The Avalanches are back after an absence of 16 years since their critically acclaimed debut, Since I Left You. But now they’ve returned, should we take them back? Because I’m Me is a catchy 70’s soul homage by New York rappers Camp Lo and is a promising start to the album. Frank Sinatra is a baggy, jarring Gorrillaz-esque song with a calypso beat, with elements of rap and a sample of My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music thrown in for good measure. If I Was a Folkstar is a hazy acid washed summer ditty with the vocals Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev fame and is a highlight of the album. Nothing could meet the hype of a 16 year wait, it’s got some great songs but is a pretty wonky album that doesn’t live up to the charm of their debut.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, August 2016.
After the dystopian antics of the UK referendum I thought I’d review something that was relentlessly cheerful to take my mind off it, and what could be more cheerful than Teleman’s second studio album? Dusseldorf is a power pop anthem about leaving a friend/lover behind in Dusseldorf in a hedonistic haze, aspiring to a 5 star hotel life. Glory Hallelujah is about the thankless desire of unrequited love, calling out your love’s name in vain being comparable to saying a prayer to a God you don’t know is listening. Possessing the pop pomp and majesty of Supertramp with a pinch of synths, Teleman has grown in confidence with lyrically dark subject matter dressed as pop anthems.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, July 2016.
You could be forgiven for thinking in listening to Charles Bradley that this was an album from the 70’s rather than from April this year. Filled with the sort of gospel funk styling familiar to James Brown or Marvin Gaye at their best, I found myself constantly feeling like I was listening to a lost soul or album that I should’ve known about years ago. A cover of the Black Sabbbath’s classic Changes to a soul anthem has genuine gravitas, with Bradley’s heartbreaking vocals breathing new life and a real feeling of pathos. Ain’t It A Sin is about trying to be a righteous man but struggling with the vicissitudes of a world that keeps knocking you down, until you get back up fists ready with a snarl on your face and demanding respect and to be heard. This deserves to be heard.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, June 2016.
I think we’ve all had teenage power fantasies at times, in which we cast ourselves as great heroes saving the world whilst being implausibly cool. M83 sounds like the anime soundtrack of my dreams, their euphoric 80’s throwback euro pop reminiscent of some of the best work of Pet Shop Boys and Army of Lovers with the suggestion of funk and the polished sheen of accomplished synthpop. “Do It, Try It” has the dreamy shoegaze quality of a trance choir in the middle of a motivational speech whilst “For the Kids” sounds like a lost Chicago ballad that could easily stand up with the best of that band’s oeuvre. The album might be called Junk but it’s not junk, it’s a glorious return for a pop sound you thought was gone. So wind down your windows and enjoy.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, May 2016.
Seeing as I didn’t get the chance of doing a list of what bands to see for Sound City 2016 (see lazy bastard) I thought I’d instead give you a quick run through of the highs and lows of the aftermath of mine and my brother’s adventures.
Where were the headliners? Because I'm genuinely curious as to how most people’s definition of a headliner and Sound City organisers are. Look, I liked and thoroughly enjoyed Catfish and the Bottlemen, but I don't think they had enough material for the headline slot. The Coral are decent and have a decent amount of material but I can't shake the feeling they were picked because they were scouse and merseybeat sounding enough to get away with it. Considering they dropped from 3 days to 2 and said they'd use the extra money for more acts I have to question did they actually look? LCD Soundsystem recently reformed, they could've asked them, or even got hold of the Manic Street Preachers or Editors. The point is there are plenty of bigger hitters that they could have used but ultimately didn’t.
The Dandy Warhols
So, I don't know if I was at a different gig than anyone else but I can only imagine after reading the Echo's review of The Dandy Warhols that they had seen a far superior performance to me on the alternate reality of earth 2, because what I saw was half hearted and badly sung. The lead singer just wasn't there, he didn't seem in the least bit arsed or invested in performing in any way but putting in a perfunctory performance, and his voice was raw and shot to hell. I mean, Christ, Dandys - what the hell happened to you? Outside of a brief sign of life when they kicked off into Bohemian Like You this was a largely lacklustre performance with lack of audience interaction and polish. The rest of the band played stoically on but the Titanic was still sinking.
Highlights of the fest in short
White -Imagine ABC crossed with Duran Duran and Bryan Ferry, and you’d get White.
Band of Skulls – just a rocking good time and a great palette cleanser.
Barbagello – like a cross between the Shins and Ben Folds Five I genuinely enjoyed the disarming summer pop stylings of the French trio.
The Wholls – very like The Dust Junkies, catchy as hell rock/hip hop licks.
Suzie Stapleton - sounded a bit like Peej, decent but unpolished
City Calm Down – a pretty great band in the mold of Joy Division.
Xamvolo – possessed with plenty of fun and soul to spare, Zamvolo was a genuine highlight of the fest.
Iggy Pop, one of Bowie’s closest friends and collaborators has joined with Josh Homme to make a doom laden rock album that feels like the hangover of the Berlin days and is reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails’ best work. Break Into Your Heart is about breaking through your partner’s barriers and getting under their skin to get closer to them, physically and emotionally, and that sometimes sex can be an act of deconstruction and reconstruction until both partners see each other for who they are in the warm afterglow. American Valhalla has Iggy seeking the American afterlife after the raw power of his younger years wrestling with his own mortality, singing “I've nothing, but my name.” The album is a slow burn seductive drawl rather than a wild ride dealing with themes of sex and death and dealing with growing old.
First published in Kirkby Extra, April 2016.
Suede have really knocked it out of the park with the last few albums and have really come up with a brooding masterpiece in Night Thoughts. Outsiders is drenched in imagery of urban decay, of lovers meeting for dangerous liaisons by roadside shrines, of love amidst the ruins. It’s reminiscent of Stay Together with its metaphors of love and death, of roadside flowers. It’s an album filled with vulnerability, desire and melancholy and beautiful glam riffs reminiscent of the bands best work, Dogman Star and their eponymous second album. Learning to Be is a great come down like Sleeping Pills, whilst Brett Anderson channels Bowie with his tinny glam vocals and Morrissey in all his florid melancholy majesty.
First published in Kirkby Extra, March 2016.
When my dad died I was 7 and my brother was 12. I never appreciated Dad’s taste in the rat-pack until much later (sorry dad, but Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett are still better than Frank Sinatra). It was our uncle that got us into Bowie, Beatles and Led Zep, and started off my musical journey. I remember a teacher in junior school trying to teach us about classical music had put in the wrong tape, so instead of Mozart we got Queen featuring David Bowie, leading to a chorus of “PRESSURE! Pushing down on me!” I remember being 18, in sixth form and my English Language teacher, Miss Newman telling me I should listen to Lodger, introducing me to Bowie’s Berlin period. I remember being 31 and singing Under Pressure as both Bowie and Freddie, in a manic duet with myself and being given a whiskey to shut up. Fast forward to Monday 11th January 2016 – I’m picking up the keys for the house today and moving out with a housemate and my mum’s shouting up to me to tell me that David Bowie’s dead.
The title track Blackstar is replete with funereal imagery, of kneeling in execution on a stage before a crowd becoming a spirit in death, a blackhole, a figure of nothingness, a void, refuting previous identities “I’m not a filmstar...I’m a blackstar/...I’m not a popstar...I’m a blackstar.” Bowie is redefining his own identity, casting off previous identities and accepting his death. If Space Oddity was Bowie facing God in space and realising we’re all small parts of the universe, and Ashes to Ashes was the come down from this realisation, then Blackstar is about transcending it and becoming one with the stars. Lazarus is about Bowie in heaven reflecting on his life, dropping his mobile phone in an accidental shrugging off of material things and being free like a bluebird. Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) is reminiscent of one of Bowie’s heroes Scott Walker, filled with acid jazz and reminiscent of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy of albums and concentrates, at least on the surface, on the failure of a marriage, about a lovechild, an affair and a departure. Although, equally the man that Sue runs off with could be death himself, alluding to Sue committing suicide as the result of a miscarriage.
Blackstar was Bowie’s parting gift to us – his death, much like his life was a carefully controlled message. It’s so hard to put into words what we have lost here, what music has lost. Bowie became a language we could all speak – a common tongue even in the most foreign land.
So, I thought that in the year of our dear and fluffy Lord, 2015, that I'd try something a little different. So I've put together a top 5 tracks, top 5 albums, and top 5 gig experiences I've experienced this year. It's just like all of those clip shows of favourite episodes you love! But what's your top 5 tracks, albums and gigs of the year? Sound off in the comments, because good Lord, I could do with some more comments!
TOP 5 TRACKS
Shamir – On the Regular
Missy Elliot – WTF (Where They From) - I haven't covered Missy's new album yet, but the single knocked me on my arse with lines like "lyrically I'm Optimus Prime." I mean, who wouldn't love that?
De Lux – The Future
FFS – Johnny Delusional
New Order - Singularity
TOP 5 ALBUMS
Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Joanna Newsome – Divers
Ben Folds – So There
New Order – Music Complete
Chemical Brothers – Born in the Echoes
TOP 5 GIGS
Flaming Lips (Sound City 2015)
Belle & Sebastian (Sound City 2015)
Everything Everything (Sound City 2015)
Thabo & the Real Deal (Sound City 2015)
EVENT OF 2015-12-15
Liverpool Sound City
Although I miss going to a variety of different bars and clubs like The Kazimier (wistful sigh), Mello Mello (pours one out), Zanzibar, etc, I felt like in 2014 it needed a real shot in the arm. In 2015 they got that shot in the arm when moving to the docklands. It made it feel more coherent having everything closer together and had great headliners like Belle & Sebastian and Flaming Lips. The only fault I had was sound bleeding from adjacent stages, which also caused a hell of a bottleneck when things got crowded, and the unnecessary fairground. It turned a selection of gigs into more of a festival feel. You can read more of my impressions here, here and here.
MUSIC TIP FOR 2016
Shijo X were something of a hidden gem at Sound City 2015, being shoved into a tent half filled with records and memorabilia, but despite that what I heard was a promising band, reminiscent of the smoky jazz stylings of Portishead. This is a band to dance to in a darkened room with wild abandon, it is worth your time and your ears. I reviewed their album on my site, here. http://vinylcountdown.weebly.com/blog/shijo-x-if-a-night
I can’t remember exactly when I first got into jazz. I think it was somewhere between watching Just Ask for Diamond as a kid, seeing Cowboy Bebop in my teens or watching Bogart movies whilst not so secretly wanting to live in that world. Kamasi Washington recaptures that feeling of getting into jazz for the first time, reminiscent of the best aspects of Miles Davis and John Coltrane with a pinch of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers thrown in for good measure. The album is split into three parts: 1: The Plan, 2: The Glorious Tale & 3: The Historic Repetition, reminiscent of the classical Greek epic and also Joseph Campbell’s “The Heroes Journey,” punctuated with a gospel choir making the 172 minute album epic in sound as well as scope. This is a heroic journey that I give my highest recommendation.
Originally printed in Issue #328 of the Kirkby Extra, January 2016.
Monthly music columnist for the Kirkby Extra, sometimes article writer for Get Into This. Freelance writer/artist/maker.