Posted in Album of the Month, Music chat, podcast, Tracks of the Month

Podcast Episode 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

Our last Album of the Month (AOTM) was the beautiful 'Life on Earth' by Hurray for the Riff Raff. This month the  This Is Not Happening crew tackle Kendrick Lamar's 'Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers'  head on! We get stuck right into this challenging album in Part 1 of the pod. In Part 2, we play 'Spin It or Bin It?' where we judge the tracks that we've chosen for this month's theme.Part 1 – Album of the MonthThis month it's Nolan's choice, Kendrick Lamar's 'Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers' . We discuss the album in length, favourite tracks and their impact on us and other music fans and if there is a missing track from this album. We want you to have access to great conversations about great music – here are some links to some of the best content on this album that we've consumed;A great 'explainer' article from Ambrosia for Heads  – read hereNYT's Popcast Podcast Episode (this one is great for a Kendrick Sceptic view) – listen hereGreat Tempo Tribe Podcast conversation – listen hereA shorter listen at 22 mins – the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast – listen hereThis was one of our toughest albums to think and to talk about … but we hope you enjoy it.Part 2 – Spin it or Bin ItIn the second part of this episode we get stuck into 4 tracks representing this months theme – 'LA Tracks' – or favourite tracks from LA based artists. We all pick a track,  introduce our track and ask the others the painfully binary critical question; 'spin it' or 'bin it?' We try not to go super-obvious on our track selections each month … this is what we chose to represent LA;Joey's track selection is – 'Chum' by Earl SweatshirtDavid's track selection is – 'Twelve Thirty' by The Mamas and the PapasNolan's track selection is – 'Runners' by Evidence ft. DefariGuy's track selection is – '86' by TruncateNext MonthEpisode #25 will be with you soon – Guy will be guiding us through 'We' by Arcade Fire one of is favourite artists ever … what could go wrong? Have a listen to the album and  share some thoughts with us on the blog or on our Insta. Other episodes of the pod and 10 years of the blog;If you enjoyed this episode, please check out the others. If that's not enough for you then there's 10 years worth of music discussion on the blog at http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. So check them out so to see what we like and where we clash, and comment if something catches your eye. We'd love to see what you think. 
  1. Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
  2. Ep. 23 – Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life on Earth
  3. Ep 22 – Big Thief – Dragon, New Warm Mountain …
  4. Ep 21 – Metronomy – Small World
  5. Ep 20 – Album Club – Modern Classics

Our last Album of the Month (AOTM) was the beautiful ‘Life on Earth’ by Hurray for the Riff Raff. This month the  This Is Not Happening crew tackle Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’  head on! We get stuck right into this challenging album in Part 1 of the pod. In Part 2, we play ‘Spin It or Bin It?’ where we judge the tracks that we’ve chosen for this month’s theme.

Part 1 – Album of the Month

This month it’s Nolan’s choice, Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’ . We discuss the album in length, favourite tracks and their impact on us and other music fans and if there is a missing track from this album. 

We want you to have access to great conversations about great music – here are some links to some of the best content on this album that we’ve consumed;

  • A great ‘explainer’ article from Ambrosia for Heads  – read here
  • NYT’s Popcast Podcast Episode (this one is great for a Kendrick Sceptic view) – listen here
  • Great Tempo Tribe Podcast conversation – listen here
  • A shorter listen at 22 mins – the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast – listen here

This was one of our toughest albums to think and to talk about … but we hope you enjoy it.

Part 2 – Spin it or Bin It

In the second part of this episode we get stuck into 4 tracks representing this months theme – ‘LA Tracks’ – or favourite tracks from LA based artists. We all pick a track,  introduce our track and ask the others the painfully binary critical question; ‘spin it’ or ‘bin it?’ 

We try not to go super-obvious on our track selections each month … this is what we chose to represent LA;

  1. Joey’s track selection is – ‘Chum’ by Earl Sweatshirt
  2. David’s track selection is – ‘Twelve Thirty’ by The Mamas and the Papas
  3. Nolan’s track selection is – ‘Runners’ by Evidence ft. Defari
  4. Guy’s track selection is – ’86’ by Truncate

Next Month

Episode #25 will be with you soon – Guy will be guiding us through ‘We’ by Arcade Fire one of is favourite artists ever … what could go wrong? Have a listen to the album and  share some thoughts with us on the blog or on our Insta.

Other episodes of the pod and 10 years of the blog;

If you enjoyed this episode, please check out the others. If that’s not enough for you then there’s 10 years worth of music discussion on the blog at www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. So check them out so to see what we like and where we clash, and comment if something catches your eye. We’d love to see what you think. 

Posted in Album of the Month

June AOTM: Arcade Fire – We

Sometimes when I agonise over choices for albums I try and deliberately pick something out of my comfort zone. Try Yves Tumor (less memorable) or Genesis Owusu (a knockout). Other times I regress to the mean, such as realising I could only pick Metronomy when Small World came around, even if I knew its reception with the group would be mixed. After that pick divided opinion, I had no obvious picks until mid-March when, out of nowhere a new Arcade Fire single dropped. Of course, this wasn’t quite the surprise: the band had been talking about a new album since 2020, but it did begin to feel like many of my favourite bands had teamed up to make 2022 the year all their new music arrived. Not just Metronomy or these guys: Hot Chip released a new single ahead of a long-awaited follow-up to Bathful of Ecstasy this summer. All I need now was an LCD and Radiohead LP (well, we had The Smile) and I had the full set. 

But when I clicked on ‘The Lightning I / II’ to listen, it was with trepidation. Because Arcade Fire’s last album was… well…. Not very good. This was a band I’ve loved since Funeral arrived to such a frenzy in (my god) 2004. Indie darlings that made music with not just two guitars, a drum kit and a bass, but violins, piano, keys, accordions, strange percussion, organs, and yes, the famous hurdy gurdy. When that was distinctly not cool. Yet, it worked. An American/Canadian collective, the band made sprawling albums that didn’t really have singles – staggeringly, only Rebellion (Lies) from back in 2004 made it into the UK top 20, and none impacted even in their own country – but were big, thematic statements that worked as a whole, from Funeral’s ramshackle tales of childhood and rural life, through Neon Bible’s dystopian statement on capitalism, through the Suburbs’ Grammy-winning take on middle American ennui.

Their work with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy divided opinion, but I loved Reflektor’s shimmering dance-pop-rock and up to that point every single album they made topped the half a million mark in sales, making them out as one of the few crossover bands that still made proper albums, still did what they wanted and yet headlined everywhere from Glastonbury to Lollapalooza (and who I’ve been lucky enough to see a handful of times myself). They are an incredible live band. One – for me – that of the modern era you have to see because there are so many of them, doing so many great things, and there’s real artifice and immersion in their live experience. I’m already excited about adding Manchester to gigs at the Roundhouse, Hyde Park, The o2, Victoria Park and Sonar.

All of this on an indie label – Merge (home to Caribou’s Andorra, and other indie darlings and famed guitar bands such as Waxahatchee, Dinosaur Junior, Tracey Thorn, Camera Obscura, Eleanor Friederberger, Ibibio Sound Machine, Bob Mould and Lambchop) through much of that career staked them out as a group that, despite being catapulted into stadiums, retained that grounded, principled, inventive core that still hung together, even as they worked with Bowie and released music produced by James Murphy. It was just…. Things really did go a bit south. In 2017 they decamped to Columbia’s major label musical and released Everything Now, a (supposedly) bold statement on consumer culture and the internet. The problem was, where previous work had confidently dealt with addressing broad brush themes such as capitalism and wealth, rural communities, suburban life and then crossed over the concepts with amazing, crowd-swelling music that somehow felt personal but celebrated arena-sized singalongs, this was as close to a huge band rolling a dud as I can remember. Everything Now was a big, ham-fisted misstep that scraped past half previous sales. And I say this as someone who absolutely adores this band. I can recall only a few songs from that album, and it has aged like iceberg lettuce alongside the timeless feel to the likes of Wake Up, (AntiChrist Television Blues), The Suburbs, Sprawl II, Afterlife, Keep The Car Running, Rebellion (Lies) and Here Comes The Night Time. Sure, tracks like Electric Blue and Put Your Money on Me had all the melodies, but their sentiment was empty and the connection the band seemed to be able to hypnotically form with their listener was mostly absent. The less said about the likes of Infinite Content or Chemistry, the better. Perhaps, for once, they overdid their promo campaign, with its po-faced, repetitive message. We’ll never know how much pressure they truly felt making this album, or where, perhaps the pressure of major label living pushed them, but into their 40s, it felt like a bit of an event horizon. 

So where does We stack up in their canon? The singles The Lightning I / II and Unconditional I (Lookout Kid) certainly felt like a pronounced step back to the pre-Reflektor sound (and for all that I loved that album, many fans did not). The former’s piano and acoustic / synth lead over heartfelt lyrics “We can make it / If you don’t quit on me / I won’t quit on you” with songwriting partners, husband and wife, and lifeblood of the band (now Win’s brother Will has recently left), Win Butler and Regine Chassange combining as of old, tugging at those heartstrings and staring into each others’ souls before the song changes up into a new gear, evoking Funeral as much as anything. And Unconditional I (Lookout Kid) finding Butler in tender mood, singing to his child, and feeling immediately personal in a way that much of the last two albums weren’t. I fell in love with these tasters, and had such high hopes. But I also worried this may be ‘the Small World’ effect though, with two great singles and an album that was markedly different to that first look – though of course I loved that record – and left many fans somewhat deflated. 

First impressions? Mixed. Alongside the much more honed 10-song, 40 minute album that felt a subtle acknowledgement of their recent over-long and sprawling efforts, this was a far tighter, more focused record. No surprise given they had Radiohead producer/god Nigel Godrich in charge. But while the music was immediately fantastic, its two-side, earnest concept perhaps felt the band hasn’t quite rid itself of the need to make some high statement. Each album now seemed to have a ‘theme’, an ‘outfit’ and while part of me salutes the art-rock sensibilities of a band that wants their music to have meaning, and the balls to wrap it up in statements about the world, life and humanity, it works best when it’s subtle and not written in ten foot high letters with accompanying shiny text. The two sides ‘I’ and ‘We’ and some fairly clumsy track titles – ‘Age of Anxiety’ is very much what we’re living in but do we need to have a song title to emphasise it? – and some equally clunky lyrics – it’s taken me a long time to not wince when ‘Unsubscribe’ (in End of the Empire IV), and you wonder if a lot of the recent criticism of the band would have been softened if their method was slightly less overt. Because they are (in my opinion) earnest, heartfelt people, who care, and are not embarrassed to say it – their often unpublicised charity work in particular sets them out from a lot of contemporaries – and their songs are all around connection to each other and the world, and work best when it’s intertwined with the music and not stamped on the front before you press play.

The good news is, the more you listen to We, the more this fades into the background, and a really good, uplifting album emerges from the bold pronouncements. I’ve been listening to this for weeks on end and it’s an absolute joy to have in my life. I’m aware I may be partly or largely alone here, but I also say – like any of our AOTMs – this needs time and dedication to get the rewards. Because this is a band that is all about connection and when they are at their best they feel like you’re connected with them, their music, and each other. As an example, I still have a real visceral connection and reaction to the lyrics in The Suburbs, that only amplified when I became a dad: “So can you understand / That I want a daughter while I’m still young? / I want to hold her hand
And show her some beauty before this damage is done / But if it’s too much to ask, if it’s too much to ask / Then send me a son.”
And in their best moments, they make you feel like their songs are written for you. It’s how I feel with so many great songs, and with many of the band’s previous best, from Reflektor, Sprawl II, Intervention, Wasted Hours, and so many more. These are songs that evoke primal emotions in me, and that’s what I search for in music, and why I’ve loved Arcade Fire’s music for the best part of two decades. You can’t manufacture that feeling (yes, the feels) and for them it’s there, and has always been there.

There are so many moments of this on the album of me. And even though it’s got faults, my overriding feeling is joy and release when I lock the headphones in and leave the rest of the world behind for 40 minutes. I have had a hard time of late, and this album has been a real solace for me. Age of Anxiety has…. well, it’s a good opener but the opening piano chords link irreparably to another song and band I can’t now shake and that’s put a dampener on it a little for me (and apparently has Father John Misty ‘on handclaps’). I’ll let others see if they pick this out the way I have. But while it’s a little obvious lyrically, what we get with We is that overriding ability for Arcade Fire to write great tunes. There are hooks all over the place here (as @misterstory might say) and when the drums kick in and the energy goes up a notch, I just can’t help but we drawn in. Rabbit Hole is an unexpected banger, full of nods to Bowie (‘Plastic Soul… yeah’) and shows some of the evolution of the band in recent albums to embrace synths as well as guitars and accordions. It really does it for me, like Sprawl II on a great big pill and some strobes. End of the Empire, while opining witheringly but delicately on the ‘fall’ of the United States, is such a great example of the band’s skill, and how they start slow with mournful piano and then just uplift more and more, and there’s a real ‘Suburbs’ feel on this. And its second part, once you get over ‘the unsubscribe thing’ it’s a really beautiful song. There’s a cosmic feel to some of this, perhaps a concoction of Godrich’s work with Radiohead and a hangover from some of their best work with Murphy.

But it’s on the second side (‘We’) that the album really elevates, with The Lightning I and II, and Unconditional I and II, a pair of pairs (if you will) that show the band at their best, and most personal. Lookout Kid is a track I fell in love with at the start, and it’s now a song my daughter loves and asks me to put on. So it’s an added personal connection, but it’s how Arcade Fire’s alchemy works too, somehow seeming to have written songs directly for you and that resonate with what you are feeling. As a father with a young daughter, it feels so aligned with so much of my emotions and brings tears to my eyes every time I listen. That is all you can want from music, after all. Part II surprisingly brings Peter Gabriel into the mix and it really works. It’s a rousing end to the album, which has a soft and glowing coda in We, with its simple arrangement and ability to slow us down and signal the album is over. Musically, it ticks so many of my loves for the band, but I know it’s only how I feel.

The other intriguing narrative here – and one we will probably touch on in the podcast – is, over the course of their music career, that well-trodden path from small-town gigs to stadium rock, and how that affects a band and their output, and how that changes how they see themselves and we look back at them. You can’t be the same people – even if you are married to the other singer and writer of the band – over 20 years, 6 albums, and an arc from small-town band to global rock stadium superstars, fighting to retain as much of what made you that fascinating proposition in the first place. I can’t think of many bands that have what they had back when, or that have currently progressed through this curve like Arcade Fire have. I’m willing to fight for this, too. They have been at times world-beating, and at others, seemingly off course and unsure of themselves. How do you write songs about your ‘Neighbourhood’ when you don’t live there any more? You can’t, of course, but I think they’ve maintained a lot of their character and style – despite many missteps – and We gets them back towards where so many want them to be. Of course, we don’t get to dictate where a band goes, or what music they make, but there’s something vital about being with them on that journey as they grow and change with us. It’s no coincidence that so many of my favourite bands of the last 20 years – Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, Metronomy – are around my age or so and I’ve taken that same journey with all of them. It’s what welds us to these artists, that connection, feeling part of their story and their own arc and changing with them.

It’s why I love this band, and why I always will.

Posted in Album of the Month, Music chat, New Albums, podcast, Tracks of the Month

Podcast Episode 23 – Hurray for the Riff Raff – Life on Earth

Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

Our last Album of the Month (AOTM) was the beautiful 'Life on Earth' by Hurray for the Riff Raff. This month the  This Is Not Happening crew tackle Kendrick Lamar's 'Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers'  head on! We get stuck right into this challenging album in Part 1 of the pod. In Part 2, we play 'Spin It or Bin It?' where we judge the tracks that we've chosen for this month's theme.Part 1 – Album of the MonthThis month it's Nolan's choice, Kendrick Lamar's 'Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers' . We discuss the album in length, favourite tracks and their impact on us and other music fans and if there is a missing track from this album. We want you to have access to great conversations about great music – here are some links to some of the best content on this album that we've consumed;A great 'explainer' article from Ambrosia for Heads  – read hereNYT's Popcast Podcast Episode (this one is great for a Kendrick Sceptic view) – listen hereGreat Tempo Tribe Podcast conversation – listen hereA shorter listen at 22 mins – the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast – listen hereThis was one of our toughest albums to think and to talk about … but we hope you enjoy it.Part 2 – Spin it or Bin ItIn the second part of this episode we get stuck into 4 tracks representing this months theme – 'LA Tracks' – or favourite tracks from LA based artists. We all pick a track,  introduce our track and ask the others the painfully binary critical question; 'spin it' or 'bin it?' We try not to go super-obvious on our track selections each month … this is what we chose to represent LA;Joey's track selection is – 'Chum' by Earl SweatshirtDavid's track selection is – 'Twelve Thirty' by The Mamas and the PapasNolan's track selection is – 'Runners' by Evidence ft. DefariGuy's track selection is – '86' by TruncateNext MonthEpisode #25 will be with you soon – Guy will be guiding us through 'We' by Arcade Fire one of is favourite artists ever … what could go wrong? Have a listen to the album and  share some thoughts with us on the blog or on our Insta. Other episodes of the pod and 10 years of the blog;If you enjoyed this episode, please check out the others. If that's not enough for you then there's 10 years worth of music discussion on the blog at http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. So check them out so to see what we like and where we clash, and comment if something catches your eye. We'd love to see what you think. 
  1. Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
  2. Ep. 23 – Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life on Earth
  3. Ep 22 – Big Thief – Dragon, New Warm Mountain …
  4. Ep 21 – Metronomy – Small World
  5. Ep 20 – Album Club – Modern Classics

Last month we shared our thoughts on ‘Dragon New Mountain I Believe In You’ by Big Thief.  This month This Is Not Happening stays in the broad genre of ‘Indie’ with Hurray for The Riff Raff’s ‘Life on Earth’ which we get into a deep discussion about in Part 1. In Part 2, we play ‘Spin It or Bin It?’ where we judge the tracks that we’ve chosen for this month’s theme.

Part 1 – Album of the Month

This month it’s Joseph’s choice, ‘Life on Earth’ by Hurray for the Riff Raff. We discuss the album in length, favourite tracks, what other artists’s energy we can hear in this music … and what has become the killer question for us; ‘is the production engaging or disengaging ?’ Big scenes on this pod guys!

There’s some great bits to link you to this month too;

In the second part of this episode we get stuck into 4 tracks representing this months theme – ‘Minimalist Grooves’. We all pick a track,  introduce our track and ask the others the painfully binary critical question; ‘spin it’ or ‘bin it?’ 

After last month’s Spin it or Bin It ‘fiasco’, this month is a little calmer and another great chat. It’s a bit more of a love-in than last months with lots of ‘Spin Its’ but a couple of ‘Bin Its’ in there too.

  1. Nolan’s track selection is – ‘In White Rooms’ by Booka Shade
  2. Joey’s track selection is – ‘Dance’ by ESG
  3. David’s track selection is – ‘Cranes in the Sky’ by Solange
  4. Guy’s track selection is – ‘Weak Become Heroes’ by The Streets

Next Month

Episode #24 will be with you soon – Nolan will be guiding us through Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar and WOW, there’s a lot to talk about there! Have a listen and  share some thoughts with us on the blog or on our Insta. Its hard not to have an opinion on this one.

Posted in Album of the Month, New Albums, podcast

May Album of the Month: Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

For May I was dead set on Pusha T’s “it’s Almost Dry’. It’s pretty impressive and has met all of my expectations. It’s perhaps my favourite album of 2022 thus far. All the stars were aligned, until Kendrick Lamar announced he was releasing new material in mid May after a 5 year hiatus. Sorry Pusha, sometime you need to make a sacrifice and this was an easy decision. 

Before we get into the new album, I think we need to remind ourselves how impactful he is. You would be hard pressed to have missed the evolution of Kendrick Lamar over the last 12 years. Through ’Section.80’, ‘good kid, M.A.D.D. city’, ’To Pimp a Butterfly’, ‘Untitled’ and ‘DAMN’ not to mention a plethora of guest appearances and film soundtrack anthems he’s created a vast catalogue with something for everyone it seems. 

From early 2010 he has been surrounded by hype. Back then, backed by Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q (with their Black Hippy supergroup), they started making serious waves with their unique West Coast sound. When Kendrick released Section.80 he had my attention straight away. ‘HiiiPower’ is still one of my favourite songs. Funny enough he reminds me a bit of Pusha T on that track and a few others on the album with his flow. It was only a matter of time until he found himself on a major, and Dr Dre’s Aftermath (through TDE Artists) was a natural home. Differing from other Aftermath artists, Lamar blazed his own trail without the ever present cross pollination of Aftermath artists that we’ve come accustomed to throughout their catalogue. ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ pushed Kendrick into the forefront of not just hip hop but the music industry. ‘Swimming Pools’ became a summer anthem, ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’ was a radio hit and ‘m.A.A.d city’ set foundations in hip hop that Kendrick was a serious contender as an MC. 

Kendrick teased us with his fierce flow in 2014 with a verse on ‘It’s On Again’ with Alecia Keys from the Spiderman soundtrack. Little did we know that that taster was nothing like what he was working on. He was about to move the nets. When Kendrick released ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ in 2015, it felt like he flipped music on its head. Was it hip hop, or was it a jazz album? It was the most creative album that broke the main stream in recent times and showed the world the layers that Kendrick was able to achieve. Not only musically, but also as a performance artist as he took the presentation of his live show to what felt like uncharted territory for a hip hop artist. The album wasn’t without faults. I still find it his least approachable album. Though it gained acclaim and opened him up to a new audience, it was a far step from his first album. The surprise release of Untitled brought many Kendrick fans back into the fold. We all got it, he still wanted to make the music that we loved, but the tracks on Untitled didn’t fit into what he was trying to do on Pimp a Butterfly. An album of rejected songs that were miles ahead of most albums… sort of insane, and very cool. 

By the time DAMN was released in 2017 Kendrick was an established artist that seemed to have found this nonchalant confidence that made the album arguably his best to date. By that point he had won Grammy’s, the Pulitzer Prize, and almost every other music related award. 

So his new album, where do you start? Well he’s taken a page from Big Thief and released an 18 song, 73 minute album. He starts with the album with the line ‘I’ve been going through something’… has he ever. There’s lots to go at!

I’m still digesting the album. Like many, I’ve spent the last week digesting (what I thought was) the lead single ’The Heart  Part 5’. The lyrics and the video are amazing and so important…. but the track isn’t on the album. This guy sits in a different space!

It’s hard to name an artist that has evolved and pushed boundaries as much as Kendrick, especially within hip hop. On this album we find a rounded Kendrick that musically blends the feels of both DAMM and TPAB. Lyrically his confidence is apparent throughout. His thoughts are honest, complex and at times uncomfortable. He has a voice and he uses it. He faces into some tough subjects; religion, addiction, infidelity, relationship struggles, queerness and so much more. Hip hop gives an artist a platform to delve into subjects perhaps different than other genres and he does this masterfully. 

N95 is the lead single. What a single! I’m trying to figure out what track I would share with someone as a good catchy track on this album to start? It’s tough. They’re all really deep. They all have layers. Sampha laces ‘Father Time’ with a lovely hook, but the song is beautifully honest. Perhaps too honest for some. On the flip side ‘We Cry Together’ is really hard to listen to at first, but also has a beauty to the bleak honesty. Unapologetically honest. Is anyone else like this in music? This is an album of two halves, and it being a digital only release it the moment lets you forget this is a double album. The first half cuts deeper the the second, but needs to be there for the second half to fully work.

I wrote some bullet points the other day about Kendrick when I was listing to his back catalogue: 

  • Kendrick is honest
  • Kendrick lets you into his mind, not just his world
  • I don’t think anyone really knows Kendrick Lamar through his music
  • Kendrick is an anomaly   

… my view still is the same after listening to the album for the first 5 times. 

Lamar has stated that ‘he is not the messiah’, but he does have a voice and a message. He has extreme influence on numerous generations, and all levels within those generations. People listen to Kendrick. Kids, mums, dads, grandparents. There is A LOT to digest with this album. And many will take the time to do so. Isn’t it wonderful that someone is making music that is so complex that everyone wants / needs to listen to? 

I look forward to all of us digging into this and everyones thoughts. There’s a lot to go at. Ive not even touched on who is Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers? Nor have I talked about the well thought out and controversial guest appearances? 

Posted in New Albums

New Arcade Fire

There’s something really exciting about new music from artists you love, and with the pandemic (supposedly) ‘over’ there’s a ton of albums coming, from Kendrick to Hot Chip, and of course my favourite Arcade Fire.

This really feels like a nod back to the old school of Funeral after Everything Now. Bring it on.

Posted in Album of the Month, podcast, Tracks of the Month

Podcast Episode 22 – Big Thief – Dragon New Mountain I Believe in You.

Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

Our last Album of the Month (AOTM) was the beautiful 'Life on Earth' by Hurray for the Riff Raff. This month the  This Is Not Happening crew tackle Kendrick Lamar's 'Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers'  head on! We get stuck right into this challenging album in Part 1 of the pod. In Part 2, we play 'Spin It or Bin It?' where we judge the tracks that we've chosen for this month's theme.Part 1 – Album of the MonthThis month it's Nolan's choice, Kendrick Lamar's 'Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers' . We discuss the album in length, favourite tracks and their impact on us and other music fans and if there is a missing track from this album. We want you to have access to great conversations about great music – here are some links to some of the best content on this album that we've consumed;A great 'explainer' article from Ambrosia for Heads  – read hereNYT's Popcast Podcast Episode (this one is great for a Kendrick Sceptic view) – listen hereGreat Tempo Tribe Podcast conversation – listen hereA shorter listen at 22 mins – the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast – listen hereThis was one of our toughest albums to think and to talk about … but we hope you enjoy it.Part 2 – Spin it or Bin ItIn the second part of this episode we get stuck into 4 tracks representing this months theme – 'LA Tracks' – or favourite tracks from LA based artists. We all pick a track,  introduce our track and ask the others the painfully binary critical question; 'spin it' or 'bin it?' We try not to go super-obvious on our track selections each month … this is what we chose to represent LA;Joey's track selection is – 'Chum' by Earl SweatshirtDavid's track selection is – 'Twelve Thirty' by The Mamas and the PapasNolan's track selection is – 'Runners' by Evidence ft. DefariGuy's track selection is – '86' by TruncateNext MonthEpisode #25 will be with you soon – Guy will be guiding us through 'We' by Arcade Fire one of is favourite artists ever … what could go wrong? Have a listen to the album and  share some thoughts with us on the blog or on our Insta. Other episodes of the pod and 10 years of the blog;If you enjoyed this episode, please check out the others. If that's not enough for you then there's 10 years worth of music discussion on the blog at http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. So check them out so to see what we like and where we clash, and comment if something catches your eye. We'd love to see what you think. 
  1. Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
  2. Ep. 23 – Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life on Earth
  3. Ep 22 – Big Thief – Dragon, New Warm Mountain …
  4. Ep 21 – Metronomy – Small World
  5. Ep 20 – Album Club – Modern Classics

Last month we shared our thoughts on Small World by Metronomy, all 9 tracks and 35 minutes worth. This month This Is Not Happening ups the ante with ‘Dragon, New Mountain …’, all 20 tracks and 80 minutes worth.  In part 1, we deep dive into the density of Big Thief and Part 2 we play ‘Spin It or Bin It?’ where we judge the tracks that we’ve chosen for this month’s theme.

Part 1 – Album of the Month

This month it’s David’s choice, ‘Dragon, New Mountain …’ by Big Thief. Three of us love Big Thief and have much more than a passing relationship with the band … whilst one of us is a Big Thief virgin. There was SO much written about this album as soon as it came out including a number of 100% reviews.  As always, we take a slower, more considered approach to criticism, living with this album for a couple of months and letting it really settle in before we reflect and share our views.

You don’t have to look to far to find interviews, reviews and videos on Big Thief and this album but some of the content that we consumed and discussed in part 1 can be found below;

  • The metacritic review page is always a goo start and can be found here
  • This is a great listen – ‘Out On The Line’ Podcast 
  • Really insightful take on the album – ‘Taking it Down’Podcast
  • If you love them … or not, this one’s got you covered -‘NY Times’ Podcast
  • A great article in Vulture – read it here

Part 2 – ‘Spin it’ or ‘Bin it?’

In the second part of this episode we get stuck into 4 tracks representing this months theme – ‘Not on Spotify’. We all pick a track,  introduce our track and ask the others the painfully binary critical question; ‘spin it’ or ‘bin it?’ 

This month was a little more ‘free form’ than usual … but an amusing listen none the less!

  1. Guy’s track selection is – Prassay – Krvsin
  2. David’s track selection is – Nick Drake – I Was Made to Love Magic
  3. Nolan’s track selection is – Pharoahe Monch – F You
  4. Joey’s track selection is – Joanna Newsome  – ‘81

Next Month

Episode #23 will be with you soon – Joey will be leading the discussion on ‘Life on Earth’ by Hurray for the Riff Raff. If you get the chance we’d love you to have a listen to the album before next month, perhaps share some thoughts with us on the blog or on our Insta. This albums getting a lot of positive attention and we think it’s going to be in a few year end lists.

Posted in Album of the Month, Music chat, New Albums, New Tunes

AOTM: ‘Life on Earth’ by Hurray for the Riff Raff

This is actually the 2nd time that I’ve introduced the This is Not Happening family to Hurray for the Riff Raff. In 2017, I chose ‘Pa’lante’ as my track of the year, and wow what a track that is. Check it and the stunning video out here. Since its release, this track has become an Anthem for Puerto Ricans the world over. The album that it came from, ‘The Navigator’, received significant critical acclaim and attention and announced Alynda Mariposa Segarra to a much wider audience than they had previously.

But let’s pause a second to understand how Hurray for the Riff Raff got to this point. Whilst I don’t want to get caught into a detailed history of their life, the backstory is important to understand them and this album. Alynda grew up in the Bronx, estranged from her birth parents she grew up with her aunt and uncle in a 14th floor, claustrophobic flat. She has Puerto Rican heritage which we’ll come back to shortly as this is another touchpoint in understanding them as an artist. Alynda has spoken openly about her teenage realisation of how small she is (5ft 2) and how little space she took up in the world. She reflects on finding the punk scene, the music, the clothes, the hair and the make up and wearing them as a kind of armour to protect her from the realities of her life in New York. At age 17 Alynda ran away from home.

Alynda found like-minded ‘run-away-kids’ as she describes them, on the road whilst travelling the length and breadth of the country riding freight trains. This is a time that in some interviews she makes sound like an amazingly poetic bohemian existence and in others, a dangerous time where survival was the most important daily task. It was at this time that they started to play in bands, learn instruments and write music.

Alynda finally settled in New Orleans and started to record self released music in 2007. The genre of this music is best described using the catchall of ‘Americana’ – fusing traditional American folk with notes of protest, punk and more traditional blue grass instrumentation and style. Their first label-released album was in 2011 with 3 others following between then and 2014. Alynda speaks of a dissatisfaction with the lack of representation of her Nu Rican heritage in her music which perhaps explains the 3 year gap before the release of the Navigator. And we’re back to where we started. The Navigator is a proper rock album, a love letter to her New York experience and the Puerto Rican diaspora.

Despite the critical acclaim and attention, there has been a 5 year gap between the Navigator and the AOTM ‘Life on Earth’. That 5 years is demonstrated in a not-insignificant shift in the sound of this new album. This is also their first release on Nonesuch Records. It feels like the album sounds as it does, at least partly due to the relationship between Alynda and the producer Brad Cook (Bon Iver, War on Drugs, Sharon Van Etten and many more). This partnership works. Alynda has spoken in interviews about the encouragement that they received from Brad to explore and to release previously held beliefs about what they were as an artists. If you fancy reading a little more about Mr. Cook this Pitchfork interview is a good read ‘Is Brad Cook your favourite indie band’s secret weapon?’ The production is both low-fi / low-key but also feels very polished at the same time. Alynda’s voice sounds amazing on every track, as much to do with her incredible voice but still, it has been recorded beautifully.

In a podcast that I will link later in this write-up, the podcast host uses a lovely turn of phrase ‘I hear the energy of … in this album’. This is a phrase I will shamelessly steal (now and undoubtedly in the future too). I think it’s a lovely way of saying ‘I can hear the energy of these artists without the any single track, or the album as a whole, ever sounding exactly like them’. For me, I hear the energy of 70’s New York, Lou Reed, U.S. Girls, Patti Smith, Blondie, Stevie Nicks, Arcade Fire, Japanese Breakfast, Violent Femmes.

So what is this album? It’s a ‘tight as a drum’ 11 tracks, 40 mins of fiendishly catchy, guitar driven (but richly instrumented) 3-4 minute tracks. There is some seriously radio friendly vibes on this album but its SO not a sell out pop album. This is a pandemic album, I am not sure if it fits the ‘lockdown’ album tag, but i think it speaks strongly to the paranoia and claustrophobia of the last 2 years. The lyrical themes are world weary, often dark, rarely truly uplifting except for the album closing ‘Saga’ which while it is uplifting its about choosing to thrive rather than simply survive. To sing so beautifully about such dark themes in a pop song reminds me of U.S. Girls and Japanese Breakfast at their best. The thrive vs. survive motif really reminds of the sentiment of last years ‘Jubilee’ by Japanese Breakfast and I am very happy about this.

Alynda describes this album’s sound as ‘Nature Punk’. And I think I get that. It has a lot of natural, acoustic sounds. There are a few synths providing atmospheric drone to a number of tracks but otherwise this is an album of acoustic guitars, pianos, simple drum kits, all sorts of percussion and even woodwind and some lovely horns popping up here and there. The result, overall, is that this is a very percussive album. One of the reasons I described their backstory is because I can hear the rhythm of the freight train living in many of these tracks. That chug, chug sound of the tracks can be found on some tracks in an acoustic guitar and in others the percussive use of the piano. The street performing run-away-kid-band background can be heard in the really simple kick drum and snare drumming … I don’t think there is a single cymbal on the whole album?

In terms of standout tracks … well there’s not a weak track on the album. No, they’re not all radio friendly indie bangers. There are beat-less, self reflective tracks that break up the ‘poppier’ tracks. But ‘Pierced Arrows’ is the obvious stand out single …

… but ‘Pointed at the Sun’, ‘Rhododendron’ and ‘Saga’ are not far behind in terms of radio-friendly memorability. ‘Rhododendron’ is my favourite track but I also love ‘Precious Cargo’ which explores the migrant / refugee experience and what awaits them when they arrive in the US.

I think this album is so accessible. It’s so easy to listen to and easy to consume multiple times in one sitting. There are of course layers, really engaging with the lyrics helps to open a new layer to the album. However, as always, learning more about the artist helps you to really get into the layers that lie below. With this mind, and because I am more of a listener than a reader, I am linking a few podcasts below that if you’re that way inclined, will help you to get even more out of this album.

I hope you enjoy the album as much as I am enjoying it. If this isn’t in my 2022 top 10 then it will have been a great year of music. But I suspect this will be right up there, it feels like it’s been hand crafted just for me.

Some things to listen to;

The following is a straight up, great chat between 2 guys about this album, it’s an interesting take on the record – Blind Tiger Record Club Podcast

This is an interesting interview with Alynda recorded in March this year, following the launch of the album – Launch Left Podcast

This one is a great listen, recorded back in May 2020, this is an interview on Radio Menea, a podcast about music from Latinx artists. The conversation covers a lot of background from Alynda’s life that sets the scene for the conversation on the Navigator but there are nods to the music that we hear now on Life on Earth – Radio Menea Podcast

Now this one is a little different. This is an interview with Alynda from a podcast called Living in This Queer Body that is described as ‘a podcast about barriers to embodiment and how our collective body stories can be bring us back to ourselves’. It’s not a straight up and down chat about music, it’s a spiritual discussion about the human condition … I found this one to be the most revealing in understanding Alynda as a human and an artist – Living in This Queer Body Podcast

Posted in Album of the Month, Music chat, New Albums, podcast

April AOTM: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

Ah, the double album. What a complicated thing you are. How many double albums would make a better single album? Well, all of them, you could argue. But I think that, at its best, a double album that can offer something so much richer, shaggier and more honest about a band/artist and where it’s at than a nicely curated single. I’m thinking Sign ’O The Times. I’m thinking Tusk. And, of course, I’m thinking The White Album.

What do all those albums have in common? They’re sprawling. They’re free-wheeling. They encompass quite a few different genres and sounds within one record. Sometimes, they’re a sound of a band creaking at the edges, or falling apart. Oh, and they probably have a track or two we could do without. Not even the die-hardest Beatle fan (and I speak as one) would cry many tears if Wild Honey Pie or Don’t Pass Me By had failed to make the White Album final cut.

So where does Dragon (please don’t make me type out the full name of the album, which I’m sure we all agree is a fucking abomination of a title) sit amongst this? I guess we have to first acknowledge the extraordinary rise of Big Thief. The Brooklyn based quartet seem to have hit a crazy sweet spot somewhere between Americana traditionalists and indie wunderkinds. They encompass both the hipster Brooklyn where they live and the rural Minnesota and Texas of Adrienne Lenker and Buck Meek’s childhoods. Over the course of 5 increasingly confident albums, they’ve gone from new kids on the block to Grammy nominations and critical adoration. People FUCKING LOVE Big Thief. I’m one of them.

I first came across them about 5 years ago when I saw a Tiny Desk concert. The sound! The intensity! I was immediately smitten:

And yes, despite that, there is something elusive about them. I love them, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why they seem to do this stuff better than any of their contemporaries. Throw a rock in Brooklyn, and presumably you’d hit someone from an Americana indie band on the head. Is it just the songwriting? The passion of Lenker, and the interplay between her and Meek? Their appeal is hard to quantify. And as they’ve got bigger, there’s also been the beginnings of an inevitable backlash, a kind of ’what’s so special about Big Thief?’ This excellent NYT podcast does a good job of exploring this, especially as the host is one of those doubters: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-enigma-of-big-thief/id120315823?i=1000552637027

So what about the album? Christ, where to start? Well, it feels both like a progression from the excellent U.F.O.F. and Two Hands albums, and a giant leap forward – and perhaps also sideways, up, down, and in several directions at once. The variety of the songs is a bit dizzying, and it takes quite a bit of time to digest. Indeed, I still tend to listen to either the first or the second half of the album in one sitting, which is perhaps a strong hint that it’s almost TOO rich at times. In fact, if I’m being honest, I was confused about my initial response, and that was partly because the band had been slowly leaking songs onto Spotify, and EVERY SINGLE one of those songs were astonishing – so the more rag-tag, messy nature of the album felt almost like an anticlimax at first.

But as I stuck with it, every part of it began to grow on me. I started to love the stylistic changes, the random turns left and right. I began to enjoy the journey, the ambition, the blind optimism of committing this many songs to disc and having the confidence to just chuck it out there and let the audience work it out for themselves. I don’t think it’s always an easy listen, and it certainly has some weaker moments amongst many absolutely breathtaking songs.

Before we get into the songs, I want to say that I found it really handy breaking it up into the 4 parts of the album. It really helps make sense of the record and of the sequencing.

DISC 1/SIDE 1

The first few songs set up the schizophrenic nature of the album – CHANGE is classic Big Thief, as astonishing that might be one of the best songs they’ve ever written. TIME ESCAPING is a totally different beast, like a wonky pop song with that strange industrial rhythm section. And then, third track – WTF, they’re doing a really goofy country song, SPUD INFINITY, with a title as daft as the track. It’s certainly bold curation, I’ll give them that! CERTAINTY is a lovely duet that heads back into Laura Cantrell-style modern country. And then DRAGON (the title track) – what a glorious song, like a lost Dolly Parton ballad.

SIDE 2

Opens with SPARROW, which perhaps outstays its 5 minute run time, the first track I felt wasn’t quite essential. But then – boom! – into Cocteau Twins (yes, really!) territory with LITTLE THINGS. Couple of tracks later, FLOWER OF BLOOD sounds like a 80s/90s 4AD band, all feedback and grungy guitars. Next track BLURRED VIEW is a creepy lo-fi thing, with crappy drum machine (or crappy drums!) and Adrienne whispering/muttering darkly into the mic. Repetitive and weird. On we go.

DISC 2/SIDE 3

What an opener. RED MOON is a personal favourite, a proper Lucinda Williams country song that’s robust and cheerful (‘that’s my grandma!’). NO REASON is another astonishing ballad and another highlight, with a chorus that will not leave your brain. This song runs round my head all the time. WAKE ME UP TO DRIVE is a bit of a dirge, but I like its lo-fi energy. But A PROMISE IS A PENDULUM is amazing, delicate and lovely.

SIDE 4

So this is maybe where the album runs out of steam for me a little. Yes, it has one of the very best tracks on the album, SIMULATION SWARM. But I do wonder if too many of the last side’s tracks feel like a retread of earlier material. 12,000 LINES is lovely, but LOVE LOVE LOVE’s crunchy indie is a bit exhausting. THE ONLY PLACE feels like quite a minor tune. BLUE LIGHTNING is a lot of fun and sounds very much like the jam session it undoubtedly is, but by then I’m exhausted! And when I listen on Spotify, I often find myself thinking – oh is this the last song? And it’s not. Not a good sign!

So there we have it. It’s glorious, it’s confusing, it’s a mess, it’s ambitious. I guess the big question is – why did they make a double album? My guess is that they wanted to stretch their wings. They’ve made glorious single albums that work as a whole. They’re clearly prolific – look at the fact they released TWO albums – both amazing – in one year in 2019. They seem to me, on listening to this, that they’re just bursting with ideas, and they wanted to try out as many as possible. Whether that works for you will depend on how much you like ’em in the first place, and how tolerant you are of all these experiments, some of which are pretty free-wheeling.

For me, it works. It’s a wonderful album with some of the best songs of their career, but perhaps it just outstays its welcome a tiny bit. Having said all that, are there many songs I’d cull? Not really. Could they have made a more succinct single album? Well of course they could. Do I love that it’s a double album? I bloody do. Do I feel like I know the band better as a result? You betcha. Is it an occasionally frustrating listen? Of course it is: it’s a double album.

Posted in podcast

Podcast Episode 21 – Metronomy – Small World

Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

Our last Album of the Month (AOTM) was the beautiful 'Life on Earth' by Hurray for the Riff Raff. This month the  This Is Not Happening crew tackle Kendrick Lamar's 'Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers'  head on! We get stuck right into this challenging album in Part 1 of the pod. In Part 2, we play 'Spin It or Bin It?' where we judge the tracks that we've chosen for this month's theme.Part 1 – Album of the MonthThis month it's Nolan's choice, Kendrick Lamar's 'Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers' . We discuss the album in length, favourite tracks and their impact on us and other music fans and if there is a missing track from this album. We want you to have access to great conversations about great music – here are some links to some of the best content on this album that we've consumed;A great 'explainer' article from Ambrosia for Heads  – read hereNYT's Popcast Podcast Episode (this one is great for a Kendrick Sceptic view) – listen hereGreat Tempo Tribe Podcast conversation – listen hereA shorter listen at 22 mins – the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast – listen hereThis was one of our toughest albums to think and to talk about … but we hope you enjoy it.Part 2 – Spin it or Bin ItIn the second part of this episode we get stuck into 4 tracks representing this months theme – 'LA Tracks' – or favourite tracks from LA based artists. We all pick a track,  introduce our track and ask the others the painfully binary critical question; 'spin it' or 'bin it?' We try not to go super-obvious on our track selections each month … this is what we chose to represent LA;Joey's track selection is – 'Chum' by Earl SweatshirtDavid's track selection is – 'Twelve Thirty' by The Mamas and the PapasNolan's track selection is – 'Runners' by Evidence ft. DefariGuy's track selection is – '86' by TruncateNext MonthEpisode #25 will be with you soon – Guy will be guiding us through 'We' by Arcade Fire one of is favourite artists ever … what could go wrong? Have a listen to the album and  share some thoughts with us on the blog or on our Insta. Other episodes of the pod and 10 years of the blog;If you enjoyed this episode, please check out the others. If that's not enough for you then there's 10 years worth of music discussion on the blog at http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. So check them out so to see what we like and where we clash, and comment if something catches your eye. We'd love to see what you think. 
  1. Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
  2. Ep. 23 – Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life on Earth
  3. Ep 22 – Big Thief – Dragon, New Warm Mountain …
  4. Ep 21 – Metronomy – Small World
  5. Ep 20 – Album Club – Modern Classics

Following last months’s Album Club #1, This Is Not Happening returns to our traditional format. In part 1, we deep dive into an album that one of us has selected. In Part 2 we play ‘Spin It or Bin It?’ where we judge each others track selections of great new music from 2022.

Part 1 – Album of the Month

This month it’s Guy’s choice, Small World the new album by Metronomy. Spoiler Alert – Metronomy are one of Guy’s favourite bands.  We discuss our expectations, reactions, reflections, dynamics in the band and if every album being released at the moment is in some way a ‘lockdown album’. 

Some interesting ‘bits’ to check out;

  1. The Metacritic album review summary can be found here
  2. An interesting interview with Joe Mount for DIY Mag can be found here
  3. Joe Mount doing an Instagram Live Q&A can be foundhere

Part 2 – ‘Spin it’ or ‘Bin it?’

In the second part of this episode we get stuck into the MASSIVE amount of great music that has been released in 2022. We all pick a track,  introduce our track and ask the others the critical question ‘spin it’ or ‘bin it?’ We then decide on a track of the month from the list of 4.

Nolan’s track selection is – Pusha T – ‘Diet Coke’
David’s track selection is – Sasami – ‘Call Me Home’
Joey’s track selection is – Holodrum – ‘Low Light’
Guy’s track selection is – Ibibio Sound Machine – ‘All That You Want’

A link to a mini-Spotify-playlist of these 4 tracks can be found here.

In order to make our selections, we all create a long list, then shortlist 4 tracks each. The 16 tracks that make up our track shortlists can be found here.

Posted in Album of the Month

AOTM – March – Metronomy – Small World

It’s about time, really. 21 episodes in and I’d been waiting for a new Metronomy album to arrive so we could finally cover it on the podcast. Disclosure: there’s no point in pretending otherwise, but I’ve been an unashamed fan since the blog started in the dim and distant 2010s, and in my mind, they’re a band that should fit right into the middle of our sprawling Venn diagram, so I was surprised to find out that Joey and Nolan weren’t nearly as familiar with them as I thought. Challenge accepted: at least as with many things, I have Pop Being David for company here. But I still wavered, with February’s avalanche of great new music from the likes of pod favourite Mitski, psych rock Animal Collective, Trentemoller as as well as heralded new year picks from Bonobo and Yard Act. In the end though, I couldn’t pass this up. I’d have kicked myself. And when I second guess myself I end up in the Talvin Zone ™.

My love affair with Joe Mount’s musical outfit began as it did for many, back in 2011 with their third album: The English Riviera. Its the record that really ‘broke’ the band, with its wry take on life and love in the English south coast and Mount’s home town of Totnes in Devon. Along with headline-grabbing singles The Bay and The Look came tales of small-town ennui, love, loss and introspection, all played out on a canvas of synths, crisp percussion, guitar licks and funk bass, and I was smitten. Yes, they were clearly a pop outfit, but they crept into the far more interesting territory of ‘alternative’ British pop music that had something to say, and an intriguing way to say it. For all the chart-ready vibrancy of the singles, there also sat musical beauty and character from the likes of Some Written’s soft tones, sultry funk of We Broke Free and the kaleidoscopic closer Love Underlined. It marked out a step up for the four-piece, whose line-up had been reworked and for whom Mount, as the driving force was proving his rare talents as – in my eyes at least – one of the country’s best singer-songwriter-producers.

I have very specific memories of the album too. I came to love it in the slightly surreal surroundings of Monaco. Having ligged onto a trip to the Grand Prix weekend with friends David and Will that worked in the feeder GP2 series, I was listening to its unfurling eleven tracks on the actual Riviera. I feel that Joe Mount would’ve enjoyed that irony (hi Joe, if you’re reading). So I’m always treated to both a really vivid recollection of the surroundings I was in, and a hark back to the start of my love affair with the band. I’ve not been back to Monaco since, but then I don’t need to. I just fire up the strings in that opening and I’m there. That led me to their underrated predecessor, Nights Out, which had its own idiosyncratic attraction, less so to the bedroom debut guitar/synth mish-mash Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe), but from which a lineage through to their later albums could still be traced. I gorged on the lot. I had found a band that I could love in the same universe at Hot Chip and LCD, one that took a more mainstream template and bent it to their own shape.

Before 2022, David actually chose their last album – the excellent Metronomy Forever – as one of our monthly picks in the ‘before times’ of 2019, but it’s a surprise searching back through the archives that it appears the only time we’ve done it, (though I’m convinced we did pick the English Riviera back in the proto-blog days of Posterous, at least as something we all listened to). It’s been a joy waiting for each album to come out, from the 60s-pop window of Love Letters, through the out and out punch of Summer 08‘s window to the pre-English Riviera years, through to the precursor to Small World, the more sprawling and interesting Metronomy Forever. Every one of them has brought new songs to love, new skills to marvel at, and an ever-growing adoration for Mount’s skills. All the while he’s been behind Metronomy’s success, he’s a modest but brilliant producer whose work’s been part of output by everyone from Robyn to thecocknbullkid and remixing everyone from Gorillaz, Goldfrapp and Lady Gaga, while being a big element in the supergroup of production talent on early pod favourite Jessie Ware’s ‘What’s Your Pleasure’?

Enter: Small World. Timing is everything, and many great albums from artists we love have missed the window for an AOTM: Caribou, Roisin Murphy, in recent times stood out here. So I have gambled somewhat on giving ourselves a compressed sixteen days from release to record, with this post coming only ten days in. We’ve had some albums for ten times that before now. But we’ve already had a taster in the shape of two excellent singles – Things Will Be Fine and It’s Good To Be Back (check the videos that top and tail this post) – to grace the start of 2022. An album of 9 songs over thirty-five minutes should be easy to gorge on. I just hope that it won’t be too short a time to hit that magic mark where you really fall for a record. After all, I showed with The Weather Station that it’s easy to be unsure when we record and to have changed your mind by the time we put the episode’s out. A very first world problem.

But I needn’t have worried, because Small World is an absolute joy, stripping back the layers while extolling the simple pleasures in life after the great reset we all felt. But it is also a marked departure. Musically, it’s still clearly tres Metronomy but there are some significant, if intriguing changes to the normal synth-pop template. The main one of these is the synths: they’re not absent, but very much on the fringes, something that feels unheard of for the band, and that may risk rubbing lots of fans right up the wrong way.

In fact, on the record sleeve – and I gloried in the vinyl here, something I’ve started most days working from home with in the background – Mount stated that the idea was to have none on the record, only piano and hammond organ. And a brilliant quote on their Instagram that’s both serious and self-deprecating that sums up the band in many ways: “I thought I’d like to do something musical, that isn’t very electronic…. someone taking themselves a bit seriously and thinking they should do a Nashville record. It’s almost a midlife crisis”. It’s funny because it just is, but also because Joe Mount is entering mid life. And while it doesn’t quite work out as synth-free, piano and acoustic guitars are very much a running motif of the album, from the cascading melody in the slow-burn opener Life and Death.

The tone is set from the off as one of change: middle age, family, introspection, anxiety, growing old. All things we’ve seen many times from artists that have gone from loose-limbed twenty-somethings to 40-somethings, looking back on their youth and forward into the future, but for Mount, whose musical character has been so steeped in pop and its youthful slant, this is something that comes with risk. And it’s album that’s much more personal, as he admitted in a recent excellent interview with DIY mag. “I’ve always thought that pop music is for teenagers, and I’ve always thought that I make pop music. So if what I do doesn’t interest those people, then I’m not doing very well.

In Life and Death, there’s a bleakness to the lyrics that runs through the album at times, as Mount, far more than before, shifts from love, loss, parties and an ironic twist on English life to move himself towards the centre of the action: “It was fun what I did /
Got a job, had some kids / See you in the abyss”
, both perhaps a personal state of mind but also a reference to the two years the album took shape in, one where we all got more accustomed to both life and death itself. Not perhaps the sound of a content man, but it’s never quite clear with Metronomy how much is for lyrical effect and how much is real, because his relocation to the country and his first purpose-built studio has found him far more balanced with the life of a parent pop star than he’s sounded in years.

Trying to ascertain the feel for a new album is tricky. It takes time and investment, and there’s a (pleasing) bump in the road with Small World where, after the opener, the two singles then come in succession. Taken in isolation – they are almost the two tracks most out of step with the album’s palette. But when they sit in the first side of the 9 tracks, they actually take on a different hue. Things Will Be Fine’s nod to teenage angst (caused by the film that shocked many in this country, Raymond Briggs’ harrowing When The Wind Blows) can’t stay in the darkness too long: “I might save the day, i might change the world… Things will be fine. It also referred to a mantra Mount was telling his children through the last two years, blending real life into the band’s more oblique metaphors of the past, and accompanied by a brilliant video that harks back to each of the band at 15). And its breezy guitar strums very much out of the 60s pop mould push things along, in a way that wouldn’t feel out of place on Love Letters. It’s Good To Be Back’s infectious lightness also is hard to avoid (along with the brilliant, strange video, a medium the band have always enjoyed to great effect since The Look). It’s the song that stuck in my head through January, but it’s after this opening salvo where things get interesting. It’s not diminishing those tracks, but ultimately, the lead singles will always feel a little incongruous when you’ve gorged on them before the album arrives.

It may be reductive to paint Small World’s change in tone as reducing the band’s strengths (and some have crudely done that) but I’ve found the album to be a continually rewarding and engaging experience, and it’s down to the subtle shifts in direction and style throughout that provide this again and again. There’s an argument that I definitely acknowledge, that when you strip away the synths and the bounce of so many of their previous tracks, that there’s potential exposure of some lyrical lack of adventure that Metronomy have been painted with the past. I see that. But it’s also doing a disservice to the beauty of the melodies and the near-perfection arrangements in this record too. Plenty of great pop music doesn’t need to be profound or lyrically mesmerising. Simply saying ‘this isn’t like Salted Caramel Ice Cream‘ is just stating a fact. To me, either you love Metronomy in all their forms or perhaps you rethink what your musical directions are. I mean, this is hardly Kid A here. Many of these songs could slot into an existing album without much effort, it’s just the whole narrative that feels different. But as much as many of their albums to date, this feels fully formed and whole.

Continuing the A-side (sorry, mp3 crew), Loneliness on the Run’s 90s-esque intro of plucked bass makes me think of Weezer and the yesteryear US-garage indie scene, but soars into a different space from its harmonies, adding a sprinkle of light in a starry melody in the break. Even as it moves along, there are unmistakably familiar splashes in each song. And vocal harmonies are a BIG, beautiful part of the record, elevating what feel like more formulaic tracks to something much more beautiful. If pianos are one motif, then acoustic guitars and harmonies are very much the other two in the triumvirate of what Small World does differently.

In the middle of it all, sits my album favourite: Love Factory. There’s a real 70s/80s AOR vibe on it, with its vocal interplay – not hard to see the lineage from Mount’s love of the likes of Steely Dan to this moment – and its treatment of love as something perhaps less romantic and spontaneous but ‘churned out’. There’s irony here – as the protagonist tries to show his usefulness in the face of the ‘factory’ production line – but the melody carries the song along on a cloud. Lyrically, it’s perhaps the simplest and most straightforward of the album but Mount’s talked about the song being ‘relentless’ here, with its looped melody and listing verses. But the fuzz guitar and circular piano phrases have had me woken up in the night singing its notes. That is hard to reject.

Lost My Mind is an interesting curveball, even as it shares some familiarity. The literal and metaphorical losing of one’s mind in the pandemic: ‘how friends of ours in quite different situations were just in apartments, on their own, feeling very isolated and out of touch‘ was another quite personal statement from Mount. But the music really evoked something specific in me. I felt a real Bowie energy here, with a sprinkling of Eno in the strange choral/vox synth chords, before the piano wig-out that closed the song. It really is hard to shake that feel, so I am fascinated if any of the group’s Bowie antennae felt similarly tweaked. At the other end of the pendulum, Right On Time (complete with a suitably daft skydiving video) urges us to try and ‘enjoy the sunshine’, even as we all sat in Covid-gloom. That even while things were scary and sad, there are simple pleasures we can take in.

The album closes with two more intriguing tracks. The first is a rare guest on the album outside the Metronomy universe: Hold Me Tonight sees Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin join into what is arguably the most straightforward love song on the record. A tale of desperation and hope, unrequited love as Mount’s verses. It’s a relatively breezy 90s-esque indie pop jangler until Margolin’s striking vocals enter at the halfway mark: ‘so you found the courage / do you regret it yet / it’s not what you wanted / but I guess it’s off your chest’. I think it’s a fascinating dynamic where the male vocal is higher than the female, and less powerful, playing with the balance on literal and metaphorical levels. And a song that was a totally different slant, almost binned and then resurrected when Mount sent it to Dana for her input, turning it into a desolate and unexpected response. It’s a masterstroke of serendipity. I’ve listened to it so many times – and as someone that’s not really come across much of Porridge Radio – and I can’t quite place who the vocal makes me recall. I’d want to say Robert Smith but that doesn’t feel quite right. But it’s a definitely welcoming development and one of the standout tracks.

Closer I Have Seen Enough I first thought was a bleak tale of a failed marriage – we can watch the flowerbeds rising / Each year our children grow / I will sit with you in silence /
As we watch our favourite show
” – but it’s much less specific than that, of course echoing the pandemic, but also again urging us to enjoy the small, simple things in life. For a song that’s quite slow and maudlin, it’s quite the sleight of hand, actually having such a positive message. It’s also odd that it was originally planned to be sung in French. Mais non.

In living with this album almost endlessly for the last ten days, I’m naturally concerned that I’m going to be prejudiced not only by my own gasping adoration for the band, but also a need to step back and try and gain some perspective away from the churn of dozens (twenty now? more?) of listens that have made me love it more. But I could easily burn it out, and by the time we record (in a week) be sick of it. Or at least see it lose its lustre and perhaps edge closer to some of the ‘yeah, it’s lovely but….’ critical responses. But right now, it’s an album I can’t put down. And having waited three years since its predecessor, and seen such a departure, it feels much more like one whose ‘woah’ softens with each listen, and by now, just feels as Metronomy as ever. It also makes me wonder where their next album will go, and feel already excited about that.

I wonder what the others will make of it. I suspect I may be flying a lone flag here. I know brother @davidhallison is a big fan of the band, and should really like this, but I’m not so sure. And as the record approaches, it always gets more shaky when it’s a band you adore. Is it – as it has from others first reactions – ‘not Metronomy enough’? And for @misterstory and @nolankane706, perhaps too much of a departure from all those Metronomy bangers of the past? But I really do think this is an album – and that’s what we’re here for aren’t we? – that works as well as any of their previous ones as an entity. It is quintessentially English, has a theme, is perfectly short, and taut, arranged beautifully, and makes me want to go for another listen again and again (even if I have to turn the record over, at least I’m getting out of my chair). I may not convince everyone of this. But perhaps I don’t have to. I’m happy with it. Things will be fine.