It’s hard to believe that the Gorillaz have gotten to the point where they’re rivaling the stuff that Damon Albarn output with Blur, but I’ll be damned if they’re not there. It’s just a shame that this album doesn’t stand up to the best stuff Gorrilaz has put out so far. There are some standout tracks like Strobelite - a Bobby Womackesque track reminiscent of Fake Plastic Beach, and Submission that are unabashed funk at its best but they tend to get overwhelmed by duffers like Saturn Barz and Momentz that just doesn’t hit. Songs that should have been stand outs like Charger featuring Grace Jones just feel disjointed, and I just couldn’t shake that feeling throughout listening to the album. It’s patchy. It has some highs, but to quote Damon “this is a low.”
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, August 2017.
Easily the stand out diamond in the rough from last year’s Liverpool Sound City, White Lies delivers with a debut album of sleaze-drenched, disco guitar pop that sounds like Roxy Music and ABC had a lovechild and makes us wistful for what the Killers could have been but failed to deliver on after Hot Fuzz. Songs like This Is Not A Love Song are melancholic yet still manages to be anthemic, whilst Fight the Feeling and Living Fiction are obvious singles filled with guts and glamour to spare, filled with sex, doom and longing. One Night Stand Forever is an album not content to be listened to, but to be strutted to in the post midnight hours of an inadvisable Saturday night.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, June 2017.
British Sea Power, the sonic inheritors of Echo & the Bunnymen and the Psychedelic Furs have punched through the grimness of our times with stadium pop sensibilities hinting that behind every raincloud a rainbow isn’t far behind. This is exemplified in their track “Bad Bohemian” which encapsulates that no matter how bleak the future seems that it’s ourselves that determine if it’s going to be a utopia or dystopia. Whilst “Electrical Kittens” is dream pop reminiscent of Mercury Rev at their pomp brimming with nostalgia for the heyday of radio. “And we'll all hold hands as the radio plays, Say a little prayer for halcyon days.” British Sea Power shows us that not all nostalgia has to be toxic and that not all futures are the nightmares we fear and offers optimism and hope with some great tunes.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, May 2017.
So much of 2017 so far has been trying to make sense of the unholy mess of 2016, musically, personally and culturally. Going Backwards starts off proceedings by stating as far as we’ve come technologically it has made us numb and lacking in empathy, and that going forwards have given us all of the tools we need to regress to our worse natures, whilst Where’s the Revolution questions the lack of activism and uprising when we’re happy to stay stuck in our rut of cosy apocalypse. The Worst Crime puts us as participators in a lynching, stating that we’re all complicit in electing the leaders that are leading us towards splendid isolation, racism and ruin. The album is the strongest I’ve heard the band since Ultra, dark, filled with gloom and pessimism. It’s a wake up slap to those with bystander syndrome. Wake up.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, April 2017.
Heavily influenced by movie and videogame soundtracks of the 80’s, Gunship is the like the neon drenched apocalypse of that era that we were denied. Euphoric synths are harmonised with Robert Smith-esque vocals like a John Carpenter soundtrack meets electro pop. Speaking of which, the highlight of the album has to be Tech Noir which features a suitably apocalyptic voice over by Carpenter himself declaring “I’m recording this because this could be the last thing I’ll ever say. The city I once knew as home is teetering on the edge of radioactive oblivion. A 300 thousand degree baptism by nuclear fire. I’m not sorry, we had it coming.” It’s cyberpunk that you want to ride out the dystopia to, possessed of a hopeful optimism that overcomes the doom laden imagery contained within. It’s truly an album for our dystopian times.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, March 2017.
It’s actually good to hear something new from the Lips after an inadvisable Beatles cover album. The album begins with a minimalist, ambient sound on the eponymous track of the album, leading into the psychedelic song “How??” a trippy treatise on legalising drugs and burning out. The sound of the album is very reminiscent of the output of Belbury Poly in their heavy use of synths and atmospheric psychedelia. The band’s trademark weird humour is still evident in tracks like “There Should Be Unicorns,” and the album is replete with the euphoria you’d expect from them, whilst also being a very sparse and sombre soundscape, punctuated with the fragility of Wayne Coyne’s vocals. Although not reaching the dizzy heights of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots or The Soft Bulletin, Oczy Mlody proves that the band can still put out solid work.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, February 2017.
A Tribe Called Quest has released an incendiary album that’s as purposeful as it is angry and as polished as it is raw, whilst still being relentlessly funky. “The Space Program” uses the space race as a metaphor for white people having an easier time at success in a system that’s inherently rigged, with samples of Gene Wilder’s mad rant in Willy Wonka and Vincent Price’s insane cackling from Thriller mixed effortlessly in a song in which black people rot behind bars whilst white privilege reaches for the stars. Whilst “We the People” is a response to the Trump presidency and the rise of the rightwing in America precipitated by the smokescreen propaganda of mainstream media raising “false narratives of Gods that came up against the odds.” This is the album 2016 needs.
Originally printed in Kirkby Extra, January 2017.
2016 has been a cruel year for losing legends. Bowie, Prince, Lemmy and now Leonard Cohen has passed beyond the veil. Cohen has always sung bleakly beautiful poetry with a voice that’s a gravel road wrapped in silk, resonant and striking to the core. Nowhere are Cohen’s lyrics more starkly beautiful in the title track, You Want It Darker, when he sings “vilified, crucified, in the human frame, a million candles burning for help that never came.” Whilst Travelling Light conjures up funereal images of travelling light because you can’t take it with you, and running late, also has poignancy as his muse Marianne Ihlen recently passed away. You Want It Darker is his final letter to us, possessed of the stark beauty of a winter morning and the dark humour and lyricism of a master. Sincerely, M. Summerfield.
Originally printed in Kirkby Extra, December 2016.
If Joy Division was black coffee, then White Lies are definitely coffee with milk and one sugar – it still has that hint of bitterness and a bite that you need, but it feels lighter and easier to take. Take It Out On Me is a song about being a surrogate for your loved one’s pain so they can heal in the guise of an uplifting indie rock tune. There’s an underlying current of it being a damaging relationship in the lyrics “Oh take it out on me, I’m in love with the feeling of, Being used.” Disillusion of love’s promise is a theme running through Hold Back Your Love. Friends is an album that does what White Lies does best, for every shadowy metaphor the lyrics conjure there’s an uplifting guitar chorus or synths that lift it into the light.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, November 2016.
After producing two excellent EP’s Blossoms have finally released their debut album, incorporating some of the best songs from those songs, such as the anthemic Charlemagne, a time tossed track that sounds like a synth pop anthem from an alternate world’s 80’s top 10. At Most A Kiss is a track about love at the edge of an abyss, with apocalyptic overtones of doomed love. The band excels at dystopian psyche rock with an 80’s twist, making it into something joyous and filled with momentum. In Blossoms songs there’s a doomed nostalgia for lost worlds and lost loves, such as Charlemagne referencing the historical king of the Franks and Blown Rose referring to “the stately homes of England, how beautiful they stand,” whilst recognising that the singer’s love for the country and his love are fragile, like a rose made out of glass liable to break. Listen to this.
Originally printed in Kirkby Extra, September 2016.
Monthly music columnist for the Kirkby Extra, sometimes article writer for Get Into This. Freelance writer/artist/maker.