Music Review 13/10/17 – Beck, St Vincent and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.



Far from easy listening, and not something you can stick on as background music, The OOZ is a dizzying head trip inside an abandoned bar the size of a mansion. What King Krule does so compellingly is to beckon together genres that might otherwise have been afraid of each other, then gets them really drunk before slow-dancing with all of them. ‘Half Man, Half Shark’ gasps with sweaty punk, ‘Biscuit Town’ has the nourish gleam of neon in the rain with its Zawinul-esque keys, and ‘The Cadet Leaps’ is like that feeling of trying to hold in tears but they come out anyway.

He makes the distance between the next galaxy and the next pub seem almost comparable with how cosmic even the most downtrodden moments feel. On ‘Dum Surfer’, a night out getting ‘mashed’ in the bar sounds equal to getting your head stuck inside a comet; ‘Czech One’ makes the instruments in a seedy jazz bar seem as lonely as the vast expanse of space itself. But it’s all part of one distinct record, and by god that record is glorious.

Highlight: ‘The Cadet Leaps’

Rating: 9/10


Colors – Beck

Beck can’t decide which side his bread is buttered on a middling selection of dance-pop tracks that alternate between joyful abandon and nasty, bizarre clashes of identity. ‘I’m So Free’ sounds like Smash Mouth trying to do DJ Jazzy Jeff, whilst ‘Dear Life’ feels like the weird lovechild of divorced parents that can’t decide if it wants to live with Paul McCartney or Josh Homme. That being said, Beck at least brings a crisp production to the proceedings, alleviating some of the more soupy material from complete cohesive dissonance from its other tracks.

Highlight: ‘Seventh Heaven’

Rating: 6/10



Morning After – dvsn

Where Morning After does work is in the anachronistic clash between deep, rattling R&B beats and elegant, wistful keys, conjoined to those vulnerable vocals from Daniel Daley. Such is the power of this pairing early on, between Daley and producer Nineteen85, that the less engaging middle stretch of the record comes as a disappointment. It becomes predictable with none of the bite of opener ‘Run Away’, or the two-pronged tough-to-generous duality of ‘Nuh Time/Tek Time’. It’s only on barn-burning ‘Body Smile’ does the inspiration return. It’s moody and murky, but there’s a very familiar 80s glow lurking in the darkness that makes it an instant highlight.

Highlight: ‘Body Smile’

Rating: 6/10



Beautiful Trauma – P!nk

P!nk’s production team rarely get out of the way of her great voice here. Where they do manage to, such as on ‘But We Lost It’ and closer ‘You Get My Love’, she doesn’t so much stretch herself as draw attention to the theatrics of her own voice. But elsewhere, schlocky writing and too many good sounds on top of each other choke her presence out of the mix.

Highlight: ‘You Get My Love’

Rating: 5/10



For an artist who deals in bizarreness, MASSEDUCTION feels oddly tame. It constitutes a series of build-ups that mostly have no payoff, like the bridge of ‘Los Ageless’ that’s far too good for the song itself, and the slow-burn opener of ‘Hang On Me’ that feels like a slow into at first, but actually seems like a blueprint for most of the rest of the album. The final stretch yields some wonderful stuff: ‘Slow Disco’ and ‘Smoking Section’ are as abrasive as they are poppy, and they get the best of both worlds. Alas, St Vincent’s wacky angular-pop gets largely left behind here.

Highlight: ‘Slow Disco’

Rating: 6/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: Lotta Sea Lice – Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile

Too much is lost from both artists here; Barnett has none of the dry wit she had in her solo work, whilst Vile is mostly missing the self-deprecating drawl of his. Each rambling garage rock track is nondescript, save for opener ‘Over Everything’, the only track to fully capitalise on such a hang-dog pairing. Within those 6 minutes is the lofty guitar work of Barnett’s more melancholy work, her downtrodden optimism, Vile’s shrugging pessimism, and a glimpse of the better album this could have been. The rest is just lazy, and genuinely disappointing about it, too.

Highlight: 5/10

Rating: ‘Over Everything’

Music Review 6/10/17 – BUMPER EDITION, with Benjamin Clementine, Marilyn Manson, Liam Gallagher, Phoebe Bridgers and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.

Welcome to the largest edition of The Music Review we’ve ever done! Recently, with a larger frequency than normal, several albums have gone through some discrepancies involving the precise release date of the album, several were missed out over the last few weeks and none of the albums originally slated for this week seemed appropriate to miss. This week, we’re looking back at Phoebe Bridgers, Mercury Prize winner Benjamin Clementine, and Torres, whilst also covering Kelela’s first studio album, Kele Okereke’s third solo album, Liam Gallagher’s solo debut, Marilyn Manson’s new record and The Darkness’ fifth studio album…

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Stranger in the Alps – Phoebe Bridgers

It feels like sadness has been done to death at this point. Nick Hornby put it best in High Fidelity that people worry about the exposure children get to violence or sex in cultural work, but nobody ever has concerns about kids listening to ‘thousands, literally thousands, of songs about pain, heartbreak, rejection and loss’. The central conceit of probably at least two-thirds of popular music comes down to a central theme of sadness.

What Phoebe Bridgers brings to that back-catalogue is partly so effective because it doesn’t linger. Instead of throwing platitudes at her listeners, Bridgers is frank with her words. On ‘Funeral’, she says matter-of-fact-ly, ‘Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time’, and on ‘Motion Sickness’, she states with a real heartbreakingly deadpan tone, ‘I hardly feel anything at all’. It’s pretty enough musically, with some standouts in that area, but Bridgers doesn’t mince words. When she says something, she means it.

Highlight: ‘Motion Sickness’

Rating: 9/10


I Tell A Fly – Benjamin Clementine

Clementine continues his trademark skill of flummoxing the music commentariat. Outside of some flavoursome references to prog-rock drum sounds and interpolations of ‘Claire de Lune’, his art-pop sound is as left-field as ever. Amongst the more definable qualities are Clementine’s really rich piano textures; a spacious, muscular production; and his ear for a really confounding couplet. I defy any music critic who says their imagination wasn’t piqued by, ‘For the difference between love and hate/weighs the same difference between risotto and rice pudding’. The rest is completely unclassifiable, just as Clementine likes it.

Highlight: ‘Quintessence’

Rating: 8/10


Pinewood Smile – The Darkness

A predictably crass album that still misses the mythic nuances of its forebears. Amongst its redeeming features are the entertaining show-off tricks on ‘I Wish I Was In Heaven’ being translated into something interesting, and the comforting possibility that it’s all one big joke. If that’s true, they got the parody spot-on. If not, it’s just rubbish.

Highlight: ‘I Wish I Was in Heaven’

Rating: 4/10


Fatherland – Kele Okereke

Despite ‘playing it safe’ not working on the measly Bloc Party record Hymns last year, Fatherland delivers a frequently engaging piece of work that perhaps sacrifices some of its sincerity for jaunty fun. The records best moments come when it’s the other way round. ‘Versions of Us’ and ‘You Keep On Whispering His Name’ are particularly probing, spare tracks that make simplicity sound alluring rather than dumb, and lay Kele’s relationship uncomfortably bare.

Highlight: ‘Versions of Us’

Rating: 6/10


Take Me Apart – Kelela

Kelela works best when forward momentum propels her tracks out of that heady, humid space that clouds the more impactful moments. How she gets those moments is actually quite a mystery: some might argue that her harmonies (lifted wholesale from TLC and Destiny’s Child) are her secret weapon; others would say the synths, which are thick and sound suspiciously like analog equipment, separate the cloudy from the clear. It may even be that the fusion of 90s female sexual liberation in her lyrics and influences as diverse as Arca and Toto make her a figurehead for R&B in the current year. Whatever the case, Take Me Apart sounds as steamy as it is brainy and places Kelela near the front of the pack.

Highlight: ‘Frontline’

Rating: 8/10



Heaven Upside Down – Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson sounds on this album as though he’s an atheist teenager who’s just started listening to Marilyn Manson and tried to start his own band. It’s cringe-y enough when people try to make alphanumerical spelling a thing again (‘SAY10’, ‘KILL4ME’), but when Manson does it, exhibiting less bravery than both his early work and his most recent, moodier, subtler record, it just sounds boring.

Highlight: ‘Blood Honey’

Rating: 4/10



Three Futures – Torres

For the most part, a stable marriage of interesting sonic choices and bizarre, but nonetheless compelling, lyrics. When Torres brings in influences from ambient music, they somehow make her direction clearer, yet her more frenetic, clipped material feels far too chopped to warrant repeat listening. It’s the lyrics that offer a consistent, wacky through-line for the record. Whether it’s bleak imagery (‘I busted my guts on the Myrtle viaduct/And those guts are nobody’s now’) or a fizzy piece of wordplay (‘I am not a righteous woman/I’m more of an ass man’), it retains its unorthodoxy pretty consistently.

Highlight: ‘Marble Focus’

Rating: 7/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: As You Were – Liam Gallagher

Liam Gallagher is like that popular school-kid that tells other kids their painting sucks then grows up and becomes a third-rate tattoo artist specialising in misspelling people’s names and shouting at the owner of the deli next door.

Perhaps that’s too specific, but I don’t care, I hate the guy and his music. If he can get away with running out of ideas, so can I.

Highlight: ‘I Get By’

Rating: 3/10

Music Review 29/9/17 – Wolf Alice, Protomartyr and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.

Here come the girls: Ibeyi release their sophomore LP, Wolf Alice come screaming back to life, and Miley Cyrus and Shania Twain prove they have more in common than people know…

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Relatives in Descent – Protomartyr

This isn’t contrived anger or manufactured outrage: this is sharp, biting critique dressed in its finest post-punk attire. We seem far too quick to label any angry music from the past 8 months as some sort of attack on Trump’s America; conversely, it seems many artists are finding it too easy to feign rage to sell records. But Protomartyr are the real deal, and not just because they are infinitely smarter than most artists trying to tackle the clockwork orange in the White House – it’s because they resist making the context too specific.

Relatives in Descent is about far more than just the current balance of power: it’s about the balance of power as it has been for decades. It’s about older generations leaving behind broken worlds for their children (‘My Children’), the hyper-holisticism of society’s intersecting pathways (‘Half Sister’), the dangers of toxic masculinity (‘Male Plague’) and the anxieties created by small groups of people sitting in rooms deciding our futures (‘Up the Tower’). The reason that works is because those fears are universal, and span as far back as societal angst itself.

The group’s sound is just as unfaltering, playing on the noise rock work of Iceage with a similar understanding of the power in fusing experimentalism with achingly melancholy pop structures. The only difference is that those two ideas are married so closely here that they seem intertwined. On the deeply sad ‘Night-Blooming Cereus’, woozy synths sit amongst a depressing soundscape of spare guitars and Joe Casey’s droning voice, and ‘Don’t Go To Anacita’, whilst bracing and breathless, uses markedly world-weary chord inversions that continue the melancholy suggested across the record.

Highlight: ‘Windsor Hum’

Rating: 9/10


Younger Now – Miley Cyrus

The wholesomeness of Cyrus’ new image is to be admired, as is the sincerity of the material on this record (if, indeed, it is sincere and not just some cynical rebrand). But it’s hard to deny that Younger Now is also spineless as a result. It doesn’t help, of course, that Miley Cyrus voice has about the gentleness of a backfiring tractor when heaped onto the kind of milquetoast country-pop that pervades Younger Now, but the songwriting itself has an almost offensive dullness.

I say ‘almost’ because, of course, it’s not a maliciously bad album. It is, by its very nature, nondescript. It’s like a child making up a song about mud: of course it’s bad, but it’s harmless too, and it was never going to be good anyway.

Highlight: ‘Inspired’

Rating: 4/10



Now – Shania Twain

I won’t lie by saying I didn’t enjoy huge stretches of Shania Twain’s admittedly, and probably deliberately, dramatic comeback album. The opening set of tracks felt like a slog, but once Twain learns to let go of the seriousness of those first few songs, particularly on the more heavily genre-influenced ‘Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl’ and ‘More Fun’, everything becomes… well, more fun.

Highlight: ‘Let’s Kiss and Make Up’

Rating: 6/10


Visions of a Life – Wolf Alice

Far too often on Visions of a Life, Wolf Alice find themselves stuck in a rut. What made them feel so revolutionary on My Love Is Cool was the diversity of their material, ranging from that animalistic alternative sound to a more tender pop side, all under the glittery umbrella of being ‘the others’, the ‘them’, the ‘they’. On their second album, they simply resort to shock tactics: seemingly sending a song one direction then flying off the tracks in another, too harshly using a quiet-loud dynamic, and sacrificing attention to craft for anything that gels together well. Moments of inspiration fly through the albums narrow purview, but it’s an uneven affair.

Highlight: ‘Heavenward’

Rating: 5/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: Ash – Ibeyi

Through a garbled narrative echoing into the hollow remains of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Ibeyi’s Ash ends up being a series of sonic mistakes and thematic failings. The sister duo’s hokey reliance on autotune, which they make no point in hiding, simply distracts from any substance in their vocal performances, and their sense of texture extends mainly to cheap synth sounds that remind the listener of the last time their pipes started playing up.

Equally sad is how much this misshapen sonic disaster muffles what could have been a better album, although the lyrical content actually here doesn’t exactly do the themes any favours either. The duo sample Michelle Obama’s speech on women in America on ‘No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms’, but to what end? In place of real explorations of female empowerment comes empty platitudes on beauty in nature that hints at themes better examined in other feminist pieces.

Highlight: ‘I Wanna Be Like You’

Rating: 4/10

Music Review 22/9/17 – The Killers, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.

New, multicultural collective Cristobal and the Sea release their debut and The Killers return with their first studio album in five years…

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Wonderful Wonderful – The Killers

What makes the new Killers album such a romp is the production. The songwriting, whilst not tepid, doesn’t necessarily have the instantaneous zest of their greatest moments. But the sound of the record is wonderful, filled with luscious, full-blooded callbacks to pulsating 80s pop and Springsteenian driving rock. The Boss even gets a namedrop on the album, although it’s clear from Brandon Flowers’ impassioned performances that Bono was the closer reference point for him. He nails a pitch-perfect impression, complete with arena-sized glides from note to note and a consistent tone that sounds far cleaner than the transistor-esque, grease-flecked drawl on the group’s debut all those years ago.

The fatal flaw is in the consistency of the thing: after 8 consecutive tracks of wonder and surprising soulfulness, the final two tracks feel pretty listless, offering little more than hokey stomp-rock (‘The Calling’) and vague arena rock (‘Have All The Songs Been Written?’). Steep finishing gradient aside, Wonderful Wonderful hits a lot of the right marks for an all-round solid effort.

Highlight: ‘Tyson vs Douglas’

Verdict: 8/10

Exitoca – Cristobal and the Sea

What starts as a bracing, cultural infusion of Afro-beat and Eastern textures, via Talking Heads’ brainy new wave, drifts into the dream pop equivalent of The Beatles’ ‘Within You, Without You’. It’s a shame because it sounds as though it could have been so much better: opener ‘Goat Flokk’ crackles with the excitement of a multicultural collective throwing their influences into a test tube and standing back for the fireworks. Minor interlude ‘The Leaf Isn’t Turning Red’ suggests that the melting pot was still going at some point during the recording of this album. But the group’s desire to create an antidote to the ‘cold and sexless Brexit reality’, as stated in the Bandcamp liner notes for the album, just becomes dull, even through the record’s economically short runtime.

Highlight: ‘Goat Flokk’

Verdict: 5/10


Luciferian Towers – Godspeed You! Black Emperor

I liked that Godspeed took a more rhythmic approach to this than to their previous effort, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress on this record. It propels tracks forward more often, such as on the entire ‘Bosses Hang’ suite and the final part of ‘Anthem for No State’. In fact, on the former, it almost contradicts the grandiose magnificence of their image with cheeky, just-shy-of-rock-and-roll momentum. On the latter, it’s possibly the most bombastic, and straightforward, they’ve ever sounded. But there’s a lack of invention in that, which, while not entirely diminishing the fun of the album, does strip it of emotional weight. Coupled with a droll production that doesn’t compliment the band’s penchant for celestial experiences, and the whole thing feels muted.

Highlight: ‘Bosses Hang Pt. I’

Verdict: 7/10


– The Horrors

If an album is filled with songs unable to break out of their stagnant chord progressions, making those songs twice as long as they should be doesn’t help the matter. On The Horrors’ latest LP, most of the tracks run in excess of five minutes, making the sluggish industrial glam-rock even more interminable than it is already. Their saving grace comes in the form of some neat production tricks, which at least create a richer texture of heavy percussion balanced with some nimbler treble instruments, and the closing track, ‘Something to Remember Me By’. As though it has leapt from some different album chock-full of neon-lit synth pop, the sharp drums on easily the best track from the record offer a counter to the more enveloping noise that precedes it, making it bittersweet and wonderful.

Highlight: ‘Something to Remember Me By’

Verdict: 4/10



DUD OF THE WEEK: Ununiform – Tricky

Profoundly unappealing and dull, Tricky’s new album is little more than a series of indistinguishable guests singing indistinguishable hooks on largely indistinguishable songs. It’s dour, absolutely no fun, unimaginative and doesn’t stick after it’s finished.

Highlight: ‘Running Wild’

Verdict: 2/10

Music Review 15/9/17 – Prophets of Rage, Foo Fighters and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.

Rock behemoths Foo Fighters re-enter the scene, and Rostam launches his solo career in proper…

 ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Half-Light – Rostam

Unsurprisingly, Rostam’s first proper solo outing (after the charming, rustic collaboration with Hamilton Leithauser, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine) has a lot going on. Along the way on this rollicking synesthesiac’s wet-dream, we travel to New York, the ends of the earth, the cosmic expanse, India, and Rostam’s bedroom. Clearly, the guy has a lot on his mind.

It shows on every facet of this album: the production is busy, although never murky and unintelligible. Textures weave in and out of each other like a really packed club sandwich, except the sandwich is filled with sweets, all kinds of cream, fondue, chocolate, cake, chocolate cake and a lot of wine. But Rostam savours the moments that matter: playing in the same sort of vignette, snapshot style as Frank Ocean’s Blonde (on which Rostam was credited as a songwriter), the album goes from the dizzying and colourful (‘Half-Light’, ‘Never Going to Catch Me’) to the slow and beautiful (‘Hold You’). It’s a little disorientating, and like I said, there’s a lot to unpack. But Rostam’s vision is clearer than ever, and he’s given us a promising start to a likely-illustrious career.

Highlight: ‘Hold You’

Verdict: 8/10


Dedicated to Bobby Jameson – Ariel Pink

It feels like there was a really good EP drowned by album-length filler on Dedicated to Bobby Jameson. Where it succeeds is in the tracks that sound far more like ‘songs’ rather than ‘jams’. Whether Pink is aping Morrissey (‘Feels Like Heaven’) or Ray LaMontagne (‘Another Weekend’), he makes melancholy sound beautiful again. Even on closer, ‘Acting’, the strange kitsch-y 8-bit funk sounds like it could have easily featured on a really great forgotten computer game soundtrack. But on strange offshoots like ‘Santa’s in the Closet’ and ‘Time to Meet Your God’, he sounds like he’s doing a bad impression of King Gizzard.

Highlight: ‘Feels Like Heaven’

Verdict: 6/10


Concrete and Gold – Foo Fighters

I think I must be one of the few music writers who genuinely loved Sonic Highways. What the Foo Fighters did on that record might have been an autopilot job, but it was rarely boring, the production-arrangement marriage was wonderful and the group performed brilliantly. Thus, the problems with Concrete and Gold reveal themselves immediately: they did exactly the opposite of what they did last time.

Well, save for the playing: all of the band members are great musicians, make no mistake. But pop producer Greg Kurstin (why on earth the group gave up Butch Vig, I have no idea) can’t get his production out of the way of the songwriting, which, while not overly interesting in itself, at least could have been elevated by a good sound. Instead the hammy classic-rock references (Led Zeppelin on ‘Sunday Rain’, ‘The Sky is a Neighbourhood’) get mired in a swamp of compression that takes away the dynamics and the boom of records past.

Highlight: ‘Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)’

Verdict: 4/10


The Aviary – Galantis

A confident, bouncy EDM sugar-rush that makes its vaguely familiar structures and patterns seem fresh with really strong production on all sides. What makes Galantis so distinct is that they seem to understand the melodic potential of pitch-shifted vocals like very few others in the business. On ‘Hey Alligator’ and ‘Love on Me’, the rush of a really soaring melody simply wouldn’t work without the elastic vocal stretching. The fact that Galantis know how to play to their biggest strengths (slightly zany, slightly cheesy dance-pop) might make them safe to some, but to others they’re unselfconscious and ebullient fun.

Highlight: ‘Hey Alligator’

Verdict: 7/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage

The musical equivalent of Jill Stein shouting at you for 40 minutes and then graffiti-ing your house.

Highlight: Go away.

Verdict: I should have got a medal for sitting through this entire thing.


Music Review 8/9/17 – The National, Zola Jesus and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.

The National make their return…

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Okovi – Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus’ new album is stunning. For a start, her breathtaking control over her sound, which often sounds like she’s using mere tools of the studio to battle nothing less than the elements themselves, sounds even more assured than Ahnoni’s similarly primordial Hopelessness from last year. Indeed, much of her lyricism seems to be concerned with basal materials: blood, ash, water. Even more interesting is the fundamentally uplifting sentiment of the same lyrics, encouraging self-love, perseverance and optimism, even in dark personal turmoil. ‘Siphon’ acts as a motivational intervention in the thought process of a suicide, whilst ‘Exhumed’ pleads that you ‘don’t let it hold you down’.

But it’s the voice that stands proud above all else. Like an operatic songstress atop Mt. Sinai, Zola Jesus finds magnificence in her beautiful wail, and comes into her own as a true artist. Shaping her voice around the beautiful arrangements, she makes certain that every spectral moment on Okovi cuts deep. Verily, she succeeds.

Highlight: ‘Siphon’

Verdict: 9/10


Antisocalites – Alvvays

It seems to be becoming increasingly difficult in indie rock to write songs that actually jump out at you. Alvvays have proved that a melody still has the power to jump out and violently hug you whilst you playfully scramble to catch your breath. Indeed, breathless is a good way to describe the wistful 33-minute runtime of Antisocialites, which packs a tremendous amount of energy into its tight space, both musically and lyrically: heartbreak and resignation to a burnout have never sounded so excitable.

Highlight: ‘Lollipop (Ode to Jim)’

Verdict: 8/10


Sleep Well Beast – The National

Their twitchiest album yet, and a much grittier affair than their dreamy, liquidated Trouble Will Find MeSleep Well Beast finds The National still doing what they do best. Although it’s arguable that this is the weakest of their albums since the early stretch of their career (largely down to Matt Berninger’s much less complex lyrical fascinations), the group’s penchant for finding new avenues within their songs seemingly mid-performance is undiluted here. Feverish with quiet agitation and anxious production choices, Beast finds the group as uneasy as ever, and the album is a work less of extended dread than immediate unrest. Is it a mental discord or a sociological uneasiness? Possibly more likely is that Berninger is drawing parallels between the two, although this is not made abundantly clear in his opaque lyrics.

Perhaps the largest drawback of the album is the dampening of drummer Bryan Devendorf’s raw talent; the album’s percussion is either far more straightforward (the clattering ‘Turtleneck’) or electronic and chilly, meaning that his breathless, precise stick work is placed on the back burner, leaving the energy at the door in places.

Highlight: ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’

Verdict: 7/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: Mountain Moves – Deerhoof

I have to admit that experimental pop is rarely my thing when it leans heavily towards the experimental side: I think it’s far better to make pop songs that sound weird and unexpected than to simply twist shapes and sounds and see what happens. Precisely the latter seems to have happened here, with Deerhoof’s directionless mess, Mountain Moves.

It should be a bracing exercise, and it sometimes is: the combination of spindly pop and zany noise is intermittently interesting, if not particularly gripping. The album’s best moments, though, are where it truly focusses on one particular songwriting strain and sticks with it, allowing for a more controlled malleability in the sound. Album highlight ‘Ay That’s Me’ is a perfect example, a lithe pop song that sticks and immediately jumps out amongst a muddy tracklist.

Highlight: ‘Ay That’s Me’

Verdict: 5/10


Music Review 25/8/17 – The War on Drugs, Queens of the Stone Age and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.

In what has to be the best week for new releases this entire summer, The War on Drugs and Queens of the Stone Age return and BROCKHAMPTON unleash their hip-hop sequel…

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: A Deeper Understanding – The War on Drugs

How do you follow up the perfect rock record? Moreover, how did anyone expect Adam Granduciel to expand on a sound so meticulously crafted on a record like Lost in the Dream? It seemed as though the touchstones that made that album so wonderful, and the way that Granduciel twisted them into his own dreamlike shapes, could only be done right once. Certainly, the progression from that last album to this one is subtle. Tonally, it’s the same expansive sound that feels like it’s trying desperately to take in the landscape of a ravaged America before it disappears. His songwriting largely takes a similar stance as well; in between longing balladry is tight-fisted driving rock that continues to thrill and inspire three years later.

But his arrangements and production choices are sometimes bombastic. Often the dazzling busyness of the sonic tapestry feels like a million fireflies battling inside your eyes, or like a sunset exploding into a supernova. But, when the bleary-eyed emotional sucker punches clear to let you see properly, the craft is astounding. From the muscular, pounding drums on opener ‘Up All Night’ to the shimmering synths on ‘Holding On’, Granduciel’s studio trickery has advanced tenfold in the past few years and has mutated his sound into a classic rock geek’s wet dream. A Deeper Understanding is, for all intents a purposes, a proper rock record, the kind they don’t make anymore: blockbuster-quality, emotionally gratifying and rewarding to no end.

Highlight: ‘Holding On’

Verdict: 10/10



The best sequels are ones that do something notably different to their predecessor but somehow improve on precisely what the original did in the first place. By that measure, Saturation II succeeds pretty brilliantly. By this point we have a clue as to BROCKHAMPTON’s identity and ethos, as exhibited on their Janus-headed ambivalent debut, Saturation, by turns sounding like Death Grips and Frank Ocean, often only a few tracks apart. It was a blindsiding, if a little messy, piece of work that impressed because of its schizophrenic nuttiness.

Here, the collective has better synthesised their two strands of musical interest, sometimes by rapping with particular precociousness in their flow over a beat that sounds lifted straight from a NAO record. Often the music has a charming, Youtube-mashup quality that works simply because of how zany it is. Yet, it’s controlled; the group never lose their grasp on this tight balancing act, even though they are clearly aiming for a more radio-friendly sound. Indeed, on highlight ‘SUNNY’, the group liberally (and, somehow, unironically) sample the delicious guitar line from Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ and make it sound refreshing again, all whilst throwing out explicit lines like ‘It ain’t my birthday yet and I’m acting like a bitch’. That sums up their ethos: a wonderful, unhinged and unholy marriage of the smooth and the gritty.

Highlight: ‘SUNNY’ 

Verdict: 9/10


Beast Epic – Iron and Wine

Right at the heart of this record is Samuel Beam’s voice and his guitar. No matter what bouts of wistful headphone trickery, delicious drums or stylistic shifts he can gently weave into this record, he is centre-stage the entire time. It’s refreshing in a way: it’s rare for folk artists now to rely so heavily on their primary weapon of great songwriting. But Beam’s is so warm and inviting, whilst still occasionally diverting itself down paths that might cause a listener to really sit up and listen, that none of the listenability is depleted. Cheap sentimentality isn’t his game; Beam melts your heart with a very simple skill of writing great songs, a quality rare for someone so exposed by their music’s stark style.

Highlight: ‘Bitter Truth’

Verdict: 9/10


Villains – Queens of the Stone Age

Mark Ronson should have been death for Queens. Don’t get me wrong; I think Ronson is extremely talented, but it was clear before that his skill was suited to a very specific type of music. What this seemed to signal was a move into AM territory, where style is heaped on top of the substance to an almost suffocating degree. Instead, once the opening salvo ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ properly kicks in, the fear dissipates; the groove overtakes any anxieties about something with no soul.

Largely playing like an expansion of Like Clockwork‘s ‘Smooth Sailing’, Villains has such an unmistakeable strut and plays with such force that it actually feels tighter than much of the band’s back catalogue. Indeed, my largest complaint about their weakest album, Lullabies to Paralyse was that there was no focus on the meandering, wishy-washy psychedelic songs that took the ‘stoner’ part of stoner rock a little too literally. By comparison, Villains is as watertight as Ronson’s many pop records, and just as enjoyable too.

Highlight: ‘The Evil Has Landed’

Verdict: 8/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: Orc – Oh Sees

It says something about the quality of the releases this week that Orc was very nearly an 8/10. Indeed, for the first half of the album it seemed that way. Pulsating garage rock that pushed the outer limits of the sound managed to achieve what King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have been trying to do properly for years. Yet, the second half is ever-so-slightly underwhelming; it’s unfocussed, and much slower than the opening stretch, and Oh Sees are another artist where the the quality of their music correlates (most of the time, I must stress) to the speed at which the music is performed. I say ‘most of the time’ because it’s on album highlight ‘Keys to the Castle’, a psych-rocker that turns into Porcupine Tree-esque eeriness, that they really stretch their legs. Even despite the flaws of the second half, they even do the courtesy of leaving the album on a high note: across an album of absolutely stellar drumming from Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon, closer ‘Raw Optics’ is the place where that drumming becomes truly interstellar stuff.

To call it a dud almost feels unfair; it is the weakest release of the week, but by a hair. It’s confident, expertly played and features some quality songwriting. Don’t be fooled by the format of this review; Orc is just as worth checking out as this week’s other releases.

Highlight: ‘Keys to the Castle’

Verdict: 7/10

Music Review 18/8/17 – Grizzly Bear, Everything Everything and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.

British indie artists Ghostpoet and Everything Everything both follow up their 2015 records, and symphonic rock contemporaries Grizzly Bear stage a comeback…

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Dark Days and Canapés – Ghostpoet

Ghostpoet’s vision of a post-punk hip-hop was a welcome surprise on Shedding Skin, but Dark Days and Canapés is a far tighter, far more focussed record. Often, the arrangements, though sometimes bursting with noise, are actually quite skeletal: sharp guitars coil themselves around startlingly imaginative drum performances without ever being claustrophobic(mix-wise, anyway). Ghostpoet’s ruminations on society feel pinched, though, viewing both himself and the outside world through the prism of a rainy window. ‘Immigrant Boogie’s deadpan dissection of sinking ships and dying refugees is humour black as night (‘It’s just the boat’s going down and I don’t think we wanna stay’), and ‘Freakshow’ seems to lay the blame on a corporate wasteland (‘I guess Westfield knows what I want’).

Of course, Ghostpoet’s more cryptic lyricism here is all in favour of the more matured, complex instrumentals, all joyous to see unfold. Richer instruments are sparingly used (pianos rarely appear in the foreground here), and the melodic structure that defined much of Shedding Skin is much less predictable. Chord progressions take on totally different shapes in Ghostpoet’s hands, and all the better for it: he’s one of the best people working in British music today.

Highlight: ‘Freakshow’

Verdict: 8/10


Across the Multiverse – Dent May

With a squidgy voice that would make Panda Bear swoon, a bubbly 80s sheen that would make Dan Bejar blush and songwriting that sounds like Paul McCartney and Randy Newman just threw something together, Dent May might wear his influences on his sleeve too readily. Certainly, in comparison to contemporary heartbreak crooner Tobias Jesso Jr, he’s a lot more obvious about the Californian cartoonish kitsch. But it’s sometimes irresistibly sweet, and doesn’t throw the self-loathing melodrama in your face nearly as much as fans of this kind of music might like, which is refreshing.

Highlight: ‘Face Down in the Gutter of Your Love’

Verdict: 7/10


A Fever Dream – Everything Everything

Everything Everything’s lyrical explorations have always been societal (exploring how relationships on small and large scales fit together), but more importantly, Jonathan Higgs has been fascinated by how his own vocals can shape the way language sounds. It can be smooth and velvet-y or it can be sharp, angular, crisp. The spikiness of lines such as ‘The concrete burns at the back of your skull’, on opener ‘Night of the Long Knives’, accentuates each velar (‘k’, ‘c’) consonant with the ferocity of an animal.

In fact, the marriage of animalism and sophistication has meant just as much to their music as their lyrics, here pushed to further extremes wherever possible: the heavy moments are harsher and more blunt, but the pop moments glow beautifully. Getting that balance, particularly for a band who have such freneticism in their arrangements, is difficult, but, for the most part, they pull it off. A short lull mid-album (‘Big Game’ follows three heart-pounding tracks) does nothing to detract from the overall effect of a fantastic pop album.

Highlight: ‘Night of the Long Knives’

Verdict: 8/10


Painted Ruins – Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear still haven’t managed to get themselves out of a very specific rut: they make music that is, by design, architecturally impressive, labyrinthine in structure and elasticated in its arrangements. The way they bend their own songs over the course of what is usually still a four-minute pop track is part-and-parcel of their work. Yet, it feels cold and mechanical because of this precise style. Up-close and invasive in its own psychedelic wonder, with a beautiful sound to back it up, but distant from any emotive connection created by the music.

Such as it is, Painted Ruins ultimately becomes too meandering and tedious to keep up with. That’s not to say I don’t admire the thought: ‘Mourning Sound’ still manages to put together a pretty nifty pop track despite its placement of puzzle-box craft over emotive thrust. But thought is all this album has to offer, and although it offers said quality in droves, I couldn’t help but feel shortchanged by it.

Highlight: ‘Mourning Sound’

Verdict: 7/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: To the Bone – Steven Wilson

From prog-rock trailblazer Steven Wilson, off the back of his transcendental work with Porcupine Tree and several successful solo albums, comes the pop event of the year: the number one album, To the Bone! Do you want an album that’s basically loads of stuff that sounds like other stuff? Would you rather that your prog-rock heroes ditched the wishy-washy Pink Floyd continuations (who needs jazz guitar anyway?!?!?) and just made a proper rock record, thank you very much? Do you fucking love Tears for Fears (‘Nowhere Now’), Genesis (‘To the Bone’) and Kate Bush (‘Pariah’)? Then To the Bone is the album for you! And, as a bonus for buying the album and making it number one in the UK, we’ll throw in a brand-new Electric Light Orchestra track, ‘Permanating’! So what are you waiting for? Buy the biggest identity crisis in rock music now with Steven Wilson’s To the Bone!

Highlight: ‘To the Bone’

Verdict: 6/10

Music Review 11/8/17 – Kesha, The Districts and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.

Kesha’s new LP and the Downtown Boys’ first major-label album arrive this week…


I’m cheating with this; I’ll admit that. You is most decidedly an EP, and barely cracks a quarter of an hour, despite spanning six tracks (for comparison, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here has five). But, frankly, I needed this EP after a two-week long dry spell. Last week brought no exciting releases, and the week previous proved a colossal disappointment, for the most part. This week was no different, and so it’s with joy that I welcome Dodie’s second EP, an understated collection bursting with potential.

I don’t like to use the word ‘aesthetic’ very much. The appropriation of the term by YouTube personalities and young hipsters has rendered it cloying to even read. But Dodie Clark’s control, and more importantly, her definition, of her particular ‘aesthetic’ is admirable, especially considering how young her music is (and, indeed, feels). She slips comfortably into her sound, whether she’s cheekily aping the indie-folk sound (‘In the Middle’, ‘You’) or swimming in more atmospheric waters (‘Secret for the Mad’, ‘6/10’).

‘Comfort’ might just as readily be used in criticism levelled at the EP: Clark barely steps out of her comfort zone into more tantalising areas (which, as a testament to her skill as a songwriter, she seems perfectly capable of doing). Indeed, the most exciting prospect of the EP is that Clark made the effort to include the stunning ‘Instrumental’, a beautiful, Newsom-esque composition that sits comfortably, almost secretively, in the middle of the EP. But the winding, but nevertheless focussed, melody of ‘Secret for the Mad’ would suggest that her ear for more expansive songwriting is starting to develop. Combined with her absolute control over style, Clark’s potential is just waiting to get out. For now, You is a joyous, tight collection, subdued but ultimately rewarding.

Highlight: ‘Would You Be So Kind’

Verdict: 8/10


Cost of Living – Downtown Boys

Even at a seemingly economical 34 minutes, Downtown Boys’ major-label debut still feels too long for a punk album. Ideas that work across a minute’s worth of time are instead stretched to fit three, with varying results. Indeed, the most exciting moments on the album are ones where the sheer bombast of some element of the song wakes the listener up again, a quality that becomes less and less apparent as the album wears on. By the tail-end, it’s understandable if many feel numb to their familiar flavour of political punk. Ultimately, the dourness and cacophony of most of the album misses what makes opening highlight ‘A Wall’ so great, and its success has one extremely simple reason: it’s in a major key.

Highlight: ‘A Wall’

Verdict: 6/10


Cage Tropical – Frankie Rose

Dream-pop will forever be a pet hate of mine, given how often artists lose themselves in mopey instrumentals. It’s hard for an artist to keep the focus on their voices, and everything folds in on itself in a sea of reverb-soaked instrumentals. For the first half of Cage Tropical, this much is true, with the exception of uptempo ‘Trouble’. On the second half, Frankie Rose at least finds some fizz and cuts through her instrumentals with faster tempos (always a winner with this kind of sound) and some harsher vocal performances.

Highlight: ‘Game to Play’

Verdict: 7/10


Rainbow – Kesha

Kesha’s comeback album receives the ‘comeback’ label not because of a particularly long hiatus, but because of what has surrounded her since her previous effort. Embroiled in a lawsuit against her former producer Dr Luke, wherein she alleged assault on his part, returning with anything resembling her pedestrian electro-pop sound might well have been a futile effort on her part. What we do get, however, is a competent, ballsy album that casually genre-hops to an almost infuriating degree. Between sombre numbers (‘Praying’, ‘Bastards’, ‘Finding You’, all of which lie at various points on a spectrum of successful songwriting), she hits country (‘Hunt You Down’) and some crunching rock music (‘Boogie Feet’, ‘Let ‘Em Talk’), but lets the album sag a little in the middle. It feels slightly indulgent at 14 tracks, and is noticeably less interesting the closer to the middle the record is. That, coupled with the suffocating, compressed production, dashes this album’s chances at feeling like a genuine milestone for her, but the lasting feeling is one of genuine delight at Kesha’s spirit, if nothing else.

Highlight: ‘Bastards’

Verdict: 7/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: Popular Manipulations – The Districts

It’s so dispiriting when an exciting, upcoming artist throws away something that really meant a lot within their sound. For The Districts, Rob Grote’s gravelled voice, aged beyond his own years, was part-and-parcel of the group’s sepia-toned garage Americana, thrown away on their new LP to be replaced by a New Romantic, Brandon Flowers-esque croon. Quite simply, it doesn’t work, even when the music (‘Salt’) has a glossy strut to it that seems, on paper, to fit the aesthetics of the frontman.

Elsewhere, the relationship between music and lyrics is just as strained. Aside from the overblown production (again, not staying true to their earlier work), the dynamic song structures, interesting though they may be, become cancelled out when mashed together with the kind of repetitive lyrical structures employed here. Grote favours recurrence in his prose, and the album suffers as a result (how many times can one chorus-verse combination be used again and again?).

Highlight: ‘Violet’

Verdict: 5/10


Music Review 28/7/17 – Arcade Fire, Passion Pit and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published. 

Arcade Fire and Passion Pit, both 00’s indie darlings, make their returns, whilst freshfaced new artist Declan McKenna offers up his debut…



ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Tremendous Sea of Love – Passion Pit

More clearly now than ever before, Passion Pit is the work of a singular mind, harnessed for personal ends here in a way that sometimes feels genuinely overwhelming. On the album’s stunning centrepiece, ‘Somewhere Up There’, Michael Angelakos, attempts to put into song the feeling of a panic attack (in three movements, no less!) and the result is beguiling, and quite beautiful. Yet, knowing the underlying subtext of the composition brings into focus the simmering paranoia beneath the surface, ever-present but only creeping in the distance. Elsewhere, the compositional side to Angelakos is given even more freedom, particularly with the instrumentals in the title track and (most of) ‘For Sondra (It Means the World to Me)’, both of which are fragile, but have a strong, beating heart beneath them.

Perhaps the main criticism of the record is that in the poppier moments, particularly on ‘Hey K’, the mixing sometimes takes away from the impact of the songwriting, simply because a balance is not struck by the mixing engineer that accommodates the busy-ness of the instrumentals. That being said, it’s also quite invigorating sometimes for there to be an unhinged chaos to the fizzing synths and percussion, and one that makes this another extremely enjoyable work from Passion Pit.

Highlight: ‘Somewhere Up There’

Verdict: 7/10


What Do You Think About the Car? – Declan McKenna

It’s pretty impressive how clear-cut McKenna’s identity is as a songwriter already, considering that he’s actually a month younger than I am at 18 years old. But, speaking as a fellow 18-year-old, I can honestly say there’s little about McKenna’s new album that specifically speaks to my experiences. There are some amusing barbs to some entitled adversaries of his, imitating the witty style of early Alex Turner. But, coupled with the ragged indie-pop sound that clicks so well with the current British zeitgeist that it sounds like anyone could have made it, What Do You Think is less memorable, though perhaps more fun, than it ought to be.

Highlight: ‘Brazil’

Verdict: 6/10


A Black Mile to the Surface – Manchester Orchestra

The lyrics on Black Mile sure do mean… something. It’s hard to tell precisely how the disparate threads of grandiose poetry actually fit together, but I’m sure there is a rational explanation. Between talking about fatherhood, suicide, love and domestic horror, Andy Hull seems to be making reference to something big; it’s just not clear what. That image isn’t exactly helped by the music, enjoyable though it is: its grandeur and operatic sense of scale carries a lot of weight, but becomes laborious over 50 minutes, particularly with such poor production that makes everything murky and grotesque.

Highlight: ‘The Gold’

Verdict: 6/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: Everything Now – Arcade Fire

One reviewer recently commented on Everything Now by saying it was the first Arcade Fire album not to feel like a grand statement. In fact, the entire problem with the group’s fifth LP is that a grand statement is exactly what it feels like, and Arcade Fire have simply failed to deliver on it. It should be blatantly obvious from Win Butler’s heavy-handed, transparent lyricism that Everything Now deals with excess and overload (‘You want everything now’). But the complexities of their earlier work have dwindled and all-but-disappeared here: there are no anxieties or dualities in the expression of these ideas, only familiar criticisms of constantly wanting more, interspersed with some sappy and unimportant love songs that contribute nothing to the album.

All of my reservations about the musical side of Reflektor are here too, but are more consistently underwhelming and clumsy with most of the songs playing like bad Bee Gees knock-offs as covered by bad Arcade Fire knock-offs. Odd moments of inspiration then give way to repetitive, unimaginative chord structures that wouldn’t be half-bad if the melodies weren’t tailor-made to fit such awful lyrics. Arcade Fire’s fall from grace has been swift, but painful nonetheless, and this is now strike two. Strike three and… well you know the rest.

Highlight: ‘Infinite Content’ (both parts)

Verdict: 3/10

Music Review 21/7/17 – Lana Del Rey, Tyler the Creator and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published. 

British indie artists have a big week, whilst hip-hop trailblazer Tyler, The Creator returns…

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Scum Fuck Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator

Although Tyler, The Creator’s record company has cautiously reminded listeners that the album’s name is actually Flower Boy, without the harsh juxtaposition of Scum Fuck attached to the front, it feels almost a betrayal of the album’s core thesis to call it by any other name. Like Beyoncé last year and Jay-Z just recently, Tyler has offered up an album crafted to reflect himself, capturing the complexities of his character and refracting them through the prism of his music. His abrasive, audacious approach regarding wider themes is here, and he gives way to some of the horror-rap aspects of his earlier work on ‘Who Dat Boy’ (‘That cherry be the bomb like he ran in Boston’) and ‘I Ain’t Got Time’.

Of course, it would be foolish to talk about Flower Boy without mentioning Tyler’s sexuality, confirmed with grace and unexpected poignance on ‘Pothole’ and ‘Garden Shed’ (‘Thought it was a phase/thought it’d be like the phrase, ‘poof’ it’s gone’); but there are deeper thematic avenues being travelled, ones of damaged masculinity, loneliness and how the two intertwine. Tyler’s coy admissions of deep desire and emotional melancholy are marked by a clear, and very male, reticence (‘They say the loudest one in the room is weak/that’s what they assume but I disagree’), and confirm that juxtaposition of harshness and beauty that runt throughout.

Yet, in some ways, the musicality of the record pushes it ever closer to being called Tyler’s Blonde. Yes, it sometimes rumbles with angular percussion, as much of Tyler’s music has in the past; but it also takes a huge amount of influences from soul’s lithe sunniness and jazz’ supple chord structures, so as to reflect the fragility brought to the table across the record. It’s a deft balancing act, made more impressive by how light the whole thing feels. ‘Midsummer night’s dream’ might be an apt description for such a featherweight atmosphere, particularly on an album that deals so intensively with such downbeat themes. Such as it is, with Scum Fuck Flower Boy, Tyler has given us his personal masterpiece, a bear-all, complex record that will likely define him and his vision when all is said and done.

Highlight: ‘November’

Verdict: 9/10


Universal High – Childhood

On Universal High, we see Childhood taking a huge step backwards. There was at least an enthralling currency to their debut, Lacuna, as there might have been here had they pushed their funk-influenced new sound into the moment. Instead, they woefully attempt to repeat the smooth ethereality of their debut by simplifying much of the structure in the songs to a two-chord motif, albeit switching keys from track to track so as to make it less obvious. It’s lazy, but noticeable from the beginning, and they lose their control on the influence of the 70s’ headiness by letting it define the songwriting as much as it does the atmosphere.

Highlight: ‘A.M.D.’

Verdict: 4/10


Emerging Adulthood – Dan Croll

Dan Croll’s sound is always surprising, blending some elements of the snotty suburban cynicism of Ben Folds with instrumentation lifted straight from Vampire Weekend. Emerging Adulthood finds him once again asking us to simply give into the cinematic sugar-rush of his music, which is sometimes easy, but is a big ask once the lyrical ideas become more obviously plain. The title Emerging Adulthood suggests a tantalising identity crisis, or a struggle to understand age, but often the lyrics are hopelessly bland, made up for by the dizzying (if occasionally overstuffed) arrangements.

Highlight: ‘Bad Boy’

Verdict: 6/10


Sacred Hearts Club – Foster the People

Foster the People’s newest album is a complete tonal mess. Amidst Mark Foster’s strange use of hip-hop meter in his lyricism and the overblown production that teeters between arena-indie rock and deep R&B, their indie credentials wane as each track passes. And yet, there is a sort of strange, awkward entertainment value in their garishly self-indulgent genre burst, like when ‘Loyal Like Sid and Nancy’ suddenly takes a complete left-turn in its final act towards a lush string arrangement and a mournful piano solo. Perhaps it’s lurid fascination with the laughable, Kanye-esque use of samples to structure some of the instrumentals that stops me from genuinely hating this album, but at least Foster the People sound like they had fun making it.

Highlight: ‘Loyal Like Sid and Nancy’

Verdict: 5/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: Lust for Life – Lana Del Rey

What’s probably more depressing about ‘The American Morrissey’s latest album than her melancholic prose is the fact that there is a better album lurking in the back end of this record than the completed whole. A ghastly first half, awkwardly sloshing together two quite different, but just as boring, strains of music (Del Rey’s sinewy dream-pop and laboured trap music), is made worse by some equally ghastly features from A$AP Rocky and The Weeknd. However, despite also managing a pretty unaffecting performance from Stevie Nicks in the second half, Del Rey does at least claim back some modicum of the gloomy devastation in her other work for some rather pretty ballads, including an enjoyable feature from Sean Ono Lennon on the ‘Across the Universe’ lookalike ‘Tomorrow Never Came’. But, at an hour long, the album’s almost record-breakingly sluggish pace makes it mostly a chore to endure.

Highlight: ‘Heroin’

Verdict: 4/10




Music Review 14/7/17 – Mura Masa, Waxahatchee and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published. 

Hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces and indie artist Waxahatchee make their return, whilst upcoming British producer Mura Masa stakes a full-length claim…

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Out in the Storm – Waxahatchee

It’s massively uplifting to hear the progression Waxahatchee has gone through since the last album. Whereas Ivy Tripp lacked energy and grit, Katie Crutchfield’s songwriting here has both in spades, and, indeed more. For her, Out in the Storm is an emotional detox, a cleansing of a confining relationship.

She uses directness as an essential tool in her lyricism; she is fuelled by anger, but it seems to be rightly so. The subject of these songs has kept her restricted, probably without even knowing it, and as she elegantly condemns his faults, she also finds herself eventually breaking out of it. Whether or not this is a happy ending depends on ones reading of the album. Indeed, its title would suggest her being forced into the great unknown as a result of this breakup but, given the pain her other half caused her (illustrated with heartbreaking apathy), this might seem like the ultimate act of self-reconciliation.

All this sounds pretty heavy on paper, but thankfully Crutchfield embraces wistfulness. Her music is instantly more appealing with rugged indie rhythms, and she crucially doesn’t miss out on some beautiful balladry either (‘Recite Remorse’, ‘A Little More’).

Not only that, but she manages to imbue prosaic lyrical complexities with a pop joie-de-vivre (‘I got lost in your rendition of reality/All my offering/Rendered boring hyperbole’) and a vigourous desire to not be defined by the man’s actions anymore. Simple turns of phrase can break hearts (‘And I die a little more’) or reignite them (‘Does it make you feel good/To blend in with the wall?’) It’s liberating, and as a self-portrait of a woman breaking free of second-hand inhibitions, Out in the Storm cements her place as an indie rock poet of the finest calibre.

Highlight: ‘Recite Remorse’

Verdict: 9/10


Mura Masa – Mura Masa

As enticing as Mura Masa’s guestlist may sound, it is clear who he wants to be the star of the show. At 13 tracks long, his debut, self-titled LP is hugely suggestive of a state of self-indulgence that many modern producers find themselves in. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing: his production style is always admirable, even when the songwriting is not. The guest-less tracks feature him giving some competent vocal performances, and when the guests do seem to have a considerable influence on the songwriting (NAO’s fizzing melodic bounce on ‘Firefly’ or Desiigner’s fiendish ear for a hook on ‘All Around the World’) the tracks elevate themselves. But sometimes it can feel constricted, a rush to get to be the ‘next big thing’, with Alex Crossan lumping on pretty gross basslines and overstuffed rhythm sections.showbox apk download

Highlight: ‘Firefly’

Verdict: 6/10


Quazarz – Shabazz Palaces

DUD OF THE WEEK: Quazarz vs The Jealous Machines – On the first part of the duo’s dual release this week, there is some attempt at creating a narrative within the album, although this proves difficult when rapper Ishmael Butler applies his fundamental ideal of pure impulse to the lyricism. Certainly, there is something admirable and aesthetically interesting about his flow, brisk and twisty as it is. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually enjoy this album, since the production’s monotonous drone takes away the chance for an engaging hook or any memorable moments, save for a precious few moments on the tail-end of the album.

Verdict: 5/10

Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star – This is more like it; on the second part, Shabazz Palaces find a bit more life in their sound (although not so much as to take away from the smoky atmosphere on the first piece) by embracing more obvious rhythms and bringing some melodic tones to their hooks and instrumentation. Indeed, the best parts of the first half are expanded upon here, with the space-age sounds and soul/funk-influenced production serving Butler’s vocals better.

Verdict: 8/10

Overall – As a project, there’s a lot to be desired with the first half, and it remains depressing that the second album would have worked just as nicely on its own (originally, Born on a Gangster Star was to be the sole release). Even worse, the albums do not necessarily compliment each other. Instead Gangster Star is left to salvage the project from the arcane Jealous Machines.

Highlight: ‘Late Night Phone Calls’

Verdict: 6/10


Need to Feel Your Love – Sheer Mag

It’s surprising, given the ethos of Sheer Mag’s debut, that they show so much restraint. Given that we have never been offered such respite from many other 70s revival bands currently operating, Sheer Mag’s approach to songwriting, one that puts dynamic and cohesiveness above blind crash-bang-wallop rock’n’roll. But, and this is where they share a quality with their other 70s revivalists, they wear their influences on their sleeve so readily that they begin to fade into the background when real attention isn’t paid. It’s a shame, since lead singer Tina Halliday’s performances are such genuine powerhouses of vocalising.

Highlight: ‘Rank and File’

Verdict: 6/10

Music Review 7/7/17 – HAIM, Jay-Z and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published. 

Broken Social Scene and Jay-Z make their comebacks, and young, fresh bands HAIM and Telescopes return…



A look in the rear-view mirror. A heartfelt apology after a seismic cultural event. A total change of character in just 36 minutes.

4:44 is Jay-Z’s first album in four years, and his first since the cultural world basically ripped his chest open and tore his heart out after Lemonade. Indeed, the two records sound like two sides of a discussion, with both even acknowledging their existence on different sides of the same coin. But whereas Lemonade was sprawling in its emotional kaleidoscope, 4:44 is focussed on one, apologetic tone, albeit with the same scope for reflection as the former album.

Jay’s real skill here is to acknowledge the primary conflict of the album (in this case, with himself) and then holistically explore all the things that make him act this way: the street, his mother, his family, and, indeed, the hubris that hurt his wife in the first place. It’s deft (like I said, it’s only 36 minutes long) but also packed with dense observations and sharp criticism. Yet, he never loses the humility that makes 4:44 feel like such a profound sea change; confessionals are common, sprawling, verseless prose even more so. But it avoids feeling specifically banal because of its honesty, and never loses focus on the personal purpose for the album’s creation.

Jay apparently described the title track as one of the best songs he’s ever written; producer No I.D. (who does a sterling job here) calls it the best. But neither smack of conceit. Instead, it feels like an acknowledgement of the rawness and humanity that Jay himself even believes has been eroded by his millionaire lifestyle. Not only that, but both of them would be right.

Highlight: ‘4:44’

Verdict: 10/10


Hug of Thunder – Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene’s comeback is better than it had any right to be. Largely relegated to the early 00s post-punk revival, the band’s resurgence is nothing short of a miracle, even more so now that the album that came with it is pretty fantastic. On the group’s instrumentals, there’s a clear desire to emphasise the atmosphere created by their sound. Influenced by post-punk timbres and ambient production methods, it feels fresh and up-to-date in the increasingly introspective pop world. Even on its louder moments (‘Gonna Get Better’, ‘Vanity Pail Kids’), the space created by the album is vast and shrinks the listener down to an almost microscopic size.

Similarly, the grandiosity of its lyrical references to the stars, thunder, mountains and the monstrosity of nature always gets pared back to the personal level, often with the vocalist speaking directly to someone. It’s startling, but the directness works and drives home the inward-looking smallness of the band’s perspective.

Highlight: ‘Protest Song’

Verdict: 8/10


Something’s Changing – Lucy Rose

Trying to work out one’s place in the world is a thematic staple of a lot of folk music (certainly the better kind). But it’s difficult to do that whilst bringing something fresh to the table. Lucy Rose manages to do just that, imbuing her latest album with a push-pull conflict in self-love and self-loathing. She flits from recognition of her own imperfections (‘I’m nothing like the vision you once formed’) to defiant, but nevertheless vulnerable, strength (‘I don’t want your diamond necklace/your disapproval cuts through’). It’s captivating, and though the musicality of the record can cause the songs to occasionally blur into one another, it’s possible to ignore that and just be taken by the music.

Highlight: ‘Floral Dresses’

Verdict: 8/10


Every Valley – Public Service Broadcasting

Public Service Broadcasting’s strange sound was originally born out of a love and passion for making education accessible. Placing historical samples over fantastic (albeit repetitive) music, the group’s passion has slowly moved closer and closer to the music, which here is an inventive, indefinable strain of alternative rock. Sometimes taking influence from more prog-rock sources, sometimes moving more into post-punk territory, but somehow always keeping that historical perspective pertinent throughout, they sound as though they are evolving hugely. Yes, the coal-mining plot of the album is crystal-clear, but never distracting from the simpler pleasures of the music itself.

Highlight: ‘Progress’

Verdict: 8/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: Something to Tell You – HAIM

The sister-act would hate the comparison, but the group’s lyrical lamentations couldn’t be more Nicks-McVie here. On some of Something To Tell You‘s best moments, as was the case with much of Fleetwood Mac’s, it’s the blend of shimmering pop with that maudlin lyricism that hits home. Even when the words become more upbeat, the LA comparisons do, indeed, continue: beach-ready jangle-pop (‘Little of Your Love’) and bright synth-pop (‘Want You Back’) can only bring positive memories of The Beach Boys’ orchestral roller-disco weirdness.

But the group falls into the same trap as Days Are Gone, and this time it kills the album dead: as the second half begins, the writing becomes more introspective and the instrumentals quieted, more angular. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with that if they could pull it off, but even casual fans of the band will much prefer them in strutting hit-maker mode than as experimental studio gurus. Everything begins to drag in that second half, and it ends not only on a complete downer, but one that also sounds saggy and half-finished, calling time on the most disappointing album of the year so far.

Highlight: ‘Want You Back’

Verdict: 5/10

Music Review 30/6/17 – Calvin Harris, LANY and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published. 

Calvin Harris mines dance history for gold dust whilst Floating Points debut the soundtrack from their experimental film…


ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Reflections – Mojave Desert – Floating Points

At first the idea of an album like this can seem insufferable, and given that only one of its centrepieces (‘Kelso Dunes’) really opens itself up over its relaxed, lengthy runtime, one would be forgiven for switching off halfway through. But as the aesthetic comes into sharper focus, and the imagery of stillness in a desert landscape begins to become clearer, everything begins to fold outwards and reveal itself. Of course, there’s the suspicion that the music works better with the visuals to accompany it, but the idea of using a natural space for a recording environment does give weight to the music by itself, and conjures those visuals easily without literally attaching them to the record.

Once that becomes clear, the tracks do begin to elevate each other. The repetitiveness of ‘Silurian Blue’ becomes less a lazy songwriting choice and more a conjuring of atmosphere; the structure seems designed to give breathing space between the larger compositions (despite some of the most interesting sonic experiments of the record happening in those interludes).

Highlight: ‘Kelso Dunes’

Verdict: 7/10


Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 – Calvin Harris

It’s an honourable decision to break from tradition as Harris does here, leaving behind his decade-defining EDM work in favour of more soulful, ‘human’ music, inspired by the likes of Chic, Sly and the 70s. But it’s only really on ‘Slide’ that he is able to fulfill his grand vision of combining those more hip influences with vocal performances lifted straight from the chart-toppers. Frank Ocean’s presence on the track lifts it, as do the members of Migos; but, unlike the other tracks, some of which feature formidable talent, others of which do not (Future’s really doing the rounds this year), ‘Slide’ has an enjoyable instrumental in the first place. Elsewhere, this hybrid of decadent club music and groovy 70s knockoffs feels manufactured, the two strands of its being too disparate to feel cohesive.

Highlight: ‘Slide’

Verdict: 5/10


GN – Ratboys

On an incredibly mature record, produced to allow breathing space for these baggy compositions, Ratboys come through with energy and confidence. Yet, their breeziness is loose and laid-back, infectious with their crisp drums and chiming guitars. Moreover, as the album moves into its quieter moments, particularly the beautiful closer ‘Peter the Wild Boy’, there’s a suggestion of a sepia-toned Americana creeping through the youthful, timely indie rock.

Highlight: ‘Peter the Wild Boy’

Verdict: 7/10


Mister Mellow – Washed Out

On a strange trip through the basements of acid houses and around The Stone Roses, Avalanches and Air, Washed Out throws as much as he can at this chillout record without cluttering it (the record spans just under half an hour). There’s fluffy chillwave (‘Burn Out Blues’) and some funkier moments (‘Hard to Say Goodbye’), but crucially, Washed Out’s man-behind-the-mask Ernest Greene doesn’t set out to make an album of ‘tunes’: the interludes and mini-tracks melt together into one languid comedown that just happens to sample ruminations on American stress-related health and stoner ramblings. Passing with the same pleasurable listlessness of a cooling summer breeze, Mister Mellow makes for a passable spiritual companion to The Avalanches’ discography.lucky patcher for ios

Highlight: ‘Zonked’

Verdict: 7/10



The words ‘dreampop trio’ were enough to tip me off as to the low enjoyment level this album would bring, but I was surprised to dislike it even more than I thought I would. LANY’s problems on their debut are twofold: first, they take the quieter moments of The 1975’s I like it when you sleep, make it completely pallid, and stretch it out for an hour. But even more begrudgingly, the group’s Tumblr poetry odes to love (‘Let’s drive around town holding hands’, ‘California, it’s different out here/no hericane’), complete with the sinister implication of coolness being derived from depression and emotional pain, suck the rest of the fun out of the equation, making LANY pretty much an empty shell.

Highlight: ‘It Was Love’

Verdict: 3/10


Music Review 23/6/17 – Vince Staples, Imagine Dragons and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published. 

Rising hip-hop stars Vince Staples and DJ Khaled return and Imagine Dragons attempt redemption from their hilariously bad Smoke+Mirrors.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

There’s a moment in ‘Alyssa Interlude’ on Vince Staples’ sophomore LP where Amy Winehouse speaks from the grave about her struggles with relationships, and how those impacted on her health and wellbeing. In an almost shrugging way, with the same nonchalant tone one might use with an interviewer when they say they like the colour red, she says, ‘I’m quite a self-destructive person’. It perfectly sums up the album’s vibe: too dry to be self-depreciating, but darkly funny and quietly depressing in how it portrays the personal effects of addiction.

Indeed, the darkness abounds on Big Fish Theory. Even though Summertime ’06 was crude and gritty (qualities I derided at the time but have come to appreciate as part of the aesthetic since), it at least felt imbued with a street-level boombox vibe. But here, when faced with the harsh realities of fame, Staples takes the claustrophobia of club rap and amplifies it to reflect the decadence of the high life. Whether on the eerie instrumental of opener ‘Crabs in a Bucket’ (which sounds remarkably like parts of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II), the arch hostility of album highlight ‘Yeah Right’ (featuring the hardest Kendrick verse for a long time), or the dry, despairing references to suicide that lace the album like cyanide on a cake, Staples casts his burrowing pain with a pitch-black comic streak.

Highlight: ‘Yeah Right’

Verdict: 9/10


Underside of Power – Algiers

‘The big and majestic’ is what defines Underside of Power. Clearly, it concerns itself with some pretty grand themes of power, liberation and revolution, and Franklin James Fisher’s electrifying vocal performances more than earn the heft those themes bring. But more than that, the hands-raised gospel intensity of his performances is offset against an avant-garde post-punk sound: raging guitars, racing drums and a wide-open atmosphere. Getting that combination right is key to conveying the key message of a light in the darkness during these troubled times, and even though the murkiness of the sound isn’t helped by a rather flat production, I would hope that as a protest record, this doesn’t just fade into obscurity with all the rest of the anti-Trump art.

Highlight: ‘The Underside of Power’

Verdict: 8/10


Evolve – Imagine Dragons

A reliably empty band with the subtlety of a fist to the balls, Imagine Dragons surely hold the record for the amount of times someone can groan in one of their albums. However, fans of theirs will be pleased to know that Evolve actually has a much lower groan-to-song ratio to their previous album. Whereas there, one could get through as many as three or four groans per track, here it only comes about once for each track, meaning that the grand total is eleven groans for the album. Not bad, Imagine Dragons, not bad!

Highlight: ‘I’ll Make It Up To You’

Verdict: 3/10


Dust – Laurel Halo

Laurel Halo sounds pretty unfocussed here: her particular brand of avant-garde electronic pop does have some interesting things to say about rhythm but they get lost in the fold when the compositions meander through the movements, either repeating too often or too little. Some tracks have one idea over and over again, others have too many, making the whole thing disjointed. Even worse, there isn’t a sense of melody, or, at least, melodic method. I’ll probably end up referencing Visible Cloaks’ 2017 record Reassemblage too much in reviews of electronic music, but that album was able to make compositions that moved without an obvious structure, but still conveyed a sense of melody throughout, even if there was no actual tune. Halo unfortunately falls down for doing the opposite.

Highlight: ‘Jelly’

Verdict: 5/10


Murder of the Universe – King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Whether or not you get on board with King Gizzard’s sprawling new album depends on how much you’re willing to engage with their ethos. Murder is three mini-albums collected together, each one telling a weird fairy tale about, respectively, a DNA-altering beast, a battle between a wizard and a Balrog, and a cyborg that gains sentience with the sole desire to experience dying and vomiting.


If you find the last one funny, then you’re likely to fall in love with this one instantly. Certainly sonically, it represents a lot of King Gizzard’s sound, if a little repetitively. But the narrative is clearly key to the album because of that sonic repetition, so it’s a shame that the stories, whilst entertaining, are either largely uninteresting or simply too weird to appreciate. That being said, it can be quite exhilarating to give yourself over to the idea of the album, even if the album itself isn’t as tight or freight-train-esque as Nonagon Infinity was last year.

Highlight: ‘The Balrog’

Verdict: 6/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: Grateful – DJ Khaled

There are very few instances when it should be legally allowed for an album to exceed an hour. DJ Khaled’s 90 minute Herculean slog is absolutely not one of those albums. The length reads on paper like a sprawling outburst of love for his newborn son (on the album cover), as if Khaled is so enamoured with his child that he can’t contain his feelings and lets them all out. But the album changes course so often that, in practice, it’s hard to know what it’s about. Where it begs comparison to featured artist Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book (largely concerned with similar subject matter), it feels completely hollow and unfocussed. Where it simply sounds like another pop-rap euthanasia shot, I could almost fall asleep. Abundance of already uninteresting guests such as Future and Travis Scott make it a complete bore, and Khaled’s production has all the wholesomeness of a headache.

Highlight: ‘Billy Ocean’

Verdict: 3/10

Music Review 16/6/17 – Lorde, Fleet Foxes and more…

The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published. 

It’s a big week for new releases, with the comebacks of Lorde and Fleet Foxes, Kevin Morby following up his fantastic record from last year, and Royal Blood crashing back from 2014.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Melodrama – Lorde

When listening to Melodrama, the sophomore LP from the depressingly young Lorde, I hear Kate Bush; Billie Holiday; Beyoncé; the architects of female heartbreak. But, unlike them, her maturity and reflectiveness feel earth-shattering here because of how young she is. Few young adults are able to breathe this much experience into a record like this – a pop record, and unashamedly so, but one where even its most obvious moments of FM radio sweetness are imbued with either a heartbreaking stanza or a brave sonic magic trick. Even in the moments that, by rights, should come off as pretentious teenage ramblings (‘Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark’, ‘Our days and nights are perfumed with obsession’), she sells it because you truly believe that this is less a thoughtful rumination on love and more the gushing of previously unspoken feelings. Not only that, but as a long-player it unexpectedly demands a full listen to appreciate the build from its more subdued first side (with the exception of full-blooded opener ‘Green Light’) to the more explosive second half, which is were that pent-up anger really bears the thorniest fruits of the album. Hindsight, and patience, are key to the album’s success.

I don’t throw the word ‘classic’ around, particularly about new albums, and I’m hesitant still to attach it to Melodrama. But it feels as though, in a decade’s time, the album will stand alongside the great break-up albums. Its, and, indeed, Lorde’s, unique personality could be mentioned in the same breath as For Emma Forever AgoSea ChangeJagged Little Pill, maybe even Blood on the Tracks. As a statement of a person in a singular place and time, both shaping and shaped by the world around them, it definitely deserves the comparison.

Highlight: ‘Supercut’

Verdict: 10/10


“Abysmal Thoughts” – The Drums

I’m not normally one for the kind of raggedy slacker pop on “Abysmal Thoughts”. You know the type: the sort of thing that Ratboy prides himself on making, something that indie kids get on board with because it has electronic rhythms, but also has GUITARS?!!?! That kind of sound has always felt pretty lazy to me, but here there’s something about the melodies that lone member Jonathan Pierce twists around these zany post-Britpop zingers. His ‘ooh’s and soft-spoken harmonies (particularly on ‘I’ll Fight For Your Life’) actually give the record a lot of bounce, despite it being mostly quiet elsewhere. A couple of duds don’t take away from the weary displays of affection on a pretty fun indie record.

Highlight: ‘I’ll Fight For Your Life’

Verdict: 7/10


City Music – Kevin Morby

An Americana album for the disaffected; a road album for those with no location in mind. Kevin Morby is certainly better at doing his intimate folk-rock thing than he is at unrestrained all-out rock, which just comes off as goofy. Largely, that’s down to just how wonderful he sounds when he has breathing space. His arrangements and production choices have enough space for all of us to reside in. Yet, you feel as though if anyone else were there it would ruin the experience; at its best, City Music is you, Morby and nobody else.

Highlight: ‘City Music’

Verdict: 8/10


Crack-Up – Fleet Foxes

For the first time, I found myself invigorated rather than mystified by Fleet Foxes on Crack-Up. The lyrical affectations of their previous works are admittedly better crafted and more concise than the abstract poetry here, but at least there’s an exhilaration in the not-knowing, the unpredictability of Robin Pecknold’s dark new avenues. Longer, more intricate structures and an occasionally constricted sound make this a record of ashes and darkness to the debut’s snowy forest and Helplessness Blues‘ summer cabin.

Highlight: ‘Third of May/Odaigahara’

Verdict: 8/10


Iteration – Com Truise

Flitting far too often between genuinely creative and uninspired synthpop, Com Truise at least brings some tantalisingly cheeseless retro synthwave to the table. It’s pleasurable enough just to hear the cogs in his musical brain working in a way not dissimilar to Kaytranada’s 99.9%, but Iteration functions significantly better as background music for the most part: once one focusses on it, it falls apart or bores the listener.

Highlight: ‘Propagation’

Verdict: 6/10


DUD OF THE WEEK: How Did We Get So Dark? – Royal Blood

Rarely have I heard an album nosedive so badly after its opening stretch. The first three tracks are by turns muscular, darkly funny and kick-ass. The harmonies suggest a fuller sound for the group and the meticulous crafting of the production makes it crisp without losing its dynamic. But after that, we’re treated to complete sludge for about 25 minutes, wherein the duo showcase all the things their detractors hate about them: unimaginative use of their instruments, dull song structures and a transparent lack of understanding of their own genre. Writhing heavy rock is something Royal Blood can do; sexy funk music isn’t.

Highlight: ‘Lights Out’

Verdict: 4/10

LISTEN – Haim share first proper new single, ‘Want You Back’

After dropping a beautiful, Paul Thomas Anderson-directed live video last week for ‘Right Now’, Haim have unveiled the first studio single for sophomore LP Something to Tell You. ‘Want You Back’ was premiered on MistaJam’s Radio 1 show last night with the Hottest Record in the World designation.

Finally confirming the survival of the classic Haim sound, ‘Want You Back’ twists itself around a thundering drum beat, Este Haim’s bright 80s slap bass and that same luscious harmony that the sister act is so good at. But, crucially, the group’s restraint is admirable here: it doesn’t lock into a tight groove, instead making the drums part of the texture of the track, rather than the central driving force of it.Nox App Player for android

Listen below:

Humanz by Gorillaz – Album Review

The world of the Gorillaz has huge possibilities, and artist Jamie Hewlett finally seems to have realised the full extent of these possibilities with the announcement of a TV show to come next year. Damon Albarn also managed to twist the Gorillaz world into a potentially titillating shape here: Humanz deals with a hyper-realistic, Gorillaz version of Donald Trump’s ascent to power and, of course, the apocalypse that came with it. An ironic, dark take on that idea, akin to Plastic Beach‘s discomforting look at the lifelessness of luxury, would have probably come out extremely well. But, on the album where all the worst features of Gorillaz’ past have been bloated to a totally indigestible size, the concept falls flat.

Here’s the problem with creating a piece of art that is supposed to directly parody something horrific: you run the risk of the art not actually being enjoyable enough to engage any kind of response, basically making it as bad as the original target of parody. There are some parodies that have managed to avoid this (The Cabin in the Woods and Danger Five come to mind); others have horrifically missed the point of parody and just been plain bad.

With that being said, Gorillaz’ representation of themselves as supposedly a caricature of the MTV band is admittedly more on the money here than ever before. Humanz replicates the voicelessness of many current producers, the exhausting length of most modern pop blockbusters, and the ridiculous expectation on all pop artists that they must feature the hottest new rapper or singer on the scene to be successful. It just misses the part where it’s actually supposed to be good.

Part of the problem is in the painful underdevelopment of most of the instrumentals. The same squelchy bass pops up on meh-tempo ‘Momentz’ and uncomfortably drugged-out ‘Saturnz Barz’ (which might as well be Popcaan ft. Gorillaz); the same moody synths heave the track forward on dull pseudo-gospel ‘Hallelujah Money’ and sluggish R&B muddle ‘Let Me Out’; songs that should be one thing instead turn into distorted versions of themselves, probably in an attempt to make it weirder than it actually is. Grace Jones-featuring ‘Charger’ sounds like it should be a Prince-esque stomp funk orgy but instead sounds like a bad demo tape for a Grace Jones song. ‘We Got the Power’, which somehow wastes the incomparable Jehnny Beth, on loan from Savages, could have been an arm-raising rally cry, but just comes off as childish and clumsy.

Indeed, ‘wasted guests’ is probably a good way to describe the sort of disappointment that comes with a party defined by its invitees: it’s not like the music is doing that job by itself. It feels almost criminal to put Danny Brown, Kelela, De La Soul, Jehnny Beth and Benjamin Clementine on an album together and come out with something that, in its more acceptable moments is pretty dull, and its duller moments (‘Busted and Blue’, ‘She’s My Collar’) is simply awful. Even lone highlight ‘Ascension’ owes most of its hair-brained success to Vince Staples’ live-wire performance more than what Albarn’s tinkering away with in the background.

Albarn himself described it as a party in itself just as much as it’s a party record, but this feels less like an apocalyptic bender and more like a house party that a load of people forgot to turn up to, so everyone smokes bad dope on dirty sofas whilst drinking orange squash. Humanz, in itself, feels like orange squash: it’s pretty flavourless, tepid and a pale version of the real thing. The worst part is that I’m not even sure anymore if the real thing is Gorillaz or the people they’re trying to parody.

Verdict: Maudlin, uninspired and clunky, Humanz is easily the disappointment of the year.


Divide by Ed Sheeran – Album Review

WARNING: This review contains extreme vitriol, bad language and references to tastelessly coarse lyricism from Britain’s most prominent songwriter. You have been warned.

I will be the first to admit that I like Ed Sheeran. I’ve always held him to be a solid performer, an at least competent songwriter and a charming figure (the rags-to-riches narrative is certainly attractive to us all, despite how manufactured it might feel now). Therefore, the narrative that I expected to take away from Divide, after hearing ‘Shape of You’s disparity with fellow single ‘Castle on the Hill’, was simply a sell-out story. Both those singles, slotted into the first half of the album, are painfully ubiquitous, shamelessly ripping off Sia, Maroon 5 (the kings of ripping other artists off) and Shawn Mendes. For the first five tracks, all this was true: Sheeran seemed perfectly happy with liberally flitting between onerous sentimentality on ‘Perfect’, which will undoubtedly soundtrack a thousand arduous wedding dances, and bizarre psycho-sexual club music on ‘Shape of You’. But then the wind changes. Hark, do I hear an Irish folk tune? Why, yes, it’s the ultimate WTAF moment of 2017 pop music, a song so mind-bogglingly stupid that I could barely comprehend what I was hearing. A moment came where I had to contemplate my existence. Am I actually listening to the work of a genius? Is this song a pre-eminent genre-bending masterpiece and I just can’t see it?

Then I snapped out of it and realised that ‘Galway Girl’, with its outlandish Irish pop lunacy, was, quite simply, bullsh*t.

However, what it signalled was the transition that Divide undergoes from being the worst album of the year to the best bad one. Before this, lines like ‘we are still kids/but we’re so in love’ could only bring the written reaction of ‘UGH!’ on my notepad. But after this point, I actually found myself having fun as the record descended into madness. I laughed out loud a full four times during the first listen, and quite honestly, how anyone can not laugh at the line ‘I walked her home and she took me inside/to finish some Doritos and another bottle of wine’ is beyond me. I actually spat out my drink when Sheeran sang ‘He’s got his eyebrows plucked and his arsehole bleached’ on ‘New Man’.

Has someone checked on Sheeran to make sure he’s still sane? Has he finally reached senility? Perhaps Divide is a subconscious expression of immense pain, even torment. Maybe he’s being held captive by his record company and there’s an insane man feeding him lyrics to put to tape. All these thoughts had crossed my mind.

But I’m a focussed man. Once the buzz of hearing such a delightfully awful album had worn off, the fact remained that Divide is painfully derivative. Aside from the obvious lyrical mayhem described above, the rest is more akin to Hallmark greeting card inanity. ‘Hearts Don’t Break Around Here’ peaks at cookie-cutter-level (‘I feel safe when you’re holding me near’) and troughs at genuinely shocking. If his idea of romanticism is to say that his girlfriend ‘shakes [his] soul like a pothole’, then romanticism might finally be dead. After that line, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Slowly, the realisation came to me that this wasn’t just sell-out fare. That would have got him a 4/10, maybe a 5. Frankly, ‘Galway Girl’, ‘Shape of You’ and particularly the arsehole line in ‘New Man’ should have been career-killers. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in one where this album exists. What lurks beneath it is something much more sinister, an actively loathesome black hole of pop music that sucked in the bright souls of John Mayer, Pino Palladino (?!), even Eric Clapton, whose gracious contributions to the record are the saving grace of an otherwise nauseating affair. I didn’t expect to hate it as much as I did; that much has to be conceded. But make no mistake: Divide is a laughable, clinical and sometimes vomit-inducing turd.

Verdict: Worthy of an apology.


Infinite Worlds by Vagabon – Album Review

‘I feel so small’. A simple declaration, but one that many of us are familiar with: being unable to exist in a space without feeling as such has probably affected many of us. In Lætitia Tamko’s case, though, it seems there is no going back from this. For her, it doesn’t matter whether the space is as large as Vermont or Minneapolis, or as small as a cold apartment or ‘the smallest spaces’: they all feel the same on Infinite Worlds.

Tamko rejects narrative here. Each expression of discomfort, or fear, or vitriol is vague and timid, which is kind of the point. In fact, perhaps the only thing we can pinpoint about her is that home remains a strong emotional ground zero, although again, this remains unexplained. On ‘100 Years’, as she cries that she won’t go ‘if we sell this house’, the attachment she has to that space becomes clear; yet, she seems certain that she ‘can’t go back to the place where [she] once was’ on ‘Minneapolis’, some unspeakable entity holding her back. Is she addressing the entity (an ex or an old friend) on ‘Cleaning House’ when she calls them ‘just a casualty’? We can never be too sure, but the expressionism of that uncertainty is what makes her lyricism so fascinating as it unfolds throughout the record.

Of course, it would be wrong to then neglect the fact that there is a lot more inconsistency when it comes to the instrumentals. Although the stunning centrepiece ‘Mal á L’aise’ is complimented by hushed indie pop on ‘Fear and Force’ and affecting folk in much of the second half of the album, it is blatantly obvious from the sloppy rock’n’roll of ‘Minneapolis’ and ‘100 Years’ that Tamko’s real skill lies in the subtler moments. It’s there that her songwriting skill shines, and the more fast-paced aspects of the album significantly let the side down.

This being said, Infinite Worlds remains an interesting debut, and Tamko certainly displays enough poetic contemplation to suggest that the future holds bright things for her.

Verdict: An uneven but still mostly enjoyable and weighty exploration of how one’s demons can quietly haunt them.


Gang Signs and Prayer by Stormzy – Album Review

Much of the chatter surrounding the grime revival has centered on the unabashed aggressiveness of each rising star to come to prominence, a discussion that culminated in the brash and outwardly Konnichiwa from Skepta. Despite all the focus on machismo, however, one track stood out to me early on as being an entirely different beast. When Stormzy’s ‘Shut Up’ (presented here unedited from the original release in a remarkable honouring of the past) became a phenomenon, where others heard vitriol and braggadocio, I heard nuance, deftness, and one of the first genuine expressions of British poverty in grime since Boy In Da Corner.

It’s a testament to Michael Omari’s skill and sensitivity that he chooses to carry much of the vulnerability of ‘Shut Up’s now legendary instrumental through to every aspect of his debut. Although injecting every syllable with the same intensity as his peers, his voice remains as wisened as it first did, his dynamic baritone enunciating words with the weight of an old sage. With this, even blunt attacks like ‘But if it weren’t me you would never let my n****s in the club’ hit so much harder when he delivers them. They have authority and feel informed by years under the tight grip of the series of issues explored on Gang Signs: depression, poverty, racism, religion and how it complicates his morality, motherhood.

It takes immense bravery to be as nonchalantly vulnerable on the record as Omari is, much more so than simply mindlessly spitting about weaponry and fake friends or the establishment. How often does one hear lines like, on Nao-sampling ‘Velvet’, ‘Baby, I can barely breathe/can you suffocate me now?’ on a grime record? How often does an MC declare their utter awe of a deity as openly as the two-part ‘Blinded By Your Grace’, and with such love for full-blooded jazz organs and soul-influenced vocal performances? And, while camaraderie between family has always been prevalent of grime (JME and Skepta are brothers, after all), such an honest, poetic dedication to Omari’s mother as ‘100 Bags’ is enough to floor any listener with a line as simple as ‘Your son did good, Mum/swear down, man, your son did good mum’.

Stormzy’s control and fearlessness is a revelation, and, despite being only 23, his acumen stretches way beyond his years both musically and lyrically. As far as genuine craft and the use of art on which to project oneself, Gang Signs and Prayer is the real deal.

Verdict: A startling, affirming document of grime’s enormous potential for storytelling, exploration and, dare I say it, emotion.


Drunk by Thundercat – Album Review

The spectre of Thundercat has loomed on a number of releases from the wave of digitised jazz hip-hop coming out of LA, particularly on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label. Stephen Bruner’s signature pinball-style of bass-playing was always an obvious through-line connecting Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington and, indeed, Lotus himself. But, listening to the paradoxically honed-in Drunk (an ironic title, in retrospect), it’s apparent that Bruner’s influence stretches lazily into other parts of the arrangements: the idiosyncratic chord sequences, the aquatic synths, the spiky IDM in Flying Lotus’ solo work. When all that becomes gloriously melted together in a way as relaxing and quietly dark as Drunk, it becomes an enjoyable, if sometimes quite distant, treat.

Of course, every strange concoction needs something to bind it together; here, it is Bruner’s weird, almost funny obsession with 80s neon cheese (just look at the references to classic video games like Diablo, or the zippy 8-bit crunch of ‘Jameel’s Space Ride’) that stretches the music along a thread of creeping desperation and sinister humour, although the listener may not even be sure why they are laughing sometimes. Perhaps it’s the captivating artwork or the liberal structure, playing like a snapshot tour of Bruner’s inventive brain. The title becomes fitting when one likens the structure to a hammered Bruner spewing tidbits of ideas at everyone before moving onto his next hair-brained idea.

Thats’s not to say that the songs feel unfinished or underdone: 25-second long ‘I Am Crazy’ feels more complete than half the R&B around these days, and the LP isn’t devoid of distinct highlights. Among them is thick, shuffling Tribe-throwback ‘A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)’, characteristically nutty ‘Uh Uh’, sun-baked LA ballad ‘Show You The Way’ and what might be the album’s centrepiece, the instantaneous and deceptively simple ‘Friend Zone’. With the album’s latest single, Bruner shows off his an awesome sense of space, twisting a muggy synth arpeggio around a squelching bass noise and cutting right through it all with hilarious sass and searing anger.

However, it’s rare for Bruner to be as passive-aggressive or direct across the rest of the album, instead reserving much of the anxiety exuded in the dense music for a more sombre tone, particularly on Kendrick Lamar-featuring ‘Walk On By’, a stoned rumination on human conflict, both between people and, in the case of Lamar, in war. Neither, however, acts with vitriol. ‘At the end of it all/No one wants to drink alone’, laments Bruner, whilst Lamar plays the wry observer: ‘From my eyewitness binoculars/To Argentina and Africa’.aptoide for pc

It’s this refusal to sharpen himself up that both brings out ‘Friend Zone’ as an easy highlight and makes the rest of the album so fascinating. Instrumentally, everything else remains dense and swampy, but not so much that the fatter instruments overbear on everything else. It doesn’t stomp, it struts, albeit casually and with a creeping sense of anxiety that doesn’t so much sneak up on the listener as just sit in the dark corners of the music, unseen but not unnoticed.

Verdict: It’s certainly not any kind of leap-forward, but in terms of creating a heady concoction of tried-and-tested ingredients, Bruner does it with style and an uncommon poise.


Amador Listens to the Classics Announcement

We here at Amador Records believe that there is no end to the galaxies of music available to us every day, and that there’s always something for everyone. Nevertheless, just like everyone else, we have our favourites. That’s why we’re introducing a new feature that is completely original and not at all copied from our good friend Memetano over at The Needle Drop (hey, at least give us credit for trying): Amador Listens to the Classics. It won’t necessarily be a regular thing, with us writers over here being caught up in work and school and such, but we’re hoping this new feature will interest a lot of people.lawn mover reviews 2017

Essentially, the format will be that a writer will listen to an album they’ve never heard before but are aware of its ‘classic status’, and will subsequently write a review of that album. They may be from early jazz, from the album era, from our childhoods or a modern classic, but all will be fresh to us, as they will be a first time listen for us. We have a couple lined up already which we hope to put out as soon as we get the chance. The first four Classics will be:

  • A Grand Don’t Come For Free by The Streets
  • Shaking the Habitual by The Knife
  • The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle by Bruce Springsteen
  • Laughing Stock by Talk Talk

We will be announcing more in the coming months, but we hope that you enjoy these ones in the meantime.

Best Songs of 2016

In a year that will go down in history as one of the most chaotic in human history, it makes sense that creating the year-end list proved difficult: how do you distill a year of excitement, fear, confusion and uncertainty into just 15 songs? It’s easy in these turbulent times to doubt oneself, particularly in an age when having an opinion can get you digitally crucified. But the world marches on as it always has, even in the wake of a series of heartbreaking departures and earth-shattering events. If this sort of horror show continues into next year, it’s very tempting to sit back and enjoy the brilliant art that comes out of it just as I have this year. It’s sadistic, sure. But then, can we seriously tell ourselves that the art world would be better without struggle, conflict and compromise? If this list is anything to go by, I would say the answer is definitively no.

Some honourable mentions before we begin:

Bruno Mars – ’24K Magic’: A floor-filling instant pop classic, proving that Mars is the go-to man for a throwback hit once more.

Chance the Rapper – ‘Same Drugs’: A tender, touching encapsulation of a truly romantic, deeply personal relationship.

Anohni – ‘4 Degrees’: Harsh and operatic all at once, Anohni’s protest-pop was never more clear and pointed than on this Hopelessness highlight.


15. Pinegrove – ‘Cadmium’

The notion of musical catharsis is easily known by many, but achieved by very few artists. But when Evan Stevens Hall cries that an unknown feeling, probably love, ‘tends to sublimate away’, the tears start pouring out of me like a waterslide. The sheer release of hearing such pained cries coming out of the hushed melodies of the first verse is an indescribable feeling, particularly when the interplay between Hall and Josh Marre’s guitars is so warm and inviting. ‘Cadmium’ is the sound of an outpouring of feelings, all held in for too long and bursting out in pained cries.

14. Car Seat Headrest – ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’

‘Triumphant’ isn’t a word I use often but the refrain for the Teens of Denial highlight – “IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS!” – is as hair-raising and chest-pounding as anything else released this year. In an almost Springsteenian turn, Will Toledo evokes images of an open road leading somewhere, and even though it doesn’t matter where, he’s still worried about the journey. By turns reflective and anthemic, Toledo’s biggest song is likely to gain him some massive festival singalongs in the future.

13. Frank Ocean – ‘Solo’

One of the many reasons I adored Blonde was because it wasn’t just a fantastically conceptualised longform piece, but a massive leap forward in Ocean’s skills at writing great pop tunes. The melancholy organ that backs Ocean’s frankly beautiful voice uses wonderfully simplistic chord progressions, but ones that stick easily, and the melody is just as instantaneous. Yet, the lyrics suggest a series of vignettes about how simultaneously brilliant and depressing loneliness can be, all on a level that is instantly relatable, and while there is an element of restraint to the song, by so quietly announcing itself, it makes a bigger noise than most pop songs are able to make in their short lifespan.

12. Nao – ‘Bad Blood’

The first thing that strikes the listener is the voice: Nao’s sultry tones are distinctively cold but with softened edges that meld the harmonies together in the beautiful, hushed opening. Suddenly, an extraordinary guitar solo blasts out of the speakers and the track descends into an almighty, wonky monolith of shimmering pads, awesome vocal arrangements and a deep, bulbous bassline. Although it fits into the current revitalisation of trip-hop in the UK, it hits with so much more impact than most of its contemporaries because of Nao’s exquisite attention to arrangements: blank spaces exist in the sound just enough to make the bigger moments knock the listener back in their chair.

11. The 1975 – ‘Somebody Else’

Say what you will about The 1975, but they know how to write a pop tune, one that doesn’t just stick with you but burrows deep into your heart and stays there for days. The reflective sound of what seems like a digital choir sets the stage before a lone electric piano gets you right in the chest, heavy with longing and incurable lust. Cue waterworks. From there, it doesn’t stop: it speaks of a very complex feeling post-breakup about trying to convince oneself that what they did was right, and that their severed connection was best for both of them. Yet, the feeling of ‘what could have been’ nags at Matt Healy’s brain all through this achingly beautiful song, as he knows that, although the breakup was right, he’s still ‘picturing your body with somebody else’. Difficult to understand for some, but others will latch onto this song instantly and use it as a beacon of their immense sadness as I’ve seen so many people do since its release.

10. Beyoncé – ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’

Applying the term ‘braggadocio’ to female singers is not a common event in music journalism. But then, that’s why we all fell over ourselves to praise Lemonade, and there’s no better example of her aggressive, confrontational, empowering spirit than on the thundering stomp-rock of ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’. Sampling Led Zeppelin was a stroke of genius, but to use it in the way it’s used here, to create a humanistic feel for the music, is just something else. It crackles and distorts with the feeling of those classic rock giants of the early 70s, but Bey’s performance recalls the impassioned delivery of Aretha Franklin in equal measure to the screeching sexual power of Robert Plant to bring arguably her finest performance ever, not so much seething with anger as punching the listener square in the jaw.

9. Justin Timberlake – ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’

Trolls was a poor, poor movie. Its annoying sweetness was offset by a complete shoe-horning of classic pop tunes for the soundtrack. Thank god that out of that mess came arguably the catchiest pop tune since that Daft Punk one way back when. Infectious piano and a fat, thumping bassline make this an instant classic, with its boundless optimism having no dampener and no filter. Wisely, though, JT and co. choose to not overdo the sweetness of the song: it’s simple, but not pushy, unlike its parent film. It’s impossible not to dance to ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ (unless you’re cold and have no heart, then there’s every possibility) and it still sounds like the Song of the Summer 4 months after the season ended. As perfect a pop tune as any you’re likely to hear this year.

8. Kanye West – ‘Real Friends’

I know that Kanye is generally not one for fun music, but damn, ‘Real Friends’ is dark. It’s spacious and echo-y, with Kanye’s voice cutting through the mournful, swaying beats like a knife. Unsurprising, considering how cutting a message it is. Not only is it a desperate cry for help from an isolationist cage, it also adds to the myth of Kanye’s character, a downtrodden man with the world against him, and nowhere to turn, caught in ever-decreasing circles. ‘I guess I get what I deserve, don’t I’, Ye laments in the hook, turning it from a pity-tale into a genuinely heart-wrenching story of the shallowness of the high life. It’s easily the most sobering moment on Pablo, and still tugs at the heartstrings this far on.

7. Danny Brown ft. Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt and Kendrick Lamar – ‘Really Doe’

Just looking at that list is enough to make any rap fan faint, but actually hearing it is enough for a seizure, and what makes this work so well as a posse cut is the specific reliance on each player to bring his own skills to the game. Knotted together with Kendrick’s fantastic hook, the individual verses alternate between weird, oddball one-liners, straight-faced aggressive street poetry, complex literary musings and heady 3-in-the-morning anger. Everything is tainted with the dirt of the streets that the verses clearly sprouted from but it roars with a confidence and growl that indie hip-hop so desperately needs.

6. Blood Orange – ‘Best to You’

Great pop music is rarely this instrumentally inventive anymore, but Blood Orange’s defining pop masterpiece is thick with tribal rhythms and dizzying marimbas over a funky bassline, all topped off with a stunning vocal guest performance from Empress Of, lamenting the ins and outs of a dying relationship. It’s extremely melancholy, but resonates because of the rich arrangements and bold sonic textures, not to mention the vocals. Empress Of is staggeringly good on this track, singing with an earnestness and honesty that’s so unique to her sound. This is not to take credit away from Dev Hynes (Blood Orange’s real name) and his extraordinary songwriting skills. ‘Best to You’ is immediate and already feels like an R&B classic, if you could call it R&B. It so wistfully defies convention that it doesn’t fit snugly anywhere. One thing we do know is that it’s the work of an artist whose maturation has peaked with a masterpiece.

5. Flume ft. Vic Mensa – ‘Lose It’

Flume’s work in EDM is revolutionary. I’m not afraid to say it: he sounds like nobody else with this level of star power and continues to push boundaries with singles that are no less than absolutely massive. When Vic Mensa cries ‘Lose it!’ in the chorus, the instrumentation hits like a bullet to the brain. In fact, the production across the entire track is utterly stunning, glowing with stadium-sized majesty that remains unbeatable amongst his EDM counterparts. But it doesn’t throw away its potential for pop appreciation: it’s catchy, no doubt, and the pre-chorus is something you’ll be singing to yourself over and over again. No area of the track feels empty and it reaches a size unprecedented for pop music. Music like this is why Flume remains such an exciting talent in the EDM world.

4. David Bowie – ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’

Although Blackstar is a decidedly austere affair, both musically and lyrically, it ends on a serene, beautiful and edifying note. As usual, Bowie is on top form with his performance, crooning with a sensibility crafted out of years of experience. It’s as though all of his performances have led to this one, and in a way, they have: it remains the final song on the final Bowie album, making it definitively the final Bowie song. As the beautiful playing on the record soars with operatic grandeur by the end, you can feel your heart breaking in two as Bowie sings his final line, a fitting coda to the mystery of Ziggy, The Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, Major Tom, whatever we wish to call him. A fitting finale to one of the most majesterial careers in popular music.

3. James Blake ft. Bon Iver – ‘I Need A Forest Fire’

They do feel as though they were made for each other, don’t they? Both Blake and Justin Vernon ache the same way, with existential, reflective melancholy and both have distinct falsetto voices, perfect for the twinkling synth arrangements and desperately spare drums. But it’s more than that: both are able to drive someone to cracking apart with just a subtle harmony, particularly when speaking of such a deep need for whatever the forest fire may represent. A purging of the soul, or cleansing of the mind, perhaps. Whatever the case, it’s deeply affecting and insanely, sometimes incomprehensibly beautiful, a perfect matching of souls meant to create art together.

2. Radiohead – ‘True Love Waits’

Finality is a difficult thing to fully describe the feeling of, but living in the knowledge that Radiohead’s decade-plus-old composition would go through such a whirlwind of incarnations before appearing in such a perfect form as the closing track of A Moon Shaped Pool is pretty close. It feels like a full-circle, a full stop on at least this phase of the group’s career. But even without that added fan consolidation, it remains an arresting, quietly show-stopping piece of songwriting. The sustained piano that lingers throughout the song is so overwhelming that it’s difficult to cope when Thom Yorke cries, strained into the darkness, ‘don’t leave’. Even worse is the recent news of the subject of the song’s passing, Rachel Owen, Yorke’s ex-wife, making the distance between them far larger and far more devastating.

1. Run the Jewels – ‘2100’

Whatever political view you subscribe to, the darkness that hung over the world on the morning of November 9th was harrowing. A great many people across the Western world felt beaten, unable to continue knowing that this was their fate. Many even forecast the death of tolerance and acceptance. But, from the smoke and emptiness emerged two heroes who knew exactly what was needed and when. On the morning of November 9th, Run the Jewels dropped ‘2100’, a track from their recently released third album, RTJ3. Now, I know it’s confusing to include a track from an album that will undoubtedly factor into next year’s end of year list in this year’s TOTY list but there is no song this year that has been as perfectly pitched, inspirational and gut-wrenching as ‘2100’.

From the bold instrumentation, to the beautiful hook performed by Boots, to the impassioned verses and delivery from our main men El-P and Killer Mike, ‘2100’ is a call to get up and fight back. ‘And I refuse to kill another human being in the name of a government’, Mike states proudly, while El grapples with personal acceptance in the face of universal defeat. The song answers the question that all of us asked on that morning: ‘what now?’ RTJ have become the new flag-bearers of a generation of politically-charged music fans that want to make a difference, and I can’t think of any track that had more importance as a piece of cultural history than this one.

George Michael: A Pop Icon For The Strangest Reasons

My grandmother never liked George Michael. Admittedly, this may have been to do with his arrest record rather than his music, but it’s a sad fact. It’s also something that I think a lot of us told ourselves when the man was alive. “George Michael? Absolute tosh, overproduced, so ubiquitous for the 80s. Now Tears For Fears, there’s a proper artist for ya.” But, in many ways, Michael’s death has probably caused a lot of us to re-evaluate our opinion of him, or, at least, to let go of the insecurities of actually secretly liking the man responsible for easily the most recognisable sax riff since ‘Baker Street’ on ‘Careless Whisper’.

Of course, the thing that was so great about George Michael, both whilst in Wham! and as a solo artist was that he, like that sax on ‘Careless Whisper’, couldn’t care less about whether we liked him or not. We could tell that from the delightfully campy homosexual overtones in Wham!, where the very idea of homosexuality was not just accepted: it was celebrated. Wham! were the ultimate 80s boyband, a pair of loveable, carefree, cheeky, and sometimes painfully honest, young lads, embodying a very specific spirit of optimism in a decade filled with underlying tensions. They didn’t care about any of the world’s discrepancies and undertones: their conflicts were personal and universal, and their music was unchained by any contextual influences. Good, clean pop fun, and they knew it.

Yet, Michael’s private life didn’t reflect adolescent pop stardom: he was a rockstar, one whose attitude to sex was unapologetic, raunchy, unwaveringly devoted to its universal appeal and, unfortunately, exploited by the press. Those who would have celebrated precocious rockers like Keith Richards as heroes for such overt sexuality as Michael’s 1998 arrest simultaneously condemned George Michael as dirty, unnatural. George Michael refused to let them make that decision for him. To him, it was utterly confounding that people could treat him differently because of his sexuality, and it’s difficult not to admire him for such resolve.

Nevertheless, Michael’s greatest talent was revealed on ‘Last Christmas’. We hear the song each year and can’t help but giggle at the purity at the centre of the record, so unabashadly full of longing and amateur poetry as it was, until we recognise ourselves in those words and end up a sobbing mess of tears, tissues and Quality Street on the floor. That’s where Michael’s rare gift lay: the ability to make many of us awkwardly laugh at ourselves out of embarrassment because we’re too afraid to admit that, deep down, the songs we hear when we listen to George Michael are filled with our own heartbreak and lust.FIFA World Cup 2018 teams

It’s telling that so many have rushed to pay respects to him. His swift and cruel passing was a reminder to many about appreciating what we have while we still have it, as many neglected to do when Michael was alive. Now, free from the idea that liking him was ‘uncool’, we can finally let loose the fact that, for all intents and purposes, George Michael was, at least in his music, a pure pop star, one whose fondness for musical simplicity and shameless extravagance was matched only by his doe-eyed honesty. He was a rare singer, and one who will be dearly missed. 

Best Albums of 2016: No. 1 – Blackstar by David Bowie

I will be the first to admit that this was a late decision. I was already writing the rest of the list when I decided Blackstar would be my number one. But, looking back at when Blonde had been the top choice which it had been pretty much since its release, I’m still puzzled by how I could have neglected this from the top spot. Of course Blackstar is the best album of 2016. ‘Is there any album more consistently brilliant, more bold and adventurous, more repeatable and more likely to be remembered by musical historians from the last 12 months?’ I asked myself. The answer is, quite simply, no. But let me expand for those who are somehow confused.

For a start, Bowie doesn’t mince around. Each track is crafted with its own specific place in the tracklisting. The sonic pallette on the album is absolutely wild, and completely of Bowie’s own design. He draws on a dizzying range of genres, all of which feel perfectly in tune with each other. ‘Blackstar’s wailing jazztronica, ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’s stunning duality between booming rhythm and sultry horn sections, ‘Sue (Or, In A Season of Crime)’, originally a jazz-fusion jam, rendered here as a pulsating orgy of drum’n’bass, noise rock, drill and soul, ‘Girl Loves Me’ and its skittish, industrial funk: no musical corner is left untouched.

Lyrically, its not something that’s just been thrown together either: each song brings its own strange, decadent sensibilities to the stage, spinning stories of wayward women, spirits, murder, sex, secrecy and fear, or at least, we think that’s what it’s about. The lyrics remain cryptic all these months later, with the only thing linking them being the spectre of the end.

Come on, we had to mention it at some point. It might seem an overstated observation at this point, but Blackstar‘s now immortalised story is that Bowie created the album as a companion piece to his own death, treating both as equal parts of a singular work of art. Trust Bowie, eh? But then, to treat this feat as anything less than spectacularly impressive is foolish of us: not only is it a massive achievement to have created something as earth-shattering as this, but it is also a testament to his version of artistic vision that his own act of finality was to release an album of and about that finality.

Blackstar‘s lasting legacy might be the death of its parent artist, but of all the albums that this can be said of (In UteroPink MoonCloser), none have the same impact as this one. None can claim to have their artist’s death intertwined into the fabric of their being. The 48 hours in which the album and a living Bowie existed together were fruitful but they are remnants now. I doubt Bowie would have even wanted us to remember Blackstar with the impression of him still being alive. We’re not meant to appreciate Blackstar by itself. It’s not just about the artist: it is the artist. Mysterious, complex, bold, ever-changing, unfixed by the constraints of others. It’s a shame that Bowie’s most impressive artistic endeavour since The Berlin Trilogy had to come immediately before his death, and it’s arguable that it still would have been wall-rattling without that incident. It’s easily his most adventurous work since Station to Station, which, by all accounts, makes it possibly his finest album. But if that’s the case without his ghost to haunt its dark corners, and it is relentlessly dark, save for the gorgeous final track, then think how brilliant it must be with that event in mind. It’s unlikely we’ll ever truly understand all the secrets of Blackstar, but, as Bowie’s final words to the mortals read so clearly, ‘I can’t give everything away’.

Best Albums of 2016: No. 2 – Blonde by Frank Ocean

When we become melancholy, we tend to shut ourselves away from the world. People who were once outgoing, precocious, confident and witty people become frightened, awkward and shy. Is this what happened to Frank Ocean? Maybe. Or maybe he’s been like this all along and hid that fearful, stumbling persona behind a boyish facade on Channel Orange. It would make sense. All the way through that record, there was a feeling that he was keeping something from us. I think we all assumed it was some sort of meaning behind life, given how much he enjoyed satirising those who didn’t have any meaning to theirs. But, looking back, I think it was something else: it was the fact that he is just as confused and terrified as the rest of us about love in all its forms.

Blonde is a collection of poems about love, sex, relationships and the way people see others around them, but more than that, it’s a series of odes to lonerism. Outside of the references to Trayvon Martin (and even then, that’s used in reference to Ocean’s identity crisis regarding his physical similarity to the murdered teen) and other shooting victims, Ocean feels remarkably out of touch with everything outside his own mind. Guest stars pass through almost unnoticed, the most outgoing of them being André 3000’s verse on ‘Solo (Reprise), and Ocean’s experiences with heartbreak are documented with stunning clarity of vision. Whether it be digital impersonalisation, unrequited love, drunk self-motivation or the lifelessness of his sexual experiences, Ocean displays himself bare, becoming almost unrecognisable from the cocky, sneering popstar on Channel Orange.

It’s also a sensational step forward in his songwriting. Although the entire concept is best presented in full, the individual songs sound like they’ve all come from a handbook of brilliant R&B writing, but without the emphasis on rhythm. It’s about atmosphere, and keeping the lyrics right in the centre of the frame. Still, it’s difficult to deny the pure power of ‘Nights’ mournful guitars, ‘Solo’s melancholy organ or the sonic weirdness of ‘Pretty Sweet’s awesome breakdown section. It’s adventurously small for a world-famous star, but it works because of the bare-faced honesty of the thing.paytm app

Nevertheless, the piece is best appreciated from start to finish. A meditation on the complexities of love, it might be entirely about Ocean, but the feeling of the album is universal: we’ve all felt how ‘Solo’ sounds, and he knows it. Yet, he hides his face out of embarrassment on both versions of the album art: one in a nonchalant biker’s helmet, and the other, more popular one with his hand in what looks like a shower. Vulnerable and unable to face his audience, the endless mystery of the man behind the hand becomes so much deeper here than it ever has been, and his craft becomes deeper and more awesome than anyone ever thought it could be.

Best Albums of 2016: No. 3 – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest

It should be extremely difficult to justify Tribe’s existence in 2016. Their early work, though seminal and still groundbreaking today, is so fixed to its own time period that it sounds totally alien to the likes of Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Kanye West et al. It’s simple and direct, and hardly relies on technical wizardry in nearly the same capacity as the contemporaries. Yet, here I am proclaiming it to be the best hip-hop album of the year, mostly because it is the sound of a group firing on all the cylinders that made them great in the first place.

The wizardry is in the wordplay, as all the members of the group get the chance to expand on an already huge scope of lyrical ideas. They weave timeless elegies of racism, division, remembrance and solidarity that bounce off each other effortlessly, like the group had never been apart. Less the result of trying too hard and more of simply doing it, the album could sit comfortably alongside their 80s and 90s output without feeling out of place, and they still sound as fresh-faced as they did back then.

But now, the stakes are even higher. Reeling from the death of one of their own, instead of fetishising his death into a novelty, Phife Dawg’s verses are used to explore the wider social issues of systematic racism and hatred, with the group wisely choosing to pursue his vision and finish the masterpiece that they had started. Yes, he is given a fitting farewell, but so much more of the album is dedicated to completing the work, just as he would have wanted. And although it feels like it could exist in any period from the original works until now, it’s as timely as ever. Its raw passion and modern angst smacks of youth, yet its profound meditations on futility and the importance of understanding one another is a symbol of wisdom only achievable from experience. That the group toes that line so deftly is what makes this such a great album. It will remind you of why you loved Tribe in the first place, or it will finally convince you of their greatness.

Best Albums of 2016: No. 4 – 22, A Million by Bon Iver

Five years, the world patiently waited. After five years, it looked unlikely that we would ever see his rosy face peering out from his cabin again. As it turned out, he’d simply been building another one out of computers, frayed wires and makeshift guitars, and we all get to live in it for 34 minutes.

In those 34 minutes, there is balladry, computer glitches, broken autotune units, drums the size of rocketships, voices as small as mice and an overwhelming atmosphere that envelopes the listener. Easily his most musically adventurous album to date, the arrangements are so uncannily confident that songs as bombastic as ’33 GOD’ and ‘666 (upsidedowncross)’ and as sparse as ‘715 Creeks’ and ‘___45___’ can exist on the same album and feel completely in concordance with each other. It’s weird and jarring, but only enough so that when an organic instrument bursts into the clearing, like the chiming guitars on ’22 (Over Soon)’, it feels like coming home and being shot through the heart with a beam of sunlight.

The meaning is still as foggy as ever, though. ‘I’d be happy as hell if you’d stay for tea’, Vernon laments on ’33 GOD’, suggesting some rural innocence that we cannot understand. The very first line of the album seems to suggest some overbearing message about personal acceptance (‘So where you gonna look for confirmation/and if it’s ever gonna happen’) but then we still never quite understand. Perhaps that’s why ‘00000 Million’ hits so hard: ‘I worry ’bout shame’, Vernon cries amongst a distant piano and almost nothing else. It’s like closing time at the bar, and although we can’t quite remember how or why we got there, we know that whatever comes next might be brilliant. If that’s the final lesson of 22, A Million, I’d say it’s just about Vernon’s finest piece of work yet.

Best Albums of 2016: No. 5 – The Colour In Anything by James Blake

Perfecting one’s craft is something reserved for a lucky few, but James Blake has had the time and patience to only give away inklings of how great his work could be. After two albums of experimenting with sparse post-dubstep, on The Colour In Anything, the chilly winter sets in, the curtain is drawn back and we finally see the full extent of Blake’s power as a songwriter.

An icy detachment pervades the album in every corner. No single instrument feels like it’s even touching another, instead forming its own frigid piece of the fragile lattice around each song. But everything is precise. Every click and whirr, every frightened hi-hat, every ghostly apparition is a clinical exercise in timing. The execution is near flawless and it ends up being Blake’s most brilliant fulfillment of his talents, both musically and lyrically.

The album, like so many popular music albums these days, is long. But in this case, it feels almost necessary so as to truly appreciate the fruits of his labour. It’s wrought with so much emotion that to make it too short would undermine its power to move one to tears. Its rawness is almost too much to bear at times, particularly on album highlight ‘I Need A Forest Fire’, a cracked, tearful ballad that feels like a synergistic victory for both Blake and colleague Bon Iver, who features heavily on the track. Elsewhere, Frank Ocean gets a writing credit, and unsurprisingly, Blake brings both of them to mind whether it’s their song or not. That’s to be expected: The Colour In Anything is Blake’s final ascension to the greats, embodying once more the 2010s lonerism image that so many of this generation’s great artists have before him. Not one of them could make me cry like Blake does.

Best Albums of 2016: 15-11

In a year that will go down in history as one of the most chaotic in human history, it makes sense that creating the year-end list proved difficult: how do you distill a year of excitement, fear, confusion and uncertainty into just 25 albums? It’s easy in these turbulent times to doubt oneself, particularly in an age when having an opinion can get you digitally crucified. But the world marches on as it always has, even in the wake of a series of heartbreaking departures and earth-shattering events. If this sort of horror show continues into next year, it’s very tempting to sit back and enjoy the brilliant art that comes out of it just as I have this year. It’s sadistic, sure. But then, can we seriously tell ourselves that the art world would be better without struggle, conflict and compromise? If this list is anything to go by, I would say the answer is definitively no.

15. Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown

Danny Brown’s instrumental prowess, displayed on the album in smoky guitars, frightening rhythms and dark melodies on the hooks, is so impressive that, upon first listen, one might miss how advanced his control over his wordplay has become. His distinctive voice is so nutty that it can just become unintelligible babbling that’s an absolute blast to listen to. But pick it apart and there is a damaged soul within the lyrics: Exhibition is about addiction, vice, abuse and the darkest corners of the soul. Laid bare in such a crazed register, the instant metaphor to reach for is that of the addict spitting psychotic soliloquys about God-knows-what. In a way, though, it’s actually heartbreaking to place that image in the context of the album, a sort of tragic archetype that we all know but refuse to truly accept exists. But, of course, the immediate pull of the piece is always to come back to that unique sound, the sound of crowded crack-dens and broken cities wondered through aimlessly by drunks and druggies. It’s a saddening image, but only as a testament to Brown’s skill at portraying a subject this close-to-the-bone.

14. For All We Know by Na

British pop sits in a state of ubiquitous decline: half-hearted trip-hop artists and ‘organic soul’ pass off talent through frantic theatrics or a total lack thereof without doing something of real substance. Nao, the brightest new star in Britain, and possibly in R&B altogether, is a totally different beast. Her compositions have weight to them, and a sense of real musicality that shines in the arrangements; not only that, but her vocal layering is enough to make one weep. Propelled by confident production and a wholly unique blending of pop, wonky, funk, R&B, soul and electro, her debut is distinctive and assured, but without the overbearing sense of her trying to prove it the whole time. This is the pop star the country has been waiting for.

13. Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest’s second studio album was adamantly described as being designed for live performance, but the reality is that this is not just a feature-length poem: this is an album that is just as musically challenging as it is poetically. As she leaps frenetically into different parts of the ‘apartments’ where much of the poem takes place, we are also treated to genre-bending hip-hop instrumentals on an industrial scale. Brave sonic abrasiveness pervades most of the album’s twisted, dark narrative without overpowering Tempest’s marvellous delivery. Her prosodics are nuanced, weird, filled with equal parts sly cynicism and overcast melancholy, her droll London accent providing dark urban frameworks for her prose. Yet, it’s difficult to talk so highly of the album without going back to how surprisingly brilliant and immediate her musical backdrop is, almost as though the whole thing is a duet between the music and lyrics as opposed to Tempest simply using it as a scaffold to stand on as she delivers her message. Quite the message, too: it’s depressingly resigned to the idea of poverty in our country, but in a way that Tempest clearly hopes can inspire others to take action.

12. Freetown Sound by Blood Orange

What’s important about Dev Hynes’ latest album as Blood Orange is the concept of the voice. Not necessarily his voice (it’s debatable, given the number of pies he’s had his fingers in since entering the industry, that he’s even singing as himself half the time) but the voices of the beaten down people. They appear in the multiple perspectives of the lyrics, in recorded samples, in guest performances. The concept of the voice as a distinct style with which one expresses themselves is powerful when used in the right way, and here it exemplifies a deep understanding of complex sociological divides in American life. Whether it be the downtrodden female population on ‘Best To You’, the abandoned lover that reappears in the ‘With Him’ refrain over and over again across the LP, or the ghostly audio spectres that populate the sampled conversations, Freetown Sound is about giving a voice to those who would normally have none, and the brevity with which this is done brings to mind, amongst other things, Black Messiah and To Pimp A Butterfly. It absolutely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.

11. Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Deep tragedy such as the death of a child rarely affects us as humans. Friends, parents, relatives, they can all leave our lives but our offspring will most likely outlive us. How tragic and poetic it should be that arguably the most poignant songwriter of the late 20th century (and early 21st) should have such trauma affect him at such an artistic peak in his career. It would be insensitive of me to say that Arthur Cave’s fall from a cliff in late 2015 was responsible for a beautiful piece of art as if it were a good thing, but, nevertheless, Skeleton Tree is the most real and honest Nick Cave has been since The Boatman’s Call, and that album didn’t have nearly the same aching sadness behind it that this has. As the album ticks on, the overwhelming smell of musty technology fills the sound; even the album cover has a distinctly imperfect, primal feeling to it. The influence of the electronic sound is balanced at just the right point between rigidly static and quietly human to suggest a sense of disillusionment. It’s understandable: how does one even begin to cope with something like this? As Cave’s pained cries tell us, it’s with one step at a time and with considerable difficulty.

Next up: the Top 10 begins.

Best Albums of 2016: No. 6 – Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest

Bob Stanley once said that if you say a genre is dead, it’s likely not, and that if someone has to say a genre is not dead, it probably is. Indie rock, and rock music in general, has had its own time of death called time and time again, but along will come a record to prove us all wrong. It makes sense that  Teens of Denial, the album to do just that, has shades of Pavement’s hearty sense of irony, The Ramones’ scrappy production, Alice in Chains’ sludgy dynamic, prog’s boundless sense of scope and a basic need to just rock out sometimes.

Will Toledo’s compositions are filled with awesome moments, moments that become instant favourites the moment you hear them. From the opening notes of ‘Fill in the Blank’, right through ‘Vincent’s explosive drum breakdown and ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ stadium-sized refrain, Toledo draws on the simple pleasures of rock music’s rich history whilst expanding the parameters of how that history’s biggest figures fit together. It’s rare to find a guitar hero in an age of digital stardom, but Toledo is one of the few.

His lyricism is even more formidable. As wry and detached as it is achingly melancholy, Toledo’s exploration of alcohol abuse, drugs and the crushing realisation that being an adult doesn’t make things better is all too familiar, and emulates the cynical sensibilities of some of the best indie rock whilst still allowing us the space to empathise with our unlikely hero.

But there’s something else to it. It’s an unexplainable quality in a time where albums can’t have that anymore. The feeling of discovering Teens of Denial for the first time will remind you of the first time you heard that rock record that has that one quality: being undefinably brilliant. Yes, it has fantastic writing within but it also soars with old-fashioned abandon that remains elusive to properly express. So, as far as the genre being dead, when an album comes along and does rock better than most rock does rock, I’d say it’s alive and kicking within the four walls of this record, and hopefully beyond.

Best Albums of 2016: No. 7 – A Seat at the Table by Solange

Heaping praise on Beyoncé’s album would make sense for the music journalism world: she’s an international superstar making an album that is current and filled with unexpected musical surprises, as well as forging a totally new identity for herself whilst retaining those key qualities that made her a superstar in the first place. The trouble with all this, of course, is that her younger sister did everything better.

A Seat at the Table is not loud. It’s not bombastic, it’s not aggressive, it doesn’t even feel particularly harsh. Instead, its brave tribal-neo-soul constantly simmers at boiling point, crackling with the angst and impassioned furore of an entire race, as though Solange carries the African-American population of the United States on her shoulders through every street and building in the country. How it deals with issues of pro-blackness, white dominance and ignorant racism subverts all notion of conformity, whether it be the exploration of hypocritical disrespect towards black tradition on ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, the personal portrayal of intimate pain on ‘Cranes in the Sky’, the fiery independence and much-needed vocalisation of African-American values in the intelligently placed interludes or a simple, melancholy overview of the dissonance of the nation, after years of work.

Part of the reason the thematic conceptualisation works so well is because Solange’s musical trappings are so compelling: organic percussion that subtly underpins bold string arrangements, seething electric piano sequences, twinkling synths and full-blooded bass has the power to knock one off guard. It breathes so well because of the empty space between the instruments, avoiding overkill to allow that pointed anger to seep into the spaces. Totally unique and sometimes quite breathtaking, Solange has not only put her work within the seminal ‘Black Album’ movement taking shape right now, but, with her impassioned confidence, has made the feminist answer to To Pimp A Butterfly.

Best Albums of 2016: No. 8 – Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

It would have been difficult at the time of its release to comprehend how vital Chance the Rapper’s presence in 2016’s music would become. Yet, here we are, in the era of warranted pessimism with a fierce and infectious optimist breaking records with a mixtape. So profound was the tape’s effect that every single word within it was tweeted at least once. Clearly, Chance’s message paid off.

But, as universal as the lasting message might have been, Coloring Book was so much more personal than just a lasting motivational speech, more than just the words ‘All you need is happy thoughts’ (although, you’d be hard pressed to find a more pure, simple expression of wisdom in any album this year). As he tells us throughout the piece, Coloring Book is about being at peace with oneself, finding a life balance that may not work for everyone, but it works for you. In Chance’s case, his life balance includes that of his newborn child, his music and his girlfriend. Oh, and the Almighty One himself.

Yes, perhaps the most audacious and wonderful thing about Coloring Book is the deeply intimate portrayal of religious freedom, without guilt, doubt or, most importantly, patronisation. Yet, the joy and conviction with which he recounts his own journey with God is enough to make even the most adamant atheists throw their hands in the air and proclaim, as he so bravely does in his Chris Tomlin cover (a totally unthinkable addition to a rap album in this or any other year) ‘How Great’, that their ‘hearts will sing’. In totally uninspiring and disenchanting times, it feels right that people like Chance still exist.

Best Albums of 2016: 20-16

  In a year that will go down in history as one of the most chaotic in human history, it makes sense that creating the year-end list proved difficult: how do you distill a year of excitement, fear, confusion and uncertainty into just 25 albums? It’s easy in these turbulent times to doubt oneself, particularly in an age when having an opinion can get you digitally crucified. But the world marches on as it always has, even in the wake of a series of heartbreaking departures and earth-shattering events. If this sort of horror show continues into next year, it’s very tempting to sit back and enjoy the brilliant art that comes out of it just as I have this year. It’s sadistic, sure. But then, can we seriously tell ourselves that the art world would be better without struggle, conflict and compromise? If this list is anything to go by, I would say the answer is definitively no.

20. Trans Day of Revenge by G.L.O.S.S.

Their name might stand for ‘Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit’ but, from the opening state-of-the-union address ‘It’s time to give violence a chance!’, it’s clear that this group of girls is right in it, and they are not happy. The difference between G.L.O.S.S. and all the other punk bands who are ‘not happy’ is that their message is incendiary beyond comparison. Even for hardcore, it’s rare for a group to fuse an anti-intolerance message with an anarchic taste for violence, even more for a group to make themselves seem hugely inspirational in one breath and genuinely frightening in the next. On ‘Fight’, their rallying against fascism is matched with a snarling lust for violence, but not without purpose: these are not crazy freaks. They’re doubtless, cocksure anarchists with an essential message and respect-paying musical affinity to boot.

19. Slow Forever by Cobalt

The best metal albums of recent years have been those that refused to stagnate and stick within their own genre; whether they embrace shoegaze like Deafheaven did for Sunbather or rock’n’roll like Kvelertak’s Nattesferd, it’s difficult to make metal albums that choose to wallow in the darkness of their own roots. Cobalt’s double-disc behemoth, Slow Forever, is brilliant because it does both. Yes, it brings in elements of blues, hardcore and roots rock, but they are all the gritty sides of American music, enveloped in the dark cocoon of Slow Forever‘s 83-minute runtime. In truth, the album wouldn’t quite the same without the crisp, bone-crunching production from Dave Otero, whose mix brings out the rustiness in Erik Wunder’s drums and the breathlessness of the guitars to carve out a monstrous, almighty metal opus.

18. Paradise by White Lung

Is it punk? Is it metalcore? The lines are hard to define, but what is obvious is that both are mixed to dizzying effect on White Lung’s screeching new album. Doing away with punk’s ordinarily blunted edges, everything is sharper and more bruising than traditional hardcore. Without being clean, the production gives an echo-y shine to the tracks, which work efficiently and have a punchiness that’s difficult to do with metalcore influences. Yet, it remains baffling now that nobody was able to see the enormous potential of the nimble guitar runs that populate Kenneth William’s riffs, or the dynamic that they add to the music: although not even close to this decade’s punk saviour, it is the first album in a while to make a case for virtuosic musicianship in punk music. That it does so with such vigour and heart-pounding ferocity is part of its appeal 8 months later.

17. Wildflower by The Avalanches

Things that are long in-the-making rarely deliver, particularly pieces by artists as distinctive as The Avalanches. But, from the moment the swathes of rich soul instrumentation come splashing into view on ‘Because I’m Me’, there’s no doubt that the group have found a new sense of musical appreciation. Drawing on counterculture influences from the 50s, 60s and 70s (funk, soul, psychedelic pop, ska), the album is as colourful as it is wildly fun to hear unfold. Yet, the group’s focus is so much clearer than it was on Since I Left You. Instead of all-out experimentation and, to be blunt, showing off, the Avalanches hone in their musical skills to create something that is so much more their own. Even if it doesn’t shock the listener as immediately as their debut did, it still has the power to make the 16-year gap almost disappear from memory, as though they had been working on Wildflower since the debut’s release and just forgot to put it out. That would be believable if it were true: the record is utterly timeless.

16. Lemonade by Beyoncé

Sneering at Lemonade‘s almost-laughably over-the-top acclaim has become almost necessary for all ‘serious’ music fans, particularly in the recent end-of-year lists that have drooled over Beyonce’s visual album. While it doesn’t belong near the top of any list of mine, certainly not above the work of her younger sister (more on her later), it’s also unfair to dismiss this as the work of a privileged superstar who has no understanding of ‘real music’. In fact, it’s a precise attack on those that would. For a start, her control over such a distinctive range of styles, although amounting to a cohesive whole, gives life to those genres as though their powers were their own. It has country-rock’s joyful stomp, hard rock’s immersion in the pleasure of volume, gospel’s unchained devotion to the sound, even the swagger of her early R&B output. But it is held together by one single thread: the woman herself. It’s just as much about Beyonce’s own identity as it is of the identity of every patronised woman and underappreciated African-American, and in that way, it seems almost ignorant to treat this album as anything less than a deeply complex display of emotion from an unexpectedly complex pop star. It’s unapologetic about anything within, even if it might eventually radiate forgiveness and an ultimate message of compassion. If you don’t like Beyonce, you won’t like Lemonade. But therein lies the point: Beyonce couldn’t care less about you when, for once, it’s about her.

Watch this space for 11-15, and the beginning of the Top 10.


Best Albums of 2016: No. 9 – A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead

Radiohead’s career feels like a rabbit hole: the further down you go, the more you find, yet the further down they went, the harder it was to see them coming back up. The King of Limbs is still a murky, questionable late-period effort from Radiohead, an impersonal series of glitchy half-compositions that never come to true fruition as songs in their own right. It was seeming less and less likely not that they would come back up from the rabbit hole, but that they would come back at all: nobody heard almost anything from them in terms of concrete music details for ages. Even when A Moon Shaped Pool was released, it was with a certain sense of quiet transaction, as though the group just wanted to hand the album to the people and then get back in out of the rain. Fittingly, A Moon Shaped Pool mostly sounds like just that. It’s distant, hushed, shivering. With the exception of the skittish and intense ‘Burn the Witch’, each track quivers with an undeniable fragility, each instrument lacing itself into the framework of the music. Nigel Godrich’s production is so distinct that every part has definition to it, yet the overall whole is awash with the feeling of being underwater, of aimlessly floating in cold waters with no ground to place your feet on.

The definition in the instruments is important, of course, since the instrumentation is part of what makes the album so down-to-earth: there’s no aimless fiddling with pads, little of the crackling drumming of In Rainbows and so much less musical complexity than its predecessors. It’s organic and breathes naturally with what feels like our own heartbeats, or, more precisely, Thom Yorke’s. Reportedly, the album was mainly a response to their divorce, and it shows: Pool is the most honest and decidedly uncomplicated he’s ever been. It’s almost painfully perfect that the entire thing ends with their most pure, beautiful song possibly ever, and one that has been rendered here, after years of hiding tucked away in live recordings, as something more intimate than one could imagine music to get: ‘True Love Waits’ has the power to snap one’s heart in two with its ambiguous final words. ‘Don’t leave’, Yorke howls like a dog left outside to mope. A shaky metaphor, maybe, but that kind of commitment and that kind of ache? That’s what drives A Moon Shaped Pool, and it’s the group’s most natural, simple and reflective piece of work that will undoubtedly stand amongst their finest works.

Best Albums of 2016: No. 10 – Hopelessness by Anohni

When Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin” begins, and the guitars chime in, there is an overwhelming sense of warmth to the song. The cutting, glaring social commentary comes from the poetry, not the music. But, on Anohni’s first solo album, the story is different. Not only is the music deliberately seismic, glacial and apathetic, her lyrics place the blame squarely on us, and more importantly, herself.

It’s jarring when artists are so readily self-critical in a serious way, particularly on issues as hot and heavy as climate change, conflict and poverty. Anohni embraces this audacity and sends it flying right into the listener’s ears. And so she should: it’s rare to find a readiness to fight in someone so eager to make a stadium-sized impression. The songs sound like tectonic plates crashing together in a sea of synthesisers, with drums large enough to raise mountains.

Everyone is in the firing line, and there is a heart-wrenching realisation that Anohni leaves us uncertain as to whether her cries of ‘drone bomb me’ are a funereal eulogy for those fallen in Syria airstrikes, amongst countless other acts of war in the last eight years, or a satirical spit on the steps of the White House. Both appear in equal measure at other points past the closer: the former on ‘Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth?’ and the latter on ‘Obama’. Achieving such startling emotion from the world’s stoicism is something so many have strived to do in poems, essays, literature and film, but few do it with as much fizz and as much seething pain as Anohni.

Best Albums of 2016: 25-21

In a year that will go down in history as one of the most chaotic in human history, it makes sense that creating the year-end list proved difficult: how do you distill a year of excitement, fear, confusion and uncertainty into just 25 albums? It’s easy in these turbulent times to doubt oneself, particularly in an age when having an opinion can get you digitally crucified. But the world marches on as it always has, even in the wake of a series of heartbreaking departures and earth-shattering events. If this sort of horror show continues into next year, it’s very tempting to sit back and enjoy the brilliant art that comes out of it just as I have this year. It’s sadistic, sure. But then, can we seriously tell ourselves that the art world would be better without struggle, conflict and compromise? If this list is anything to go by, I would say the answer is definitively no.

25. You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen

When Cohen’s ‘Nevermind’ was used as the theme for True Detective‘s second season, one reviewer for the show saw the song as a confirmation of all the things everyone could hate about the show: overt moodiness with a theme sung by a man with a gravelly voice. ‘Nevermind’ was, of course, so much more nuanced as a piece of performance poetry than the reviewer made out, but without You Want It Darker, that stereotype of the late singer-songwriter might well have stuck with him after his death. But, like Bowie months before, Cohen knew his time was coming and, through a weaving of his own dark, existentially weighty poetry and funereal music reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, created something just as introspective and infinitely more straightforward. Complex though his language may be, Cohen’s message is simply that of a legacy reflected on and a life remembered; whether it be the resignation to fate of ‘Leaving the Table’ or the aching romantic saga encapsulated in ‘If I Didn’t Have Your Love’, Cohen goes straight for the darkest corner of the heart, emerging clean and ready to move on to the other side.

24. 99.9% by Kaytranada

Kaytranada’s greatest skill is knowing what makes it exciting to make music. Although he is, ostensibly, a producer of the now, the modern club embodied, and a skilled navigator of 2016’s music world, his appreciation for production trickery that makes us remember the sheer enjoyment of hearing new music for the first time is timeless. His obsession with in-your-face dynamics and long guest lists is offset by a gleefully old-fashioned immersion in 70s and 80s sheen, albeit updated for the Spotify generation with crunchiness, thickness and a whole lot of bass. If you remember the feeling of hearing Discovery for the first time, imagine if that record had been made by someone who, instead of having a freakishly nerdy record collection, simply heard Chic’s entire discography once, had a night out in a club and then came home and made a record. That’s 99.9%, and it’s just as fun to listen to Kaytranada’s mind working away inside the music as it is actually hearing the music.

23. Modern Country by William Tyler

Lyrics are such a huge part of Americana that it’s difficult to picture how we would have managed to associate such vivid imagery (open roads, deserts, American flags blowing in the wind) without it. But William Tyler doesn’t see it that way. In a way, with his latest album, he recognises the overblown stereotypes that we have about heartland rock, and Americana as a whole, and consequentially sees the beauty in the music itself: even without vocals, he knows the images we see when we listen to his music, and they’re just as warm, as beautiful and as introspective as any lyrics’ visuals could conjure up. It’s an album for nighttime drives, and staring at a widescreen, technicolor sunset, and reflecting on things that happened years before, and that haven’t happened yet.

22. Basar by Africaine 808

There’s a sense of excitement when people with rich musical heritage and a newborn sense of youthful exploration find themselves with the equipment to make music. It’s even more so when those people throw themselves into such a dizzying mix of world music and dance as Africaine 808 do on Basar. As though discovering the many wonders of sequencers for the first time, there is no shortage of ideas and grooves on this album, certainly not of rhythms that make you want to get up and dance as furiously, and that’s mostly to do with the respect that the group pay to their roots. It doesn’t sacrifice real enthusiasm for schlocky contrivances in its sound: when Africaine 808 evoke the feeling of abandoning all predispositions to let yourself be free to the rhythm of the music, like one would in the tribal dances which they and their music can claim heritage to, they mean it.

21. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

When listening to Pablo, one might be tempted to see any attempt at decoding and understanding the nuances of the piece places you square in the firing line of a big joke that Kanye is playing on you, me and the rest of his audience. There is evidence to back this up, of course: the hilariously long wait for the album, the frankly ridiculous lead-up to the release, the aftermath of the release, etc. But all of them service something that, I hope, is a lot more than a big joke. The way the album evolved right before our eyes and the fragmented thematic knottiness of the tracks isn’t just Ye pulling a fast one: it’s an intimate and confusing portrayal of a confusing man, one who has laid himself bare on Pablo. The album isn’t just a series of songs, but a metaphor for the man himself. Like the album, West is frustrating, inconsistent and hopelessly complex. And, like West, it’s what makes the album so great.


Stay tuned for numbers 20-16 soon.

Run the Jewels 3 Confirmed, New Track Shared

Run the Jewels have shared the track- and guest-list for Run the Jewels 3 and it is an absolute doozy. Not only are the wonderful tracks ‘2100’ and ‘Talk To Me’ on the album, the roll call also includes Kamasi Washington, Danny Brown and TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe. 

As if the news couldn’t get any better, the duo have been generous enough to share ‘Legend Has It’ with us as well, the newest single to come out of the third record.

To top it all off, it will be released in the week that Trump ascends to the throne.

So that’ll be interesting.

Listen to ‘Legend Has It’ here:

Run the Jewels 3 will be released 13th January 2017.

LISTEN – Run The Jewels share incendiary RTJ3 track, ‘2100’


It’s been a tough 48 hours. Many inhabitants of the Western world have been elated at the events that have taken place since about 4am yesterday morning, others have been crushed by it. For the latter, a scarily shrinking faction, there couldn’t be a more important time for Run The Jewels to return proper, and return proper they have. After unveiling their superb Adult Swim Single ‘Talk to Me’, the first confirmed single from Run The Jewels 3, they have now presented the shining light in an increasingly darkening cultural landscape with ‘2100’, the fantastic call-to-arms that the world has been waiting for.

Run The Jewels have always been admirable for their viscerality, always working under the assertion that nobody is safe. But, whereas the songs from their previous cracker of an album, Run The Jewels 2, focused on the problems faced by the shoddy intrapersonal relationships we have, here they concede that fighting against each other is not an option. ‘Please greet me with a heart full and a pound and a hug’, Killer Mike politely asks, a rare moment of sensitive doe-eyed honesty from the normally unapologetically rambunctious rapper, after El-P defiantly states he is ‘standing by your side for the fight’. Although the duo wrote this song months ago, and never planned to release it this early, it could not be more vital to our society now to heed their words. They are not just producing fun hip-hop anymore: this is the voice of what is now the minority, speaking out.

The solemnity of this peace of work, which feels as sombre and rousing as an almighty choir piece, is hugely helped by the incredible instrumental backing it up, as dark guitars swirl around Boots’ pained chorus, and the fragility of the duo is finally exposed. What makes the track so brilliant is that, despite having their tough exterior knocked down, their soul remains steadfast, ready for the fight. That’s the Run The Jewels I know.

Listen here:


Let’s Talk About: Mercury Prize 2016

Around this time of year, Barclaycard (or Hyundai, as of this year) manage to humble me by making me realise how much I still have to learn about new British music. Albums that completely passed me by on first release somehow find themselves competing for one of the most prestigious prizes in British music. But then, that’s what’s brilliant about the Mercury Prize: there are virtually no politics involved. They might be the only major music ceremony to vote based on the quality of the albums alone, or at least on how much they want to champion a new artist. Consider this: in the past three years, the winners have been the albums low down, or even passively taking up the middle spot, in any betting odds list. James Blake received his first push into the spotlight three years ago, whilst Young Fathers, the people who seemed the least excited group in the room the night they won, became a household name after snatching the prize from FKA Twigs, East India Youth, Kate Tempest and Damon Albarn. Let’s not talk about Benjamin Clementine beating Jamie xx and Ghostpoet to the prize last year. Nevertheless, the Prize has always been about pushing forward the albums that otherwise might never see the light of day again, ones that challenge how we think about popular music. Lord knows why they chose Alt-J’s debut under that criteria, but there we go.

Of course, it would be foolish at this point to place any kind of bets on who will win. Not only is it never who we would expect, but my allegiances for who should win this year are split. Does Bowie need to get a final nod after his untimely death? Should Anohni’s fiercely relevant debut solo record steal it? Perhaps Radiohead could finally bag a win after a plethora of nominations that stopped short of their name in an envelope? In any case, if I were to rank the 12 based entirely on the quality of the albums (bear in mind that my choice last year to win was Ghostpoet, despite Jamie xx’s album being undeniably better), here’s how I would do it:

12. Making Time by Jamie Woon

The fact is that Making Time is boring. The general ethos behind it, a paring back to reveal a more skeletal instrumental structure, is admirable, and undoubtedly it sometimes works. But so much of it feels uninspired, as though there’s been no passion put into the performances. It lacks the bite of even the least cohesive Mercury Prize nominees from last year, and seems to mistake pastoral wooziness for lack of ubiquity. That being said, it’s precisely the type of album that the Mercury go for, one that seems to challenge, however quietly, the conventional features of pop music. And yet, I would much rather it remained a forgotten Mercury nominee and Woon came out with something that had a little more emotion.

11. Made In The Manor by Kano

Kano’s most successful album since London Town suffers simply from being weighted heavily towards its second half, both in terms of brilliance of the tracks and the emotional punches they land. It’s difficult to tell if it’s simply because all the heavier tracks are put together at the beginning and the more introspective, and vastly superior ones hold up the second half, but it simply makes the first lot feel clumsy and over-exaggerated. When an album like this arrives in the middle of the grime revival and sounds as forced as the first half does, it just feels like a betrayal of grime’s core ideal, and even with a fantastic set of tracks that make up the following section, the entire thing feels unstructured and sloppy. Instead of punctuating those moments of largess with introspection like his predecessors (Boy In Da Corner comes to mind), it’s just all slapped together haphazardly. So, not only is it nowhere near the best album on the list, it’s not even the best grime album on the list.

10. The Bride by Bat For Lashes

Apparently there is a storyline behind Bat For Lashes’ fourth studio album about a bride whose fiance dies on the way to their wedding. Its core theme is to deal with how the central character copes with grief and acceptance. Unfortunately the music itself, for the most part, doesn’t grab you in a way that something like this should. Baroque pop has always had close ties with melancholia, particularly recently with Florence + the Machine’s huge success on their last album, but grief is particularly interesting to explore how it interacts with music like that. Where Bat For Lashes slightly misses the mark is succumbing occasionally to melodrama, but then not following that up with melodrama that particularly soars in the same way as something like Florence or Natalie Prass. Mostly, a balance hasn’t been struck, despite there being some fantastically written pieces within the album.

9. Channel The Spirits by The Comet Is Coming

Channel The Spirits is the obligatory jazz album. It happens every year, without fail, to varying degrees of success; perhaps what makes Channel The Spirits so low on the list is simply because of the distinct lack of subtlety. Despite there only being three members, everything feels a little bombastic, lacking a deftness that so many of the great Mercury jazz albums have had. The keys are mixed like a bulldozer against the drums, with the saxophone dropped clumsily into the middle. That doesn’t stop the strange sonic exploration being enticing, and the performances are still everything we would want from a space-jazz album like this. But, as jazz albums with the same kind of space-age bent as this become more and more popular, and their scope becomes broader, albums that simply heave along like this never make much of an impression.

8. Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka

It’s true that Kiwanuka’s lyricism may be groaningly obvious sometimes (‘I’m a black man in a white world’? Come on), but if you’re like me and you’re expecting some sort of spiritual successor to the likes of Benjamin Clementine, or even Bill Withers, it’s quite surprising that huge chunks of the album sound exactly like they’ve been lifted from an early-70s Pink Floyd record. Those signature stadium-sized guitars set against serene drums and an earthy keys section are totally unexpected, but strangely welcome when they do occur. The thing that holds the album back from truly becoming what it wants to be is the ubiquity of the more soul-based songs. British soul has obviously had a huge revival recently but it’s starting to become more of the same, which is precisely why the rest of the album works so well: Kiwanuka is taking inspiration from the strangest of places and growing into a solo artist to keep on the radar.

7. The Dreaming Room by Laura Mvula

I was never convinced by Mvula’s first Mercury nom; it seemed too weird, too concerned with being unique to free itself up. Perhaps what sets this apart from that is its willingness to have fun with its influences. Mostly comprised of gospel and soul numbers, Mvula’s waste of a guest star (Nile Rodgers barely requires thinking about) is forgiven for her contemplative, but rarely reserved, performances and lyricism. Her arrangements are something to admire as well: she never skimps out on extremely adventurous pieces of instrumentation, broadening her scope to include what is essentially a whole orchestra, mining the quieter sections for marimbas, glockenspiels and filmic percussion. It simply lacks a lot of rhythmic pull in some of the tracks to really push itself forward.

6. I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it by The 1975

It can definitely be said that I have warmed a lot more to this album since first reviewing it back in February; although it’s still difficult to get past the sheer length, it’s undeniable that this album has by far the best production on all of these records, and the singles are absolutely killer (apart from ‘Love Me’). Whether or not they entirely excuse the slight misfires is another argument, but after a lot more contemplation, there’s no denying the power that the group has right now: they seem to be the boyband against which everything else is measured, and because they can play their instruments incredibly well, know how to write some fabulous pop tunes and are perfectly capable of A-grade production, that’s absolutely a good thing. In fact, what’s completely inexplicable about this album is that it somehow twists its own influences so that they don’t feel schlocky or contrived, instead bouncy, more human, more organic, and sometimes extremely emotional.

5. Konnichiwa by Skepta

After releasing the single that essentially revitalised the masses’ interest in grime with ‘Shutdown’, it should have been difficult for Skepta to live up to that and deliver an album that felt like the true eye of the storm for the second wave of grime music. But he handles it with such pointed remarks, dexterity and wit that he barely even needs space for anything that feels more introvert: the album comes at you like it’s firing on all cylinders, with Skepta filling each track with glimpses of life on the street more as a rallying cry than an admission of defeat. Each hook feels carefully planned and is executed with careful, wry precision that brings new life to a dying vision of London’s streets: no surrender, no defeat.

4. Adore Life by Savages

Savages bring so much conviction to their music, but it’s really here that noise was fully embraced as a tool for expressing power. It somehow feels almost witty, then, that they would choose to twin that sound with a theme as sentimental as love. It’s clear from the opening notes of ‘The Answer’, though, that sentimentality is not an option. Instead, the group treats love like the all-consuming force that it really is, something that destroys everything it comes up against. It’s maddening, but it is so strong that nothing can truly stop it. In a way, the use of such an abrasive sound is uplifting, because it carries such a strong message that it simply wouldn’t work under softer circumstances: the group want you to give yourself up to the music, so they use love as a rallying cry against injustice. There’s not a single moment where they falter or fumble; they are Savages and they are steady as a rock.

3. Blackstar by David Bowie

So much digital ink has been used up to talk about Blackstar‘s incredible weight in the aftermath of Bowie’s death. All the strange allegorical symbolism, the obscure references and the mournful, forward-thinking instrumentals suddenly seemed to make sense. We’ll never truly know if it was simply an exploration of, and a way of dealing with, inevitable death, or whether it was actually his message to the world about said inevitable, but then that’s what makes it so fascinating. Those questions may never get answered. More importantly, Bowie’s ‘final parting gift’ does precisely what the best Bowie always has done: it’s surprised us musically by the sheer awesomeness of the songs, and opened up many people’s eyes to the brilliance of a genre they may have never had any interest in otherwise. In this case, the jazz-infused electronica is probably the most off-the-wall he’s ever been, and yet the raw emotionality, the feeling of staring death in the face, the spaced-out weirdness, it all stays grounded in – yep, I’m gonna say it – Bowie’s best album since Scary Monsters. A posthumous win would surely be welcomed.

2. Hopelessness by Anohni

In the current climate, it’s always tempting to get angry at other people for what happens in the world. Passive activism is a problem that Anohni seems to recognise all too well. Her bravery in admitting how important she is, and all of us are, to the problem is what makes Hopelessness so stunning. Her personalisation of issues surrounding climate change and injustice strikes a dark chord, perhaps one we wouldn’t like to feel applies to us. Nevertheless, she is both courageous and deeply troubled in her convictions, all set against a superb backdrop of strange synthpop that only adds to the pointedness of the message. For a debut, Anohni’s identity and voice is already fully-formed, informed by her background in previous Mercury winners Anthony and the Johnsons. Whether her past win rules her out of this year’s running is unclear, but it would be a crying shame if Anohni’s strong message goes unnoticed by the judges. If there’s one person that should take the prize home, I think Radiohead can just about deal with a loss.

1. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead

Yet, here we are, faced with the possibility of either Radiohead’s first win or their umpteenth loss. As much as I’m a firm believer in the Prize’s ethos to promote the most fresh-faced music, the Oxford group is, for me at least, the clear highlight in the list this year. Even as I lament at the lack of a James Blake nod (he won last time!) or a complete snubbing of Britain’s brightest new star, Nao, A Moon Shaped Pool, for reasons that feel inextricably indebted to the group’s past, is by far and away the strongest of the albums on the list, no question. It’s the most organic album they’ve done in years, it’s achingly beautiful, it’s filled with quiet nooks and crannies that don’t reveal themselves even by the fourth or fifth listen. Not only that, but Yorke’s lyrics have never been more direct. He ditches symbolic poetry and gibberish for such avid declarations of love and dedication that it makes even the most defiant OK Computer fan weep. It’s not filled with sign ‘o’ the times imagery, it’s more personal than that: it’s about Yorke, and it’s about the band, working closer as a unit than they may have ever done. The fact that this is still only their fourth-best album proves that, once again, their inclusion in this list isn’t just obligatory – it’s practically set in stone before it even happens.


Watch the Mercury Prize tonight on BBC Four to see live performances from Michael C Hall and The 1975.

The Best Acts At Reading Festival 2016

Now that the dust has settled on Reading (and I mean that literally, I breathed in half the ground this year, I’m still recovering from a fever), it’s time to look back on the acts that reminded us how brilliant and how important it really is. It’s big enough to attract some wild names and it’s just wild enough to stop it being totally mainstream. Parents don’t take their kids to Reading, you know what I mean?

Nevertheless, upon initial glance at the line-up, it’s clear from the headliners alone that this year’s line-up was more impressive. Give me Foals and the Chilis over Mumford and Metallica anyday. But what about further down the line at the Main Stage? Who was propping up the NME tent? Who broke through in the Xtra stage? All your questions are answered and more in our run down of the 10 best sets we saw at Reading Festival 2016.


10. Slaves’ Secret Set (BBC Introducing)

Slaves owe a lot to BBC Introducing. Even when I first heard about them back in late 2013, I don’t think I would have been made aware of them if it hadn’t been for the BBC’s program. That made their return to the stage, packed as it was, quite special. They played much older tracks, and they clearly wanted to pay tribute to the people who made them famous, but the crowd got on board with it anyway, and it reminded me so much of why I loved them when I saw them last year, as well as revitalising my confidence that they were actually, you know, good, after the Main Stage set left me feeling hugely underwhelmed. But then Drenge did exactly the same last year and I’ve been to see them twice since, both times they smashed it. Go figure.

Anyway, the sweaty claustrophobia of being in that small space, combined with the love I’ve had for the band for a while now, gave me a small sense of pride at them, that they were so huge now that by even being on the stage they were being nostalgic for a time that feels like years ago, before anyone had even whispered the words ‘The Hunter…’

HIGHLIGHT: Their impassioned and still absolutely ace cover of ‘Shutdown’ by Skepta, that proved to me the importance of one genre to the other, particularly with the amount of people shouting the words back at them.

9. Skindred

I thought I knew exactly what to expect when I saw Skindred’s gear being set up. Metal band, probably screamers. Simple stuff, really. And then on comes a hipster, a Billy Gibbons look-alike, a Chad Kreuger look-alike with a computer rig, another hipster and a much more metal Stevie Wonder. What the hell is going on?

Skindred know how to play an audience. They know what makes a festival crowd tick, particularly theirs. Which is why they went absolutely ape. Their way of pulling the crowd back and forth to their every whim was just brilliant, and they knew it as well. They were proud of it. They wore it like a badge on their black jackets. Perhaps most brilliantly they never seemed to take it too seriously. Despite how dark and occasionally quite terrifying their music is, they never took themselves too seriously, allowing for so much freedom from their frontman that they could basically do what they wanted. Absolutely riotous.

HIGHLIGHT: I could be sensible and say ‘Sound the Siren’. Or I could tell the truth and say that when they played something ‘more evil’ than Marilyn Manson, Ozzy Osbourne and Slipknot, ‘Sorry’ by Justin Bieber, I absolutely lost it.

8. Cage The Elephant

There’s a fizzy, manic energy to Cage, even when their songs are only at mid-tempo. As frontman Matt Shultz leapt with inimitable energy onto the stage for opener ‘In One Ear’, I knew that these guys had a buzz that nobody could truly replicate. The buzz surrounding them was big enough, with people left and right finding out about the band purely through their live shows. One of the group I went with even lamented at having to sit through Fall Out Boy and miss Cage (I didn’t see the headliners that day; I’m sure you’ll all understand).

Even after 10 years of being together, it’s quite astounding that the years haven’t in any way seemed to affect the group’s sense of fun and their need to have fun performing as well. Shultz spent half the set bounding along the barriers and running past audience members, so much so it’s a wonder he was even able to draw breath for the closing numbers. But then that’s part of the deal: Cage put their absolute all into their performances, and I was so glad to see them hit the big-time here.

HIGHLIGHT: As much as I adore ‘Come A Little Closer’, and was surprised when they played ‘Spiderhead’ to such an inviting crowd, nothing could beat the moment Shultz first entered the stage for ‘In One Ear’.

7. Disclosure

For brothers Lawrence, festival slots like this must seem like auto-pilot. Past the pleasantries that they inject into probably every set they’ve ever done, it’s easy to see through their saying that we were one of the best crowd’s they’d played, thanking us for making it such a good set. They’ve headlined festivals before, no biggie. But the vibe of their set, and the structure, reminds us of how brilliant so many of their songs still are today, particularly the Settle tracks 3 years later.

Perhaps the only complaint was the disappointing guest turn-out: not only did they just have one guest, but also that guest was not, as many thought, Aluna Francis during ‘White Noise’, despite her being at the festival that very day. Instead they brought out the admirable Brendan Reilly for a fun but forgettable performance on ‘Moving Mountains’, and that was it. Despite that, the set was a triumph, bringing the club to the mainstage and never allowing the group to compromise their roots in dance music. And, to top things off, I had the pleasure of meeting Game of Thrones’ Isaac Hempstead-Wright during the set and became acquaintances with him. Small world.

HIGHLIGHT: Not just because Wright was part of the party during this song, ‘You & Me’ still moves with the same bounce and groove that it first did when it was released in 2013.

6. Chvrches

It’s easy to look at Chvrches onstage and see a group who are shy, too self-aware or maybe even too self-serious. All those pretences were slowly washed away as the set went on and finally shattered when Martin Doherty took to the mic for ‘Under The Tide’ and said ‘RIP Harambe’. To paraphrase Cyndi Lauper, Chvrches just wanna have fun.

Hearing their music on record, it’s easy to see why: their choruses are made for places like this. But their setup, on paper, feels so static and lacks dynamic of any sort. Then they start playing and it’s like they’re piloting a rocket-ship or preaching to the masses. Seeing Lauren Mayberry evolve from this sweet, awkward girl who stays put at the microphone into a rough-and-tumble, invigorating, point-the-finger kind of frontwoman, the kind that will look you right in the eye on the line ‘I will be a gun and it’s you I’m coming for’, is truly magical. Synthpop would normally never have a place here, and yet the edge that these guys bring to it makes it perfect. It’s not jaunty to the point where it’s bittersweet, and the brilliance of the chord they strike makes you wonder how we’ve gone this long without them on the Main Stage.

HIGHLIGHT: ‘Empty Threat’ was made for an audience like this, a huge, fast and zippy pop tune that has a banging chorus. Plus, I can’t give a highlight to Harambe ‘just because’, right?

5. The 1975

The 1975 headlining the NME tent was the perfect way to finish off the festival, even if I did feel half-dead during. The band brought all the fresh-faced sobriety and straight-up brilliant performances that you would expect from a pop group like them. They didn’t even try too hard: no over-the-top physicality’s, no surprise setlists, no particularly out-of-this-world visuals (although the visuals they had were great). Just a solid, no-nonsense brilliant set from the group.

Part of the success of that set in particular was Matt Healy. Healy has managed to evolve from the frontman everyone loved to hate to a frontman who most people don’t even know what to think of anymore. He’s hugely charismatic, annoyingly good at performing and understands when enough is enough. There was no point where I thought to myself ‘Woah, steady on there, Matt’. He let the music speak for itself, as did the other band members. It’s one of the few gigs I’ve been to where the performer can actually get away with that. The sound of the show was undeniably brilliant from a technical standpoint; the songs they chose were immaculate cuts; they are fabulous musicians. They wanted people to feel as though they were at a 1975 show, just like anybody else who’s ever seen them live, and we did.

HIGHLIGHT: Strangely, the sobering rawness of ‘Somebody Else’ struck the biggest chord with me. It’s not the kind of song that should work in a setting as vibrant as this, but it acted almost as a partial comedown for everyone who had just begun to recover from the best weekend of their lives. Laid bare with the performances, it’s easy to feel the emotion that went into that song when heard live.

4. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizzard

Feeling a group’s energy channelled straight into your body is rare nowadays. And yet, the electrifying, angular performance from King Gizzard was show-stopping. First of all, it’s almost insane to see nine people onstage at once, but it’s also quite invigorating. King Gizzard are clearly about chaos: from the moment they step onstage, chaos is the order of the day. They don’t care how they get you moving, they just want to do it. In fact, this is one of the few live shows I could only describe as ‘you really have to see it’, because it’s so crazy and so exciting to see it unfold that you can only really understand why the set is so high if you see it for yourself.

But, of course, it’s my job to write about it so I’ll try: Michael Cavanaugh’s cascading, rip-roaring drums and Lucas Skinner’s fat bass guitar underpin the madness like a freight train plowing through wreckage. The supporting members all gel together beautifully well, and it’s all to service frontman Ambrose Kenny Smith, the mental mind behind the madness. His appearance onstage is almost that of a direct line to the band’s collective consciousness. It’s freaky how he does it, really: that he makes us feel the same thing we can only assume the band feel everytime they play their music. The fact that they do it without any kind of technical wizardry almost at all is proof of how indescribable their live show is. A must-see.

HIGHLIGHT: Honestly, the whole thing felt like one big trip.

3. Boy Better Know

The most popular rap crew possibly in the world took to the Main Stage in the early evening on Friday and good Lord, what followed was carnage. As each flavoursome new member of the group took to the stage to perform on their own, as a duo or as a group, their name flashed behind them in the font of the British numberplate like amateur propaganda posters, a salute to the scrappy urbanised anarchy that they were born out of. Not a single beat was missed, and not a moment was wasted.

It’s only here that we can truly see how far the influence of BBK has stretched in the music landscape: so many of the tracks blasted out by MCs at the top of their game were cried back by hordes of impassioned fans. Whether it be on ‘Shutdown’, ‘Man’, ‘Man Don’t Care’, ‘Feed ‘Em To The Lions’, you name it, the crowd were there for the ride, every second of it. And the energy of the show, my God, the energy. Watching the group performing, whether together or alone, is like watching magic happen, like history being made. In our case, we actually saw that: grime is creating a storm in music, and by the looks of that set, we were at the eye of it.

HIGHLIGHT: It’s so difficult to choose, but ‘Too Many Man’ was probably the most riotous.

2. Foals

It’s a long hard road to the top, and people were sceptical as to whether this would work. Headliners? Foals? Surely not! Well, consider yourself schooled, because Foals headline set was nothing short of triumphant. Opening with pummelling What Went Down cut ‘Snake Oil’, the group’s penchant for never insulting their past whilst also keeping their eye on the future is at its peak. The group powered through a set that takes us on a whistle-stop tour of what makes the band so great: the performances, the dynamics, the versatility.

And it’s not as though they outstayed their welcome, like a certain band of Chilis, instead economising their set to just thirteen songs, three of which were part of an encore, and then trying delve into the deepest corners of some of those tracks, like the extended, dizzying finale of ‘Two Steps Twice’ or the three-time-climax of ‘Inhaler’. But they didn’t neglect the burn-out moments, the ‘Spanish Sahara’s, the ‘Late Night’s. In the end, nobody knows the Foals catalogue better than Foals, and yet they seem to have more control over their own songs and their own shows than most other bands manage to have over their own. Foals get extra marks for making it look so damned easy, like headlining the Main Stage is exactly what they expected to be doing. It’s like they never even needed to prove themselves in the first place.

HIGHLIGHT: The entire encore was a sight to behold, the one-two-three punch of ‘What Went Down’, classic revival ‘Cassius’ and primal jam ‘Two Steps Twice’.

1. TIE

Yeah, I cheated. I don’t care. It’s my list. I saw a lot of people at this festival, and I’ve seen a lot of live performances in my time. But these two were both so life-changing, so awe-inspiring, so perfect in every way, both so deserving of the title of the best live shows I’ve ever been to, that they felt inextricably linked the moment the second of the two finished. At every moment of both these shows I knew I was witnessing something historic.

Anderson.Paak and the Free Nationals:

The Paak set was just one of those shows where all the tiny aspects of the gig just click together perfectly: the artist, the backing band, the sound, the lights, the audience, the performances, the setlist, it was perfect. Paak said several times throughout that the group only had 30 minutes to do what they needed to do. It’s quite clear, looking back, what it was he felt they needed to do: they needed to deliver a set that the people stood at the Xtra stage would remember. He needed to make an impression and I’ll be damned if he didn’t.

It’s hard to define a vibe in a place. But this set had one. Everyone felt homogenous. The tent was so small and so sparsely packed that you had to want to be there. Nobody really wonders into the Xtra tent, not this early in the evening. The people there all knew what was up and I think Paak did as well. Everybody in the tent felt alive the moment Paak’s invigorating presence made itself known in opener ‘Bubblin’ and everybody felt satisfied, more fully than maybe ever before, after ‘Lite Weight’ was finished. Paak brought something different to that tent, and I’m proud to say I was there that day to see him absolutely smash it. I’m hoping that statement carries even more weight to it for Paak in the future.

HIGHLIGHT: The moment ‘Lite Weight’ began, nobody wanted it to end, because we knew then the set would have to end. Nobody wanted that.


Look, I knew they would be good, but this? This was on the same level as some sort of spiritual experience. For a start, this is a band whose bravery in their music has been proved countless times and, by bringing their specific brand of noise to the NME stage, of all places, they basically proved it for the billionth time over. But then to add to that the fact that lead singer Jehnny Beth, a mesmerising presence, musical or not, spent at least half of the set in the crowd, and you have something that feels like something so much more than just music. It’s a reminder of what music does to people.

At one point during ‘When In Love’, when Beth was right in front of me, she looked me right in the eye and sang straight to my face, as if she was trying to read my thoughts, absorb my soul, anything. In that moment, I felt the urge to let the music take me and it did. I danced and moved like a mad thing, like many others around me were. In that moment, I could feel the invigoration of what it means to listen to music. In that moment, I was reminded of what it was like to experience that album you love for the first time, to be introduced to that band again, to see the best show you’ve ever seen in your life. Music has the power to make you feel things you didn’t know anything could make you feel, and the quasi-mystical experience of actually seeing Beth with my own two eyes, let alone make human contact with her (she crowd-surfed around the damn crowd to the other side) is one of those moments that will stay etched in my mind as long as I do this job.

HIGHLIGHT: Is there any doubt what the highlight of this set was?

Both these sets reminded me why I do this job, why I love it and why other people love music. It reminded me that perfect live shows do exist in the last place you expect to look. It’s not about ticking boxes, it’s about being there, in the moment. It’s about feeling the music and being the music just in that point in time. Yeah, we love to talk about it afterwards, and there are some shows that you want to end just so you can talk about how good it was afterwards (Chilis again, sorry guys). But these shows reminded me that the best ones are the ones that take you out of the past or the future and drop you right into what’s happening now. These performances were pretty much perfect, and I will probably type those words maybe once, twice every few years, but twice in one weekend? That’s worth the price of admission.

Viola Beach by Viola Beach – Album Review

viola-beach-albumIf there’s one death this year that really did feel like it came too soon, it was the one nobody saw coming, and nobody could have predicted the outcome of: Viola Beach, on 13th February 2016, plunged into a river in Sweden in a van with their manager and sadly passed away, leaving behind a shocked music world to pick up the pieces. It’s a genuine shame that many people learnt about the band and their music as a result of this tragic accident, but, nevertheless, ‘Swings and Waterslides’ peaked at number 11 on the charts after their deaths, and now their album is here, albeit in much more morbid circumstances.

It’s interesting to gauge the reactions to the event. Many tributes poured out of music publications, NME in particular, all highlighting how vibrant and sunny their songs were and how much promise they showed as a summery indie band that could be shooting for the headline slot someday. And yet, listening here to the songs we hadn’t heard before, and taking the ones we had along with those unheard tracks, it’s very easy to get struck by a sense of melancholy that feels as though it would have been there whether the band were alive for this release or not. On ‘Drunk’, a downtrodden night-time invite, lyricist Kris Leonard latches onto the kind of drinking designed to send someone down instead of up, tapping into a surprisingly resonant part of presumably his own experiences. ‘Call You Up’s heavy instrumentals give it a weightier feel than you would expect from a band with ‘Beach’ in their name. Even ‘Boys and Girls’, a closer that will move many to tears, but one that was promoted as their big hit, feels just as gloomy, its plucky riff evoking more a feeling of mid-evening rain than bright sun, its rousing chorus now feeling crushingly bittersweet.

The arrangements are even more surprising. With the exception of belting opener ‘Waterslides’, the group opted to eschew the full-blooded guitars or distorted energy of their indie-pop contemporaries in favour of sparse, xx-esque guitars weaving in and out of each other, with Tomas Lowe’s mellow bass and Jack Dakin’s bouncy drums providing the backbone. ‘Drunk’ with the fragile chords that open the song, ‘Go Outside’ with its overlapping riffery, ‘Boys That Sing’ with the impressively restrained group performance; as each song becomes drenched in reverb, it becomes increasingly clear that Viola Beach were reaching for something more than just ‘t-shirt weather’ and ‘a race through soundcheck’. Perhaps their slightly vague portrayal of themselves as people was simplistic, but in a way that’s quite refreshing, and any woe they illustrate through their songwriting and lyricism is, of course, made all the more poignant by the events surrounding the album.

Who knows what would have happened next? I get the feeling that with their unique control over volume and energy, their grasp on what really makes people tick when it comes to the more sorrowful side of life and their unexpectedly unique sound, they could have been a symbol for how a group can bring indie rock back into reality again. It’s so sad to think that it may never turn out that way. Still, anyone with a heart can’t deny the importance of this record at least existing. What’s more uplifting, and equally depressing, is how wonderful this little snapshot sounds, a snapshot of a group of artists taken from us too soon. At this point, we were wise to find everything we could from this group.

Verdict: A tribute their families should be proud of, a debut the band would have been proud of. Charming, lugubrious and now an endless source of heavy hearts to us all.


Summer 08 by Metronomy – Album Review

121007_originalLike M83’s Junk earlier this year, Metronomy’s (or what’s left of them) latest relies heavily on the saving grace of nostalgia. Joseph Mount’s hushed tones dart around a backdrop of 808s and dusty synths to invoke some sort of feeling of a time which doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, as with Junk, it falls shy of the mark by quite a way. See, as much as I’m a sucker for nostalgia, Summer 08‘s particular brand feels hollow and uninspired. There’s a fizzy synthpop run here, but it’s completely weightless. There’s a playful melody there, but it’s fleeting and familiar. It’s almost as though, with this new record, Mount’s first as the solo member of the band, he’s grasping at ideas and not developing on them as fully as he could.

Worse than that, it’s almost all rehash of previous works, only this time with more focus on the low-end, the rounded bass and the thickness of the drums. Everything’s just a bit of a retread: prime Metronomy, for sure, but nothing that makes me sit up and take notice. There’s no sunny cynicism like on The English Riviera: there’s just emptiness. It’s almost as though in between all those synth jabs and basic drum machine patterns there’s too much space yet to be filled in by something truly impressive.

Auto-pilot can work, of course, if the artist is good in the first place, which Metronomy are. It’s at least undeniable that Mount has put a lot of work into getting great-sounding synths and drums, and the production is fantastically warm. And it’s not as though he’s lost his songwriting skill; everything’s pretty tight in the arrangements. It just feels like it’s missing substance. With English Riviera, there felt like an unspoken motif running through the album, like the final echoes of the seagulls at the beginning continued throughout the record. This feels like the crusty inside of an old synthesiser that sort of works but is long past its sell-by date.

Verdict: Mount’s newfound independence hasn’t done him any favours, and the yearning for a simpler time feels half-hearted and lacking in true voice.

Rating: 6/10

Best Albums of 2016 So Far…

Hello, good evening and welcome to the mid-year report on the best that 2016 has had to offer so far, and if I’m honest, looking at this top 10, I can’t say I’d be surprised if most of, if not all, of the albums in the list stay exactly where they are by the end of the year. Last year took much the same pattern, with almost all my top 10 albums having been released by this point in the year, the exception being The Most Lamentable Tragedy, the last Titus Andronicus record, and even then, our album of the year was pretty much decided the moment I finished listening to it.

Although it’s possible that the absolute standout has yet to appear on our shelves, it’s undeniable that these records here are likely to feature on many critics’ lists by the time December comes around. Will 2016 pull a Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming or a Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or a Black Messiah on us? Maybe. I should think that Frank Ocean is the most likely candidate for that album. If he ever gets up off his arse, that is. Anyway.

Edit: At the time this article was being written, Ocean had not got up off his arse. He now has: Boys Don’t Cry will be released in July

Let’s get to it, shall we?

10. Emily’s D+Evolution by Esperanza Spaldingesperanza-spalding-emilys-d-evolution-album-stream
Jazz has felt a jolt in the past few years, but although the best of them have mined the genre’s rich history for inspiration, Esperanza Spalding feels like the first artist to actively try and push jazz forward into the modern age. Jazz rock isn’t exactly an unheard-of concept, but Spalding’s unique take on the genre feels much more intent on creating an audience for a new type of jazz rock, one where the lines are blurred between it and off-kilter pop music. Spalding’s feverish vocal delivery makes her sound like St. Vincent, and her band makes her sound like Weather Report crossed with Kamasi Washington covering Taylor Swift.

STAND OUT TRACK: ‘Good Lava’, the fizzy opener to surely Spalding’s breakout work.


rs_600x600-160211142116-600-the-life-of-pablo-album-cover9. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

Now the dust has finally settled on West’s almighty epochal moment for the digital music age, it does come out the other side feeling like just another Kanye West album. That being said, it still boasts some brilliant production, exquisite structuring (to a point) and self-aware meditation on what it means to be Kanye. He’s certainly done better work in the past, and Pablo works much more on the strength of its fun and freneticism, but it’s easily his most personal work to date.

STAND OUT TRACK: ‘Real Friends’, West’s biggest emotional gutpunch since ‘Blame Game’.


beyonce-lemonade-album-cover-compressed8. Lemonade by Beyonce

Bey’s come a long way since ‘Crazy In Love’. She’s no longer the feisty young R&B star, the one from Destiny’s Child who made it, or even the icon for the strong female that she was with ‘All the Single Ladies’. Now, with Lemonade, she has worked out how best to present herself, which is to say she’s found space for humanity in her music. The album’s narrative, for a start, is tight. It’s a much rawer and more honest representation of what she feels in herself, using the infidelity narrative to bare herself to us; she’s vulnerable, she lies to herself, she’s angry, she’s not always thinking straight. That’s what the songs mean, and that’s why the style of the thing changes to frequently. In incorporating rock, soul, pop, R&B, hip-hop and country, she’s trying to tell us that this is who she really is: she’s like us. Being a superstar doesn’t make her different from all of us; she’s just as imperfect, and it’s that imperfection that makes Lemonade so brilliant.

STAND OUT TRACK: ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’, the stomping, Zeppelin-sampling, Jack White-featuring rock freak-out.

Blackstar_album_cover7. Blackstar by David Bowie

Like Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York before it, Blackstar is an album inseparable from its context: Bowie’s final message before departing to the stars. The Next Day, his previous album, was incredibly grounded for Bowie, but Blackstar glides along with the ghostly ether of a phantom, Bowie’s mournful vocals undercutting the fragile guitars and woozy saxophones, like a funeral march for the Thin White Duke. There’s much to unpack lyrically regarding his mortality, and his cryptic poetry remains as abstract as ever, but what makes Blackstar really special is how it continues the trend of some of the great Bowie albums in slotting itself into the pre-eminent musical trend that has yet to fully emerge and basically making it impossible for any pretenders to his throne to compete. Jazz is making a quiet comeback, and Bowie has blown that wide open and made it entirely his own. For the first time since the 80s, he became one of the fiercest musical clairvoyants in the world, and as it turned out, this time was his last.

STAND OUT TRACK: ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, his final song that doesn’t descend into pastiche, instead gently reminding us all how brilliant he was one final time.

white-lung-paradise-album-new6. Paradise by White Lun

Punk is a tricky thing; so is metalcore. They are difficult to separate from their fanbases enough to be completely objective about it. But with Paradise, White Lung have fused the two together in such a way that they have done away with the scrappy imperfections of the former and the emotional ham-fistedness of the latter to make something truly exhilarating. At breathless speed, this short, tight burst of fire unfolds against a backdrop of crushing rhythm guitar sequences and nimble lead guitar runs that might remind you of Metallica’s early days. Having held back the extraneous crap that bogs down so much punk and metal nowadays, it’s been condensed to its purest, most volatile form.

STAND OUT TRACK: ‘Dead Weight’, which throws you right into the thick of it without giving you time to breathe.

Car_Seat_Headrest_-_Teens_of_Denial5. Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest

Despite the prolific output of Bandcamp project Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial still feels like a singular moment for them. It deeply mines indie’s history by drawing on the softer side of Sonic Youth, the lankiness of Pavement and the peppiness of The Strokes to put into a sepia-toned record that reminisces on what to think of the world aged 23 when you’re thinking ‘what now?’ As Will Toledo sings defiantly on all-nighter ramble ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’, “IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS”. Toeing that line between anthemic urgency and indie cynicism is what makes Teens of Denial such a great record. It’s filled with optimism but leaves the dark corners for Toledo’s DIY boundary-pushing to fill in the blanks.

STAND OUT TRACK: ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’, which starts off as a soft indie-pop song that drearily tries to make sense of everything before crying out in its final refrain that it ‘doesn’t have to be like this’.

a1895762218_104. Hopelessness by Anohni

Just as PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake did five years ago, Anohni has made the album of its time, the album to tell us what’s wrong with the world. However, where Hopelessness outdoes England is in Anohni’s boldness at recognising herself as part of the problem. ‘I wanna see them burn, it’s only 4 degrees’, she cries on ‘4 DEGREES’, asking that people do away with their hypocritical nature on the state of the planet. That her scathing slam-poetry-style lyricism is set against the backdrop of the most challenging and radical electro-pop in years makes this a truly thrilling album, and one that will be remembered as the one to tell us what we were doing wrong. It establishes Anohni as a real force to be reckoned with. That’s something we need right now.

STAND OUT TRACK: ‘4 DEGREES’, a protest song of Dylanesque proportions, except so much angrier, and as a result, more invigorating.

2016Radioheadalbumamoonshapedpool3. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead

As the casual music world lets out a creative groan that everyone is, of course, drooling over Radiohead’s new album, we the critics can sit and remember how everyone felt after The King of Limbs was released. ‘Is this it?’ Well, now, after five years of waiting (and two frustrating ones of teasing), we finally got their ninth album, their most gentle, subdued and natural-sounding work in years. It has its blood-pumping moments, such as the jittery strings that open ‘Burn the Witch’ and the ever-growing bassline on ‘Ful Stop’. But then it also has its transparent, naked moments of vulnerability: ‘Glass Eyes’, ‘Daydreaming’, ‘Decks Dark’, all new classics for me. With AMSP, Radiohead don’t need to remind us what made them great in the first place: they’re just doing exactly what they do best in a way that still feels exciting and refreshing. That it births their most honest and fragile piece of work to date is a bonus.

STAND OUT TRACK: ‘True Love Waits’, maybe my favourite Radiohead song to date, but also a symbolic one to have ended this album on, given its rich history with the band; it’s the perfect way to close out an album this beautiful.

chance-the-rapper-chance-3-new-album-download-free-stream-640x6401-640x6402. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

If Hopelessness was an album of its time, then Coloring Book was an album for its time. After Chancellor Bennett reintroduced himself to the masses on Kanye West’s ‘Ultralight Beam’, we all knew he was about to come back in a big way. But did anyone really expect something as confident, as bold or as downright joyous as this? Chance subverts the expectations of so many of his peers to create something free of anxiety, melancholia and sadness, replacing them with liberation, warm nostalgia and joy across an album that completely redefines the place of religion in mainstream music. It took guts to include a cover of a Chris Tomlin song on an album that will have probably appealed to fans of Drake and Kanye, but he did it anyway because he’s so content, and he wants to let us know. We are lucky to have someone like Chance the Rapper at the top of his game and his popularity in the world right now.

STAND OUT TRACK: ‘Finish Line’, the fullest realisation of Chance’s production and arrangement, his songwriting and his persona. This is the moment where he became one of the greats.

James-Blake-The-Colour-In-Anything1. The Colour In Anything by James Blake

Everything on this album, every little detail, has been timed and executed perfectly, like a meticulous plan coming together in perfect harmony. It’s so bare and skeletal that it’s almost too much to take sometimes. As Blake’s threadbare voice is stretched over the lattices of piano and fragile beats, the whole thing feels like it could collapse at any moment; and yet, Blake holds it together completely, each computer ghost and phantom face feeling like it needed to be there as it passes by. Blake’s unique sound finally comes to fruition here by way of a stripping down of any extraneous stuff. It’s not for everyone: it’s not pop music, despite the characters Blake associates himself with (Bon Iver makes an appearance, Frank Ocean has a writing credit, Kanye was going to appear and Blake wrote a song for Lemonade), but it is unafraid of striving for something truly individual. Blake hits it right on the head with a gentleness so affecting it makes you want to cry.

STAND OUT TRACK: ‘I Need A Forest Fire’, a victory for both the artists on it in equal measure, a deeply affecting vocal performance melding together perfectly with a desperately tender sample and arrangement. It’s hard to take, but it’s about as nourishing as warm soup in the Arctic when you let Blake and Justin Vernon into your life.


So there we are, my 10 best of the year so far. Here’s to another brilliant six months.

LISTEN – Disclosure share Moog For Love EP

Annie Mac’s Hottest Record in the World was announced today as Disclosure’s ‘Boss’ from their new EP Moog For Love. This comes 9 months after their sophomore LP Caracal, which, like its predecessor Settle, debuted at number 1 on the albums chart, but featured a lot more slow R&B-based music, as well as a massively ramped-up guestlist, including The Weeknd, Gregory Porter, Lorde, LION BABE and Miguel.

I’ve gotta be honest, I wasn’t crazy for that last album. It was nice enough, and I’d say a lot of it was a nice approximation of The Weeknd’s noir&B sound but, come on, guys, you’re Disclosure. You’re made for dancing, deep grooves, summer jams, and, dare I use the phrase, banging tunes, not even moodier versions of ‘The Hills’. The only track released after 2013 that could have fitted snugly into the expansive tracklisting of Settle was the lofty UKG bounce of Gregory Porter-featuring ‘Holding On’. Until now, with ‘Boss’ where the BPMs are finally back to where they should be, as are the hi-hats, the organs, the outstanding vocal performances: it really is Disclosure just doing what they do best. Welcome back.

Listen here:

<iframe width=”400″ height=”500″ frameborder=”0″ src=””></iframe>

Moog For Love is out now.

LISTEN – First Adult Swim Single, ‘Dose’ by DJ Paypal ft. DJ Earl and DJ Taye, Released Online

Adult Swim Singles is a yearly initiative in which a group of artists each release a new single through the program, with one each week. Artists from every genre have released through it in the past, and this year sees a new set being released. This week is ‘Dose’ by DJ Paypal ft. DJ Earl and DJ Taye.

Paypal said about his debut, Sold Out, that it was meant to be both beautiful and ‘fucking hilarious’. It’s unclear in the case of this new single what precisely he means by this. The jittery synth line that opens the song, and the following strings and fizzy drums to back it up, might give people the impression that Paypal wants to be Flying Lotus, but that weird serenity that marks Fly-Lo’s work is broken quickly by the sawtooths and disjointed beats that follow it. It suddenly descends into primitiveness quite quickly like a weird sequencer left running on some default sounds. Unfortunately, as the song progresses it never looks like that’s going to change, with the grating tediousness of the jagged synth that pervades the track getting old extremely quickly.

Considering the profile of some of the artists involved in this project before, I find it odd that they would choose to begin with someone like DJ Paypal, someone who has already gone to great lengths to make themselves anonymous anyway. It’s perhaps even worse that they would choose to have this as their first new single.

Listen below:


Coloring Book by Chance The Rapper – Album Review


It’s all there on those album covers. On Chance’s first outing in 2011, 10 Day, Brandon Breaux’s wonderful run with Chance as his cover artist began as a picture of the fresh-faced young lad discovering the world. At the time, he had recorded the mixtape during a ten day suspension from high-school for marijuana possession. That art is the picture of him coming out the door and into the world, awestruck at its size, at its promise. His face is full of wonder, his mind is treating the world as though it was full of promise. As it turned out on second mixtape Acid Rap, though, the joke was on him. 10 Day, as it turned out, was still Chance looking at the world from inside a safe place. On Acid, he was being slowly crept up on by the pressures and responsibilities of adult life, about to be thrust into a world he now knew he didn’t want to be in. Despite the warm colours of that cover, Chance stares straight down the camera with a sort of quiet anxiety, like the exact moment before he loses his mind. He longed for the cocoa butter kisses of his youth, but knew he would never get them, eventually accepting that he would have to just suck it up and take it. Coloring Book picks up the story three years later, and as it turns out, he’s doing fine.

Actually he’s doing better than fine. In fact, Coloring Book is the sound of someone who is incredibly happy. The first thing you hear when Chance steps up to the mic on ‘All We Got’ is him chuckling a little to himself before announcing almost nonchalantly ‘and we back’. You can imagine him smiling with the same idiotic grin as he has on the wonderful cover, and it’s an image that will make you do exactly the same, like seeing that one old friend for the first time in ages. Then, in a choice mirroring opening track of the other most anticipated rap album of the year, The Life of Pablo, up popped a Kanye. But he’s not rapping here, instead lending his distinct autotune to Chance’s track, displaying the first signs of the inner peace he has found.

That peace lends itself to a vast array of things found in the album: the fact that The Social Experiment, responsible for last year’s wonderful Surf, keep making appearances (‘Finish Line’, ‘Blessings’) on an album that, when looking at the exquisite guest-list, should be the last place we find a jazz-fusion band; the fact that Chance employs either a divine church soloist or a full gospel choir in some of the catchiest songs on the record (‘How Great’, ‘All I Got’); the fact that there are times when he doesn’t even need to rap, trading in his distinct flow for slow crooning with a lone piano on ‘Same Drugs’; and the fact that, although there are thematic elements shared with Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly about the moment one finds themselves at the top of the cultural zeitgeist in the early days of adulthood, it is interminably happier and calmer about everything than that.

Chance is here to essentially tell us where he is now and how he’s changed up to this point, and looking at the ‘events’ of 10 Day and Acid Rap through hindsight, he is able to find a point of view that isn’t ridden with fear and doubt. Even through his laments about how much he and his girl have changed on ‘Same Drugs’ (which, in a perfect display of how the pop audience will likely read a lot of this album totally wrong, he defiantly stated was ‘not about drugs’), through his quiet reminiscence of a relationship innocent, when all they had to do was ‘roll at the rink’ and that would be enough, on ‘Juke Jam’, through the Acid Rap-esque remembrance of days spent in ‘socks on concrete’ with ‘jolly rancher kids’ on ‘Summer Friends’, and through the earnest attempts of Chance and his girl to find time for each other and the things they enjoy on ‘Smoke Break’, it all feels imbued with a shrugging ‘I’m doing alright’, a stark contrast to his feverish and increasingly paranoid sophomore mixtape.

There are times when everything is better than alright, though, and that’s when Chance reveals to us that he has found God, and it’s because of him that Chance is okay with all of this newfound responsibility. ‘Don’t believe in kings, I believe in the Kingdom’, he humbly drawls on ‘Blessings’, possibly in reference to the pompous self-professed divinity of many of his contemporaries, some of whom are on this very album. Perhaps the single most shockingly holy moment on the album is when he ditches all the pre-tense of the album being about his own journey with God and simply offers up his own arrangement of Chris Tomlin’s ‘How Great Is Our God’ on ‘How Great’, and despite my own Christian persuasion perhaps giving me a slight bias on the exact amount my smile widened at that point, it’s delivered with such gusto and, dare I say it, soul that it’s impossible to not at least understand the rampant devotion on the record.

Chance’s presence in the public eye recently has been overwhelmingly welcome: his appearance on SNL was wonderful and he seemed to be having the time of his life. Similarly, at his album announcement appearance on Jimmy Fallon, his contentedness was apparent from the moment he raised his finger towards the heavens. Coloring Book is merely definitive proof of what we had all been thinking for a little while anyway: in a world populated by melancholic Drake’s, greatness-striving Kanye’s and increasingly introspective Beyoncé’s and Rihanna’s, Chance is an astutely joyous and warming star to be blessed with albums like this from, and now he’s actually starting to surpass them; every single word from this album has been tweeted, for goodness’ sake, and it hasn’t even been a week since its release. Let’s put it this way: for him to stay unsigned after this would be both a crying shame and an artistic independence triumph.

Verdict: The most fun, glorious and hands-in-the-air joyous hip-hop album you’re likely to hear for a long time.


LISTEN – The Stone Roses release first new track in over 20 years, ‘All For One’


The Stone Roses have released their first track in over two decades, ‘All For One’, following recent speculation of reunions and the announcements of summer tour dates.

I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t completely taken with everything about their debut, the self-titled The Stone Roses, when I first listened to it. It felt like everything between the first and last track was filler that was lauded a lot more for the integral point in the late 80s when it was released, going on, of course, to influence Britpop (something that could be taken as either a compliment or something worse). But even die-hard fans have got to admit this is a little flat. Essentially one long chorus built around a vaguely interesting riff, I find it hard to believe that Stone Roses fans are going to be particularly satisfied with this as their reward for such patience (two decades is a long time, ya know) so I would imagine the album will very much be following suit. As a call to arms, it seems pretty commonplace, and I can’t see it becoming a favourite on the radio anytime soon either: it’s almost completely indistinct of its own identity. That said, it’s catchy, sure, and the performances are vaguely commendable, but considering the intense work presumably put into the record in the past few months, it doesn’t feel like this is a marvellous comeback, but rather that they’ve been here the whole time, slowly becoming less and less creative.

Listen below:

No news about the third Stone Roses album.

A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead – Album Review


Poor James Blake.

Despite the fact that his newest album, The Colour In Anything, is just a little bit better than this one, he kinda had his thunder stolen a bit. Remember that episode of Friends where Monica gets engaged and then has to get through people instead focussing on Ross and Rachel’s possible rekindlement for the twentieth time? I bet it feels like that. Blake had a whole cool surprise release planned, the album dropped at midnight, everyone’s happy and then what does he see when he checks Pitchfork at 5 in the evening? ‘Radiohead’s album is being released in two days time.’ “Dammit,” he mutters. He shouldn’t be so downhearted though: he and the band have collectively made this arguably the best weekend for new music since I started doing this gig.

People have been asking me recently if I think A Moon Shaped Pool lives up to expectations, but quite frankly I think that they’ve brought themselves to a place where expectation is not the name of the game: by now, we can take it as an absolute certainty that the new Radiohead album is gonna knock some socks off. The single anomaly? The King of Limbs. Although ‘tuneless’, ‘morbid’, ‘sometimes totally inaccessible’ and ‘overstretched’ seem like odd criticisms for a band who have been known to blatantly reject doing anything else, TKOL has always felt like it was the loss of Radiohead, and that maybe their collective powers had waned. The moment I heard ‘Daydreaming’, that notion was totally dispelled.

The album opens with ‘Burn the Witch’, a track that works infinitely better as a sort of introduction rather than a standalone piece. It’s like the overture, a suitable description for the intro to an album that feels like the most organic thing they’ve done since Amnesiac and also, perhaps with further evaluation, the best. However, where Amnesiac was very much the sound of a group of people stretching their musical muscles, close-up and personal, and was made to sound as though they were all in that room together, A Moon Shaped Pool has the warm, calming effect of feeling like you’re looking up at the sun coming through a window in an indoor swimming pool from underwater. Every guitar, every piano, every shuffled drum, every shimmering or beeping synth sound, every wail of Yorke’s voice has been engineered to be as introspective but also as inviting as possible, and although the album has its quietly menacing moments (‘Burn the Witch’, ‘Ful Stop’), ‘quiet’ is definitely the operative word there.

The organic nature of the record is something we can attribute to the presence of the orchestras and the pianos, the soft shakers and the acoustic guitars. Instead of forming the trappings on a backbone made of synthesisers, it is now the other way around: now, for the first time in 15 years we can hear the muscles working on Phil Selway’s limbs as he quietly brushes the drums, or the gears in the piano as Thom Yorke mournfully slides over the keys, or the joints on Jonny Greenwood’s hands as he picks at his guitars. Even the sweat on the orchestra members’ brows can be felt in the bones of this record, and I think it taps back into the group mentality of Radiohead in a different way to how something like, say, In Rainbows did. On that, the members sounded like a singular unit, but here they feel like a group of individuals coming together to create something really beautiful.

But thematically, it’s Yorke who takes the mainstage. His lyrics touch on diverse topics like global warming (‘The Numbers’), paranoia about securities and communications (‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’), societal autonomy (‘Burn The Witch’), anxiety (‘Daydreaming’, ‘Glass Eyes’) and aching love (‘True Love Waits’) but they are all from an intensely personal viewpoint. His lithe piano lines, as much as they fit into the membrane of the sound on the album, are still the beating heart of everything here and these lyrics click like pieces of a jigsaw fitting into each other. And although the lyrics are poetic, they manage to restrain themselves from becoming too abstract. Yorke has understood the impact of those little snippets of dialogue, and you could argue that in a way he’s been doing it for a while anyway: over half of the album is made up of previously tested material. Wisely, the studio has entrapped everything within its gentle grasp so that nothing sounds familiar, nothing sounds old-hat. Keep moving forward, as the members would almost certainly always say about their music.

Perhaps the most striking development from TKOL is not the feeling of there actually finally being life again in these previously robotic phantoms, not the fact that the album feels like a fuller experience built from concentrated care and attention, not the fact that it’s both more accessible and more sonically explorative but the fact that it is all these things at the same time. The melodies and riffs, the lyrics and themes, they’ve all been shaped to be full-blooded and direct, instead of vague or too impenetrably weird. Yes, ultimately fans will appreciate the album more because they have seen the rise of the band from the timid, awkward Brit-grunge act they used to be to an artistic behemoth. But this is not something that feels like it was created specifically to alienate listeners, like TKOL was. It’s honest, it’s down-to-earth, an odd description for a band that could easily be described as on a totally different planet nowadays.

This album is too many things to talk about this soon after it has been released. Bold, approachable, warm, heartbreaking, slow, pointed. I think most of all it could be seen as a culmination. The moment I saw the tracklist for the album (released an hour early), I was absolutely certain it would be a masterpiece. Why? Because it ended with ‘True Love Waits’, a song that has been around since 1995. It’s taken many forms and been given many voices, but it has always remained the one song that stayed hidden. Would a studio version ever see the light of day? An oft asked question. So why now? Asking myself that question in my head, I could only come to one conclusion: this album has to be brilliant because it was the right time to release ‘True Love Waits’. The track ties the knot on so many things: the ultimate maturation of Thom Yorke, the peak of perfection for studio-engineering a spare song like this into an actual arrangement, perhaps even the career of Radiohead as a whole. How wonderful would it be if the final, aching lines of their career were ‘Don’t leave’, delivered with such hushed nakedness that it can reduce one to tears?

So is it fair to give the album a 10? Some would argue no. Maybe it’s cheating because it’s Radiohead. But then isn’t that the point to all this? This is a band over the system, above it, beyond it. I cannot truly give this album anything less than a 10 because the feeling I get hearing the band bouncing back after such a lull, such a large absence, and appreciating such a fitting bow wrapping up everything up to this point, it’s indescribable. But then, that’s Radiohead.

Verdict: The place beyond judgement that the band now occupies has somehow produced an album that is contradictingly accessible, hushed, organic, rich and beautiful.


The Colour of Anything by James Blake – Album Review


James Blake’s win for his 2013 album Overgrown at the Mercury Prize 3 years ago was a surprise to many, not least himself. “Well, I lost the bet,” he said ruefully, astounded that his fragile, spare album beat out the likes of British giants David Bowie, Arctic Monkeys, Foals and Disclosure, all of whom can definitely say that if they weren’t major British stars then, they certainly are now. But looking at Blake’s address book right now might shock anyone who had taken him as an outsider all those years ago: not only did Overgrown have the help of Brian Eno and Wu-Tang member RZA, but this time around he’s hot off the heels of a guest writing spot on Beyoncé’s Lemonade, he’s had the help of two of the decade’s most accomplished artists, similarly troubled souls, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Frank Ocean and he’s even said that Kanye West almost had a spot on ‘Timeless’, although anyone who’s heard Blake before will probably agree that his icy, haunting work is no place for West’s egoistic antics.

The Colour of Anything, announced as a surprise release earlier this week, is instead Blake’s more precise and finely-tuned follow-up to Overgrown, an album on which his chilly sound has finally found its way. On this, every subtle chord change that evokes a thousand jazz compositions and Steve Reich pieces, every strained cry for help that rasps its way past Blake’s lips, every sonic blip and hum, has been sharpened to be as effective as possible. And for something as sparse as this, for something that is so intrinsically linked to its craggy and foggy artwork by Roald Dahl illustrator Quentin Blake, it is as full a work as I think we can expect from an artist as pained as Blake clearly is on this record.

But Blake’s calls and cries for pity, for help, don’t feel like they are to anyone in particular. Rather, that they are passing phantoms and shadows that sit at your window and wait for you to see them, only to hide when you turn your head. Little hooks and lines, on paper, can seem like insignificant little sentences to be written sideways in a tear-stained journal but here they are twisted and contorted into wrenching pieces of poetry. ‘Radio Silence’s refrain of ‘I can’t believe this, you don’t wanna see me’, in its broken-record repetition, could be taken as either sharp, harsh words thrown in the throes of an argument or a tormented scream inside an anxiety-ridden head. When Blake whispers ‘as lonely as you feel, put that away and talk to me’, you feel almost guilty to be hearing it, as though you yourself have wronged him and made him this way. Some of the lyrics are almost so fragile Blake could be writing from the female’s point of view rather than the male’s, like in that passive-aggressive chorus of ‘Put That Away and Talk To Me’.

As a single work, though, the album’s greatest strength is in the things leading up to it to get to this point. It feels like not just the biggest hurdle yet of Blake’s career, but the continuation of the work of several other artists as well. Blake’s collaboration with Justin Vernon, beautiful album highlight ‘I Need A Forest Fire’, is a home-run for both Blake and Vernon in equal measure. Although it’s probably the closest the album has to a standard chord progression, within its roots and DNA is something complex and poetic. ‘I hope you’ll stop before you build a wall around me’ is probably the most poignant lyric either of them has come up with up to this point; they seem so made for each other that their atomic structures could fuse together at any moment, and there are points in the song where it is difficult to tell them apart: they have become one.

But now I make the biggest leap of a comparison for the album. As anyone who has even a passing interest in music probably knows, Radiohead release their new album in just a few hours, their first in five years. In those five years, quite a few artists have been passingly described as ‘similar to Radiohead’ or ‘the next Radiohead’. Detestable pretentious ‘art-rockers’ Alt-J immediately spring to mind, having been completely erroneously referred to as such because of their vague interest in, get this, electric guitars AND electronic instruments. But could it be, and I say this in hushed but confident tones, could it be that James Blake really is the spiritual successor to Radiohead? Think about it: there really are few others, if any, that truly sound like Blake, his eerie falsetto is unsettlingly similar to Thom Yorke’s and the band’s most recent single, ‘Daydreaming’ could fit snugly on this album and you wouldn’t notice. Perhaps we need to wait a few years before we can truly adorn him with that title, and I somehow doubt that everybody in this business is going to agree with my opinion, but I felt not entirely convinced by the cohesiveness and focus of the previous album. Now I am confident in Blake that he can, and maybe will, go further than he has here. He’s practically found himself in the midst of those who will most likely be featuring on end-of-decade lists anyway, but it’s here that he makes an incredibly powerful bid to join them.

Verdict: A plethora of strained pleas, computer ghosts and haunting piano passages, the precision with which the album is executed makes this an easy contender for one of the best so far this year, and surely Blake’s best ever.


Radiohead announce new album, release PT Anderson-directed video for ‘Daydreaming’


Radiohead’s new album is officially being digitally released tomorrow at 7pm BST, with a physical release on June 17th. Although there are no details as to the tracklist, two tracks, including this week’s ‘Burn The Witch’ and yesterday’s new release ‘Daydreaming’, have been given a single release to lead up to the album.

‘Daydreaming’ evokes the soundscaped compositional work of guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s solo work and Kid A‘s serene electronic manipulations, creating something that is quietly beautiful, a 6-minute heartbeat to live inside until the release of the album, still yet-to-be-named.

Watch the video, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, below:

Watch the ‘Burn The Witch’ video below:

The new Radiohead album is out digitally tomorrow.

LISTEN – Red Hot Chili Peppers release new single, ‘Dark Necessities’, announce The Getaway

Ahead of their appearance at this year’s Reading and Leeds festival, the Chilis’ tenth album has been announced, and it is called The Getaway. Additionally, the album’s release is supported by the newest single, ‘Dark Necessities’, a piano-driven funk ballad that I would say fits snugly amongst the rest of the RHCP catalogue, and while I wouldn’t say it immediately reaches the heights of past lead singles like ‘Dani California’, ‘Scar Tissue’, ‘Under the Bridge’ or even ‘By the Way’ (repeat listens might change that), I’m at least certain now that The Getaway features a much more organic sound and is likely to be a fun record. What I’m not sure of is whether the song will be a hit live: it’s darker and more brooding than anything else in the catalogue, and there is definitely a small Frusciante-shaped gap here and there. The performances are great though, and as a lead single it’s certainly a step forward.

Listen below:

The Getaway is out on Warner Bros. Records on June 17th.

LISTEN – Radiohead make return with ‘Burn The Witch’ (No, not the Queens of the Stone Age song)

After a series of false starts, uncertain announcements and recent cryptic messages, Radiohead have returned with the track ‘Burn The Witch’, a claustrophobic orchestral creeper set to a video best described as the Tombleboos from In the Night Garden getting themselves mixed up in The Wicker Man. The first time around, the video will be the thing that grabs you, its macabre storyline made all the more unsettling by the weird deadfaced childlike way in which the little wooden characters wave at the end. But listen on its own and you’ll find a hugely impressive piece of work, albeit one that feels like the beginning of a whole rather than a single piece in itself. The pizzicato string arrangement feels like the overture to some sort of freak show and Thom Yorke is the main attraction. I’d be hard-pressed to call this the comeback of ages but the seeds of destruction have definitely been sown.

Listen below:

‘Burn the Witch’ is available on all platforms at midnight tonight (May 4). Still no news as to the ninth album.

Prince, Singer, Dead At 57

86103158The publicist of Prince has confirmed that at the age of 57, the legendary singer, writer of works such as Sign O’ The Times1999 and Purple Rain, and the star of the film of the same name, has died at his home in Paisley Park. After his plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Illinois, he was rushed to hospital last week. Today, police had been called to his recording studio in Paisley Park.

R.I.P., Prince Rogers Nelson. Our thoughts are with his friends and family.

Slint’s Spiderland 25 Years On: A First-Time Listener’s View


The mythology of post-rock is a murky history, to say the least. Where did it come from? Do we indebt it to the no wave scene of New York’s 80s underground, citing behemoth-rockers Swans as the be-all end-all? To what extent can progressive rock be blamed for- excuse me, attributed with birthing post-rock? Is it correct or even fair to say Johnny Rotten belonged to not just one but two of the most important bands of the 70s (PiL were described by NME as ‘the first post-rock group)? Or shall we just say The Velvet Underground did it and just have done with it?

The latter idea, although tempting, seems a little bit like cheating (name any band who someone could describe as not following the mainstream and you’ll probably find a Velvet Underground record in their collection) and the hipster, in-the-know music fans who read Pitchfork will tell you that it didn’t begin with ‘that one band after Sex Pistols’ or VU or Swans. No, apparently it began with a little indie rock record by a Louisville band called Slint. The record, celebrating its 25th anniversary today, is called Spiderland.

Now, despite my growing fascination with post-rock, I am only just now coming to Slint’s second, and final, album to write this. What I expected going into the record, I’m honestly not sure. The album artwork is decidedly eerie: the four youthful members on the cover wouldn’t look out of place in a modern ‘indie’ rock group, were it not for the harsh black and white filter on the photo. Suddenly the picture looks like a distorted memory of recently deceased, a chilling remnant of four distant souls. Are they looking at the photographer or are they looking at you?

And yet, despite the unnerving anonymity of the visuals, it doesn’t look like a post-rock record. Whereas Spiderland has an air of unsettling mystery to the people on the front, most post-rock albums wouldn’t even bother to represent the people whose legacy will be left behind within the music. As well as this, the titles of the records, and indeed the bands, would indicate music of messianic proportions. Godspeed You, Black Emperor! and ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is the most immediate example that comes to mind. Spiderland, and indeed Slint themselves, sound more spindly, more jagged, less epic and more twitchy.

So when you actually get into the record it comes as small surprise that the opening notes, on a cleanly distorted guitar, are tender and almost hesitant. The airy harmonics are gingerly accented on 7/4 opener ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ and when the band comes in the whole thing becomes weighty but not heavy, as such. Not cathartic. Brian McMahan’s vocals whisper in our ears, like a floating head amidst the angular guitars and lithe drum pattern. So far, so Dismemberment Plan. And it continues as such throughout, albeit with a twisted edginess surrounding its bendy dynamics and the occasional burst of distortion.

But at no point is it made to sound like anything other than an experimental indie rock record. It makes perfect sense that Steve Albini liked the album so much: it’s essentially a Pixies record without the self-aware humour and the winking at the listener. It’s odd to be perfectly honest, as a first-time listener who has heard various inspiration stories about the record from Godspeed and Mogwai, saying how it shaped their sound indefinitely, to be then treated to something that shares just as much DNA, if not more so, with the aforementioned Dismemberment Plan and Weezer as it does with, say, Explosions in the Sky. The monochromatic, and sometimes psychologically scratchy, album may be doing things in a totally different way, but the feelings expressed are exactly the same: ambivalence, anxiety, alienation, all staples of 90s emo and indie rock, and whilst it would be foolish to put the snotty screams of ‘What Do You Want Me To Say?’ in even the same ballpark as the atmospheric textures of McMahan’s breathy monologues, they are both filled with anguish and confusion.

In the grand scheme of post-rock, like I said, the grander and more quasi-religious imagery and sound, the better. To go to a post-rock show and experience anything other than something close to spiritual cleansing can be considered in some circles as complete failure. But in spite of the deconstruction of its labelling that I’ve subjected the record to, Spiderland is, technically, a post-rock album. It’s a coherent singular suite, really. And, of course, few other indie rock albums have such a rich history behind them, although the story attributed to this is less inspirational tale and more psychological horror story. The members were so traumatised by the album that apparently all of them had at one point been institutionalized during the recording, and one had reportedly been rumoured to be in a psychiatric hospital for a time. What’s scary about this is that in most cases such as this, in which the recording process has been a widely publicised stressful time for the artist, traumatic, fatal even (Cobain, Barrett, Winehouse etc.), the music itself is at least something that you can listen to and distance yourself from those thoughts. Here, however, you totally understand why the music caused its creators to almost go insane: the album is uncomfortably intense. Yes, it builds and builds many times in tempo or volume but the way the album is engineered specifically allows it to maintain a sense of apprehension even in its loudest, most distorted moments.

The resulting product is one where the influence it had was understandable to an extent, but mainly from an aesthetic, analytical point of view; ‘Ah, yes, the change from straight 4/4 here to 7/4 here is a hallmark of the post-rock and math-rock genres, and is something not really heard in rock such as this before, therefore it must have been influential’. In fact, if you didn’t know the story behind it, the entire preamble I did about the birth of post-rock would probably be moot at this point. The more potent thing about the album is atmosphere, ambience. The Pixies comparison is quite important here: particularly in the case of Surfer Rosa, you can feel the rooms in which the album was recorded. You become part of the environment. The reverberations from the instruments are just as important as the instruments themselves, and what you then draw from that is something of twitchy unease. In some ways it’s really refreshing to hear an album that ties together two totally different ideologies of rock music together, which is saying something considering its age. The damn thing is as old as Nevermind. It’s actually even a little bit older. Perhaps the best thing about it is that, although its enigmatic, it’s not impenetrable, and even better, some people may be so scared by the ominous backstory of the album that they wish it were. Forgetting the influence it had, the lasting legacy of the album, for me at least, as a 21st century listener who has never heard a single second of the LP before, is the way it draws you in and makes you fear being alone with your thoughts, lest your inner monologue turn into something that sounds like Spiderland.

Catfish and the Bottlemen announce sophomore album, The Ride


After the pulsating rock of ‘Soundcheck’, Catfish have finally given the artwork and name for their upcoming follow-up to 2014’s The Balcony and we are very excited. The Ride will feature live staple ‘7’ and recently released single ‘Soundcheck’, the video for which accompanied the announcement this morning.

About the album, the group’s social network statement said

‘We started recording this album at any chance we could get, in between shows over the summer. And, after the final night on ‘The Balcony’ tour finished we were set to have some time off but couldn’t wait and didn’t think yous should have to either after the run you gave us. So, went straight in to finish the 2nd Album. We made it out in Los Angeles with a producer and hero of ours that we’ve dreamt of working since we were kids… D. SARDY…. the game-changer! This man made the songs and the albums we grew up listening to. The ones that made us want to sound like the band we are, so to go in and actually record our album together with him was a real honour and the best craic we’ve had! 

Our new record is out the last Friday in May and is called ‘The Ride’ …which is a lyric from the last, and probably, my favourite tune on there. That song’s called ‘Outside’ and It just sounds absolutelyyyyymasssssssive..SideshowBob’sDrumsMate#…ARMSUP#!!!! Alongside you selling these shows out for us, this album is by far the proudest I’ve ever been about anything I’ve written and us 4 have ever done together! Can’t wait for you to hear this yknow! Started this band and I honestly can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for all of us from day 1 right up to now… you’ve been unreal! A completely different league in fact! You’ve properly changed 4 lads lives here y’know, selling out Bowls in Castlefield 8,000 people strong in 5 minutes and winning us brits and all that stuff… It’s just mad and we’ll be grafting all year to ensure things keep growing and these new gigs and new albums keep coming rapidly and in their droves!’

The Ride tracklist:

  1. 7
  2. Twice
  3. Soundcheck
  4. Postpone
  5. Anything
  6. Glasgow
  7. Oxygen
  8. Emily
  9. Red
  10. Heathrow
  11. Outside

Watch the video for ‘Soundcheck’ below:

The Ride arrives 27th May 2016 on Island Records.

LISTEN – First taste of Biffy Clyro’s seventh LP, Ellipsis, with ‘Wolves of Winter’

Despite the second half of double album Opposites being an absolute dud, the first half had some brilliant tunes. ‘Wolves of Winter’ maybe doesn’t quite reach the heights of ‘Black Chandelier’, ‘Sounds Like Balloons’, ‘Opposite’, ‘Little Hospitals’, ‘Biblical’ et al. but it’s a sight better than ‘Stingin’ Belle’. What really makes the track is the production: the songwriting is solid enough and is pretty standard Biffyfare (angular guitars, Bonham-style drums, sweaty shirtless shouting men etc.), but the sound of the record is absolutely humongous, like the best of them. It evokes the first time you heard the final breakdown of ‘Bubbles’ or the refrain in ‘Little Hospitals’ in its massiveness. There’s no real way of telling whether the whole album will turn out as heavy as this one (Opposites certainly didn’t) but it’s safe to say there’s definitely a Biffy sound set in stone with this one.

Neil said about the album, “We’ve taken a lot of influence from recent hip-hop records, like the latest A$AP Rocky – they’re so fucking good because they’ve got really grimy, dirty, horrible sounds with beautiful vocals, or vice versa. We’re trying to get that balance of things teetering on the edge of chaos the entire time. It’s going to sound like Biffy, but it’s about ‘rocking’ instead of ‘rock’.”

You can hear the track through Apple Music and iTunes or on Vimeo.

Ellipsis is out July 8.


The National, Kanye West and Mumford and Sons are releasing an album together

Yes, you read those exact words correct. Yes, you do not need to be tested. Yes, I am also aware of how ridiculous it is. Yes, I did not expect to be writing this today.

In what sounds a little like the beginning of a weird joke (‘So Kanye, Marcus Mumford and Matt Berninger walk into a bar, right…’), two of the foremost artists of our generation (and Mumford and Sons) are set to release a collaborative album, entitled Metamorphoses, for release later in the year. Not only does this mark West’s third release of the year, but it also acts as a prelude for the next National album, coming the following year.

Ben Lovett of Mumford, the brains behind the project, said this:

“Metamorphoses has the potential to break down our preconceptions of the voices of creativity, what different people around the world are thinking and who has the right to be heard. In my own life, I’ve experienced people trying to define me and put me in boxes and categories. Through collaboration we can show people how those lines can be blurred and are ultimately redundant. The artists involved in this project are some of the most genuine artists the world has to offer. Artists like Kanye West, and The National are doing something globally important that is touching people down to their DNA. And these masterfully creative people are going to be interpreting incredible submissions from people across the globe. It has been a joy reading all of the submissions we received over the past six months. I’m truly excited to see what we will create together.”

The album is in support of the organisation Global Citizen, who aim to end world poverty by 2030.

Metamorphoses will be arriving later this year.

Sir George Martin: 1926-2016

2016’s cold, brutal hand has taken another music legend from our midst: the brilliant, ingenious Sir George Martin, producer of The Beatles, co-writer of one of the best Bond themes ever, and probably the most important technological figure in music history, has very sadly passed away at the age of 90. Last night, at his home in London, he died in his sleep, with his death being announced by Ringo Starr on Twitter, followed by a confirmation from Universal Records as to his passing.

Even aged 90, it’s extremely saddening news to say goodbye to the man. I had a personal connection to him via my dad, who was in a band with Martin’s son, Giles, before I was born. I’ve had the privilege to meet Sir George several times, albeit at a much younger age: below is a wonderful picture of myself aged no more than 3 with Sir George and Giles at the Martin home in London.

Tom and Sir George

Although it is a deeply affecting news, it can be said that Sir George’s mark on the cultural world was immeasurable. He is the main reason why there is a solid argument for The Beatles being objectively the most important musical artists in the last few centuries. Their methods of production, structure, arrangement and recording were unheard of before, and yet it was due to Sir George’s incredible talent that they were able to get away with it. It says something about the greatness of his skill and ear that I could probably sit here and write a whole essay on just the tom sound for ‘Come Together’, it sounds so good.

Such a wonderful human was lost last night and his mark on cultural history shines through in the DNA of popular culture still. Our thoughts are with his wife, Judy Lockhart-Smith, his children and his friends and family.

RIP, Sir George.

Kendrick Lamar surprises fans with eight-track album, Untitled Unmastered

Untitled Unmastered

Damn, Kendrick, back at it again with those sweet tracks.

Kendrick Lamar, after his soaring victory at the Grammys, has gone straight into releasing new material. Untitled Unmastered is, as its title and spare artwork would suggest, extremely raw and dark, and doesn’t come with the weighty expectations that many thought the follow-up to To Pimp A Butterfly would be. Dodging such a dangerous thing as crowd expectation is probably the smartest thing he could do.

The album is also shrouded in mystery: little is known about who produced the tracks, and stories are being thrown around about it. Swizz Beatz claimed his 5-year-old son produced the 7th track, suitably titled ‘untitled 07 | 2014-2016’. Perhaps that’s the aim of the game: keep them guessing.

Review of the album to be posted soon.

I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it by The 1975 – Album Review

9CouvHKlAfter the frankly revolting funk disaster of ‘Love Me’, you’ll understand my apprehension going into I like it when you sleep (I don’t think we need the title in its full, pretentious stupidity) upon first listen. Anyone who has heard the album will, therefore, understand my utter bafflement at the inclusion of ‘Love Me’ in the first place. Beyond that second track, there is nothing of the irritating squeal that bemoans it, instead what at first glance seems like a place of warmth and serenity. This is only at first glance, though.

Let’s start with the positives: once the initial constipation of ‘Love Me’ has dissipated, there is a marked change of pace across another 15 tracks that sound, in varying orders and degrees, like George Michael, Michael Jackson, Sigur Ros, Brian Eno, Calvin Harris and Owl City. When taken at face value, the album’s ambition is extremely far-reaching and, more importantly, brave. To hear a band who wrote a song only a few years ago called ‘Girls’ expand their horizons to include experimental, ambient soundscapes is a bold move, and yet not so bold as to offend fans of the band. These fans are likely, of course, to slam their hands down on the table and call this a masterpiece of an album, but that’s beside the point. There are moments of brilliant songwriting peppered across the album that really do make you sink into your seat at how wonderful they sound: album highlights such as ‘She’s American’ with it’s retro 80s sheen being revamped with the crackling intensity of modern indie rock and ‘The Sound’ having its house piano chords kicked around by an infectious chorus. In the airier moments, there is real emotional tugging going on, such as the beautifully spare ‘Please Be Naked’ and the title track’s filmic shimmering synths darting around like fireflies.

However, the album also has its drawbacks: for a start, there are also clumsy moments in the tracklisting, ‘Love Me’ notwithstanding. Despite having my favourite lyric on the album (‘and if I live past 72, I hope I’m half as cool as you’), elsewhere, ‘Nana’ falls into self-parody and weirdness later on in the track, which quite frankly doesn’t need to be there. ‘Paris’ doesn’t exactly work either, and is the only time on the album that frontman Matt Healy’s idiosyncratic snotty-British accent really gets annoying (imagine having to watch him say ‘stop being an arsehole’ in front of you and you’ll understand). Unfortunately, it also boasts a similar problem to the first album which is that it is absolutely too long. Despite its scope in how it combines together the oh-so-cheesy operatics of George Michael with the broad ambitions of someone like Brian Eno, I have conclusively proved that they can make the same sort of impact with their wide-ranging influences in 10 tracks, eliminating the overstuffed 7 tracks that surround those real highlights.

All this can be attributed to the band essentially trying to run before they can walk: they’re attempting to stretch their ideas across a huge length and to experiment with great ambition before they’ve actually settled on a consistent identity. They had barely settled on being the torchbearers of indie rock into the electropop age before throwing in the ridiculous influences that they have here. And yet, there is a feeling that the group is too intelligent for that kind of confusion. So what are they really doing? Well, it’s no secret that the group are wildly self-deprecating recently, what with their bizarre ‘Love Me’ video and the painfully ironic video for ‘The Sound’. So, despite the ridiculousness of the saxophone solo in ‘This Must Be My Dream’ being so over-the-top that I almost laughed out loud at it, or the almost oxymoronic double-sided coin of ‘Please Be Naked’s title and its content, maybe that’s precisely what they were going for.

Regardless, if they’re going to progress as a band, they need to decide on an identity ASAP: are they going to be an indie pop band, an ambient experimentalist group or a more fluid, seamless combination of both? One thing I will say about the pleasantly surprising sophomore album is this: it makes me at least curious as to which option they will choose.

Verdict: An interesting new step for the group, and undoubtedly surpasses expectations, but the overblown length and occasional messiness with which they do so is a genuine shame. They can do better, it simply remains to be seen when they will do that.


The Life of Pablo by Kanye West – Album Review


Everyone knows the story by now.

I mean, anyone who’s reading this review will probably care enough to already know how we got to this point. The name changes, the expansion of the tracklist, the delayed release, the confounding last-minute (or post-last-minute) jiggery pokery, and, of course, the confounding and rather depressing decision to only release the album through Tidal. Like so many, for the sake of actually writing this thing, I’ve had to create a Tidal account for a free-trial which I shall be promptly deleting once I’ve given Pablo a few listens.

But anyway, here we are at last.

When coming into this album, West had two paths he could choose for how he structures this album, and he gave us a flavour of both: the first is a tight, compact, filtered set of songs á la Yeezus and 808s and Heartbreaks. The second is a sprawling, kaleidoscopic smorgasbord of tracks which shows no restraint and simply gives the impression of a free-flowing fountain of creativity, in the vein of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or The College Dropout (although, what he’s doing here is so far removed from the latter that it’s barely the same person anymore). And so, it says something about what Kanye wanted to do with this album that he chose the latter.

What is he trying to do? Well, as I’ve attempted to explain to many people on numerous occasions, West has passed the point of living a real life, and is now living as a cultural icon, whether we like it or not. His persona, his backtracking, his omnipresence in the cultural consciousness is all a part of him building his character, his figure. West is the Internet age incarnate, as was proven by the endless tinkering and change-around of The Life of Pablo leading up to its release. Such things would never have been possible without Web 2.0, without the immediacy of following this man’s every move and his decisions being updated to the second by his Twitter feed, and then being reported on by every major music news outlet in the world. A single tweet from West can spark a thousand different articles about something less than 140 characters long.

Pablo is his way of expressing that. It’s a personal album that seems to give us a glimpse, although it’s unclear in what shape or form, of the man’s psyche. Songs ebb and flow from one idea to the next with exhilarating spontaneity, never settling in their own spot for too long. The album is, for the most part, a thing of bits and pieces, of fragments and snippets. The amount of times people have used the word ‘unfinished’ when discussing this album is understandable, and yet it should be blatantly obvious by this time in the narrative surrounding the album that this is precisely the point of it. It’s supposed to be something that feels unfinished, that feels as though the whole thing could shapeshift at any second. I felt a near anxiety that the whole thing would be taken down from Tidal once again whilst I was listening to it. And perhaps it says something about who West is and what he wants out of fame that I can totally imagine him doing just that.

What’s on the album is mostly great, as usual. The show opens with ‘Ultra Light Beam’, an uplifting gospel number that sets the precedent, in case any of us were in any doubt, for something a lot more tuneful than Yeezus. From there, we are treated to an album that one second can be wildly melodic and the next can be darkly morose, sometimes a cross between the two. Oddly, West chooses not to reveal himself in quite the same way as he did on the previous efforts: whereas ‘On Sight’ had him straight in within a few seconds of that squelching, scratching beat, he chooses not to fully unveil himself properly until ‘Famous’, giving small glimpses of his figure like the Xenomorph of Alien, in the shadows of an autotuned hook that may or may not be him,  but never showing the beast properly until he comes storming in with the already-immortalised-and-scandalizing ‘I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.’ The jury’s still out on the creativity and wit of that line, but it’s hard to deny that he knows how to make an entrance.

As we walk through the halls of Pablo, glimpsing the crunch of ‘Feedback’, the soulful declaration of love in ‘Low Lights’ (which, heartbreakingly, may be about Kanye or may be about the presumably fictional Pablo), the largess of Chance the Rapper’s championed track ‘Waves’, The Weeknd’s moment in the spotlight on ‘FML’ and the stormy, melancholic emotional punch of album highlight ‘Real Friends’, I actually had to double check that the album wouldn’t finish soon. Indeed, it’s telling that the original tracklisting had the album finishing just one track later with Frank Ocean collaboration ‘Wolves’, the dark and largely beatless freakout which was supposed to be the album’s epilogue after ‘Real Friends’ crushing climax.

To then follow ‘Wolves’ raw, achingly human postscript with the weird skit on ‘Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission’ is decidedly jarring. What is even more jarring is that the final stretch of the album, mainly made up of previously released tracks, feels oddly like a bonus section. Admittedly, as a bonus section, I can’t find many faults in it: ’30 Hours’ is just as explorative and disconcertingly soft as it was when we first heard it, ‘No More Parties in LA’ still sees Kendrick Lamar rapping so fluidly and brilliantly it’s as though the beat is struggling to keep up with him, ‘Facts’ is a dizzying A-side to a single we will likely never see and ‘Fade’, built off an eclectic sample of Rod Stewart’s underrated masterpiece ‘I’m Losing You (I Know)’ is shuffly and menacing in the best way. But anyone who is inexplicably unaware of the events leading up to the album would look at these four tracks and either think ‘Oh wait, I think I’m listening to the deluxe version’ or ‘Those tracks just feel like he’s slapped them on the end’. The latter is all the more likely, of course, because that is exactly what he did.

The duality of this is that had he gone with the original tracklist, the album would have been infinitely more compact and punchy, but would have lost the wider-stretching metaphor of its place as a cultural artifact. However, as it stands, the album is messy and obviously hasn’t been properly thought about. Except it has, because Kanye was still mastering it after the first-listen reviews were dropping everywhere. So why is it like this? Well, like so much great, or at least memorable, music, its flaws and imperfections become just as important and fascinating as the strengths in the work. In this case, they become more than just windows into a personal connection with the artist, more than just part of the fun: they are Kanye West, and the album itself is probably the first to fully embody what it is that makes West so important.

In the end, the actual music on the album would never have really mattered. If it did, then people would be arguing over whether lines like ‘Now if I f**k this model/and she just bleached her asshole/and I get bleach on my T-shirt/I’mma feel like an asshole’ are brilliant or trash (the latter is most definitely the case here). But they’re not. They’re arguing over what tracklist would have suited the album more, whether West should put the album on Apple Music, whether his Madison Square Garden launch was a catastrophe or a landmark, and most importantly, whether West is an artist or an asshole. And by the detractors’ and critics’ own actions, with this album, he is most definitely an artist. Maybe he’s an asshole as well, but then would he be as interesting if he weren’t? And to make the point even more firm, whether we are haters or diehards, do we not all always know exactly what is going on with West the minute it happens? Would it be possible without the Internet, and without the immediacy of what is now The House That Kanye Built?

Well, like I said, everybody knows the story by now.

Verdict: No single album could better sum up West and the rest of his career in less than an hour: expansive, riddled with flaws, messy and exhilarating to watch unfold as time goes on. In this case, as with many involving the rapper, the good does definitely outweigh the bad.


LISTEN – Catfish and the Bottlemen Come Blazing Back With ‘Soundcheck’

As much as The Balcony was a near perfect record, it’s now been 18 months since that was released and we were getting impatient. Our wait for new Catfish, however, is over with the release of the first single from the as-yet-untitled second album, coming before summer (frontman Van McCann seemed to say during the Reading set that it would be April), ‘Soundcheck’.

It’s a brilliant track, and one which bodes well for the release of the album, with the single flaw of feeling slightly underdeveloped: McCann and co.’s apparent hailing of this track as ‘the one’ seems a little odd, as it doesn’t have the same punch of ‘Cocoon’ or ‘Kathleen’. But I’m still humming the song a couple of days after first hearing it so it’s obviously done its job like the other singles did.

Listen below:

Weezer Announce The White Album

After the release of their surprise new singles ‘Thank God For Girls’ and ‘Do You Wanna Get High?’, Weezer have announced that those singles were lead-ups to their new album, the fourth self-titled album in their catalogue. Following the familiar colour scheme, they have decided to take a leaf out of The Beatles’ book and go white. This comparison to The Beatles, apparently, is not a new thing: their decision to call the new album Weezer (The White Album) was met with the occasional critic saying ‘The Beatles did it first’, despite the fact that The Beatles’ white album was actually just called The Beatles and we started calling it The White Album.

Below, you can see the tracklisting and the artwork for the album, which is released April 1st.


  1. California Kids
  2. Wind in Our Sail
  3. Thank God for Girls
  4. (Girl We Got A) Good Thing
  5. Do You Wanna Get High?
  6. King of the World
  7. Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori
  8. L.A. Girlz
  9. Jacked Up
  10. Endless Bummer


David Bowie: 1947-2016

It is with deep sadness and a heavy heart that I must report the sudden death of David Bowie after an 18-month, albeit secret, battle with cancer. The musician was 69 years old.

On Friday evening, I posted my review for Blackstar, Bowie’s latest and, as it now stands, final album, a wonderful return to form after being truly gone for so long. But even without the impending new album, it felt like Bowie was very much in the social consciousness after his return on The Next Day and never really left, popping up on fan accounts on Instagram, lyrics being tossed around Twitter and Facebook, discussions still being had about his work and a real love for his music in every generation including my own. I’ll never forget the surprise on my face when I learnt about someone I knew not knowing who he was after he was revealed as the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question on his first alter ego, Ziggy Stardust.

But it wasn’t until today that I actually realised how massive an impact he had. Everyone, literally everyone, has given some sort of tribute to the great man, not just my own friends or people of my parents’ generation, but celebrities who I would never have thought would have any emotional interest in a person like Bowie. YouTuber and grime artist, KSI, for example, posted a picture of Bowie on Instagram with the simple caption of two sad faces. Somehow, that tribute alone made me feel like there was more emotion there than if he had done a whole essay about him. Elsewhere, comedian Ricky Gervais said he lost ‘a hero’, the news putting a dampener on the Golden Globes high of the previous evening. Chris Moyles on Radio X this morning was practically speechless, then going on to say ‘People like Bowie just shouldn’t die.’ To see such a disparate set of characters feel so broken about his death speaks volumes about his life, the almighty hyphen between 1947 and 2016.

Bowie was a genius. Plain and simple. So often he managed to gracefully fit in with the current musical trend, and not just in a shoddy, misguided way, but in a genuine bid for artistic resolution and craft. For example, Hunky DoryThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy StardustAladdin Sane and the persona and stage presence he attributed to them, characterised the glam rock era of the early 1970s, and yet totally outdo anybody who could lay claim to being in the same genre. T-Rex? Slade? None of them get close to ‘Starman’ or ‘Life on Mars?’ With his outlandish and almost lunatic stage persona, his androgynous style, his ambiguous sexuality and his blatant rejection of how things ‘should’ be, weird as it may sound, was one of the many foundations on which punk rock was shoddily built. But, at the same time, these very same things were the things that influenced an entire legion of pop artists and stars through from the mid-70s all the way to the 80s and onwards.

But then following this, he goes out and makes Station to Station and The Berlin Trilogy of Low“Heroes” and Lodger? Who does that? Bowie, that’s who. In doing so, he showed that his eye for current music stretched further than we first thought, into the dark Krautrock-infested corners of Germany. He introduced Krautrock to English-speaking audiences for what was the first time in mainstream music and, as a result, he inspired a whole new set of people, their breadth much wider than that of his previous influences: post-punk, electronica, a horde of British dance musicians, and alt-rock on both sides of the Atlantic. The miles and miles of musical ground his fingerprint is practically etched into is vast.

Then suddenly, who should return but Major Tom of ‘Space Oddity’, in new wave, proto-New Romantic song ‘Ashes to Ashes’, from the album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). In yet another case of stylistic moulding in his own image, Bowie actually pre-empted the entire pop landscape of the early- to mid-1980s with his weird, freakish synthpop that more than likely influenced the likes of Boy George and the Culture Club, Howard Jones, Haircut 100, Spandau Ballet, Wham! and countless others. Only a few years later, his post-disco dance record, Let’s Dance once again showed him comfortably sliding in next to his contemporaries and becoming not just one of them, but the best of them. And now, with Blackstar, Bowie’s breathtakingly perceptive eye for current musical trends has managed to pick out the creeping, simmering resurgence of jazz as the subject to tackle, placing him alongside the likes of the most valuable and progressive minds in the industry: Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Polar Bear, Frank Ocean. For the first time in over 30 years, Bowie felt not just relevant, but ahead of most of the world again. To be struck with the news of his passing so soon after this triumphant artistic epiphany is crushing. Utterly crushing.

Perhaps more bafflingly, Bowie’s skill was not just in his place in the wider musical landscape, but also in the smaller, more minute parts of his story: the songs. Countless times, Bowie’s manipulation of chords, vocal performance, generic construction and lyricism has managed to simultaneously confound and capture all of us, and his manipulation of the so-called ‘rules of songwriting’ is on the same near-lunacy level as The Beatles. ‘Starman’s iconic pre-chorus actually changes the key of the song for two bars and then crashes down into the euphoric chorus that I will now never be able to hear without concurrently feeling my soul lift as I remember performing it during a school fundraiser last year and feeling my heart sink as I think of the relevance of the lyrics at this point. ‘Life on Mars?’ manages to cover almost every chord inversion and type known to man in its three-minute lifetime, and features lyrics so full of grandeur and freakish holistic mania that it’s enough to make one weep. And ‘Heroes’, now a genuine contender for one of my favourite songs of all time after this news, has its soaring rock’n’roll soul punctuated by the immortal rings of Robert Fripp’s guitar, evoking an image of an entire lifetime spread in front of me, seeing every moment in it playing synchronously with the others as though all of time happened at once. Listening to ‘Heroes’ whilst hearing my English teacher talk about Bowie’s death and what it meant to him is one of the hardest I’ve ever tried not to cry. I’m serious.

Bowie was an iconic human being, a poster-boy for the fashionable and the unfashionable, for the mainstream and the underground. He was living proof that change can be good and will remain that way for all eternity. ‘Musical chameleon’ is an overused term but it really could not be more true for him. He is the singular thread which ties together the glamorised pop fantasy of Elton John, the straight societal and conventional rejection of punk, and the experimental and hybridistic postmodernism of Radiohead, Kraftwerk, LCD Soundsystem, anyone who challenged the norm or pushed it as far as it would go. Somebody today asked quite pointedly ‘Have you ever heard somebody refer to someone else as “the next David Bowie”? No. No you have not.’ And truly there never will be another.

It is rare that I will have such an emotional reaction to a news story, even with celebrity deaths: Michael Jackson was someone I was never really aware of until after his passing, and even then, the rest of the world I feel perhaps were soured by the events that took place in the years previous to his death. Amy Winehouse’s death was exactly the same. But the grief and pain felt for Bowie is universal, across all ages and generational plains. Perhaps the most saddening aspect of his death is the assumption by many that he would never die, that he would live forever, perhaps. But, given the range and the breadth of the grief and sadness that Bowie’s sudden and horrifying death has caused, I would say that people’s assumptions were not far from the truth. Bowie will live forever, as our Starman.

‘There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and visit us but he thinks he’ll blow our minds.’

As always, the starman was right.


Coachella 2016 Line-Up

An absolute treasure trove has fallen at the Americans’ feet: Coachella 2016 has a line-up chock-full of great acts to fill the weekend, headlined by two massive reunions and a third EDM superstar.

So who are we most looking forward to? Well, first off, there’s that massive name you see popping out at the top of my favourite band of all time, LCD Soundsystem. Now, many LCD purists will no doubt be rather disheartened by this fact, since their career ended so perfectly, so neatly, so brilliantly. I myself, whilst not totally pulling my hair out over it, am a little disappointed that the moment shown in Shut Up And Play The Hits could be considered… well, cheapened, for lack of a better word. But my main concern with a reunion like this, after not putting a foot wrong over the 9-year career that they originally had, is that they put a foot wrong this time, thus ruining the image of the perfect imperfect band. And, frankly, that apprehensive feeling will stay with me all the way through to the tour, the headline slot and the newly announced album coming. But, let’s be honest, is it likely they’ll screw it up? Hell no. James Murphy wouldn’t let that happen. Perhaps this is my paranoid mind having a conversation with itself but I really do not want them to mess this up. LCD are a band I have a strong emotional connection to, regardless of the aesthetic level on which I appreciate their work. They are people who I need to be perfect, even if sometimes they are scruffy and imperfect, because the imperfections themselves are perfect, and I know how self-righteous that sounds but, as Murphy stated in his Facebook post regarding the new music and the headline slot, ‘it needs to be better than anything we’ve done before, in my mind…’. That post did fill me with a little confidence, though. Murphy isn’t taking this lightly. He knows what he’s doing. There’s a little comfort in that.

Now, the second headliner may be more polarising than LCD’s, and that is Guns’n’Roses. Say what you will about their early successes but there’s no denying that their original ‘comeback’ tour was a disaster, with Axl Rose doing fans disservice every which way he could, and lo and behold, he’s already off to a flying start with the reunion publicity leading up to Coachella: he cancelled his own spot on Jimmy Kimmel Live before the line-up for Coachella was even finalised. Good one, Axl.

Look, here’s the problem with a Guns’n’Roses reunion: recently, in the Internet age’s blossoming years, they as a band, and particularly the song ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, have managed to put themselves in the same league as Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ with regards to the rockism culture and the billions of 11-year-olds attempting to cover the riff and failing miserably. Thus, ‘Sweet Child’ has become a sort of parody of itself, and nobody really likes to talk about it because they all loved the song when they were 13, myself included, but it’s there: this sort of slowly bubbling resentment towards them. And, really, Rose’s poor service to the fans a little while ago, like turning up to gigs two hours late or not even at all, should have warned us all of this, or just stopped them short as a band altogether. But we’re still living in the shadow of Appetite for Destruction so nobody complains. Forgive me for sounding a little like a hipster-type ‘Oh that’s too mainstream’ kind of person but ultimately that is precisely the kind of people who hate the band, and it’s going to get worse and worse as the years go on. Who knows, maybe they’ll blow us away at Coachella, but if they don’t, it could be an early death for them.

Then there’s Calvin Harris. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t hate Harris, I think he has some undeniably catchy tunes and he knows how to get good guest stars but (and I know I just did a whole paragraph about the massive problem with Guns’n’Roses) regardless of how I feel about Roses, they are one of the biggest-selling artists of all time and produced one of the most revered rock albums of the 1980s. LCD Soundsystem are one of the most critically acclaimed bands of this century, and with good reason. Calvin Harris is neither of these things, and precisely what he brings to the table that we can’t get better somewhere else baffles me slightly.

But then, if you’re not sold on those headliners, fear not, for the second tier acts shall save you. Anyone there on the Friday is absolutely spoilt with choice: Skepta, The Last Shadow Puppets, Joey Bada$$, Of Monsters and Men and Savages are all playing in the afternoon, whilst the early evening will be taken up by Foals’ riotous live show and Sufjan Stevens’ hushed tones before LCD explode back into life. Saturday is no different: despite the early evening unfortunately boasting Halsey, Zedd and James Bay, audiences will also get to enjoy CHVRCHES and A$AP Rocky as well before Axl returns. Elsewhere on day two, slightly earlier, a one-two-three-four punch of The Arcs, Run the Jewels, Courtney Barnett and Grimes should keep you occupied for the afternoon, but if not, there’s also Deerhunter, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, The Damned, Vince Staples and Shamir, none of whom sound anything like each other. Looking for diversity? Saturday’s got it. Sunday ain’t so much. Beach House might deliver something impressive but it’s doubtful they’ll go particularly far, and elsewhere there’s not loads to be excited about; thankfully, amongst what could be a massive disappointment, Edward Sharpe is playing as well as Wolf Alice, The Death Grips, Kamasi Washington, Young Fathers and Deafheaven, all of whom I would recommend you try and catch some of their set.

So the lesson with this year’s line-up is to dig deeper than you think you are and there might be some hidden gems waiting to be seen.

Coachella 2016 is being held April 15th-17th and again 22nd to 24th April 2016.

Blackstar: David Bowie Album Review – Brilliant Bid For Artistic Return

Being wildly unimpressed by the Sainsbury’s top 50-rock of The Next Day, which ebbed and flowed from decent to utterly poor songwriting throughout its overstretched runtime, it was a startling surprise when Bowie released ‘Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)’ in 2014. We were suddenly introduced to Bowie-jazz, a weird and wonderful type of jazztronica that is a staple of the Blackstar sound. As we see Blackstar‘s release come about, one can be sure that we finally have an album that, if I’m being nice, is his best since Heathen and, if I’m not, his best since Scary Monsters. Or, at least, his first true appropriation of the chameleonic qualities attributed to him since then.

See, Bowie’s great skill with his most epochal albums was to anticipate and feel the conscious musical directional shift that was happening around him, and then integrate it into his music straight away. Glam reached its peak around Hunky Dory, or maybe the album was made because glam was about to reach its peak. Similarly, Low and the other instalments in the Berlin Trilogy, Heroes and Lodger, were released just as the weird and wonderful tones of Krautrock began to cross the borders and seep into the underground musical consciousness elsewhere. Scary Monsters embraces the new wave, New Romantic movement two years before it happened proper. And now, Bowie is acknowledging the re-entry of jazz into the social Zeitgeist that may not have its influences widely spread, but certainly at least being utilised by the top players in the current landscape (Kendrick, Fly-Lo, Kamasi etc.). However, the closest actual comparison that we can make between this and the rest of Bowie’s career is with Station to Station, possibly the only completely stand-alone album in the entire history of Bowie’s career up until now. Released in 1976, Bowie reportedly has no recollection of recording it due to his high consumption of drugs at the time, and so the album becomes this subconscious dreamlike wonder. On Blackstar, despite sharing the intense freakishness of Station, Bowie’s completely sober this time around.

In having this distinct identity as more than just a new Bowie album to be filed under ‘dad-rock’ like, say, Rock or BustBlackstar reminds us of what Bowie was always trying to do, which was to be an artist. A commercially viable artist, sure, but an artist nonetheless. It sees Bowie finally adjusting to the light after his long time in the darkness, delivering an album that sounds closer to Polar Bear, to Flying Lotus, even to Radiohead. It’s the first since the early 1980s to truly feel like it can fit right in with his 70s work as more than just an afterthought, or a contract fulfilment. Perhaps ‘sacrificing integrity’ is the wrong phrase to use, because, let’s be honest, there’s always going to be a Bowie fan somewhere, but regardless, it is brave for one to release an album like this as an all-timer who has only just reintegrated themselves into the public conscience. An even larger difference between this and The Next Day is the clumsiness with which Bowie tried to abrasively barge into the modern music landscape has been done away with so that he can slide much more smoothly into the role way more suited for him: that of a high-end player in the creative industry.

The record demonstrates a strong desire to deviate from expectations. Take the title track, for instance: it switches rather quickly from a sonically rich jazz-house-rock hybrid to slow-blues number, neither of which are precisely terms one might imagine being associated with the guy. Such a distinctive artistic drive is a light slowly dimmed for Bowie since his heyday, and it’s invigorating to have it back, finally. And the excitement doesn’t stop there: whereas The Next Day was way overstuffed and bloated, Blackstar economises: there are 14 tracks on the former and 7 on the latter. Blackstar doesn’t concern itself with just writing the songs and putting them out; it shows craft, thought, care. Tracks stretch out for what feels like a breathable time, giving them space and flexibility that The Next Day, for the most part, just didn’t have. The weird trippy rhythms of ‘Blackstar’ and ‘Sue’ are a sight more interesting and exciting than even their stylistic counterparts elsewhere, anchored by a wonderful awareness of accessibility. It never loses that credibility that all great art-rock should have, but never becomes unlistenable or abrasive. It feels fully-formed and artistically potent in that sense.

It’s not his best album at this point, although in 50 years when we look back on Bowie’s career, this will probably be seen as one his most important. Perhaps one might feel a little underwhelmed by the second album in the Grey Priest era (yes, that’s what I’m calling it now, after Ziggy Stardust and then the Thin White Duke) but for the sheer grace and ease with which it finally reintroduces Bowie back into the artistic realm of music, rather than just the commercial, Blackstar deserves all the praise it gets. Bowie’s finally back, baby.

Verdict: His weirdest since Station to Station, his most compact since Low and his most compelling since Scary Monsters, Bowie makes genre-bending shenanigans seem so easy, it’s occasionally quite dazzling.

Rating: 8/10

Best Albums of 2015: No. 1 – To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar


And yet, despite all the praise I have heaped onto the albums in the top 10, 20, 25, 50, pick a number, this album was top of the list pretty much all the way from its release in March. It has no competitor. It has no equal. Nothing stood in the way of this album. And, although I can count some of the other albums on this list as modern classics, with the number one spot it wasn’t even close.

After the small record with a big heart and a loud mouth that was good kid, m.a.a.d. city, Kendrick had a huge weight on his shoulders. How do you follow up a gangsta rap album that embodied gangsta rap more fully than any other? Do the exact opposite. Whereas m.a.a.d. city was tight, and only brought us back to the dialogue at the centre of his ‘short film’ in tiny moments, and always kept everything restrained, Butterfly is an almighty explosion of creative power. It darts mischievously around so many different ideas, both musical and thematic.

The former of those two ideas is revelatory across the record, as Lamar brings in soul, funk, jazz and R&B to an already quickfire brand of hip-hop that, in this case, is so rapid that it feels like you’re dodging bullets with each new line. On top of this, his manipulation of rap and flow is utterly unheard of. He’s coming up with new methods of delivery that are so fast and sporadic they make Eminem look like a two-year-old in speech therapy. On ‘For Free’, he blasts his way through an absolutely immense series of verses, almost incomprehensible in their velocity, over a jazz band sounding as though they’re playing for their lives. On ‘u’ he brings a new feeling of dramatic empathy to rap by turning it almost into spoken-word. And on ‘Mortal Man’, for the second half at least, he dispenses with rap completely and goes straight for the spoken-word route entirely, as menacing jazz fills trickle across the stereo field.

Quite where to begin with the latter idea, I’m not too sure. It’s so mind-blowing how many topics and thematic structures he tackles that it’s almost hard to keep up, like the album is almost too intelligent for us, perhaps because it works on so many different levels: it’s a personal internal diatribe that pushes and pulls with contrastingly positive (‘Alright’, ‘i’) and negative (‘u’, ‘The Blacker the Berry’) emotions. In fact, one of the most astonishing things about the four songs I just listed is that ‘Alright’ immediately follows ‘u’s devastating emotional spillage with an upbeat anthem and ‘i’ does the same to ‘The Blacker the Berry’s pulverising outburst of rage and frustration with optimism, promotion of self-love and the hope of community.

On another level, it is a conversation between Kendrick and his fellow black Americans, specifically those in Compton, about how hypocritical some of them are about being put down by the man when they themselves resort to violence and crime that kills innocents on their side. He highlights the futility of it all and never backs down but feels as though his efforts are stagnated by a stubbornness from his audience, so on ‘The Blacker the Berry’ he finally resorts to anger and speaks out in free-flowing disgust at his audience’s refusal to listen. What ‘i’ then does is show the moment when Kendrick became the spokesperson for a generation by changing the tight, Grammy-worthy production of the original single to a song with the sound of a live record, and as Kendrick brings his audience closer to listen in to his prophecies, something dawns on us as listeners: we are listening to a genius at work.

Ducking in and out of this sporadic, almost art-house movie narrative is a single poem about the troubles of being someone under a higher power. It appears partway through the album and then returns in the astonishing, jaw-dropping closer ‘Mortal Man’ as Kendrick, in his final stroke of creative genius on an album filled with creative genius, interviews his idol, the man himself, the long-deceased Tupac Shakur. It’s a moment of utterly mesmerising clarity, totally unexpected and totally ingenious. As Lamar gets deep into conversation, he reads Shakur a poem about the caterpillar and the titular butterfly, about his fear of being used in the future, what comes next. But as he looks to the future, the moment he looks back, Shakur has, presumably, died. And therein lies the point: Lamar sees himself as the next spokesperson for the generation, and on the album he both exhibits all the traits needed to do so and examines his own emotional state about carrying out such a task. He conflicts with himself and has emotional battles that last anything from 5 minutes to 5 seconds. The ending is his way of saying ‘First it was Shakur, and then me. It’s your turn now.’

The weight of the album, therefore, comes from the stream-of-consciousness quality which runs throughout, that feeling that we are hearing the album being made as we are listening to it, like an internal monologue that never stops. It’s challenging, for sure, right down to the album cover, but never to the point where it feels you can only appreciate it on an aesthetic level. And by challenging, I mean Lamar challenges everything: he challenges the musical trappings of hip-hop; he challenges the way in which rappers deliver their poetry; he challenges the general constraints of an album by substituting good kid m.a.a.d. city‘s independent short movie for a sprawling, epic arthouse saga; he challenges the Black American population to their own hypocrisy whilst also dealing with his own emotional war; and above all, he challenges the artistic world as to how far they are willing to go to achieve an ideal in the most awe-inspiring way possible.

To Pimp A Butterfly is a masterpiece. Plain and simple. It is by far and away the best album of the year; it is the best hip-hop album not only of this decade or of this century so far, but possibly of all time; it elevates Lamar to being a genuine contender for the title of the greatest rapper of all time; and quite frankly not only does it rank as almost certainly the best album of this decade so far, but amongst the masterworks of the musical landscape, past and present. It stands alongside Kid AThe Dark Side of the Moon and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as another long-form masterwork, an album that has to be appreciated from start-to-finish and pushes the constraints of what an album can do. In a way, you could call it this generation’s Sgt. Pepper in that it both accurately reflects the musical and social landscape of the time and that it will go on to inspire just those very few artists who strive to do more with their work and make the LP great again. And if you’re not convinced by this point, I mean, come on, I compared him to The Beatles for goodness’ sake. That ought to be enough.

So in a year that has brought tragedy, heartbreak, distrust and paranoia, Lamar sets out to change the world and make it alright. Perhaps he will change it and everything will be alright.

Best Albums of 2015: No. 2 – In Colour by Jamie xx


Let me tell you of my troubles: the struggle I have in my life mainly stems from a very specific locational problem, and it is the common room in my college. In the common room, there is a bluetooth device connected to speakers around the room. Almost every day, instead of being treated to wonderful smooth stuff in the morning to ease me into the day, communal music at break and lunch and a healthy mix of ambient stuff or soft dance music in my free periods, in each of those times I am subjected to the juddering sounds of modern drum’n’bass or the quite frankly lame drops and faux-cathartics of 2015 house. Enter Jamie xx.

Here is someone who understands the importance of a good hook. If you’ve got a good hook, you can repeat that hook as long as you like and it’ll never get old, however lazy that might sound. And yet, despite the ebbs-and-flows that were so endearing about the original house sound that pop up here, it’s not something that blends into the consciousness of dance music history in quite the way dance fans would want. Instead, it brands an indelible mark on the modern dance track by both subverting and adhering to the genre’s primary intention: to get people moving and to bring them together.

It does do exactly that (as Jamie proved with his delicious set at Reading in August) but also basks in self-awareness. It’s a sort of loose concept album, painting an impressionistic picture of a rave in all its colours, melding in lines from documentaries, snippets of dialogue, ambient crowd noise and occasionally distant production to give the impression of hearing the music from another room. In doing so, and in fusing it with so many weirdly different types of dance music, the record is Jamie’s love letter to dance music, and is a marked departure from the spare nighttime glint of his earlier work with The xx: the album is full-blooded, strong, and leaves its mark. From dancehall (‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)) to trance (‘Sleep Sound’) to ambient (‘Stranger In A Room’), he doesn’t miss a beat and, above all else, delivers a record that is well-written, well-produced, of perfect length and structure, and utterly wonderful.

He has instilled hope in my heart for dance, but more importantly has given me that one album I have every year that I listen to on repeat. If it weren’t for the number one choice, this would have absolutely aced the list. For now, in the midst of an absolutely brilliant year for music, number two is good enough.

Best Albums of 2015: No. 3 – The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus


If you thought The Epic was ridiculous wait ’til you hear this.

The fact is that whilst The Epic makes sense once you’ve digested it, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a literal paradox of existence. See, punk was created as an antidote to the self-indulgent, slumping elitism of prog-rock and rock operas. It supposedly brought back that primal idea of rock’n’roll and boiled it down to its most basic roots. Quick. Sharp. No messing about with complexities and storytelling and the unimportant. The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a 93-minute rock opera, precisely the kind of shenanigans that punks in the late-70s were trying to avoid. So, technically, purists might say it is not punk. But the fact that they fly in the face of everything that punk, and indeed modern music’s rejection of the long-form, stand for, surely in doing so, do they not become the punks themselves? What I’m saying is that Andronicus, with this album, achieved the impossible: they were punk by not being punk, despite being punk.

Despite all this discussion, however, the album’s actual music is most definitely punk rock. It crackles with a headbanging energy and thrashes about as all great punk albums should. But more than that, it is lyrically intelligent, choosing to scale down punk’s big ambitions of social and political change to the personal, highlighting the mental health issues of ‘Our Hero’, the protagonist of the story told in the album. Without spoiling the story, the ending is one of the most life-affirming I have ever heard for an album, and it’s peppered with small snippets of hope, despite being ridden with anger and personal problems. Such a quality is never more potent than in the lyric ‘And you are my sister, I won’t let you sleep forever’, explained by the band as meaning ‘you’re my friend, I will stand by you and you will not kill yourself’.

So what do we learn from this? Well, firstly, it’s that Green Day’s American Idiot is peanuts compared to this. Secondly, it’s that punk paradoxes are far and few between, but when they come about, by God is it glorious. And finally, that with The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Titus Andronicus have delivered the best punk album not only of this decade, but of this century so far. It seems like there might be a future for punk after all.

LISTEN – LCD Soundsystem share first song in five years, ‘Christmas Will Break Your Heart’

LCD Soundsystem are one of my all-time favourite bands. Having released only three near-perfect to perfect studio albums since 2005, the first of which also contained all of James Murphy’s singles up to that point under the LCD moniker, the project had its last hurrah in a final show in Madison Square Garden. The career the group crafted was so perfect it makes one weep, and so my one worry with them making a comeback is of them spoiling that perfection. But if this is what we’re getting, there’s nothing to worry about. ‘Christmas Will Break Your Heart’ is such a wonderful Christmas present this Christmas Eve that my hopes of getting the group’s second LP, Sound of Silver, on vinyl tomorrow is made at once all the more exciting and redundant: the song is just wonderful. Murphy said about the song in a Facebook post:

so, there’s been this depressing christmas song i’d been singing to myself for the past 8 years, and every year i wouldn’t remember that i wanted to make it until december, which is just too late to actually record and release a christmas song… but this year, al doyle had a short break between hot chip tours where he could be in nyc, and pat and nancy were home, and tyler agreed to fly out from berlin for a few days, so we all recorded this together, reserved a pressing plant slot, and our friend bob weston was available to master it quickly—so that means, less than 2 weeks after we recorded it, there is actually a christmas 7″, which feels like something that could only have happened a very, very long time ago.
anyway, for the holidays we give you the previous, very long run-on sentence, and this song: “christmas will break your heart”, which is another one of those songs which had about 75 lines of lyrics, though we’ve knocked down to 8 to keep the suicide rate in check.
have fun!

Quite the dry humorist, as ever, that Murphy. Listen here:

Best Albums of 2015: No. 4 – The Epic by Kamasi Washington


Where do we begin with an album that by rights should not exist in this day and age?

Well, for starters, to count Washington’s influences is to essentially count everything jazz-related following Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue in 1959, which we have to remember is over 55 years old. It seems every five seconds that I find myself saying ‘that doesn’t half sound like Herbie Hancock on that keyboard’ or ‘John Coltrane has clearly been raised from the dead for that one’ or ‘In A Silent Way is repeating itself’. Elevating the record above and beyond what it was already is Washington’s choice to have a full backing choir and a string section, turning breath-taking opening ‘Change of the Guard’ into what Coltrane might have sounded like if he’d been asked to score Star Trek.

Besides this, the record is almost three hours long. However condescending it might sound to say this, three hours is a long, long time. You could listen to Minor Threat’s entire discography nearly four times over in that time. Washington isn’t afraid to stretch his players to their absolute limit, but never pushes the listener beyond theirs. Despite the record making its point about sixteen bars into ‘Change of the Guard’, those 173 minutes fly by and count towards the grand triumph of the album.

Said triumph is that, when we think properly about this, The Epic makes no sense. Independent jazz records probably get released everyday by small artists, and jazz as an influence has been present for about five years amongst the biggest players in the industry (Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, etc.) but to have a jazz record from a musician who is serious about the industry is ridiculous. And it’s straight-up jazz. Sure, it has elements of fusion and of modal and of soul, but it is a jazz record and jazz records do not exist like this in 2015. Nobody releases jazz records with the intent of them being considered amongst the other players in the industry, let alone three-hour ones. And yet the record is near-perfect, expansive, virtuosic, expertly performed (I mean, seriously, this band is monumental) and totally deserves to be counted amongst the best of the year. Perhaps jazz records like this do exist in 2015 after all.

Best Albums of 2015: No. 5 – Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens


Quite how Stevens managed to pull this one off, I don’t think we’ll ever know. Given that he is often mentioned alongside Eaux Claires compadres Bon Iver, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Arcade Fire and the like, all of whom boast full-blooded instrumentations that often include the best part of a small orchestra, to release a record as ridiculously quiet as this is possibly the loudest thing he could have done.

One way in which the record does have ties with the aforementioned Eaux Claires crew is one of aching beauty, and something which can bring one close to tears. Perhaps the most emotionally overwhelming moment is on ‘The Only Thing’s confessional stance on suicide, as Stevens tells his deceased loved one that ‘the only thing that keeps me from cutting my arm, cross hatch, warm bath, Holiday Inn after dark’ is… well, that’s the thing. The song plays like a stream-of-consciousness pouring out of feelings, as Stevens asks ‘do I care if I survive this?’ and ‘how do I live with your ghost?’ Perhaps the most horrifying implication of this is that Stevens never gets the answer. It sounds more as though Stevens had a thought that he wished he hadn’t had whilst he was walking down the street or talking to someone about something completely unrelated and suddenly overthinks it, instead of really sitting down to contemplate it.

It’s a shining gem of brilliant songwriting, beautiful guitar-playing and a whispering set of vocal performances, Stevens goes straight for the heartstrings with a series of vignettes that highlight small snapshots of his family, his loved ones and his friends. The cover art could not be more relevant to the record within: it sounds like the old, battered photo looks, like a half-remembered time that isn’t a moment you’d necessarily need to remember all your life, but one which you smile at the thought of anyway. Perhaps in this case, like so many small, formerly insignificant memories, Carrie and Lowell will suddenly spark a whole new emotional reaction to something that was once a trivial recollection, like seeing a random picture of an ex-partner and suddenly losing it. To have such emotional power packed into this tiny record is what makes it so phenomenal.

Best Albums of 2015: No. 6 – I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty


Despite comparisons that you could make between Father John Misty’s chamber pop and baroque folk and the music hall trappings of Sgt. Pepper, Misty is all the more mean-spirited and witty than John and Paul. He makes sharp-eyed and cynical observations about today, despite sounding like he absolutely doesn’t belong in this generation of music.

There are such wonderful moments of lyrical pointedness that it’s easy to weep at how sharp the satire is, most notably in ‘The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment’, when he mockingly uses the word ‘literally’ in reaction to a girl who also uses the word incorrectly. I mean, just read this absolutely savage critique of a past lover:

‘She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes
And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream
I wonder if she even knows what that word means
Well, it’s literally not that’

If that’s not a pitch-perfect modern day criticism, then I don’t know what is.

And yet Tillman’s duality in the role of a sort of weird fed-up rebel also reveals this man who is looking for pity, with small moments of vulnerability managing to creep through that toughened exterior which I suspect he puts on (there’s a reason the album is under the name Father John Misty and not Josh Tillman). Take his lamenting about his miserable life on ‘Bored in the USA’: on its own, sure it’s saddening but backed by a laugh-track it is at the same time hilarious and heartbreaking as we wonder, are they laughing with him or are they laughing at him?

Perhaps above all, I Love You, Honeybear is a character study, but one which is rather discomforting, since it is very harsh and almost condescending, utilising the aforementioned satire of the modern age and extreme sarcasm, almost to the point where it becomes a ridiculous reality. As such, perhaps people might think that they can rest easy with the knowledge that Misty remains a pseudonym. The more I listen, however, the harder it is to spot where Misty ends and where Tillman begins.

Best Albums of 2015: No. 7 – Sound and Color by Alabama Shakes


In a perfect world, Alabama Shakes’ wonderful frontwoman, Brittany Howard, would win shows like The X-Factor. Her voice is absolutely sublime, but cuts deep enough to blow your out of your seat. It sporadically switches from tender and warm to gravelly huskiness as she hits those high notes, and it might be a welcome change from the straight-laced pseudo-celebrities who are on the X-Factor. In a perfect world, she would be on those shows and not them. Thank god that we don’t live in a perfect world.

Sound and Color works on a number of different levels: for starters, they have massively expanded their horizons. The title track’s airy warmth and almost orgasm-inducing vibraphone makes you feel as though you’re inside a warm house looking out onto a crisp, frosty morning. It’s laden with soaring strings, totally weird harmonies and compositional experimentation without losing that little touch of magic that then trickles down throughout the whole rest of the record.

Speaking of magic, one of the best ways I can describe the album is by likening it to the movies: remember how much you love Star Wars? It’s just one of those films that we can say has a great story, terrific characters, it’s wildly entertaining and could perhaps be described as movie-making magic. Well, put simply, Sound and Color is music-making magic. It’s a wonderful soul record that is all at once tender, cool, ragged, tight, entertaining, thoughtful, experimental and beautiful.

Best Albums of 2015: No. 8 – Vulnicura by Björk

b1a49d00-1Vulnicura is quite strange in many ways, but then why wouldn’t it be? Björk is an inherently weird artist. So to call this the weirdest great album of the year, in itself, isn’t weird. Nevertheless, the surreal artistry on display here (I use ‘display’ because you really can’t just think of Vulnicura in the same terms as any other album: its primary thematic pull and weight is in the dynamics of the sound).

It’s essentially a baroque, neo-classical work in the sense that, instrumentally, the sound is awash with luscious string arrangements which sound immaculate. Not Disney strings, mind you: Björk’s avant-garde tendencies are still omnipresent throughout, as the strings soar and dive headfirst from their peaks so as to sonically illustrate emotional change. The pulsating beats behind each song might have simply been regarded as an afterthought had anyone else done this record, but they form the symbolic crux of the record.

Note the anxiety-ridden panic of ‘Black Lake’; huge moments of sparse drums show the pulse-raising heartbeat that underpins Björk’s emotional devastation. Pain and suffering seep through the strings and the weird electronic blips and beats until it gets right under your skin. And yet such a weird record sounds like another day at the office for her and it’s a testament to her power that she can have that quality attributed to her. Vulnicura might be difficult but damned if it isn’t heartbreaking.

Best Albums of 2015: No. 9 – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

SIJS-2400-1During ‘Debbie Downer’, Barnett, in her wonderfully deadpan Aussie voice, ‘I’m not fishing for your compliments’. Just so.

Sometimes I Sit and Think is, for me at least, an incredibly relevant record for today, not least because of its refusal to fit with a particular trend: you couldn’t really class it as psychedelic rock, it’s too earthy for that. You couldn’t call it grunge, it’s too jolly for that. You couldn’t call it folk rock, despite all its witty Dylan-esque observations, because, ironically, it’s too grungy for that.

Instead Barnett’s record harkens back to a rock’n’roll musical period that never really existed. It doesn’t have a specific musical motif that runs throughout, since it can easily switch from being a steppy indie rock tune on ‘Elevator Operator’ to a screechy freakout on ‘Pedestrian at Best’ to a mournful soft ballad on ‘Depreston’ to bouncy 60s pop rock on ‘Debbie Downer’. And so, Barnett detaches herself from the now in a way that so many people have done this year.

But more importantly, the importance of the record is in its pointed observations about the modern 20-something by not feeding them something emotive: the album relies on your own perception of the events you are being told. Take ‘Depreston’, for example. On the track, Barnett takes the role of a young couple buying a house, already elated about their new coffee maker (‘never made a latte greater’), who see the knick-knacks and memory fragments left behind by the elderly widow who was about to sell it. But instead of dressing it up with needless metaphors and double entendres, Barnett instead lets the events speak for themselves.

Such events are mundane to the point that you couldn’t imagine why someone would want to talk about them, like the flirty swimmer on ‘Aqua Profunda!’ or the bumper-sticker-turned-anthem of ‘If you can’t see me, I can’t see you’ on ‘Dead Fox’. Barnett twists them to bring a sly smile to the face of the dry humorist and plays with a sort of rested intensity: she has something to say but whether she has something to prove is debatable. So instead of trying too hard, Barnett doesn’t try at all. Therein lies the album’s internal mantra.

Best Albums of 2015: No. 10 – Shedding Skin by Ghostpoet

shedding_skinAfter Ghostpoet was practically robbed of a Mercury Prize win (he and Jamie xx were my personal frontrunners), I listened to Shedding Skin again and was struck by its consistency. The quality never dips or drags on the album; instead it remains at the same simmering point all the way through, which makes for an all the more satisfying record.

Said record is so brilliant for three reasons: first of all, Shedding Skin joins a long line of albums that evoke the ‘sound of London’ and I don’t mean the modernist design, the glass buildings and the idealistic world city. I mean the back-alleys, the grey streets on the outskirts of the city, the abandoned houses on the edges of parks, the seedy glow of orange streetlamps. It is essentially the spiritual sequel to Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm in that it gets under the skin of the tired young commuter and the homeless scrounger and the disheartened ex.

Secondly, the wise addition of the live band makes for something so much more human and jagged. It allows for Ghostpoet to flex his muscles and expand his horizons past hip-hop to outlier spaces, such as dark post-punk, baroque pop, heavy rock, soul and alternative rock. It’s so much more earthy and natural, retaining the open feel of a jazz record, bursting with near-spontaneity.

And finally, there’s Ghostpoet himself: his style is so wonderfully confident and refined by this point that it’s barely even worth mentioning that distinctive London drawl he has, which allows the end of each phrase to slyly slip off the tongue with a witty sigh, like there’s something Ghostpoet knows about the routine-driven worker inside of all of us that we don’t. He deftly treads the line between dry humour (‘Maybe our hearts will outshine the moon… Too soon?’, ‘We’re searching for a city called Better, not Butter but Better’) and apprehensive fear and intensity (the moment on the title track when the seething anger rises in the homeless character Ghostpoet is playing as the music surges forward is wonderful-‘you think you know me, you never know me’).

In the end it’s about control. There’s never any point where he doesn’t feel in control. Everything is kept within his grasp and it shows the same paradoxically loose restraint that you might find in fusion music; Ghostpoet genuinely is a talent to watch in the coming years, and now, for me at least, a major player in the British alternative scene.

Best Albums of 2015 Part 3: 20-11

The countdown intensifies with the next instalment of our albums of the year rundown.


miguel-wildheart-album-cover-tracklist20. Wildheart by Miguel

The production on Wildheart is utterly immaculate but that’s not the only thing that makes it a great third album: on it, there is a leaning towards rock music that keeps R&B in tow throughout. It evokes images of West Coast hip-hop and soul but retains a focus on sex in a positive light, whilst not being completely creepy about it. Indeed, it is quite ironic that the album should feature Lenny Kravitz, essentially the other side of the same coin: one of the two is a rock artist drawn closer and closer to R&B and the other is an R&B artist drawn closer and closer to rock. Miguel outdoes Kravitz tenfold.

19. The Phosphorescent Blues by The Punch Brothers


Described aptly by many as a progressive bluegrass record, Blues‘ very title threatens pretentiousness. And yet, when it comes down to listening through, you begin to realise that this wasn’t quite what they were going for. Folk and bluegrass at the minute is beginning to feel old, after the revival kindly provided by Mumford and Sons nearly 7 years ago now, but The Punch Brothers, with their virtuosic playing and wildly effective arrangements, considering how many people are in the band, are finally suggesting new areas for bluegrass yet to be explored. For that, at least, Blues deserves high marks. For another thing, it’s beautiful on a simpler level, allowing for space and quiet reflection in between its louder moments that humanises the whole thing. Essentially, it’s Mumford and Sons for people who don’t like Mumford and Sons.

61GVZXg76wL._SL1500_18. My Love Is Cool by Wolf Alice

Playing like the Great Alternative Songbook, Wolf Alice’s debut record had a lot to live up to: after the two-sided coin of the Creature Songs EP, featuring an absolutely colossal first half and a more hushed second side, they had to deliver: it was make or break. By God if they didn’t make it. What’s so brilliant about My Love Is Coolbesides the wonderfully exclusionist title, is that it glitters with the kind of crackling energy we want from new bands but still sounds like a group finding their way. What’s their image supposed to be? It’s for the weird kids, the people who put the aforementioned glitter on their faces and, like the album, can switch from being a shy child to a thrashing, gnashing beast. As we mentioned previously in our Mercury Prize write-up, the artists that you could call influences on the album sound like they come from an alternative rock jukebox (Elastica, Pixies, Massive Attack, Mac DeMarco etc.) but there’s never any doubt that these guys aren’t looking back: they’re Wolf Alice and they’re just getting started.

Cover17. If I Should Go Before You by City and Colour

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that ‘country’ became practically a dirty word but whenever it was, chances are it was about twenty years too late. There is very little to like about the genre as a whole, given its factory-line production, abundance of singers who feel the need to add in vibratos like we’re suddenly at the opera and having about a billion songs that sound very similar. But, amongst all this beige, drippy sentimentality, there are those noble few who can stand out as true heroes in the genre: Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Wilco, Alabama 3, The Eagles, even Taylor Swift, in all fairness. And now, City and Colour joins those ranks. Erasing the yellow and brown colours that underpinned country before and shading them in dark, brooding shades of blue and grey, he totally changes the flavours of the music he’s taking influence from by making it atmospheric, unexpected. Plus, he gets extra points for the best non-ironic use of a pedal steel guitar since Bon Iver.

FoalsCover16. What Went Down by Foals

Foals have had an absolutely monster last six months and it’s only going to get bigger in the next six with their massive headline tour, but ultimately the single moment responsible for this is the new album. As previously mentioned in the review we did earlier in the year, Holy Fire‘s biggest flaw, as was indeed that of its predecessor, Total Life Forever, was in the failure to sustain a whole album’s worth of material without it all feeling very familiar by the halfway point. What Went Down is all the more tight, concentrated and natural. It has blood-pumping visceral energy in some places, chiming indie pop in others, and lush beautiful goodness filling in the gaps. It’s an album bursting with potential singles and is easily their best to date. Finally they’ve made an album that makes it okay to call them the best indie rock band in the UK.

a0622773824_1015. New Bermuda by Deafheaven

After the overwhelming emotional strength of Sunbather, it was going to be difficult to follow up. Instead of attempting the same cathartic cleansing a second time around, Deafheaven’s skills are being more honed in towards making the structures more eloquent and complex, but also more moody. Not moody in the way their debut, Roads to Judah, was moody, but a more art rock/post-punk type of moody, like sullen and glaring type of moody rather than angry. And yet, as will probably always be the case with Deafheaven, they always find time for those calm moments, even amidst the massive explosions of airy black metal, awash with prog-rock influences. You can’t say they’re not evolving.

Drenge-Undertow-art14. Undertow by Drenge

Drenge showed a remarkable leap from their first album to this one by throwing off the shackles of a fuzzy, slightly rough-around-the-edges garage rock duo and turning into an unstoppable hard rock behemoth. Featuring an absorbing, dark production that gives the most stirring sense of menace we’ve felt on any record this year, it’s a non-stop thundering beast of a record that, like the snake mentioned in its titular song, wraps and twists around the listener. Undertow is a triumph of hard rock and essentially betters what Royal Blood did last year by filling in the sound and leaving no cracks in the texture.

packshot-113. Culture of Volume by East India outh

Whilst his first record was an uncommonly deep exploration of electronic music’s dark and unseen places, it was also a little shaggy towards the end, perhaps overdoing (or underdoing) what was needed to finish the album. But one thing that could be said for William Doyle was that he was diverse. He pulls that theme home here with an album showing much more flexibility and confidence in his role, one that take influence from much more specific places, such as dirty techno, ambient and new wave. His persona is much less that of a new kid on the block with some cool homemade ideas and now more that of an artist finally finding his feet.

universal-themes12. Universal Themes by Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozolek might be a confused, grumpy middle-aged man who’s feeling a bit bitter with the world, but hismusical chops haven’t left him since last year’s folk gem Benji. However, there’s a much more vague, foggy feel to this album, partially because it doesn’t necessarily deal with a specific theme. That’s kind of the point though. Kozolek moves from one insignificant life moment to the next, barely even trying to romanticise them, instead basically weirding a whole load of people out by finding the interesting and the important in the mundane and unimportant moments in life. He’s telling us it’s not those events which define us that are our lives: our lives are the moments in between. To compliment this with such a disjointed musical style is something of a small stroke of genius. Well played, Kozolek.

tame-impala-currents-111. Currents by Tame Impala

Ah, yes, the first published review on this site. As many will be aware, I struggled to understand this album when I first heard it. I thought it was lazy, almost too easy for Kevin Parker. After a couple of listens, however, I came to realise that Currents is actually quite important for Parker, not necessarily because it’s better than Lonerism (it’s not) but because it shows what Parker is doing: his own thing. He’s oblivious to the outside world, almost impervious to precisely what the world wants from him, fully living up to his philosophies on the previous LP. It’s not all isolation here though: instead, Parker goes straight for the other halves in his life, lamenting on failed relationships, past lovers, gender roles, break-ups and change. New sound, same old Kevin Parker.


Stay tuned for the final countdown, starting soon with number 10!

Best Albums of 2015 Part 2: 30-21

We continue the end-of-year rundown with the next ten spots on our list.


Shamir-Ratchet30. Ratchet by Shamir

Shamir’s debut is the sound of the shimmering inner-city glow from streetlights, neon signs and sleek cars. And yet, one of the most notable things on the record is the odd abundance of cowbells, á la LCD Soundsystem, giving it the human knock to the head it needs to compliment Shamir’s smooth, pointed countertenor and the record’s homespun neon glow (Shamir’s hometown, after all, is the neon town, Las Vegas).

unnamed-229. Poison Season by Destroyer

Baroque pop seems to be making something of a comeback recently, and none of the acts involved in said comeback have been more punchy and lush than Destroyer. Their dense, beautiful arrangements and their percussion driven tracks put them way ahead of their other baroque compadres.

packshot28. Fresh Blood by Matthew E. White

Channelling Bill Withers’ same crisp, charming, 70s sound without a hint of irony, even on ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Cold’, White’s shuffly sophomore LP is filled with love and optimism, something which you’d be hard-pressed to find in some of the other singer-songwriter efforts we’ve seen this year.

homepage_large.96f9778e27. Painted Shut by Hop Along

Hop Along’s tales of highway mundanity and hometown blues are made into uplifting indie rock epics on the Philly band’s latest record, which treads the line between youthful energy and that middle-aged feeling creeping up on you 15 years too early. It’s reminiscent of the beiged suburban feeling of the 1970s, as well as the long-sleeved grunge-jumpers of the 1990s.

a1802414554_1026. Foil Deer by Speedy Ortiz

Ortiz’s sound is almost ridiculously close to early 90s grunge bands, Soundgarden in particular. And yet, the virtuosity and confidence with which they execute their emulations is so fresh that it sounds like a really really good new record from Soundgarden themselves, albeit without the pretense of being about 20 years too old for it.

1035x1035-MI000386130725. Saturn’s Pattern by Paul Weller

Earlier this year Noel Gallagher’s newest album with the High Flying Birds climbed its way to number one, for some inexplicable reason. However, whilst the NME were busy salivating over Gallagher and his ‘witty’ comments about pretty much everything, his stale record managed to surpass a much more overlooked record from an old rock star who’s back for more. Only this time, Weller doesn’t sound much like he did with The Jam at all. Instead he’s channelling Radiohead, Bowie, R.E.M. The record covers weird alt-rock territory that one might not expect from someone who once actually started a power pop song with the words ‘Power! Pop!’ and yet it doesn’t sound like Weller can even remember what he was talking about the first time around: it’s a totally different rock conversation that he wants to have now.

Ryan-Adams-1989-560x56024. 1989 by Ryan Adams

Taylor Swift’s original is so stuffed full of pop gems that it might be hard to imagine how one could really improve on it in a way that genuinely brings something new to the table. Adams has found the answer. Swift fully endorsed his version of the album, but that really doesn’t give him enough credit: the covers album has completely changed the way we can look at 1989 in that it has somehow elevated the original from being a collection of pop songs to a concept album covering much the same things as Springsteen’s Born To Run: it’s the feeling of hope, and of the imagery associated with the American Dream that seem unreachable. It’s about relationships in the same way as Swift’s was but put into a larger context. I mean, above all that, it’s a great Americana album in and off itself, enough said.

a3764506005_1023. Dying by Spectres

Spectres haven’t received a huge amount of press this year, but they really should have. Why? Because they’ve taken the breathtaking grandeur of Swans and condensed it to the same level as dark post-punk. Perhaps its short length keeps it from reaching the same kind of quasi-religious heights as Michael Gira’s band of misfits but to mention the two groups in the same breath as though they were related is something of a compliment for the Spectres. Big things may lie ahead.

packshot222. Goon by Tobias Jesso Jr.

Goon is an album full of questions: why does a scruffy 20-something want to make his way into the music industry via an album that, by rights, should not really exist any later than about 1975? Are all the songs connected by the same female through-line or were they just written for the sake of writing them? How much of a debt does Jesso owe to Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson? They’re questions we might never have answered, but Jesso slips into the role of the bar stool pianist as though he were about 50 years older than he already is.

116f742b5549943a62a40a7e9ab3f55f.1000x1000x121. Surf by Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment

On Surf, there is a real sense of community, like a collective coming together to make music. Not in the same way a hip-hop collective might, more in the vein of Sly and the Family Stone. That kind of community. Different figures duck in and out of each others way so they can have their say in an album that is great fun and extremely smooth, but more than that is effortless in its combination of so many different aesthetics. The fact that both Nico Segal (Donnie Trumpet is his pseudonym, in case you thought his name and his instrument being the same were just coincidence) and Chance the Rapper can appear on the same album and be just as important players as the other is proof of this album’s range and diversity.


Report back A$AP for numbers 20-11.

Best Albums of 2015 Part 1: 50-31

There was a wonderful line on ‘Home’, the final track on LCD Soundsystem’s final album, This Is Happening, which says ‘this is the trick, forget a terrible year’. I remember that line every day that we get closer to the end of this year, and probably will for every year until the day I die, because it couldn’t be further from the truth for us music journalists. What an incredible time it’s been. There’s been no shortage of satisfying albums this year, in the form of follow-ups, debuts and comebacks alike. Whether you’re keeping up with the psychedelic revival, the wave of current synthpop artists jumping on the bandwagon or the continuing slow re-integration of jazz into the cultural consciousness, 2015 might well go down as the first seminal year for the Internet generation in music, with surprise releases coming from every direction, vinyl continuing to resurge and a vast catalogue of music being utilised more than ever before in the form of streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify and the like.

I’ve managed to get through more current albums this year than I have ever done in the past, coming to a total of a whopping 130 at time of writing, and I’ve heard many a triumph and downfall come through the cultural radar, whilst having many myself. I had my first festival this year, discovered numerous artists from outside the current era for the first time and, of course, got my job here in the first place. So you could say it’s been a hell of a ride these past 12 months. Hopefully the albums on this list (judged purely by a one-man jury of myself) can provide a little retrospective of those months in a small enough space to keep you interested for long enough. Fingers crossed.

Disclaimer: I am only one man. I cannot possibly listen to every release from this year, and can shamelessly admit to having missed numerous high-profile or recommended releases, such as Adele’s 25, Jim O’Rourke’s Simple Songs, Rae Sremmud’s Sremmud and several others. Additionally, let it be known that this list is missing some good albums, simply because the albums on here are better, in my humble opinion. If your favourite is not on here, it’s possible I didn’t hear it but more likely that it just didn’t make the cut. If you do think I’ve missed one, let us know in the comments.

Let’s begin with some honourable mentions which came unbearably close to making the list:

  • Reality Show by Jazmine Sullivan

Sullivan’s Frank Ocean-esque musical wit is thoroughly welcome in her hiatus-breaking third album.

  • If I Was by The Staves

The three girls have an awe-inspiring control over their harmonies and craft beautiful songs that are warm and crisp, nicely circumventing the all-too-easily applicable ‘Whitby pub folk songs’ stereotype.

  • Hand. Cannot. Erase. by Steven Wilson

Wilson’s latest solo effort is a shameless exploitation of prog-rock’s clichés but he more than manages to get away with it.

  • Get to Heaven by Everything Everything

As a funk-indie-art-rock odyssey, Get to Heaven teeters on the edge of collapse but manages to pull itself back at just the right time.

  • California Nights by Best Coast

A sun-soaked record through-and-through, awash with warm vibes and a suitably early-evening landscape to compliment it in the artwork.

143143860808150. Coming Home by Leon Bridges

Bridges’ great skill is overcoming the long string of so-called ‘revivalists’ who have been horribly dominating the charts with faux-Motown hits by going the whole nine yards, making the unsuspecting believe that he’s some sort of time-travelling Muscle Shoals patron who’s jumped straight from the 1950s into now. The similarity to Sam Cooke startles.

a2967602571_1049. Cosmic Troubles by Faith Healer

Faith Healer’s Cosmic Troubles feels shaggy enough to be a quaint indie record but there’s intelligence in the cherry-picked influences from all shades of 60s pop-rock.

CW_YCA_SLEEVE-1024x102448. Young Chasers by Circa Waves

The Circas’ rushing garage-rock debut, that plays like a less smug and less sneering Strokes album, is completely unstoppable, and puts them amongst the premiere British indie-rock acts right now.

e0bfb6b6b24707d44de8b98638856a4b.1000x1000x147. Dark Sky Paradise by Big Sean

Paradise is understated and dark, and it proves that Sean is making serious progress with his energetic delivery and stormy production.

mark-ronson-uptown-special46. Uptown Special by Mark Ronson

Ronson is just as much of a star of the show as his eclectic but nonetheless absolutely star-studded guest cast. Packed full of West Coast pop, old-fashioned James Brown caricatures, acid-jams and, of course, ‘Uptown Funk’, Special is the sound of a producer finally growing into his own shoes.

natalie-prass-sb006-cover-art-lo-res-145. Natalie Prass by Natalie Prass

The chamber-pop artist’s debut has the same sort of bouncy orchestral charm of a Disney soundtrack, but of course with a much more edgy undertone.

2154-581x58144. Viet Cong by Viet Cong

The post-punk artists’ debut has the same sort of cascading, doom-impending colossal size of an oncoming glacier that never stops, and is just as abrasive as it sounds.

pf3r4kvfdb6d2gv45oiw43. Blood by Lianne La Havas

La Havas’ wonderful neo-soul sound is confident and polished but not quite to the point where it sounds inhuman or spontaneous: thought and determination has been put into this, despite the record sounding effortless.

unnamed (48)42. Fading Frontier by Deerhunter

Lacking the same sort of sonic experimentation of their previous works, Frontier is a noticeably pointed record for an indie-rock band who were never really a traditional indie-rock band. Until now, perhaps.

6283beab41. I Don’t Like S—, I Don’t Go Outside by Earl Sweatshirt

The former Odd Future alum’s latest record is a short, but also sharp and moody burst of dark energy.

at-long-last-asap_opt40. AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP by A$AP Rocky

There’s an overarching feeling that Rocky’s second studio album is a little overlong, but if it were tightened up a bit more his unique brand of heady psych hip-hop could morph into a masterpiece.

top_cover_139. Blurryface by Twenty One Pilots

Pilots bring together numerous disparate genres with the through-line of being two brilliant songwriters, exhibiting control, patience and an extraordinary lyrical skill.

Mbongwana_Star_-_From_Kinshasha38. From Kinshasa by Mbongwana Star

Although it might seem like a traditional African folk album, From Kinshasa features some seriously unexpected sonic weirdness. It almost sounds as though it is the work of two separate artists building on each other’s work.

Mini-Mansions-The-Great-Pretenders37. The Great Pretenders by Mini Mansions

QOTSA bassist Michael Shuman’s side-project perfectly lives up to the very ethos behind side-projects: there’s no pressure here. Pretenders is crunchy and woozy in equal effect, quite a fun deference from QOTSA’s expected heavy-rock mindset.

Packshot-RGB36. Music Complete by New Order

New Order’s last hurrah somehow manages to race through a series of alt-rock/new wave hits with the same energy as the new indie-rock band on the block. If their music is, as the title suggests, complete, we can live in the satisfaction of this last puzzle piece.
14a54cdb469e4d2263913f9aeab720eb.1000x1000x135. No Cities To Love by Sleater Kinney

Sleater’s comeback record is one of many this year to propagate the female icon image, but the former riot grrrl band do so with much more ferocity than their contemporaries.

34. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + the Machine

Whereas on previous records Florence’s baroque cathedral-sized instrumentation has sometimes gotten in the way, here she mostly ditches that kind of majesterial pomposity and makes good on her claim that Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ was her favourite song ever: Fleetwood’s pop-rock influence is subtly felt throughout, right down to the black-and-white on cream album cover, making for a tighter and more energetic third album.

fidlar33. Too by Fidlar

What’s wonderful about Fidlar’s aptly-titled second album is how it is, at its core, rooted in pop-punk, but it’s also scuzzy and grimy in a way that only true punk can be. Perhaps most importantly, the record is absolutely hilarious as well, mixing dirty jokes with a couple of cheeky winks and witty self-deprecations.

YF-wmabmt-cover-web32. White Men Are Black Men Too by Young Fathers

After their surprise Mercury win last year, it’s perhaps a little jarring, although ultimately welcoming, that they’ve come back with something much more tinged with pop and R&B influences than the avant-garde sounds on the first record. And yet, true to their image, the record is far from a sell-out: it’s a maturation in their understanding of how their music is received by their audience.

b91c652ff948fbfa4ec34ee7bf93186c1f79d26031. Art Angels by Grimes

Grimes follow-up to 2012’s Visions is such an odd record: it’s dressing up as some sort of avant-garde weirdo-celebration but it plays more like a really angry Taylor Swift. Yet somehow, she manages to meld the artistic and the entertaining seamlessly into something that perhaps might not be as shocking as you might expect but is certainly just as groovy.


Keep checking back for part two, 30-21, coming soon!

Grammy Nominations 2016: Full List

Well well well. The Grammy’s have sure got a show lined up for us.

In a wonderful turnaround from last year’s lukewarm at best list for the Grammys, this year’s nominees sees a wonderful mix of the greatest hits of the last 12 months and allows us to expect Grammy to repeat the absolutely glorious turnout of 2014’s ceremony, which saw Daft Punk’s wonderful Random Access Memories take home Album of the Year. Earlier this year at the last ceremony, Beck’s comparatively ‘okay’ album Morning Phase took the prize. On a contrasting note, here are the nominations for the same award, as well as Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist.

Album of the Year

Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

Chris Stapleton, Traveller

Taylor Swift, 1989

The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness

Song of the Year

Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”

Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”

Wiz Kahifa feat. Charlie Puth, “See You Again”

Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”

Record of the Year

D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Really Love”

Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”

Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”

Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”

The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel my Face”

Best New Artist

Courtney Barnett

James Bay

Sam Hunt

Tori Kelly

Meghan Trainor

What’s absolutely wonderful about this list is that it truly is a celebration of all the diverse brilliance we’ve had in the last year. Take Album of the Year, for example. Whereas last year’s list was painfully unspectacular, featuring GIRL and X, this year we have some of the best albums of the previous 12 months making the cut, such as Alabama Shakes’ wonderful Sound and Colour, Taylor Swift’s jam-packed 1989 and Kendrick Lamar’s powerhouse opus To Pimp A Butterfly. Not only this, Lamar also pops up in Song of the Year for hip-hop anthem ‘Alright’ from the aforementioned Butterfly and Swift’s ‘Blank Space’ makes an appearance there, as well as being nominated for Record of the Year.

In that category, D’Angelo’s 2014 To Pimp A Butterfly-prequel Black Messiah has itself recognised by its lead single ‘Really Love’ and is joined by R&B noir-king The Weeknd with ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and Mark Ronson’s disco party anthem ‘Uptown Funk’ in the race for the prize. The only sad truth of this category is that Ed Sheeran currently has a massive chance of winning against all of these brilliant records with his tepid hit ‘Thinking Out Loud’. Sad world, but there we go.

Elsewhere, Aussie rock-wordsmith Courtney Barnett makes a welcome, and frankly surprising appearance, in Best New Artist, amongst a field of people against whom she should be a dead cert for the win. Sadly unlikely that this will be the case, since boring pop-rock star James Bay and the travesty that is Meghan Trainor will almost certainly be competing for top spot here. Nice to see Barnett’s name get a nod.

Amongst the other categories, exhilarating nominations include Wolf Alice getting a nomination in Best Rock Performance from the absolutely massive ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’, Tame Impala’s Currents and Bjork’s Vulnicura in Best Alternative Album, Jamie xx’s In Colour being honoured for Best Dance Album and The Punch Brothers making several appearances in the Americana and Roots categories, including Best Americana Album for The Phosphorescent Blues, a category for which they will hopefully knock the competition out of the park.

All in all, we can probably expect at least a hell of a ceremony what with the performances they have the chance to book with this list. Here’s hoping that the best men, or women, win.

View the full list here:

The Grammy Awards 2016 will be announced 15th February 2016.

Mercury Prize 2015 Nominees Ranked

We are less than a week away from the most prestigious music award in Britain being awarded and given the opportunity we have to analyse and break down the nominees, I feel as though we should make the most of it. So guess what we’re going to do?

12. Hairless Toys by Roisin Murphy

Here’s the problem with Hairless Toys: as much as it feels as though Murphy has had a series of numerous brilliant ideas, there is a real sense here that she has attempted to piece them together as best she can but with no through-line. There is nothing particularly holding the album together, and so it becomes precisely what it was conceived as: a series of ideas. It’s not even as though the ideas themselves are not fleshed out enough, some are explored in great detail: it’s how they are pieced together which is questionable here, and so the entire thing feels underdeveloped rather than the parts which comprise it.

11. Eska by Eska

Eska’s primary vibe is that of the explorative diva, someone whose mystery is their greatest weapon: she fuses jazz, R&B and pop together across the self-titled debut, which is exactly as Mercury Prize-ish as it sounds. Unfortunately, a large part of the problem here is that for all her genre-hopping, she never feels as though she is sending any of the styles forward particularly, or even doing anything new with them. It’s not derivative but it’s not individual either, making it even less interesting. And yet, for sheerly existing, it’s easy to see why this album is nominated in the first place.

10. At Least For Now by Benjamin Clementine

Clementine’s entry in the list is one which sounds more like a theatrical endeavour, as his sing-speaking style might suggest. The voice itself is wonderful by the way, you really should hear it. Such a collection of songs, although occasionally drifting out of touch from Clementine’s control, is completely his own. It’s something that fits in comfortably with the preconceptions of baroque chamber pop without attempting to copy it, and Clementine has made something worth being proud of. Despite this, the album does rather outstay its welcome, not in an intruding sense but just because it feels as though its point has been made around seven songs in, and Clementine didn’t feel that seven was enough, a fair assumption for sure. To call it Mercury bait in the same way that a film like Suffragette is Oscar bait feels unfair but there is a sense that the Mercury was made for things like this.

9. Matador by Gaz Coombes

Coombes is probably more renowned amongst the younger of us through his wonderful work on the John Lewis advert with his cover of The Kinks’ ‘This Time Tomorrow’, so to have him come out with something like this was startling at first. Matador isn’t traditional pop music in any sense, much more thoughtful and ethereal, more layered. Perhaps it may sound like a blow to Coombes when I say that I wouldn’t normally attribute any of those qualities to him normally but ultimately it’s true, this is an odd step in his career. Not necessarily one I find incredibly interesting but definitely noteworthy, for sure.

8. Are You Satisfied? by Slaves

One of the indie bands I’ve been championing for a while now is Kent punks Slaves, and here is the recognition their abrasive sound needs. What makes the debut great is how self-assured they are, and how uncompromising they are. Undeniably there’s an appeal on the surface of it, in that the hooks are memorable and the structure is familiar, but ultimately it’s angry and screeching. It’s really meant to be experienced live but the sound on the record isn’t far off, even if the volume might be.

7. Architect by C Duncan

Duncan is taking a large leaf out of Beach House’s book here, and faces the same problem that any dream pop artist might face: keeping the music within the genre without making it dull. However, despite signs that Duncan might slip into that trap a couple of times, the album is fairly consistent. There’s a real art school vibe to the record, which evokes images of the pastoral psychedelia that early Pink Floyd and their compadres in Strawberry Fields liked to do. Duncan’s voice is reminiscent of the fluffy voice that last year’s nominee East India Youth gave us, but the record itself manages to be able to sit still a lot more then East’s did. Perhaps it could be seen as being too placid but at least it’s consistent.

6. Before We Forgot How To Dream by Soak

Soak’s debut is based on a core principle of finding heartbreaking beauty in sparse simplicity, following in the footsteps of Bon Iver’s debut eight years ago, and whilst Soak doesn’t quite reach the same level of aching euphoria, she is mature beyond her years. I think that at this point a Mercury nomination is important, because it’s clear from the sound that she exudes from Before is something that is begging to be expanded upon, however largely or minutely that be. In any case, Soak provides a significantly less obvious antidote to the Brits’ everyday folk stars that seem to pop up every which way nowadays.

5. Syro by Aphex Twin

At this point, for all of the gladness I have that Aphex has finally been recognised as a genius by Mercury, most of the artists that are on these shortlists now have already taken Aphex’s influence and run far with it. He seems as though he is merely the token British legend, like Bowie and Albarn before him, who has to appear on the list for the sake of Mercury being as varied as possible. But as much as I like Syro, and as much as it is brilliant that Aphex has been nominated, he has received an almost insurmountable amount of praise over the 30 years that he has been working, with his debut regarded as one of the best in its genre, ‘Windowlicker’ probably being lauded about a thousand times as being a weird and wonderful masterpiece and constant dispute still ongoing as to whether his masterpiece is Drukqs or Richard D. James. So does Syro need to win? Well, even discounting the fact that it’s not nearly the best of the nominees, Aphex knows he’s great. We don’t need to remind him.

4. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + the Machine

When looking at the cover of Florence and co.’s new record, it seems to echo the cream-and-black-lettering of Fleetwood Mac’s 70s bestsellers, and I would go so far as to say that, similarly to Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, this is by far the poppiest album that Flo has done. From pop rock opener ‘Ship To Wreck’ through heartbreak anthem ‘What Kind of Man’ and ambient folk number ‘St Jude’there is much less reliance on theatrics and massive cathedral antics. It’s kept between us and the band, and I like that. How Big is most definitely The Machine’s best album yet.

3. Shedding Skin by Ghostpoet

What a controlled piece of work. It’s without a doubt the tightest record here. Ghostpoet has suddenly become a major player in the hybridisation of genres that seems to be trending a lot at the moment, here fusing chilly post-punk, indie rock, hip-hop and spoken word together into something as deft as it is poignant. In it, Ghostpoet addresses relationships and self-awareness with a startling honesty and clarity. He has a wonderful London drawl to his voice, where words slide off his tongue and he adds a small noise to the end of phrases, almost to point us towards this subtle wisdom, and he is in perfect control here. At no point does it feel as though he’s losing his grasp and yet it also never feels stagnant and hindered. If this won, I would be a happy man.

2. My Love Is Cool by Wolf Alice

So much has been said about how quickly Wolf Alice burst onto the scene, particularly after the almost revisionist EP opener ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ last year. And yet, there’s still something really incredible about My Love Is Cool. It treads the line between newcomer’s shyness and brash confidence in such a way that it feels like a fully-fledged statement as well as a gateway to even more incredible things; that’s saying something, as well, because this is pretty incredible in itself. The amount of alternative ground it covers is massive, as the band channel Massive Attack (‘Turn To Dust’), Pixies (‘You’re A Germ’), Elastica (‘Fluffy’), Sonic Youth (‘Giant Peach’), Mac DeMarco (‘Freazy’) and Can (‘Silk’). But there’s no sense of freneticism, as everything feels encapsulated in the same bubble of work, that of a band who are simultaneously discovering their confidence and only just emerging to the world. It’s a modern indie rock classic, for sure, and cements Wolf Alice as the premiere new British band right now. If this won, I would also be a happy man.

1. In Colour by Jamie xx

For all of the various things I might have said about the other albums being great, there really is no contest here: In Colour is the best dance album we’ve had in years. It’s actually incredibly important in the dance landscape, particularly here in Britain: it’s the antithesis to the stubborn, tuneless, grating, numbing and most of all undanceable dance music that poisons the airwaves and the aux cords of today’s music world. Where has the community gone? Why is it that when brainless drum&bass is playing over the speakers in my college, I look over at the wireless device and all the guys over there are on their phones with their heads bopping lightly to the music? Here, I present you with something in which the artist has put attention into the details, but doesn’t overdo it. He doesn’t overcomplicate it and from that he draws out some absolutely wonderful tracks. Warm synths, lush sub-frequencies in the basslines, lovingly simplistic drum patterns and an absolutely stellar Reading performance to complement it make me have hope for club music, and for dance music in general. LCD Soundsystem broke up 5 years ago now, and even then they drew in punk and electronica just as much as dance. Daft Punk are pop artists now, no doubt about it. Enter Jamie xx, the club spinner who, for me, absolutely deserves the prize. Of course, if Ghostpoet or Wolf Alice took the prize it would be a welcome win. But Jamie is the true winner here.

It’s likely, of course, that one of those three will take the prize at this point so it would be logical to assume, given the Mercury’s recent track record, that none of them will actually take it. We’ll see come Friday.

LISTEN – Coldplay Begin Final Push with ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’

After saying that their seventh album, tentatively and as it turns out truthfully called A Head Full of Dreams, will probably be their last, it looks like Coldplay’s final stretch of work is upon us with the seventh LP’s first single, ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’, being given to us.

From the wonderfully eclectic opening moments and right through the colourful, sugar-rush of its disco step, the song is an absolute gem. There’s no constraints and also no pretentiousness. Whether or not this is indeed the last Coldplay album, Martin himself couldn’t have described it better: ‘it’s the sound of being happy and free’. It’s not bound down by trying to fulfill the expectations of being one of this band’s final moments together. It’s almost like Coldplay have just got back to business, except gone are the small, minimalist electronics of Ghost Stories or the arena-pop echoes of Mylo Xyloto. It’s a bold new, possibly final, step for the band and one which I hope pays off. If this is anything to go by, Coldplay’s about to go out with a bang.

Listen to the track here:


A Head Full of Dreams is out 4th December 2015 on Parlophone.

LISTEN – Cage The Elephant Return with ‘Mess Around’

So as Cage The Elephant edge closer to their fourth studio album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, they’ve given us the first taste of the action. The new album, produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, has just spawned its first single in ‘Mess Around’, although judging by the sound of it, you’d be surprised he didn’t write the bloody thing.

As much as it has an awful lot of DNA passed on from Melophobia, it’s inescapable that the record sounds almost criminally like ‘Lonely Boy’ from El Camino and isn’t all the better for it. It’s more bland, it’s missing a spark, and although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it bad at all, it’s not a promising beginning of a beautiful friendship between Auerbach and Cage. Perhaps they’ll prove us wrong.

Listen to ‘Mess Around’ below:

Tell Me I’m Pretty is released 18th December on RCA.

LISTEN – Adele gives first taste of 25 with ‘Hello’

We have missed Adele haven’t we? However much ‘Skyfall’ was an absolute cracker that could have satisfied most fans for a while, 3 years is still a long time to wait for new stuff. And so, she has finally announced the album we all kind of knew was coming, 25, produced by ‘the blockbuster producer’, Danger Mouse.

There’s a restraint to ‘Hello’ that isn’t really present on the previous works; for all of ‘Someone Like You’s paired back beauty, it has this flowing drive to it and Adele doesn’t hold back. But here, it feels as though that’s exactly what she’s going for. The drums are muted, the atmosphere is cathedral-esque and the chorus is something that doesn’t beg the same sing-along tendencies as something like ‘Rolling in the Deep’ or ‘Set Fire to the Rain’. It’s slow, sultry, soulful, and completely Adele’s kind of thing. It’s natural progression, and it feels more sophisticated and mature than the 21 material, in that there’s no youthful spirit trying to burst out of the record grooves with ‘Hello’, instead a world-weary full adult whose spirit is breaking. If this is anything to go by, 25 might just make a few more of us shed a tear. Not this heartless journalist, but some, sure.

Listen below:

25 is released on 20th November on XL Records.

LISTEN – Savages share ‘The Answer’ as lead single from just-announced album Adore Life

After the marvellous debut that was Silence Yourself, Savages have burst back onto the scene with a no-holds-barred, noise rock thrashabout (real word), ‘The Answer’, which tinges their work with the same sort of religious catharticism that the Swans aim to achieve in their live shows. Accompanied by a dizzyingly frenetic video, the punk group included this about the song in the press statement:

‘It’s about change and the power to change. It’s about metamorphosis and evolution. It’s about sticking to your guns and toughing it out. It’s about now, not tomorrow. It’s about recognizing your potential. It’s about self-doubt and inaction. It’s about you. It’s about me. It’s about you and me and the others. It’s about the choices we make. It’s about finding the poetry and avoiding the cliché. It’s about being the solution, not the problem. It’s about showing weakness to be strong. It’s about digging through your dirt to look for diamonds. It’s about claiming your right to think unacceptable thoughts. It’s about boredom and the things we do to drive it away. It’s about being on your own so you can be with people. It’s about knowing what it means to be human and what it might mean one day. It’s about the parts and the sum of the parts. It’s about the music and the message: together, one and the same. It’s about bass, guitars, drums, and vocals. It’s about opening-out and never, ever dying. But most of all it’s about love, every kind of love. Love is the answer.’

and this in an explanation for the video:

‘We’ve observed our audience all around the world and noticed that something is happening. People want to be pushed to do good, or to be good, or just to feel good. We wanted a very intense video, that felt like banging your head against the wall, focusing on our audience: a portrait of our crowd, an homage to music lovers and the good people who are coming to gigs and shouting their lungs out, or just smiling at the back. We were touched by them every night, and wanted to get their message out there: loud guitar music is still alive and still connects people.’

Listen below:



Adore Life track listing:

  1. The Answer
  2. Evil
  3. Sad Person
  4. Adore
  5. I Need Something New
  6. Slowing Down The World
  7. When In Love
  8. Surrender
  9. T.I.W.Y.G.
  10. Mechanics

It’s Mercury Prize Time!

And now for my favourite time of the year, when I get to discover the new artists being championed by the Mercury Prize this year. After last year’s completely unprecedented win for Young Fathers’ Dead (it is fantastic), we have been met with another healthy mix of indie, dance, avant-garde, hip-hop, electronica, alternative and punk. Showing love for British electronic legend Aphex Twin (about bloody time, as well), the Mercury have finally given him his first nomination for last year’s Syro, admittedly his first in about 13 years. Something that we might want to think about from now until the ceremony is whether he will actually show up, and what will happen if he wins.

In the rock end of things, we have pop rock powerhouse Florence + the Machine with third album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Kent punks Slaves (whom we have discussed a couple of times before) with screeching debut Are You Satisfied? and Wolf Alice with their superb debut My Love Is Cool. Smart money might be on Wolf Alice in this case, but we’ll see.

Welcome sights also come in the form of Ghostpoet’s marvellous new record, Shedding Skin and Jamie XX’s wonderful full-length debut In Colour, both of which I would be happy to win the prize. They’re both certainly very representative of the less mainstream side of British music this past year, and Ghostpoet particularly seems like a very Mercury-esque choice to win.

Elsewhere, several other solo artists make their appearance here, with SOAK, Róisín Murphy, Benjamin Clementine, ESKA and C Duncan all getting a nod from the Mercury. Part of the joy of the Prize each year is being able to discover so many new artists through them: were it not for them, I wouldn’t have heard East India Youth and GoGo Penguin last year, or James Blake the year before. Most importantly, perhaps, I wouldn’t have discovered Foals (well, I probably would have but that’s beside the point), whose absence from the list this year is made all the more conspicuous with the fact that their last two records were. They join Everything Everything in being surprise snubs from this year’s list.

Speaking of snubs, East India Youth and Young Fathers, despite a large amount of hype surrounding them last year related to the Prize (Young Fathers obviously won and East India Youth was a frontrunner to win) have failed to secure a second nomination this year. Unfortunately, Paul Weller’s brilliant Saturn’s Pattern also didn’t make the cut for this year’s Prize either.

So what can we say so far? Well, from what I can gather it’s actually a really great list this year, not necessarily because it has the 12 best albums from Britain in the last 12 months but because it feels unbiased. Like I say, there’s a healthy mix here: Florence + the Machine do all the talking from the pop end of things, Wolf Alice and Slaves are the token rock bands this year, Aphex Twin is the British legend coming to do his work again, there’s several unknown voices in music that will undoubtedly be catapulted up in their record sales. There’s even a bit of jazz.

Yes, I think this will do quite nicely. Go on then, get listening and get guessing so we can answer the unanswerable question: who do you think will win the Mercury Prize this year?

Full feature on the Prize coming before the ceremony on 20th November.

Bloc Party Release Details For New Album, Hymns

It’s hard to think what to make of Bloc Party these days. I mean, they’ve changed so much since those scruffy, youthful, angry, energetic young lads from London: now they seem to be… well, I’m not really sure.

Anyway, first taste of the new album Hymns was released last week and now the details of the album have been shared as to the track list, after the Maida Vale performance a few days ago. The first of the tracks, ‘The Love Within’… well, I don’t really know what to make of that either. It’s weird, unlike anything they’ve ever really done before and it’s hard to tell precisely what they’re aiming for. Such was the case with ‘The Good News’, a slow, swinging roots rock number that once again strikes no particular chord with the listener, and with ‘Exes’, a sort of moody, echo-y… thing. Nevertheless, all these songs point to a certain lack of identity coming through on the band: they lost Matt Tong, the exceptional former drummer for the band, and bassist Gordon Moakes, and in the process lost the integral four-man line up they had: everything fit together so well across all four records, and it’s shame that the group can now only really be described as Kele featuring some other guys. But make your mind up by listening to the three tracks below:

Hymns tracklisting:

  1. The Love Within
  2.  Only He Can Heal Me
  3. So Real
  4. The Good News
  5. Fortress
  6. Different Drugs
  7. Into the Earth
  8. My True Name
  9. Virtue
  10. Exes
  11. Living Lux
  12. Eden
  13. Paradiso
  14. New Blood
  15. Evening Song

Hymns is out 29th January 2016.


Dodge and Burn: The Dead Weather Album Review – Stick With Your Day Job, Jack

As much as I love Jack White, I have never been a fan of The Dead Weather. It’s always seemed like a measly attempt to pull another White Stripes out of the bag, but more ‘mature’ and ‘complex’. Ever stopped to consider that the lack of such qualities might be why people loved the Stripes so much?

Following White’s solo stint last year with Lazaretto, he has returned with something much less interesting in Dodge and Burn. Coming out of the gates with measly opener ‘I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)’, the album never really picks up any steam, remaining pretty stagnant throughout. The suggestion that you might get from the mid-tempo ground that a large amount of the album occupies is that the band are going for a more smooth sound, attempting to channel the Southern roots in their blues-tinged rock. Instead, it comes off as weary, not helped by Jack White’s abysmal production that turns everything into a dampened piece of clean instrumentation. Such a technique worked on Lazaretto, since that was a tight slice of R&B-infused blues rock that sounded like a Jack White solo record with an awesome backing band. This, however, is a more collective affair, and one that feels as though it should be louder and punchier. It’s not.

Such a situation is simply a case of several things not working together at the right time, i.e. a mix where everything seems to be lost, a production which softens the grit that something such as this should have and a style of songwriting that seems too underdone, too spare. It’s rough around the edges but not in an endearing way; instead it’s as if the band barely took any time to think about what they were putting onto tape and just whacked it out in a day or two. Most rock’n’roll purists would suggest that this is the right way to do a record, and in some cases it can be. Unfortunately, The Dead Weather seem to not have the collective consciousness to sound cohesive. Such a notion seems stupid considering the role call we have here: White, for one, but also Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs, not to mention Alison Mosshart. A disappointment from a supergroup like that is much more crushing than that of an upcoming new artist, if you could even call it a disappointment after the previous works the Weather have given us.

So despite the star power of White alone, it is White on whom the blame mostly falls. To some he might seem to take a backseat in the whole thing (‘he’s just the drummer’) but he really is the de facto leader of the group in some sense, and the main selling point. It’s him who was in charge of the godawful production. It’s him who has given the group its main appeal. And, presumably, it’s him behind that godawful squelchy bass sound that has blatantly been recycled from Lazaretto. Mosshart is the only saving grace of the album: despite the fact that the mix doesn’t give her much by way of a presence in the group, her growling performances seem to hint at what the album was meaning to say and do the whole time. But, much like Mosshart’s voice, the purpose just gets lost in the thick of it all.

Verdict: A slump of a record that chugs along wearily to the finish. Stick with your day job, Jack.


Zipper Down: Eagles of Death Metal Album Review – Sex, Booze and Rock ‘n’ Roll

When listening to any Queens of the Stone Age album, there was always hints of smaller ambitions amidst the expanse of the dark desert that much of their music inhabited, of this desire to, just for a moment, make something less complex, less constructed, something that revelled in its own lack of coherence and its own filth. The Eagles of Death Metal seem like that desire incarnate in two dirty, drugged up rockers, one of whom is a rock superstar and the other of whom looks like that one guy in a bar who would have no problem kicking in your teeth and turning straight back to his whiskey. Also, he’s an ordained reverend.

Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme’s team is one of veritable danger and, despite what the band name may suggest, the affair is much less one of thrashing about with a group of tattooed skinheads and more one of a bar room brawl with Tennessee’s most wanted. It’s more sultry, and the two band members seem to know this: as that marvellous cover art would suggest, they’re going for a cheeky look, which concurrently makes you want to stay the hell away from the lairy lads and makes you want to be drinking buddies with them.

It’s notable the love and care that has gone into this album, despite the fact that at first listen it can seem like the core aesthetic of it is complete recklessness. I mean, what sort of dangerous rock’n’roll band would cover a Duran Duran song (‘Save A Prayer’, in case you’re wondering)? Like sister band Queens of the Stone Age, there’s an offset from the dirty, grease-flecked guitars in Homme’s haunting falsetto backing vocals. It’s an album that knows how to make a real impact but never shouts too loudly for its own good. Similarly, it also never outstays its welcome: it’s over in just under 35 minutes. And yet, despite the debt the sound owes to the more cheeky side of the QOTSA ouvre, the real star of the show is Hughes himself, with his immense swagger and hip-swinging persona that is captured in this record. He’s carefree, and it almost feels as though, despite the raucous lifestyle you might assume he leads (like I said though, he’s a reverend), he has a lot more fun than you do. In a way, that’s the point of the project: to have immense fun and bring a certain nostalgic primal instinct to the rock landscape as it stands today. Yet, I’m wary of using the word nostalgic in this case because I get the sense it would weaken people’s impression of the group: see ‘nostalgia’ implies there is some form of longing in the band’s sound but Hughes’ persona suggests quite the opposite. He’s not longing for the old days of rock’n’roll, he’s living them.

Verdict: A scuzzy, boozed-up offshoot of Queens’ slightly dirtier side, the album is short, sweet and snappy with absolutely zero ambition. Just how it should be.



LISTEN – The 1975 share new single, ‘Love Me’

So after all the speculation, teasing, artwork and Instagram posts, this is what we get?

The 1975 have ditched their noir neon look and replaced it with pink and white neon instead, along with getting rid of their original, indie pop-rock sound and replacing it with funky dance music. The problem is that the dance music they used to replace the rock sound is awful. The track’s basic aesthetic is ’11-year-old on a Casio keyboard’ and has about as much sophistication as that sounds. It’s littered with crappy instrument sounds, a more-basic-than-Sainsbury’s guitar riff that sounds like it’s lifted straight from a piece which I had to mix as a year 9 BTEC music student and a consistently annoying vocal performance from Matt Healy. NME described it as channeling Bowie but they seem to more be channeling Dance EJay’s default settings.

Listen here (or don’t, your choice):

No news yet as to a second album.

Ryan Adams: 1989 Album Review – A Sublime Americana LP

For all the reservations our readers may have about Taylor Swift’s original album, and indeed Swift in general, I think she’s great. She has an adept understanding of what it is to make good pop music, even though that doesn’t mean jack to anyone who dislikes pop music. But one of the things that is noticeable about the original 1989 is that, despite a consistently good level of songwriting throughout, the make-or-break quality for each track was in the arrangement: ‘Style’, ‘Shake It Off’ and ‘Welcome To New York’, among several others are great tracks because the instrumentation is full and punchy; conversely, ‘Bad Blood’ is not so good a track because it is the exact opposite: it’s spare, it lacks impact and stumbles about without ever properly resolving itself. So the lesson we’ve learned here is that the songwriting can mean nothing if the arrangement isn’t good; here’s where Ryan Adams comes into the picture.

Adams’ version isn’t so much a cover album as an adaptation, in much the same way that GoodFellas was an adaptation of a Nicholas Pileggi book called Wiseguy: essentially, Scorsese (you know, the GoodFellas director) found details in the book that are barely touched upon with more than a sentence and expands them into celebrated sequences of film-making (the one take entering the club being the perfect example). Similarly, Adams finds things in the original lyrics that one might never have expected to be there, Taylor Swift included: he twists ‘Welcome To New York’ from a peppy pop track into a Springsteen-esque anthem of hopes and dreams of the big city; he recasts himself in the role of the carefree youth and turns ‘Shake It Off’ into a mournful, dark mid-life crisis; and he flips the female role of tracks like ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay’ and ‘Bad Blood’ to his own point-of-view. And yet, despite how much the vibe of the album changes in the conversion, the new style doesn’t detract from the original’s presence: Adams may have made the songs his own but in the case of almost every track, I find myself wanting to go back and listen to the original, which I’m sure in turn will convince me to change over again and listen to Adams’ cover.

Even calling the songs ‘covers’ doesn’t feel right. It feels more like the songs themselves are all old pop standards that just happen to have been done by someone else in a different style. It’s like Frank Sinatra doing a load of swing covers: they’re not his songs but nobody really cares because he does it so well. So to call this version of 1989 a covers album, despite the fact that I would technically be correct in calling it that, feels like calling Little Richard’s first album a covers album, in that the songs have now become as much a part of Adams’ DNA as they are Swift’s.

It also now feels like a more singular experience, like the songs are loosely connected in some way by the aching hope for better things to come, and the pain of the things that have already past. Such a thematic weight would never have been possible on Swift’s original, since part of that threading together in the tracks comes from the music itself; Swift’s aim was to collect together some great pop tunes and put them out as a collection. Adams instead weaves the songs together by making sure the vibe and his instrument choice is meshed together across the tracks. The great thing about that is that it is still possible to enjoy the tracks separately, since he’s clearly thought about how to adapt each and every one of them carefully, and unexpectedly in some cases. Who would have expected him to redo ‘Blank Space’ as a sparse, restrained acoustic number or to do ‘Out of the Woods’, a pulsating, bass-driven anthem into an emotional, teary ballad?

The album transcends the original and instead presents itself as an individual experience, with a unique persona totally separate from that of the original. But Adams clearly has a major respect, understanding and love for the source material. To see a work as honest and heartfelt as this (it is, really, a passion project) makes the album just that little bit fresher than the original.

Verdict: Adams has demonstrated a remarkable skill in arrangement and instrumentation here, creating a wonderful piece of work that will be remembered as both a reminder of how great Swift’s original is and a career highlight for Adams.



The 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees are here

Say another big hello to Chic this year! Celebrating what will be their eleventh nomination, and likely not their last judging by the current stats on the website for the awards, they have once again popped up and are, somehow, still not in the front running for getting the prize. Similarly, The Smiths have nabbed a second nomination since the beginning of their eligibility period in 2008 and, once again going by early stats on the website, stand approximately not a chance in hell at getting in this time. Shocking I’m sure you’ll agree but let’s not dwell on that.

Joining the two powerhouses above are groundbreaking rap group N.W.A., Deep Purple, Yes, Chicago, Steve Miller, Cheap Trick and Janet Jackson, amongst others. The final results for the inductees (of which there will be five) can be decided through fan votes on the website for the awards, which will also tell you the stats; currently the five frontrunners are Chicago, Yes, The Cars, Deep Purple and Steve Miller, all of whom have a score at around 17-18%, whilst sixth place’s Janet Jackson holds a comparatively measly 3% of the votes. The Smiths clock in 0.7% and Nine Inch Nails and N.W.A. exceed that by 0.6% and 1.1%, respectively. Last years inductees included Green Day, Joan Jett, Lou Reed and Bill Withers. Hell of a group, eh?

Full list of nominees:

Cheap Trick
Deep Purple
The Cars
Chaka Khan
The JB’s
Janet Jackson
Los Lobos
Steve Miller
Nine Inch Nails
The Smiths
The Spinners

The inductees will be announced in December.

Everything In Its Right Place: A Celebration of Kid A

I first listened to Kid A almost four years ago now. I had been told by however many hundreds of publications that it was not only one of the best albums of the decade previous, or the century so far, but of all time. Bold claims, I must say. By this point, of course, I was well aware of the utter sublimity of OK Computer and had fallen in love with some of the songs on there already, as well as being rather well acquainted with The Bends (‘Planet Telex’ was my first experience of Radiohead), so I had to hear the follow-up to such a masterpiece. Well, I can’t lie: I was disappointed. I mean, of course I liked it, I could never dislike anything from Radiohead, but I couldn’t understand the high regard in which it was held or the heaps of praise being thrown upon it, why anyone would place it above OK ComputerIn RainbowsThe Bends or even its sister album Amnesiac, itself basically an outtakes album of material from the Kid A sessions. Of course, it being Radiohead I listened to Kid A, along with the other albums, hundreds of times over following that first time listen. And then, one time, three years after I first heard it I’m in a chemistry lesson, of all places, and we’re doing a worksheet or something, I don’t really remember, and I’m listening to the album again. Just another listen amongst about a thousand other listens to the album. And suddenly, in the middle of ‘The National Anthem’, I had a realisation, an epiphany. In that single, solitary moment when the orchestra members sounded like they were being strangled, all of a sudden, I got it. I understood.

If you listen, end-to-end, to all of Radiohead’s discography without pauses or transitions between the albums, the moments before Kid A begins are the final moments of ‘The Tourist’, OK Computer‘s suitably helpless closer, which ends on a brilliantly neat ting of a triangle. And then chimes in the claustrophobic electronic piano of ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ and you know it’s a different world you’re in now. Then there’s the lullaby-esque step of the title track, which feels almost fragile and childlike in its sparse sound. Then there’s the cacophonic, almost maddening buzz of ‘The National Anthem’, a relentless ear-splitting assault featuring “the sounds of a marching band marching into a brick wall”. Then there’s the achingly beautiful moans and cries of ‘How To Disappear Completely’, a song so heartbreaking it almost hurts enough to make one weep. Then there’s the breather soundscape of ‘Treefingers’. Then there’s the sliding cascade of ‘Optimistic, then there’s the paranoid echo of ‘In Limbo’, then there’s the glitchy apocalyptic sounds of ‘Idioteque’, then there’s the chilly tingles of ‘Morning Bell’, and finally there’s the shimmering, twinkling ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ to top it all off. Despite the wideness of its ambition, it never exceeds its own length, or outstays its welcome.

And yet, somehow, despite the complete contrast to OK Computer in terms of its sound, the two records fit together perfectly. Computer is a preemptive warning about, and examination of, 21st century life. It is about the hold technology would supposedly have on us in three years time (Computer was released in ’97) and how that would affect our thoughts, our feelings and our actions. And yet, Kid A‘s very existence is a thematic exploration in itself: the juxtaposition between the alt-rock of Computer and the electronics and otherworldliness of Kid A represents technology taking over and suddenly being introduced to our lives, and Radiohead’s use of just the music itself as a way of exploring thematic elements to the album puts them alongside The Velvet Underground for sheer ideas and innovation. The whole idea of Kid A is ridiculous and yet somehow it pays off, an unconscious rejection of everything that went on at the time.

To understand Kid A is to understand what it is to be an artist, even if you are not one yourself. It stands as a shining example of the very nature behind artistic integrity, the idealisms behind making art for the sake of art. It is the bravest, boldest and most (almost nonchalantly) confident artistic statement in any art form for the last 25 years, if not longer. It’s not just about how good the actual music is: it’s about the scope of the album, how much ground it covers. It’s an almost towering fusion of rock, electronica, jazz, ambient, classical, punk, avant-garde and soundscaping. It’s an amalgamation of 50 years of musical division, where this genre was this genre and that genre was that genre; suddenly, pretty much effortlessly, it all came together into one, awe-inspiring, strange, extraordinary place. Its placement in music history is perfectly poised between the analogue and the digital, the record collection and the iTunes library, the 20th century and the 21st. It is only as I write this that I am starting to truly recognise the real weight of such a work, since it is, quite simply, a masterpiece and it is, quite simply, perfect.

Happy 15th birthday, Kid A.

Kurt Vile: B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down Album Review – A Disjointed Space-Out

Kurt VileIt’s a shame that former War on Drugs alum Kurt Vile’s new record starts off so well and then drifts into obscurity and meandering lightheadedness, since it does start off really, really well. ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is a wonderfully downbeat track, and features a very earthy sound, as though you can hear the rust on the old strings of the guitar and the tension that the drum skin is under when it’s hit. It’s very natural and heavy, weighty even, cleverly matching the world-weary disillusionment of Vile’s lyrics. Unfortunately, the record never has the wings to get off the ground from there onwards.

‘Dust Bunnies’ and ‘I’m An Outlaw’ both feel as though Vile had an idea for a song that was never fully fleshed out, and 6-minute tracks ‘That’s Life tho’, ‘Wheelhouse’ and ‘Lost My Head There’ all outstay their painfully underwritten welcome. It feels as though perhaps Vile has been too scared to do anything particularly radical with his arrangements, staying at a steady mid tempo pace, with a noticeably thin instrumentation overbearing on most of the tracks.

Perhaps it’s just because ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is such a wonderful track but the rest of the album feels as though it doesn’t go anywhere, as though it’s a stodgy collection of unfinished tracks that see Vile seeming a little spaced out and not quite aware of what’s going on. Maybe that’s his point, but then where’s the enjoyment in that?

Verdict: Despite a good start, the album loses a lot of steam very quickly and feels underdone in too many places.


Reading and Leeds 2015: The Big Review – Sunday

And so, on the final day of my time at Reading, I wake up and am thrust straight back into that heady world of mud, alcohol and loud music with my first gig attended with my 20-something compadres, Bryce and James. Feed The Rhino, without a doubt the shoutiest band I saw, was something of a rare experience across the weekend for me, since I had not seen Bryce or James at any of the sets I had been to across the weekend and thought perhaps they might take my patented ‘stand back and watch’ approach which has proved popular with more hardcore bands such as Rhino. As you might be able to imagine, I was wrong. One of my favourite moments of the weekend personally was when James and Bryce stood next to me, nodded to each other, and had each of them put an arm around my shoulders calmly. Without warning, they both lifted up a leg and used me, the unassuming ‘baby’ 16-year-old journalist who turned up to a festival on his own, as a battering ram. A battering ram, I might add, against a large number of dreadlocked, hardcore mosh veterans who looked like they might abide by the old Wookiee technique of ripping your arms out of your sockets. As for Feed The Rhino themselves? They were okay.

Now, I’m not one for bold statements (‘Revolver is the greatest album ever made by anyone ever’ I might allow) but I honestly think that second Sunday act Lonely The Brave performed a set that could be described as ‘history in the making’. I looked at the band and didn’t see a band that had an awesome stage presence that rivalled that of someone like Foo Fighters. I didn’t see a band who played their instruments at a proficiency level similar to that of, say, The National. I didn’t even see a band who had a weird, unexplainable appeal on a stage like, for example, Wolf Alice. I just heard their music being played live to what was a shockingly small audience and that alone was enough to tell me that one day, they would be headlining this joint. As I sang along to ‘Trick of the Light’, a song I didn’t even know I knew so well, I realised where this music was meant to be played. I felt as though I was watching them at