around right now so it is a relief to discover YONAKA. They can make you think and highlight something pretty raw but, at the same time, they want people to move and feel free. This is a potent combination and something that makes their album a real hit. The band give us big hooks and you are never in short supply of rush and energy. Their music definitely awakens the senses and this is music you can sing along to. Whereas some artists are quite closed-off and can be pretty dour, YONAKA are bursting with life and their music gets people together. Those who have seen them live – I should do next time I am down Brighton way – state how friendly YONAKA are and how they always have time for their fans. Their live performances are excellent and you can feel some of this energy in the album. Rather than produce something polished and fake, the band have kept close to their roots and have released and album that will please existing fans and bring in new support.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rory Barnes

Going forward, I hope YONAKA will keep their sound true and not feel the need to change too much. I love the fact that YONAKA have these great choruses and can put hooks in the mix but there is this rawness that makes you want to get into a mosh-pit and let everything fly loose. YONAKA have strengthened as a unit and I am sure they will say their new material is more meaningful and nuanced than their earliest days. I know Jarvis has looked back at some of the early songs and wonders what she was saying. It seems the band is riding a high now and, with industry backing and a growing fanbase, they seem ready to take the next step. I do think they have an important role to play in music. There is some great Pop and Alternative around but nothing that has the same sound as YONAKA. They bring together some shades of the 1980s and 1990s – always good when you want to cross the generations – so that is something that speaks to me. They are always in the present day but, as they do straddle time and moods, their music has this variety and width that means everyone can take something from it.

Everyone who sees them live tends to say the same thing: they are one of those bands that you cannot forget and you want to see again. It is obvious YONAKA are among the most exciting groups coming through right now and they back that live reputation with incredible songs that stay in the brain. I find so many modern tracks have a sort of doomy skin and it can be a bit depressing. I yearn to uncover great artists who can talk about something serious but have a fun time whilst doing so. YONAKA is what we need in music at the moment and I cannot wait to see where they head next. Let’s move onto something else because I am keen to look at YONAKA as a possible future-headliner.

I have been very feminist-minded the last few days and, whereas I am continuing today, I do feel that so many great female artists are being overlooked. YONAKA might be underground and rising right now but that is not to say they will be quiet for too long. They have this great local reputation but are starting to get a lot of attention from further afield. I look at festival line-ups this year and there is a lack of female headliners. There are not even female-fronted bands at the top and that worries me. Considering there are so many great women around right now, I do wonder what is holding festivals back. Look at European festivals like Primavera Sound and they have the likes of Robyn and Solange rocking the crowds. They have shown that a fifty-fifty gender balance is possible at festivals. I wonder why we here are not able to match Primavera Sound because they have shown how easy it is! As this BBC article shows – when putting Primavera Sound in the spotlight – there are a lot of great female artists and bands out there:

Charli XCX, Lizzo, FKA Twigs, Christine and the Queens, Robyn and Sigrid are just a few of the names on the bill. And when headliner Cardi B pulled out Primavera managed to replace her with another big name - Miley Cyrus.

"We love music and if you love music in 2019 it's quite obvious that it's done both by men and women the same way," says Primavera's Marta Pallares Olivares.

She says it was only when last year's festival ended that they decided to try and achieve an equal gender balance this year - something they're calling the "new normal".

"It's not difficult once your mind is set - when you decide that you want to do this, you start looking for female bands and see that you have been listening to them during the last month," she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"I will say to all those people who say there are not enough female acts out there - because I've heard that - that it's simply a lie. They are out there - because they're here".

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rory Barnes

We do need to address festival imbalance and show that an equal gender split is what should be happening every year. Great female-led bands like YONAKA might look at festival line-ups and feel that they could never headline because they are fronted by a woman. Look at Wolf Alice – a band who won the Mercury Prize – and one wonders why they were not chosen to headline any festival this year. I can name so many great female/female-fronted bands that are capable of producing a great headline set – one wonders if they are even considered and part of the conversation. It is sad to see but it makes me wonder what festival organisers are looking for in headliners. I think YONAKA tick a lot of boxes. They have these immediate songs that are memorable and get the crowd pumped. Their live sets are fantastic and they are getting stronger with every new release. I do think that, when they have another album or two under their belts, they can own a headline stage. I do wonder if, by that time, festivals will be more attuned to the variety of music and how many great women there are. In any case, we need to change where we are now and stop holding women back. I do actually think that female/female-led bands provide that perfect mix. I prefer a female voice up front with a band because I think there is more depth and emotion in the voice. Having men and women in a band, I feel, gives the music more variety and different voices. There is a chemistry in the ranks that leads to terrific music and that translates readily to the stage. Who knows where music will head in years to come but I do think that bands like YONAKA warrant the chance to headline. They are underground right now but, as I said when talking about Brighton, there are some really good bands emerging that you need to look out for.

There are distinct themes that run through Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow. You only need to look at the song titles to realise escape, movement and defiance are all high on the list. The opening to Wake Up is one of the most compelling (introductions) on the album. The band are masterful when it comes to providing these great introductions and giving each song a real sense of character and voice. We get some great percussion leading from the back and a mix of tripping strings and warped electronics. It provides this contrast of buzz and nimbleness that drags the mind and senses in different directions. When Jarvis comes to the microphone, she talks about, when she closes her eyes, she makes some sort of compromise. Before I continue, I wanted to say that, apart from a couple of songs on the album, the band have brought new material to the plate on their album – whereas a lot of other bands tend to cram albums full of old songs. Also, every song on the album is between three and four minutes long: none last any shorter or longer, if you see what I mean. One can hear hints of YONAKA’s earliest material but there is freshness on songs such as Wake Up. That sense of being allowed to wander – without being too long-winded – means the tracks breathe and expand. Jarvis, when talking about closing her eyes, knows that this is not real life. I do wonder what she was referring to when she said she was compromising – maybe having dreams of love and being stuck in a bad situation. Maybe she goes to sleep and pictures horrible scenes from a relationship and knows that, as this is a dream, she has control in real life, maybe? It is an intriguing line of thought and Jarvis continues with lines about kissing people she does not like and experiencing all these bad moments. Things seem a bit rough when she lets her imagination take control but, as she keeps telling us, this is just a dream and she can wake up.

I love the sounds YONAKA put together; this blend of strong but sweet vocals – in the sense there is light and colour but plenty of teeth – and an incredible composition. In a way, there are similar threads one can find in bands such as black midi (who portray a similar blend of tones in their music) and it is great to hear. As I follow Wake Up, I had to ask myself whether what we are hearing is in the heroine’s past. Is the heroine still going to sleep and trying to escape these bad memories and visions? It appears that, whilst she can wake up and take control, maybe the ghosts of a bad relationship continue to weight her down. It seems like her boyfriend is with another girl and things have not been too great for the heroine. When she goes to sleep, she runs with gorillas in the moonlight and seems to fall into this rabbit hole – maybe the natural result of her building anxieties manifesting into something quite divorced and weird. When she does wake up, it is a chance to run away from the bad dreams but it seems like real life is not so straight-forward. Sure, Jarvis can take some control and get away from a toxic relationship but she still has to cope with a lot of heartache. Even if the heroine talks about s*it getting real and things being a bit strained, the way the song is delivered definitely gets the voice ringing.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rory Barnes

In a way, the words become more memorable and indelible when there is a sense of positive and pop in the delivery. There are definite nods to 1980s Pop when you hear the chorus burst into life. I am not surprised YONAKA have a big live following because I can imagine songs like Wake Up get people chorusing together and in a great mood. That is not to ignore the song’s message and the fact Jarvis is dealing with something pretty rough. That contrast between dreams and a lack of escape and being able to tackle things when awake is pretty vivid. I do wonder whether, in the song, she has someone with her offering support and backing. Maybe her boyfriend is not as reliable and supportive as he should be and one gets the sense the heroine is finding the power and strength to get through some choppy waters. Wake Up is an incredible song that has this breeziness and big heart but there are deep messages that many people can relate to. If you like Wake Up and want to hear more of this sort of track, investigate Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow because YONAKA have produced a dazzling album full of gold.

I shall end things here because, I hope, I have talked about YONAKA enough and drilled down to their core. I am a big fan of theirs and think that Theresa Jarvis is one of the most compelling and extraordinary leads in British music. She is an intoxicating presence and someone who is leading a mighty band right now. YONAKA were at The Great Escape Festival and they seem to have a really solid and supportive home in Brighton. They are a lot of fun and they always provide great interviews; their live shows are exceptional and the music is wonderful. I think they have all the components to succeed and endure for many years to come. Keep an eye on their social media channels because they are busy gigging and, if you can, make sure you get and see them. I wonder whether they have had an in-store at their local record store, Resident, because that would be pretty cool to see – I would definitely come down and see them if that was the case. Their album, Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow, is out and the band will want to focus on that and make sure it is promoted far and wide. I have seen some reviews for the record and there is a lot of love for YONAKA. It is hard to ignore them and I do really believe they will be big in the future.

I love what they are doing and they will definitely inspire other bands emerging. I have talked about Brighton and mixing Pop and Alternative together. I do think that, if you need your creative batteries recharged, Brighton is a great place to head. There is so much happening down there and you only need walk around for a couple of hours to realise how relaxed things are. It is so easy to get the juices flowing and be influenced by what happens around you. This is more or less the start for YONAKA but I know they will be setting their sights on the future and where they will head next. I feel there will be international dates and I feel like they can do a lot of good in the U.S. With an album out, they have this bargaining chip and way in; a great set of songs that would sound amazing in the live arena. Congratulations to the band on Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow and, if you are not familiar with their work, then make sure you spend some time…

FALLING in love with them.

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Follow YONAKA

TRACK REVIEW: Kate Tempest - Holy Elixir

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Kate Tempest

Holy Elixir

 

9.5/10

 

 

The track, Holy Elixir, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOo8m8GaL-U

GENRES:

Hip-Hop/Spoken Word

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

30th May, 2019

The album, The Book of Traps and Lessons, is available from 14th June, 2019. Pre-order here:

https://www.roughtrade.com/gb/music/kate-tempest-the-book-of-traps-and-lessons

LABEL:

Fiction

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NOW that I have sort of branched out...

on my own regarding reviews, it has given me the chance to sweep the genres and artists who are near to the mainstream. To be fair, I should be outside in the sunshine – I will get there later – but I have been compelled by Kate Tempest’s latest track. Her new album, The Book of Traps and Lessons, is out in a couple of weeks and it looks set to be a belter! I will talk about Tempest’s latest single in a bit but, before then, I will address the songwriters/thinkers we need in music right now; a bit on the evolution of songcraft and how artists like Tempest have evolved; wordplay and the importance of building imagery; the consistency of artists who continue to dazzle and amaze – I will look at Tempest’s future and where she might go from here. Let us think about the state of music right now and what artists are addressing. There is still the mainstream and, by and large, artists are not straying too far from the tried and tested: they are discussing love and all its machinations. That is all well and good but (many artists) do so in a very ordinary and unimaginative way. There are other songwriters tackling the big issues of the day and what is happening in the wider world. Kate Tempest is someone who has always been aware of the struggles around us and, in her poetic and striking way, she has managed to articulate our thoughts. Now, on her latest album, there is some of that but there is more of the personal. Her last single, Firesmoke, was a gorgeous and beguiling track to her girlfriend. It was tender and impassioned; a beautiful and intelligent paen to their love and commitment. I have not heard a track as beautiful and direct for some time and, compared to her previous work, it was a chance to see under the skin and in the soul. Tempest’s 2016 album, Let Them Eat Chaos, was, as you’d imagine, about the sense of dislocation and madness around us.

Not that she has abandoned that path but, in 2019, it seems her heart and desires are playing an important role. The reason I mentioned how Tempest is an artist we really need right now is because of the way she can describe that sensation of desire. She not only talks about love in a very striking way but her poetry and delivery is sublime. On her forthcoming album, we will get a mixture of the personal and political. I tend to find artists are either divided between the familiar and safer – writing about love and their own lives – and those who address politics and something a bit bigger. Kate Tempest investigates both camps and she can mix up the intensity and urgency of modern dilemma and beautifully compose a song that comes straight from the heart. I do not think there is an artist as varied and accomplished as her; one that can easily and naturally step into both camps and come off as such a complete writer. Tempest is keen to address what is happening in this country but she is in love and wants to put that onto the page! One can admire that and I feel Tempest is that ‘ultimate artist’ who can provide endless quality but, at the same time, endless depth and intrigue. You only need listen to her in interviews to realise there is no ego and, in fact, there are very few as real and relatable as her. Many artists have this chip on their shoulder or they come across as inaccessible and dethatched. With Tempest, here is a woman who has that common touch and her music, as such, is much more powerful and popular. I love her sound and style and how she can switch it up between releases. Let me move onto another topic and something else that has struck me about Kate Tempest. It seems that the young songwriter has evolved and changed quite a bit; made a few changes and has moved to a new stage in life.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Lake for The Observer

That might sound vague but, as I said, I was struck by her visions of love and dedication on Firesmoke. I wanted to bring in a couple of interview snippets from a couple of years back. Not only (do these clippings) express Tempest’s mindset and view at the time but they sort of prove what has changed since then. When speaking with The Guardian, Tempest talked about when she wrote and the conditions conducive to composure; how the state of the nation weighs on her mind:

 “When Tempest is awake at that hour, she finds it peaceful. “There is something really magic about the couple of hours before dawn,” she says. “You’re recharged, the day before is gone, but there are no requirements. You don’t belong to anybody, to anything. That time lends itself to lyricism because of the repetitive nature of insomniac thoughts.”

She talks about her creativity as something exhilarating and powerful, but also very fragile, liable to damage if she doesn’t handle it with care. “You work your whole life to build up integrity and you lose that in seconds if you allow yourself to do the done thing, or not listen to an instinct because someone in the industry has got an idea about who you might be for them. You’re defined by your choices so you have to be aware of that.”

“I’m not interested,” she says. “We’re in a terrible situation in this country and I don’t think any of us are quite prepared for what the next few years might bring. I think that the artist’s role is to be observant at all times and do their best to create and feed back. In terms of party politics, I feel like we’ve gone too far now for I’m right and you’re wrong. And I think if you align yourself too closely with a system that you find completely flawed then you’ll probably end up living to regret it”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Neil Gavin

In a separate interview, she expanded on that idea of living in the city and how the pace of life can impact you:

 “If you live in a big city, the impact that will have on you is pretty relentless,” Tempest says, to the soundtrack of blaring traffic and buzzing market stalls. “I understand the kind of toll it takes on people to be so surrounded by life. And obviously the coping mechanism is to exclude as much as you can from your field of vision, so you can focus on the things that you’ve got to do. But I think it’s making people pretty unwell. Just look again. Remember that all of these people are human beings, they’ve been through a hell of a lot that day, that week, that month, that year. Reinvest yourself with a sense of empathy that extends beyond your exhaustion, your particular panic.”

For Tempest, the downside to capturing so much anger and frustration in this kind of vivid detail is having to explain it further in interviews. The way she describes making music, it sounds like a primal process, something that just happens. Looking back on these songs, tracing steps and delving deeper is far from her idea of fun, to say the least. A couple of times, when pressed to explain the meaning behind one thought or the other, she seizes up. “It’s so useless me even talking about this,” she quips, midway through describing people’s reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis. It’s not that she’s being hostile, more that she’s pointedly aware of how broad statements could be taken out of context.

“People – especially journalists – seem to be hankering after a political statement or stance. But if you’ve just made a whole album that expresses some quite nuanced views on a given situation, the last thing you want to do is sum that up in a couple of sentences that will come nowhere near to expressing the scope and the complexities of how things feel at the minute”.

This painted a picture of someone who, in 2016/2017, was quite on the edge or aware of how anxious modern life is. The Book of Traps and Lessons does not stray away from the pains and challenges of modern-day Britain but, at a time when we are at our most stressed, Tempest seems to be in a different place. You can tell how much her girlfriend means and I get the sense of someone who, whilst not entirely calm, seems to be in a better place right now.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Perry Curties

It is clear that Tempest has developed and added something new to her music in 2019. We listen to her previous work and there is an edge and physicality that is hard to ignore. The soothed and devoted Tempest that presented herself on Firesmoke adds welcomed dynamics and colours to her palette. I urge people to buy her upcoming album because, as you will see, there is a unity of her past sound and something different; fresh and tender strands that are divine and wonderful. Kate Tempest is a sensational artist because, when it comes to language and how she paints, there is nobody like her! Able to cut to the core with a straight and no-nonsense line or buckle the knees with a couplet borrowed from the heavens; here is someone who has devoted her life to literature, words and the pursuit of language – to embrace it in all its forms and see just what is possible when you open your mind. Tempest is someone so in love with language and words and you can hear that in her songs. I am not suggesting other songwriters are lazy or average when it comes to lyrics but there is something extra-terrestrial about Tempest and her skills – not quite on the same plain as those who, at certain points, can turn the head. Look back at albums such as Let Them Eat Chaos and Tempest beautifully takes us inside the walls of flats and through streets. It is a narration of modern Britain and all is various sides. Earlier on, on 2014’s Everybody Down, there were stories of workaday folks and the variety of emotions and scenes one could see on an average day in London – albeit told with such authority, passion and dazzle. Tempest is a poet and playwright (and author) so she keeps her pen sharp and wet. I do wonder how she spends time away from music and, when not hanging with her girl, one suspects a pile of great books are never too far away!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Karen Robinson for The Observer

The rich, scent-filled and near-mystical words she puts onto the page can move the senses and enflame the soul. I tend to find that a lot of modern songwriters are too obsessed with love and, whilst that is okay, the way they document their passion is quite cliché and, a lot of times, downbeat. Tempest realises how her life has sort of fallen into place and how things are working out. She expresses that thanks and sense of comfort but the artist is aware of what is happening in the world right now and is unwilling to abandon that. Listen back to Tempest’s past work and just immerse yourself in her songs. There is so much detail and wit; conversations and clashes that are amazing and take you by surprise! There are very few artists in the modern world who have the intellect and range of Kate Tempest. That linguistic talent is matched in the back. Her compositions are as diverse and fascinating as the words she sings. Her music is so complete and stunning and, for that reason, I feel she warrants a lot more respect and attention. For sure, Tempest has her fans and loyal crew – in music and in the literary and theatrical worlds – but I feel like there is a whole world waiting. Maybe radio stations do not know such a good thing when they hear it – I think Tempest is one of the finest songwriters in the world and is an inspiring human. I will talk more about that in the conclusion but I am always stunned by Tempest’s work and what it does to the senses. I keep mentioning the soul and senses because Tempest’s work goes deep and strikes hard. I am keen to address Tempest’s current single, Holy Elixir, but I wanted to finish off this section but thinking about the sheer consistency and workrate of Tempest. It is staggering thinking about Tempest and what she achieved in her life so far.

The thirty-three-year-old is an award-winning writer and she has released two huge solo albums so far – the third is a matter of days away. Her collections of poetry – such as 2013’s Brand New Ancients and 2018’s Running Upon the Wires – are sensational and you need to check out her 2016 novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses. Tempest’s plays – such as 2013’s Wasted and 2014’s Glasshouse – are hugely popular and it goes to show what an exceptional and broad talent Tempest is. She stunned years back but has kept that quality high since then. I find a lot of artists start out strong and then dim a few years down the line. Maybe they get stronger over time but it can be quite a tenuous start. In the case of Kate Tempest, she came out of the blocks charged and ready and there seems to be no signs of her slowing or losing that magic. There is something inherently familiar and wonderful about Tempest’s work. She can write fantasy and detach herself but it is the reality she portrays and the innate way she can speak for us that makes her so amazing. Even if her background is different to some of her fans, we can all extrapolate some truth and wisdom from her words. That mix of imagination and grounded reality makes her one of the most important and relatable writers in the world. She is only in her thirties so I wonder where she can go and just how good she can get. With a new album just around the corner, Tempest will be busy – but I hope there is another novel or a collection of poems in her sightline. I hold so much love and respect for what Tempest is doing and how busy she is. Not only has she penned these great poems, plays and songs but Tempest has curated festivals and given talks. She is this modern-day polymath and genius that holds endless ability and brilliance but is able to resonate. She is just the same as us and never pushes people away. The fact we can all connect with Tempest and understand her words so clearly means she will always be popular and loved.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Neil Gavin

Whereas Firesmoke – her previous single – started with a tenderness and did not stray too far from the delicate and sensual; here, we have a song that begins with more intensity and mood. Holy Elixir begins with curious words and thoughts. Tempest casts herself almost like a Creator-type figure; animating “tree gods” and giving life to animals. Given the song’s title, it is unsurprising that religious imagery should present itself but, such a stark departure from Firesmoke, we go from the intimate and deeply devoted to something that, literally, takes us back to the beginning of time – well, technically, God doesn’t exist so that is wrong; I just mean we are talking about creation and all life rather than a tender and personal love story. Tempest, it seems, is taking us through the development of man and time as she discussing (us) catching food and scrawling on caves. In the back of my mind, I sort of know where she is heading from the early stages – I think I do, anyway! I get the sense that, when talking about the primitive nature of life at the start, she is sort of mirroring that to the modern day. One gets the sense that, covertly or openly, Tempest is making comparisons to the savagery and simplicity of the earliest humans to where we are as people now – maybe I am reading too much into it; Tempest can forgive my curious and wandering imagination! I love how, like so many of her songs, the composition is a constant yet it never intrudes. Rather than throwing so much into the mix, there is a simplicity and consistency that gives Holy Elixir a strange groove and hypnotic focus. If Tempest’s previous albums were more intense and packed, now it seems Tempest is more restrained in terms of energy but that has also allowed her words to breathe more. With all Tempest songs, language is at the fore and she packs so many words together.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jenna Foxton

The narrator discussing us setting fire to lands and reducing things to ashes; the way we have burned and burnished beautiful things and conquered worlds. She never explicitly alludes to modern politics but one feels, as she guides us closer to the modern time, there is a comparison between our earliest ancestors and the supposedly more evolved people of today. As the song continues, you are left dizzy by the pulsing electricity of the composition and the words Tempest delivers. Her wordplay is amazing and, whilst her vocal is quite tender and soft, the potency of the words is incredible. Tempest casts herself in this image and talks of a girl that walks over her. Tempest is this holy elixir and, as she offers prophecy and truth, there is that unity of the biblical past and the modern times. There is, as Tempest says, scripture now but just a modern equivalent. The switch between the development of mankind and religious rules transform into the codification, guidelines and treaties of our time; the ridiculousness of modern politics and how our elected are unwilling to bend and accept any derision. This is where I felt the song was heading and, when it does arrive, the effect is stunning. Tempest never gets too angry and loses control but you can feel the anger and disgust bubbling and festering. Keeping control but still able to get her words out loud and strong, Tempest talks about someone/the people keeping their heads down and exhaling fumes; this constant repetition and sense of anger working in the skin. The composition never intrudes and, as the song goes on, it seems to gain more traction and weight – even though the sound and pace has not changed at all! Tempest talks about, I think, leaders and how the soul is a “closed system”; wisdom has been vanquished and, what they hold in their fists, is all that there is. These words are oblique but direct at the same time.

Each listener will imagine their own story and cinema but I get the impression that, with every heartbeat, Tempest is talking about politics today and the intentions of politicians. Holy Elixir goes much deeper than that and it takes a few listens before everything sort of unfurls and comes into the light – the sign of a truly rewarding and intelligent track. “Your loneliness is the symptom/not the sickness” Tempest decrees; her voice firm and resolute and, as those words are delivered, they conspire all kinds of images and thoughts. I have loved everything Tempest has put on record but I think she is at her most powerful and impressive here. One will find plenty of charge and force on her new album but there is a more level head and sense of composure, even though her words are still as powerful and potent. In many ways, this means her words can cut deeper and have more time to explore and expand. Lyrics are Tempest’s strong suit and you find yourself engrossed by her incredible wordplay. Maybe that is a dismissive terms for what she is about: ‘poetry’ is much more apt and respectful! As Holy Elixir comes to its end, Tempest takes us to the garden (whether Eden or more of a Joni Mitchell/Woodstock sense); she has led us here and notices that the soil is bare and blind – that we need to start sowing and planting seeds. In some ways, this is a literal image of degradation and neglect but, in a wider sense, it is a commentary regarding the poverty around us and how the planet is faring – whether that is political impotence or the all-too-real climate apocalypse that awaits us! Tempest is always firm and controlled whilst never preaching and attacking. She can portray so much wonder and powerful without yelling and getting aggro: instead, the beauty of her words create these fertile scenes that will be ingrained in the psyche for many weeks to come. If the rest of The Book of Traps and Lessons is as wondrous and memorable as Holy Elixir (and Firesmoke) then there is no doubt Kate Tempest is the artist to beat in 2019!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Lake for The Observer

Sorry if I have rambled on and repeated myself. I find artists like Kate Tempest are so impressive and amazing that it is hard to get everything down in words; to summon up the right words and get to the heart of the matter. I hope Tempest continues to reign and shine in music as we definitely need her around. Tempest releases her new album, The Book of Traps and Lessons, on 14th June and it will be good to see what sort of reception it gets. I have only heard bits of the album but it is amazing. There is a mark of Tempest’s older and familiar sound but, as I said earlier, there is more of the passionate and personal this time around. Maybe this indicates that Tempest is in a happier place and is able to feel calmer and anchored because of a strong relationship and sense of safety. I encourage people to get The Book of Traps and Lessons when it arrives and play it in full. Tempest has signings and in-stores coming up this month so make sure you keep your eyes peeled and, if you can, get down to where Tempest is appearing and throw her some love. Holy Elixir is a fantastic track that is so nuanced and deep that it has taken me a few spins to really get to the bottom of it.

To be honest, Tempest is someone whose songs are stirring when you first encounter them but, like flowers blooming, everything sort of unfolds and stretches the more time goes on. It is an amazing thing and another reason why she is so loved and respected. The U.K. is in a pretty sorry place right now and I do think that it is hard to make sense of all the crap and division around us. Tempest has not shied away from this on her latest album but I do like the fact that the importance of love and her feelings are being expressed. Like many of her peers, one can find sweetness, hope and deep affection: so many are eager to express pain and unhappiness without providing any light and relief. Let’s leave things here and I’ll let you spin Holy Elixir one more time. I cannot for The Book of Traps and Lessons and I am already predicting it will be one of 2019’s best and brightest albums. Make sure you dedicated some time to investigate Kate Tempest and, as I said, if you can get down to one of her signings, make sure you do. She is simply wonderful and, in a music world where there are so many similar and familiar faces, she is someone who…

IMAGE CREDIT: @residentmusic

STANDS in a league of her own.

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Follow Kate Tempest

TRACK REVIEW: Hayden Thorpe - In My Name

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Hayden Thorpe

In My Name

 

9.7/10

 

 

The track, In My Name, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wUwaffYLMw

GENRES:

Indie/Alternative

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

The album, Diviner, is available via:

https://music.apple.com/fr/album/diviner/1456813144?l=en&ign-mpt=uo%3D2

RELEASE DATE:

24th May, 2019

LABEL:

Domino Recording Co.

__________

NOW that I have transferred over to reviewing...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Parri Thomas

the bigger artists, it gives me a bit more depth and reach regarding subject matter. I have been a fan of Hayden Thorpe since his days with Wild Beasts – one must nod to them. Before I come to his solo work and a song from his debut album that I wanted to address, I feel it is only right to talk about moving from bands to life as a solo artist; debut albums that are very different from past work and take you by surprise; artists who strike you with their personality and intelligence; putting something deeper, lyrics-wise, into albums; where Thorpe might go and what (to me) makes him pop – I will end by looking at a very special song and predicting the next few months for Thorpe. One cannot help but mention Wild Beasts in the context of Hayden Thorpe. He was their lead and chief songwriter and someone who struck the imagination from their debut album. I remember listening to the imaginatively-titled Limbo, Panto and revelling in the strangeness and originality of the songs. All helmed and propelled by Thorpe’s gymnastic and resonant voice, the Wild Beasts’ sound was unlike anything I had heard before. It seemed like the Kendall-formed band had this great connection and, in terms of their music, they evolved from album to album. I do love how (Wild Beasts) changed from this somewhat eccentric-at-times band who were quite theatrical and high-spirited to a more mature, romantic and nuanced group. I love their debut album – don’t get me wrong – but I feel Wild Beasts really sort of honed their craft as time elapses. Thorpe was at the centre of everything they did and blew people away with his incredible voice and his stunning lyrics. He seemed to articulate love and desire in a way no other writer was doing – almost like a poet compared to the more conventional and formulaic songwriters around him. Things are quite different for him now that he has stepped out alone.

I am not sure what the reason was behind Wild Beasts’ split – it seemed like they had done everything they could – but the sound of the band was, for the most part, quite racy and intense. Thorpe spent years in this group, writing a certain way and having his musical brothers around him. There was a comfort in that, for sure, but I feel like Thorpe was always straining to go solo and have more of a say. The Wild Beasts template was solid and exciting but, when you are in a band, there has to be a sense of diplomacy and I guess you have to write in a certain way. Once the band had put out their debut and established themselves, they could not jump in too many different direction or stray that far from the mould. Now that Thorpe is doing his own thing, he could sort of rewrite the rulebook and break away from the Wild Beasts sound. It must be very strange adapting from the comfort of a band and that routine and going solo and having to shoulder a lot of the responsibility. To be fair, Thorpe has people around him and he is not completely alone. There are differences in terms of texture and tone when you compare Thorpe’s new work and the band material. I think Thorpe is a lot more ambitious, varied and comfortable when on his own than with Wild Beasts. Maybe that is strange to say but I think Diviner, his debut album, has that sense of comfortable and freedom that was perhaps missing from the Wild Beasts days. A lot of former band members have struggled to go alone and they have not really been able to match the giddy heights of their former glories – I am thinking of Liam Gallagher (Oasis) as a perfect example. In any case, the man is out in front and he has released an album scooping kudos and great critical affection. It does seem that there will be (I hope) much more from Hayden Thorpe and he has managed to transition from Wild Beasts to his own material without too many problems.

Before I look at the way Thorpe’s solo music is different to the work of Wild Beasts, I wanted to bring in an interview from NME, where Thorpe talked about going solo and what it is like being out in front:

So much of your life and identity has been wrapped up in being creative. Is it nice to have that element of yourself back out there?

“Yeah, totally. I often think musicians are kind of like tennis players, in that they become so hyper-specialised at that one very specific thing, they’re actually ultimately very useless at other ways of being. I kind of feel either hyper-specialised, or completely maladjusted – or maybe both at the same time. The thing is, once you’re used to crafting beauty and the cadence of your life is towards trying to create beauty, that becomes the compulsion, and nothing else matches that. That is everything.”

Had you always intended to go it alone, once the band came to an end?

“I had no idea what I wanted to do, because I had always relied on music as a compulsion. And you can’t rely on compulsion – it’s either there or it’s not. To start to make plans upon a compulsion, it’s a bit like navigating by the stars, it’s trial-and-error. I didn’t want to bank on it, and I had no expectation that anyone would want to listen to my [solo] music. There was no sensation of inheritance or righteousness to this position. All-in-all, what happened felt so right – the alignment and the perfection of the ending of the band, and how much closure and peace it gave meant that there was a massive forward propulsion from that. Which I hadn’t expected.

One of the great things about Thorpe going solo is that he does not have to follow the last Wild Beasts album (Boy King came out in 2016) and have that pressure. Diviner is less aerobatic and saucy as a lot of the Wild Beasts material and I think the sound is more cerebral and soulful. Thorpe discuses and dissects his passage and progress and is very candid. Where Wild Beasts’ songs had their sensitive moments and were pretty frank, I think Thorpe is even more revealing and honest with his lyrics.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Smithies

There is never a sense of gloom or oppression coming through but, instead, there are all these mixtures and contrasts. He can go from revealing and tender to this quivering and insatiable lead. One might say that this is similar to Wild Beasts but listen to Diviner and its general feel and you can detect something very different indeed. I think Thorpe is placing lyrics and the power of his words above, perhaps, the flexibility of his voice or the compositions. That is the impression I got as the lyrics definitely dig deeper and linger the longest. On the subject of his voice, it has always been his calling card and something that has provided excitement and wonder. I am not suggesting Thorpe’s voice is more restrained on his debut album but I think it has calmed a little and is more graceful; less wild than his former self but, if anything, more varied and interesting. Perhaps it is impossible to define the differences between Thorpe as the Wild Beasts lead and what he is doing now. One can find similarities between the two ventures but there are big differences, too. Following the band’s split in 2017, Thorpe set about crafting an album that was his own vision. Recorded over the course of 2018 with his long-time collaborator, Leo Abrahams, this was a strange period for Thorpe. No longer with his bandmates, other artists might have felt unsure and struggled to move forward. Instead, Thorpe took to the task of recording a new album and has transitioned wonderfully. It is great that Hayden Thorpe is carrying on post-Beasts and he seems to have entered a new creative phase. Is it just the music of Thorpe that strikes the heart and seduces the senses? Alas, there is a lot more to the man and I do think he is one of these artists that can captivate and intrigue away from the studio.

Let us consider his interviews and how he comes across. Ever since the Wild Beasts days, Thorpe has provided these very intelligent, rich and unique interviews. I love the way he talks and how he describes things. His imagery and use of language is superb and he comes across as this very witty, intellectual and interesting human. Maybe you think that is pretty normal and of little note but consider all the artists out there and how many of them actually get under the skin. I would say there are very few that resonate and connect in a power and long-lasting way. Perhaps I just need to do more research but Thorpe is far more interesting than a lot of his peers. You can hear that intelligence bleed into his songs and, when he talks to journalists, he comes across as very warm and engaged. Rather than provide the same answers (to a lot of the same questions) one gets something different and fresh every time. That is rare in the modern landscape and it is an attractive quality. It is not a slight on musicians but many of them tend to provide very ordinary interviews and do not really hook you with their personalities. Sam Fender is another great artist who has that blend of intelligence and humour – there are a few other artists that have that similar level of colour and excitement. I don’t know. Maybe there is too much music out there and it is harder to find those who are going to stand in the mind. Hayden Thorpe compels with his music but he also makes you stand to attention when he speaks. I do think that this helps when you listen to the music. If you have an artist that appears dry and not especially striking during interviews then it creates this sort of odd tone in the music. I listen to Thorpe speak and how he comes across and I get more from the music because of it; it makes me want to listen to what he is saying and the music remains for longer.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Parri Thomas

Perhaps that is just me but I am always looking for artists that have that attractive personality or something about them. The depth and wisdom Thorpe conveys during interviews comes across in his songs. I have mentioned how Diviner is different to his Wild Beasts output. Perhaps more honest and stirring, this (the album) is the sound of a man who has experienced a lot of change the last couple of years and can finally let these feelings and stories come to the surface. There is no telling how far Thorpe can go and what comes next but I love his debut solo album and feel that there will be huge demands. I will nod to touring and the future in the conclusion but, if you have not experienced Diviner yet, make sure you listen to it. For those who loved Wild Beasts and their more exuberant moments, you will find something to love on Thorpe’s album. Before I move to review my favourite song from Thorpe’s debut album, I will bring in another interview where Thorpe explains his move to solo work and what the main differences were (from Wild Beasts’ sound); what motivated him and what defines Diviner:

Although ending the group left him unmoored at first, he didn’t find working alone daunting, largely because he sees Diviner as a record made on intuition: the title reflects his belief that songs are “foot-soldiers of the subconscious”, and that this album was already there, just waiting for him to write it. There are differences, though. “In society now, the individual is king,” he says. “The individual success is absolutely placed at your door, and therefore the failure is absolutely at your door, so the scrutiny, self-interrogation and attention on yourself to make a record on your own is something to behold.”

PHOTO CREDIT: DIY/Phil Smithies

Most of its songs search for clarity and catharsis after confusion and chaos. Every morning before writing, he says, he would watch YouTube videos from philosopher Alain de Botton’s The School of Life. “You be my diviner / Show me where to go,” he sings over the title track’s shimmering pianos; “A world is waiting for us outside / No more hiding in plain sight,” he promises on the dreamy Impossible Object. Thorpe describes it as an album about breaking up with his idea of who he was, which isn’t as fraught as it sounds. “If people go through a struggle, they have a breakdown,” he says. “But why can’t you break up? When people go through these phases, are they not going through some necessary reincarnation?”

I ask if the record’s penchant for spiritual sensuality, instead of the wordy sauciness of songs past, means he has changed in other ways. Thorpe agrees it’s “less Viz”, but says there is still sexuality in the record, and he never got tired of people harping on about Wild Beasts’ fondness for sex. “I revelled in it!” he hoots. But, he says, “there’s a limit to how sexy things can get when you spend a lot of time on your own”, and that he does feel less cocksure nowadays. “Don’t things get more wondrous and confusing as we go on?” he asks. “It’s more of a mystery now, in a beautiful way.” Out of the blue, the automated voice on his phone interrupts to ask if he wants to open an app. “Tinder!” he says in a stage-whisper.

You can see what I mean about giving good value in interviews! There is the sexuality and sensual searching from the Wild Beasts days but, from that fire, a renewed and different man has risen from the flames. There is a lot of wisdom and truth on Diviner; some common threads and songs that everyone can relate to. Out of the ten tracks, I was spoiled for choice regarding a song to assess - but I plumped for the excellent In My Name.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Parri Thomas

If one is expecting Diviner’s songs to leap around and have the same sort of growl as Wild Beasts, songs like In My Name take you in a very different direction. Piano-led, it starts with this very elegant and romantic sound. You are immersed in the beauty of the piano and where it will lead us. I think songs that go in too hard sort of put you off or sap the energy. Appropriately relaxed and intrigued, Thorpe steps to the microphone and provides some curious expressions. He is, it seems, tired of shaking these hands and can smell their perfume. He has slept in their room and knelt in the dirt. There are these powerful images and scenes unfolding and, when it comes to the chorus, a bit more light is revealed. He asks (the unnamed subject), if they must crusade and do what they are doing then not to do so in his name. One can apply that sort of proclamation to political avenues. It is hard not to think about things happening in British politics right now and people doing our bidding. Given the sights of Thorpe fighting demons and kneeling in the dirt, one can also speculate about romantic endeavours and how, maybe, there is a split occurring. Rather than overtly and explicitly reveal the truth behind the song, one can come to their own conclusion and build their own story. I do love the sheer majesty of the piano and how it is joined by strings. Wild Beasts did employ a statelier and romantic sound in their later work but Thorpe has taken that up a notch. The endless beauty and grace of the music perfectly accompanies the lyrics; always arresting and vivid. You can see Thorpe in this wind of turmoil and pleading to someone – the anonymous villain – not to sully his name and use him/people as a pawn in a game. You can hear a bit of Kate Bush in the sound of In My Name.

The building and brooding composition reminds me of Aerial and 50 Words for Snow; the way Bush could build these soundscapes and unite them to a stunning and passionate vocal. Maybe I have been looking too deeply at political themes: maybe the past life of Hayden Thorpe is under the microscope on this song. In Wild Beasts, there would have been these demands and impressions; journalists reading too much into what he did and misconstruing the words. Perhaps there is this feeling that, now he is solo, this is a chance to be truthful and set the record straight. In My Name is, as I say, a song that can be interpreted in a number of different ways from different angles. I adore how the song sweeps and swoons; it flies like a bird and has this haunted quality. Thorpe, his voice delicate and determined, does not want people flying “that flag” is his name. When thinking about the image of a flag being waved, I am back to political avenues but, being too literal, it might be other people speaking for him or getting the wrong impression. Thorpe seems to be battling against false ideologies and lies; a sense that other people are talking for him and causing huge strain. Although Thorpe’s voice never explodes or loses control, you can hear this sense of tension underneath everything. The composition is this beautiful thing that brings the best from Thorpe’s voice and takes the song in new directions. I have mentioned Kate Bush but there are elements of Tori Amos’ early work and what she was doing on albums like Under the Pink. You are stunned by the stillness and beauty of In my Name but fascinated by the lyrics and the pictures they paint. I had to listen to song a few times to really get to the bottom of it and, to be fair, even after that much time, there are mysteries and questions lingering. That is the mark of a great song: one that can get under the skin but still leaves you itching a bit. Maybe Hayden Thorpe is addressing his past life or what is happening in the U.K. right now. There is no real telling but I like the fact there is a sense of the ambiguous and mysterious. I love In My Name and it seems to join all the aspects of Diviner. From the gorgeous, kiss-like vocals with tremor and passion through to the stunning compositions and the compelling lyrics. It is a marvellous song from a truly remarkable debut album. Hayden Thorpe has always been a wonderful songwriter but I think he has really progressed and come on leaps since the days of Wild Beasts. Make sure you get Diviner and check out stunning songs such as In My Name.

PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Sharp

It is always hard accepting an artist on their own terms when they step solo. I was a big Oasis fan but have different opinions regarding Liam and Noel Gallagher’s solo work. Any big artist that leaves a band and goes alone will always be compared to their former days and have this pressure on their shoulders. That is fair enough but I do think we need to judge every album on its own merits and not expect the same thing to come through. Rather than duplicate the work of Wild Beasts and feel the need to please the critics in that sense, Hayden Thorpe has produced an album that contains remnants of his band work but is a lot more personal and different that all of that. I think Thorpe sounds freer and more natural here. More of a reincarnation than evolution, I love all the different sides to Thorpe that were not necessarily exploited during the Wild Beasts days. I have a huge affection for the band and really liked everything they put out. I am not sure, as I say, why things ended for them but it must have been tough for Thorpe to adapt and realise that he had to go solo. Some artists would be overwhelmed by that but Thorpe has shouldered all of this and seems to be in a really good place. What comes next for him? Now that Diviner is out, it is unlikely there will be too many other singles but there will be tour dates. Not only does Thorpe have his fans from Wild Beasts but he will appeal to a whole new set of people. Thorpe has a couple more in-stores to come and will get a chance to meet fans and get their reaction. The critical response to Diviner has been positive and that must give him heart and energy. I know there will be people around the world who want to see him play and get a chance to hear the songs unfurled in the live arena.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: DIY/Phil Smithies

It has been a strange and wonderful past few years for Hayden Thorpe. Think about the music he has been responsible for and how he has had to go from this band leader to the solo artist. I think his debut solo album is incredible and there will be, I am sure, ideas in his mind regarding material for a second album. I hope to catch Thorpe perform live – he was in London yesterday so I missed the opportunity – because he is a fantastic performer and someone who has a natural bond with the crowd. Let’s end things here but I am really chuffed Diviner is out in the world. I wanted to single out a track, In My Name, because is struck me harder and I feel it only fair to delve into a song with depth and passion – giving a few words about each track seems a bit causal and ineffective. I urge everyone to get the album and experience all the different moods and subjects explored. It is a very rich work that gets stronger and more compelling the more you listen to it. You can tell how much heart and soul has gone into the music and how personal the music is. That being said, everyone can relate to what Thorpe is saying and he definitely involves the listener in the album. I will keep my eyes on Thorpe and see where he heads off to next. After his gigs and plans this summer, there will be that period where he can evaluate and think where he steps next. Will there be another album or will there be a few more dates later in the year? It is a great time for Hayden Thorpe and I wish him the best of luck as he pushes forward. With Wild Beasts, he was this unique and vibrant lead who amassed a huge following. Now, as he steps out alone, he has even more sides to him and I feel like he can accrue a whole new audience. It is a great time for the man and many eyes will be trained his way. Make sure you follow Hayden Thorpe’s next moves and keep abreast of all his happenings. Diviner is a truly wonderful album that is among the year’s best but I do think there is a lot more to come from…

THIS beautiful former Beast.

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Follow Hayden Thorpe

TRACK REVIEW: Cate Le Bon - Miami

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Cate Le Bon

Miami

 

9.6/10

 

 

The track, Miami, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLfoGZTgt5o

GENRES:

Folk/Singer-Songwriter

ORIGIN:

Wales, U.K.

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The album, Reward, is available via:

https://catelebon.bandcamp.com/album/reward

RELEASE DATE:

24th May, 2019

LABEL:

Mexican Summer

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I have a bit to cover when thinking about...

Cate Le Bon so, in that regard, I shall get to my points. With her new album, Reward, out now, it is an aptly-titled work that has been celebrated and commended by critics. I have chosen a track from it to review but, before I get to Miami, I wanted to discuss inspiration for albums and why Reward came from a very difficult period for Le Bon. I will also talk about warmth (in records) and alums that invite you in; strange inspirations and focuses that artists have and want to fulfill; how artists like Le Bon can inspire others; why this year is particular strong regarding sounds and competition – a hint to where Le Bon might go and where she will head next. Before getting down to reviewing the song I have chosen from Reward, I wanted to look at Le Bon as someone who has created something genuinely warm and inviting. That might sound simplistic but many reviewers are noting how tender and open Le Bon’s new album is. I do think there is a lack of real warmth and colour in music right now and we have entered a new period where a certain anger and darkness is taking over. Maybe there is an understandable reason why this is happening: if things are tense in the country, that is going to be reflected in what is being put out. I know that there is light to be found in the modern scene but there is too much darkness and oppression. This can create a very heavy and bleak landscape that is hard to embrace and get behind. Cate Le Bon’s latest album does have some moments of spike and darkness but, for the most part, it is a very nourishing and wonderful thing. I will talk more about why this is and how it can inspire other artists. Cate Le Bon composed material for Reward on the piano whereas she usually composes on guitar. That working practice, perhaps, has led to this slightly different sound. Le Bon sounds at her most composed and fascinating on Reward.

There are personal songs and, to be honest, this is possibly Le Bon’s most personal record to date. A lot of other artists have produced very personal albums this year but Le Bon has this sense of ambiguity that means you do not get hit by a darkness and weight that other artists throw around. Does this mean that the lyrics fail to penetrate and people misinterpret? I do think that there is a hard balance to strike. On the one hand, you do have to guess and interpret some of the impressions yourself but there is never this feeling that things are too obvious. I like to listen to music and have my own impression when it comes to the music. Le Bon, I feel, has written in this very stream-of-consciousness way that means her words might have one take on the first listen and then, when you get more into it, there are other revelations and threads that come into the light. I must complete my take on warmth in albums and the fact that one gets a distinct feeling of sunshine and embrace in many moments. I do think there is this thing in music where artists are being very gloomy and there is a tendency to avoid the nourishing. I did mention how Le Bon has put some deeper and more challenging sounds into Reward but there is this pervading sense of overcoming the darkness and finding a sense of hope. Maybe that is me misinterpreting things but I listened (to the album) and was instantly transported and uplifted. It is a gorgeous and interesting work that does put personal matters at the fore but does not leave you feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Maybe it was the recording process and how the album came together that means one gets that feeling of embrace and the horizon opening up. How does one spend time away from music and, indeed, if there is a moment of burn-out, is it possible to come back and make music?

For Cate Le Bon, she was feeling a bit lost and exhausted by the early part of 2017. She was caught in a wave of touring and commitments and it seemed like the demands of the road were taking a toll. She was playing shows for her fourth solo L.P., Crab Day, and there was this feeling that a recharge was in order. It does happen with a lot of artists when they get into this cycle that is hard to break from. In terms of recovery and getting back on track, there was a rather strange muse that Le Bon embraced: furniture. Not just furniture itself but constructing furniture and actually making a finished product from scratch. Apart from Jack White, I cannot think of another artist who has been involved with upholstery and furniture-making. Many musicians do gardening or yoga but, for Le Bon, she was caught by this article that was written by someone who attended a three-year furniture school in London. That person was already interested in furniture and decided that this was a logical step. Le Bon herself was interested in design, and so, she wanted to do something similar. Already captivated by modernists such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Lina Bo Bardi, Le Bon knew she couldn’t take three years away from music and make furniture. Instead, she enrolled in a smaller woodworking programme in the Lake District. This sounds pretty ideal and it seemed like it was a perfect thing for Le Bon. Many might think that something like a woodwork course would distract from music and would not lead to a creative resurgence. Rather than isolate herself from creative pursuits, Le Bon had this sense of focus and discipline that sort of rebooted her or, at the very least, was a welcomed counteraction to the sense of fatigue and depression she felt. I do wonder whether other artists who are in a similar position might be motivated to pursue something like woodworking or furniture-making in order to regain a sense of clarity and energy.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Evans

In any case, there was this need to sort of get away and re-examine things. When speaking with Huck, Le Bon explained why she took up furniture-making and whether it was a challenge being solitary for so long:

Before you recorded this album you took a year out to live alone in the Lake District, specifically to enrol in a furniture-making school. Why did you feel the need to get away?
I’d been fantasising about a chance to learn how to build furniture for a long time. Often with those things, you’re waiting for someone else to grant you some kind of permission to do it.

I guess I’ve been in a cycle of recording, touring, making records as DRINKS with Tim Presley. It’s been four or five years in that cycle and I think it’s good to stop and re-prioritise; to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and not because you’re just going through the motions.

But a year in solitary? That’s a lot.
People came and went but when I was there alone, I was really alone. I felt like I may have lost my mind a little bit at times – genuinely. I was living in an old cottage by a river and it couldn’t have been more idyllic, but there were times when I really felt the presence of the house.

I made a lot of decisions that completely changed the architecture of life. With a year of making furniture in the Lake District, you can concentrate on the montage of all the good bits and the romantic parts. It lets you do a lot of soul-searching. It was the perfect place for a reckoning of things.

You realise a lot of things; you dissect a lot of things when you spend an extended period by yourself. Self-pity can be quite delicious when you’re by yourself. You can allow yourself that self-pity because you’re not really burdening anybody else with it”.

That impression sounds like Bon Iver recording an album in a log cabin and being detached from the modern world. Whilst there would have been moments where Le Bon was etching close to breakdown, for the most part her time furniture-making was a rewarding one that allowed her to get some perspective.

The fact that the country is sort of falling apart means that a time in isolation was a good thing. Le Bon knows that things are pretty bad and there is a lack of direction. Emerging back into the world after time in isolation was hard but I think it means what we hear on Reward is less impacted by the political strains and fall-out and more focused on Le Bon and her mind. One might think that Le Bon’s quest and new adventure might have reflected in the album. By that, whilst she was off creating furniture and putting together something wonderful, the album would be quite sparse and acoustic. Is there a connection between physical pursuits such as furniture-making and an artist’s sonic outlook? If one was expected an acoustic guitar-led record that was quite humble and predictable then they need to think again. Instead, Reward has strings, saxophone and all sorts of sounds melting together. I will come to Miami in a minute and why it kick-starts the album in such brilliant fashion but, if you listen to the whole record, you will find so many different textures and avenues. I believe, when recording in L.A., things did not start too well. There was a lot of interruption in the studio and it seemed like things would not get done. Le Bon and producer Samur Khouja decamped to Joshua Tree in California and it seemed like things were on a better footing. Other artists have been inspired by Joshua Tree and it seemed like the time in the desert stopped time and calmed Le Bon. You can hear a sense of calm in her album but, when recording, there was that vista and the beautiful sunsets. I think Le Bon’s tale and progress will inspire other artists and add something new to their work. It might sound a bit excessive going to California and taking up furniture-making but I did say how much darkness and tension there is in music.

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I do think that artists need to take a different approach as there is a lot of strain right now. I do feel like the state of the nation is impacting music and we are provided little escape and sunlight in all of this. I can only imagine how much stress is in the bones of modern artists and what their creative processes are like. Maybe Le Bon’s furniture pursuit – where, as you can see here, she came up with something beautiful - is a metaphor for what she was feeling before she took this course. Life was a bit rough and uncertain but, with patience and discipline, she managed to turn out something very striking and wonderful. The same can be said for Reward and how it sounds very different to what she has produced. Not only is the piano the guiding light this time around – creating a different anchor and meaning the songs have a different tone – but Le Bon seems to be in a different headspace. Life has moved and changed and I think she sounds a lot more comfortable in her own skin than she did a couple of years back. Maybe I am wrong but it does appear Le Bon has been refreshed and re-inspired by her decisions and recording process. I do love what is being produced this year but, as I keep mentioning, there is a feeling that darkness and personal revelation is taking more of a stand. I understand why artists want to be personal and lay everything out but, inside all of this exposure and honesty, there is not a huge amount of relief and light. Cate Le Bon has produced an album that transports you somewhere warm and safe. There are these extraordinary musical interjections and moments that catch you by surprise and, the more you listen to Reward, the more layers reveal themselves. This year has been a very exciting and bold one for music. It has been led by incredible female artists.

I do think this year, more than any others, has been defined by female artists. I am not sure what has turned the tide but I do feel like there is this determination (from women) not to be overlooked. It is still the case there is imbalance and inequality and, with that being the case, female artists are coming through strong and, we hope, this will lead to greater opportunities for them. Le Bon’s music fits nicely into 2019 and the other sterling work put out by women. I am not dismissing the men at all but, when thinking of the best albums of this year, women do dominate. Le Bon’s experience and sound is a lot different to other artists around. I have mentioned how there is a lot of light in her work but there are moments of isolation and melancholy that sort of reflect something different. Away from all the adventure and warmth, you do get a sense of someone who is looking for answers and struggling with something. Composed on a second-hand piano, you do get an impression of Le Bon and what she was feeling during Reward’s creation. Given that view, one cannot fail to detect a sense of loneliness and sparseness but, in many songs, there is something lush and expansive. Her native Welsh brogue remains but, unlike her other work, there are few angular riffs and characteristics that made her name. Instead, after such a time of transition, there is a sense of new beginnings and her shedding her old skin. Le Bon is excited to be back. It is good to have her back because, when you look back at her previous work, you can tell this is an artist that will be an icon one day. She has this ambition and talent that is stronger than anything else out there and recalls some of the most innovative musicians ever. That declaration might sound vague but it is hard to put into words the skill and sound Cate Le Bon has.

Miami is a great way to start Reward. You might expect something quite subtle and obvious but, instead, there is a nice burble from the electronics and this sort of spacey sound that reminds one of David Bowie. The introduction has so much going on but it never sounds too packed and physical. Instead, you have this lovely sense of soothe and soulfulness where darting electronic bubbles pop alongside horns and other instruments. There is this stride and step that makes the song instantly connective and appealing. I love how horns sort of naturally mix alongside acoustic strings and hypnotic electronics. One is helpless to resist the sense of wonder and intrigue that you get from these opening moments. With Le Bon’s voice, I have always picked up aspects of singers like Nico and Joni Mitchell and, whereas those artists have slightly rough edges (that might sound insulting: there is a definite edge that other singers do not possess), Le Bon is a lot more soothing and accessible. She has a very special sound to her voice but it is one easy to love and understand. Le Bon talks about decorating your own discord and never being the same again. The city of Miami is name-checked in the first line and I wonder whether she is literally referencing Miami or it is more of a symbol for something or someone else. Like a lot of Le Bon’s best moments, there are lyrics that one needs to untangle and investigate. “Falling skies that people uphold, move with me” is a thought that takes some guessing and exploring. I love how she can paint these pictures with slightly abstract expressions but, the more you listen, you definitely get an impression of what she is trying to say. There are very few words on Miami itself: instead, it is more about mood and this song that takes you into Le Bon’s world. The gentle and determined chant of ‘Miami’ is more like a coda or prayer than it is a declaration.

One does wonder whether Le Bon has been inspired by the city or whether that place represents a particular escape and fantasy. Whereas artists would cram words into a song and it would make things too busy and confusing, Le Bon sprinkles in a few choice words and then uses the song to explore her voice and the composition. Opening Reward, you get this song that is beautifully lush and rich with life. There seems to be little stress and haunt in its soul. Indeed, you have all these sun-kissed horns and little notes that bring a smile and make you feel lighter. I went back time and time again trying to get to the bottom of the lyrics and, sparse as they are, everyone will have their own interpretation of what is being said. I love the track and it definitely takes away pressures and stress. The composition provokes images of expanses and a sense of freedom. The horns are never too intrusive and bold but they definitely have a vim and vigour that gets into the blood. Le Bon’s voice is always soothing and delightful but there are so many different sides that arrest and captivate. She is one of the most nuanced and skillful artists when it comes to baring her emotions and opening the imagination. There are many wonderful moments on Reward but I particularly love Miami because it has all these different sides and moods. Most of the time is spent allowing the vocals – many of them wordless – unfold and this incredible composition…it just does magical things! It is a triumphant song from Le Bon and one that you will return to over and over again. What is it about? It is hard to say where the inspiration came from but I do think there is personal biography. Le Bon experienced some stress and unhappiness before taking some time out and taking up furniture-making. Maybe it is about her sense of revival and how she had to beat a retreat. Perhaps it is more about fantasy and disconnection but I can hear something deeply personal in the vocals. Cate Le Bon is an artist that provides these unique and interesting words and it is down to the listeners to come to their own conclusion. I like this as too many songs are obvious and give everything away. Miami could mean something different to someone else but I think it is this moment where Le Bon returns to the world and is starting again. Maybe I am wrong but, in any case, the song is majestic and the perfect way to start a remarkable album. Make sure you go and buy Reward and spend some time with it. It is great having a new record from Le Bon: one of music’s most interesting and spellbinding artists. I do hope we get a lot more from her in the future because she provides something other artists do not. It is hard to pinpoint but, when listening to a song like Miami, you realise you are in the presence of someone truly special.  

I have spoken a lot about Cate Le Bon and her song, Miami. I could not review the whole album – as it would be somewhat brief and not do justice to each song – but I hope people investigate Reward and get everything they can from it. Le Bon has been touring recently but, with a new album out, most of her focus has been on that and getting it into the world. Look at her social media feeds and you can tell how excited she is and how proud of the record she is. That is understandable because, on the first listen, you are hit by all these different sounds and stories. There are shifts in moods and lovely little musical asides and angles that take you somewhere sublime. The more you listen, the more layers come through and the more songs start to focus. I have loved reviewing Le Bon and will follow her closely. I am a fan of her previous work but I think she has created something unique and unexpected with Reward. It is her most personal record and, debatably, it is her very finest. That might be a big claim but one need only look at reviews flooding in to see that sentiment reflected by other journalists. I shall leave things in a second but make sure you keep an eye out for Le Bon and where she is heading. I am not sure what her diary is looking like but she has a new album out and people will want to see it performed live. There will be U.S. demands and people around the world are eager to see this wonderful new album exposed and explored on the stage. It is amazing to imagine these songs being performed to thousands considering Le Bon spent a large chunk of time (more-or-less) on her own and making furniture.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Fabienne Cresens

Now, with this terrific album out, she will be in front of the adoring masses. It is quite a radical shift but I do think Le Bon’s career will go to a whole new level. What does the future holds for her, then? I do feel like there will be more albums but, with such turmoil and political division around, will her material start to reflect that more? I do hope that we get something like Reward – rather than the more tense and unsettled albums being put out now – because it is an album that provides soothe and gentleness when you need it. There is not a lot of that around now and that is why Cate Le Bon should be taken to heart and followed. She is a fantastic artists and someone who gets stronger as time passes. I am not sure where she is heading in the next few months but I know there will be demands and her life is going to be very busy. I do wonder, thinking about that, whether there is this vicious cycle. Le Bon needed to take time off following burn-out in 2017 and, with a new album out, does the same possibility await her? So many big artists are put under pressure and it gets to the point where they struggle to cope with what is expected. I do hope that the experience this time around is more pleasant and Le Bon gets time to chill and have time for herself. That can be hard for any musicians but I do feel Le Bon is in a good place right now and it would be a shame if things changed. Make sure you get Reward and experience this stunning album! I shall leave things there but, if you want to follow an artist who does things differently to anyone else yet has that accessibility, you need to get Cate Le Bon into your life. She is a fascinating artist and one who (I hope) will be around for many years to come. I have loved examining Miami (and Reward) and, as the notes and images bounce around my mind, I feel like they will be with me…

FOR a very long time to come.

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Follow Cate Le Bon

TRACK REVIEW: Lauren Ray - Moment

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Lauren Ray

Moment

 

9.4/10

 

The track, Moment, is available via:

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

GENRES:

Pop/Singer-Songwriter

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

14th April, 2019

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THIS is my very last review request...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GO very far in the industry.

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Follow Lauren Ray

TRACK REVIEW: JARV IS… - MUST I EVOLVE?

TRACK REVIEW:

 

JARV IS…

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

MUST I EVOLVE?

 

9.8/10

 

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

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

GENRES:

Alternative/Art-Rock

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

15th May, 2019

LABEL:

Rough Trade Records Ltd.

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MAYBE the idea sprang from a realisation that...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

 ART CREDIT: Federica Masini

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Cotterill Photography

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Fallon/NME

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

  PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

  IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

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

  PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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

IN THIS PHOTO: Dana Distortion

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

TO this very day.

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Follow JARV IS…

TRACK REVIEW: Jamila Woods - ZORA

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Jamila Woods

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PHOTO CREDIT: Bradley Murray 

ZORA

 

9.7/10

 

The track, ZORA, is available via:

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

GENRES:

R&B/Neo-Soul

ORIGIN:

Chicago, U.S.A.

The album, LEGACY! LEGACY! Is available via:

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

RELEASE DATE:

10th May, 2019

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THIS time around...

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Whitney Middleton

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Bradley Murray 

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Lawrence Agyei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Whitney Middleton

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

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PHOTO CREDIT: Lawrence Agyei

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

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

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

  PHOTO CREDIT: Lawrence Agyei

A truly captivating album.

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Follow Jamila Woods

TRACK REVIEW: IDLES - Mercedes Marxist

TRACK REVIEW:

 

IDLES

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PHOTO CREDIT: Tess Janssen Photography 

Mercedes Marxist

 

9.6/10

 

The track, Mercedes Marxist, is available via:

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

GENRE:

Post-Punk

ORIGIN:

Bristol/London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

7th May, 2019

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WHEN looking at a band I have followed...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Charlotte Patmore

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

  PHOTO CREDIT: Charlotte Patmore

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Emma Swann

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @lindsaymelbo

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Pooneh Ghana

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

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

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  PHOTO CREDIT: Pooneh Ghana

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

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Louise Mason

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Pooneh Ghana

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

TRULY spectacular.

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Follow IDLES

TRACK REVIEW: Kylie Minogue - New York City

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Kylie Minogue

New York City

 

9.5/10

 

 

The track, New York City, is available via:

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

GENRE:

Pop

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

3rd May, 2019

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

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

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THIS is a slight change of pace...

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Audoin Desforges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT she can achieve and where she will head.

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Follow Kylie Minogue

TRACK REVIEW: Stormzy - VOSSI BOP

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Stormzy

VOSSI BOP

 

9.6/10

 

The track, VOSSI BOP, is available via:

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

GENRES:

Grime/Hip-Hop

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

26th April, 2019

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WHEN thinking about Stormzy...

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Shirlaine Forrest/Wireimage

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

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

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Elle

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

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

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

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Alex de Mora

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Stefan Heinrichs

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

PRETTY much anything.

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Follow Stormzy

TRACK REVIEW: LJA - ginger tea

TRACK REVIEW:

 

LJA

ginger tea

 

9.3/10

 

 

The track, ginger tea, is available via:

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

GENRES:

Alternative/Indie

ORIGIN:

New Jersey, U.S.A.

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

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

RELEASE DATE:

22nd March, 2019

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THIS is my penultimate review...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAKE you somewhere wonderful.           

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Follow LJA

TRACK REVIEW: FKA twigs - Cellophane

TRACK REVIEW:

 

FKA twigs

Cellophane

 

9.6/10

 

 

The track, Cellophane, is available via:

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

GENRE:

Avant-Pop

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

24th April, 2019

LABEL:

Young Turks Recordings Ltd

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ON this time out...

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Chad Kirkland

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: REX 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FROM the beguiling FKA twigs.                 

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Follow FKA twigs

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

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Loyle Carner (ft. Jorja Smith)

PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Holyoak 

Loose Ends

 

9.6/10

 

 

The track, Loose Ends, is available via:

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

GENRE:

Hip-Hop

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

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

RELEASE DATE:

19th April, 2019

LABEL:

AMF Records

__________

I am doing things differently this weekend...

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

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

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

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

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

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

yyt.jpg

 PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Coulson

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

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

There are some great collaborations on Not Waving, But Drowning. Jordan Rakei appears on Ottolenghi whilst Sampha features on Desoleil (Brilliant Corners); Jean Coyle-Larner (his mum) on Dear Ben and Tom Misch on Angel. It is like Carner has his mates around and we are opening his door but, more than that, we get these different voi