Do you have a hole in your heart in the shape of Echo and the Bunnymen and early Depeche Mode? If so, then this album may be for you. Skeleton Hands have created an album filled with the thrill of an impending dread coming true headed straight for you. Tracks like “Shadows” are filled with ominous portent but are filled with a locomotive momentum comprised of synths and drum machines that are infectious and wouldn’t be out of place in a darkwave dance hall. The album has an air of oppression and paranoia and possesses all the melancholy that you’d expect from an album called Wake, but it also never becomes dour, instead balancing a fine act between earworm electronics and mournful vocals. If you’ve been itching for a good post punk album, this might be just the scratch you need.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, September 2018.
Kamasi Washington is back with his second concept album of sweeping saxophones, and just like his first album is fraught with meaning and metaphor. The Earth side of the album represents the world how Washington sees it outwardly, and the Heaven side of the album represents how he sees the world inwardly, and somewhere in between is the artist’s struggle to reconcile these two points of view. We open with his version of Fists of Fury, a Bruce Lee movie theme that sounds like Sergio Leone crossed with Luke Cage. The whole album has a more orchestral feel replete with soaring chorus singers accompanying percussion and tinkling keyboards giving the whole album a big band feeling. Washington has again created a truly scintillating listen in crafting a jazz album with hints of blaxploitation and heaps of experimentation.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, August 2018.
Kanye’s 8th album opens with him contemplating murdering his wife and singing candidly about his own suicidal urges, channeling a Stan era Eminem. Kanye’s voice and the production level of the album stands out, but the lyrics are rote and the themes are tired. Violent Crimes feels especially tone deaf as he sings how he’s learned to nurture women because he’s worried about how his daughter is going to grow up, when 6 songs ago he wanted to murder his wife and in “All Mine” wants to sleep with Naomi Campbell and Stormy Daniels. He stokes controversy evoking his “slavery was a choice” line only not to confront it or say anything meaningful other than, “just imagine if you caught me on a wild day.” It’s at this point when you have to wonder when did Kanye become Morrissey?
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, July 2018.
Imagine that Jack discovered videogames, chiptune and Adventure Time. The album opens with “Connected By Love” replete with gospel choir and church organ with an electronic drone and the squeal of guitars, whilst Jack pours on the seduction. Whilst “Corporation” has keyboards reminiscent of Superstition with a rallying cry of “I’m thinking of starting a corporation, who’s with me?” examining how brands are idolised as the new religion, and the cults of personality that form around them. Unfortunately with all this experimentation the consistency of quality of the songs takes a dive. The album is very much a mixed bag, and your mileage may vary with how much patience you have with Jack White rapping. When Jack White was 15 as an upholstery apprentice he used to hide records in chairs. I’m starting to wish he hid this one.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, June 2018.
At times the lyrics make you think they were created by an AI who’s found a dictionary and sometimes just repel any kind of interpretation, but even when the lyrics become word soup the songs still work because of the compelling beats. The first single, Paranoic Intervals/Body Dysmorphia is about deciding which people to keep in your life and those you don’t have time for. Simultaneously it’s about impromptu trysts, suffering from bouts of lust and paranoia and possessiveness, and the empty patterns of repetition we engage in when our lives get caught in a loop. The band has crafted an infectious dark electronic music with 80’s beats reminiscent of bands like The Faint and the more avant garde moments of The Focus Group. It’s worth a listen, and certainly not boring.
Oriiginally published in Kirkby Extra, May 2018.
It’s hard not to get swept up in the sheer positivity of Andrew W. K. This is the man who when I saw him play at Leeds Festival 16 years ago piggybacked a fan around the stage whilst maintaining a high octane rendition of Party Hard and released an album of covers from the Gundam anime. The tone of the album is euphoric, as you’d expect from the musical Bob Ross of positivity. From the spoken word piece In Your Darkest Moments, which reminds us that our personal demons are an important part of us to the rock pomp of The Devil’s On Your Side it’s an album about caring about your fellow human beings and remembering what’s important, but it’s also a rocking good time. If you’ve had a bad day, listen to this triumphantly feel good album.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, April 2018.
If you’ve walked down Bold Street at some point you would have heard the heartfelt voice filled with melancholy twinned with poignant acoustic guitar ringing out amongst the shops and restaurants. The singer recently recorded this album of traditional Bulgarian and Macedonian folk songs after being helped by Liverpool record producer Joe Wills after facing eviction from his flat over Christmas. Although you’ll likely not be able to understand what Mehmet is singing there’s something in the songs he sings that resonates with you, songs of love loss and such vibrancy that you can’t but help feel a connection to the songs. You can find Mehmet’s album on Bandcamp or buy a CD from him on Bold Street, and I cannot recommend enough that you listen to him play and support him.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, March 2018.
Evoking the maudlin spaghetti western ballads of Tarnation, with songs like Distant Star, First Aid Kit are at turns wistful, replete with melodies and harmonies that are still strikingly beautiful. Ruins is an album of remembering who we were, who we loved, and all that we left behind. Full of nostalgia, regret but also the wisdom to know that although we sometimes lose old friends and loves, that to progress in life we sometimes have to leave those we love behind. The album explores loneliness but it’s also about moving on like in “It’s a Shame.” First Aid Kit manages to make loneliness lovely without wallowing in it, like how Hem of Her Dress becomes a rousing boozed up chorus about the sting when an unrequited love won’t shut up about his new lover oblivious to his unrequited lover’s sorrow.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, February 2018.
Low in High School explores themes of distrust in media propaganda, stating “Society is Hell” in My Love I’d Do Anything For You. Whilst, I Wish You Lonely sees Morrissey explore dancier territory whilst lamenting loyalty to state, crown, and criticising those patriotic and foolish enough to believe it is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country. Morrissey has done more sophisticated and nuanced work with Vauxhall and I and You Are The Quarry and of course with The Smiths. It’s capably done, but Morrissey’s not telling me anything I didn’t know at the age of 12. Themes such as politics in the Arab Spring and Israel pop up but are mixed in with stale innuendo and speak of the understanding of a student with one eye on the news and another on ogling his own reflection.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, January 2018.
St Vincent throws glam rock, electropop beats with new wave sensibilities into a blender to make a really taut, sharp album at turns seductive, melancholic and thoughtful. The title track “Masseduction” has echoes of “Fame” and is a pun on being seduced by the masses and seducing the audience but also leads to mass destruction, indicating that the celebrity images we’re seduced by lead to dissatisfaction with our own lives and ultimately our destruction. Whereas “Pills” deals with the numbness of how reliant we are on self-medicating for everything from sleeping, to eating and thinking, the repetition of the word pills driving home how we can’t function at the simplest level without medicated assistance. Masseduction is an album filled with desire, disappointment and the space between fetishism and reality, and how we struggle to fill the roles people fantasise for us.
Originally published in Kirkby Extra, December 2017.
Monthly music columnist for the Kirkby Extra, sometimes article writer for Get Into This. Freelance writer/artist/maker.