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.
The album begins with the single Burn the Witch, its lyrics replete with the feeling of small town paranoia, superstition and fear of outsiders, and just as importantly the virulent fear of ourselves and our neighbours. Red crosses on doors symbolising plague imagery, crossed with the hysteria of the mob cheering at the gallows and witch trials as a metaphor for the hysteria and unreason that fear strikes into us all. Decks Dark uses the metaphor of an extraterrestrial encounter as the intrusion of something terrible and earth-shattering altering your life, whilst repeating the question “have you had enough of me?” giving the impression of technology’s invasive incursion into our everyday lives as a traumatic event. The real gem is the inclusion of True Love Waits, a perennial live fan favourite that has never been on an album. Listen to this.
Originially printer in Kirkby Extra, October 2016.
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.
Monthly music columnist for the Kirkby Extra, sometimes article writer for Get Into This. Freelance writer/artist/maker.