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.
Benjamin Clementine has led a storied life, moving from his native London to Paris after failing most of his GCSE’s and a falling out with his family, living on the streets busking his way out of poverty with no shortage of lyricism, musicality and hard work. He has literally been down and out in Paris and London, just like Orwell’s book, and he is the winner of the 2015 Mercury Music Prize. Sometimes the only time we can find ourselves or who we truly are is remove ourselves from our everyday, our familiar environment, and in difference find out who we are, such as in the opening track, Winston Churchill’s Boy.
Where is your family/Where are your loved ones/Someone uttered/As he went on, crossing the channel/Well they say no man can be a prophet in his own country/So I left, here I am
The feeling of departure, and of being a man with a foot in both worlds is replete all throughout At Least for Now, like a constant push and pull, but also a sonic biography. In Then I Heard a Bachelor’s Cry, he sings of “walking round the boulevards, looking for magicians” and “looking for answers”, but the only thing he finds and can offer is pain, so he finds himself alone. London examines the hardships of trying to make it as an artist when no one is buying your material and people telling you you can’t make it, whilst fiercly struggling and fighting on to become the potential you know you possess when he sings “When my ways are not happening I won’t underestimate who I am capable of becoming.”
There’s hints of Nina Simone, Antony and the Johnsons high register, but also of Beirut and Sting in Benjamin Clementine’s voice. It’s a voice that although you can hear his influences is entirely his own, filtered through his own experiences. He has a sound that can range from the deepest hues of the blues to eccentric moments of rock opera, classical music and chamber pop. This is a man who has literally bled for his art – in a concert at Paris in 2015 he accidentally cut his finger whilst playing piano and kept on playing. This album has on it possibly some of the most intricate and fascinating piano playing I’ve had the pleasure to listen to since Regina Spektor. It’s a complex, brilliantly composed album handled with such dexterity and emotional depth I find it difficult not to recommend it.
Divers is an album possessed by the spirit of early Kate Bush from the high register of her voice to the gentle lilting strings and piano. You can almost hear vocal echoes of Wuthering Heights or Army Dreamers here, when Kate was a rawer form of weird, less polished and studio produced, and not afraid to caterwaul or be playful with her lyricism. There are moments of chamber music here, hints of likeness to PJ Harvey’s brilliant Victoriana of White Chalk and a brilliant pagan darkness contained within.
Anecdotes is about the conversation and experiences of two soldiers talking in the middle of a watch whilst an air raid is mounted, and then time jumps forward to the present like an elastic band as the song’s narrator says “Now hush, little babe./You don’t want to be/down in the trenches, remembering with me.”
Saponkanikan continues the theme of aviation and World War I, and is replete with references to John Purroy Mitchel, a man known as “The Boy Mayor of New York,” who died after a short term in office as an Army air officer in the last months of World War I, whilst also being intrinsically linked to Native American culture, Sapokanikan being one of the Lenape villages discovered by archaeologists as having once existed on Manhattan island prior to the arrival of the Europeans. The song is also about what is hidden being revealed, as it mentions a painting of the Biblical Tobias and the Angel, and a painting underneath the inferior facade revealing a Titian painting of a girl and her mother, mirroring the archaeological discovery of Sapokanikan being hidden under Greenwich Village.
But to say that Joanna Newsome or Divers is merely the product of her influences would be doing both the artists and this excellent concept album a major disservice. Each song is a contained narrative, some with stories within stories like a lyrical Rashomon. Yes, there are themes of diving, being out of control, lost and obvious allusions to aviation and World War I, but it is also infinitely richer than that, just as Elliot’s The Wasteland is much more than the sum of its references.
After the polarising single Go, Grimes has returned to the drawing board with a new album rich in shoegaze dream pop. The album opens with Laughing and Not Feeling Normal, a song that sounds like a baroque Danny Elfman track. SCREAM is sung entirely by guest vocalist, Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, and is a twisted soundscape sung entirely in Mandarin accompanied with a guitar like a speedboat chase in an 80’s cop show, and Kill vs Maim is pure J-pop in the style of Tommy Heavenly. Trying to define Grimes sound at the best of times is like trying to grasp a mirage or to explain a shifting dream to a friend and only realising in the explaining of it that you lose the magic of it. It’s a glorious abstraction of disparate images akin to a sensory overload that I recommend you lose yourself to.
Originally printed in Issue #327 of the Kirkby Extra, December 2015.
Blossoms have returned after the excellent EP Blown Rose, with another belter of an EP. The band is effortlessly catchy, producing psyche guitar rock with an 80’s twist. Charlemagne, the titular track, genuinely sounds displaced from time, like a lost forgotten top 10 synth pop anthem from the 80’s come back to remind us of the promise of what 80’s pop was at its best full of soaring vocals and great pop hooks. Across the Moor is slow and bassy like a subtler, slower electro funk, and Polka Dot Bones possesses some great menacing keyboards. This is genuinely one of the most promising new bands of 2015, and I urge you to give them a listen. My only problem is I can’t help but want more, something I can only hope they do soon.
Monthly music columnist for the Kirkby Extra, sometimes article writer for Get Into This. Freelance writer/artist/maker.