Bicep – Atlas

As Nolan’s mentioned, we’ve had some new Bicep in our lives for a while and that’s a prelude to a new album in January. Three tracks – Apricot, Saku and Atlas – this is the latter and (just) my favourite of the three, but really they’re all superb cuts that gets me excited about the new album. Of course, they just make me want to get onto a dark dancefloor, so it’s tinged with sadness too, but I think that’s just life right now. Those first few parties are going to be incredible, so that’s the light at the end of my tunnel.

2021 should be a good year for music

With all 2020 gave us, music was one of the positives. From artists we have always loved such as Caribou and Run the Jewels, to artists such as Sault and Phoebe Bridgers planting their flag for a constant spot at the table to fresh new sounds like Troy Kingy, Khruanbin and Arlo Parks. 

As we wrap up 2020 there have also been some unexpected surprises; Paul McCartney, Black Thought and most recently Parallel by Four Tet. 

With a positive bounce in everyones step looking ahead to 2021 there is not only optimism in the air for things finding some normality around the world but also for new music. The hope being that many of our favourite artist have spent the last 12 months creating new material for us. 


So far we know the following artists are ready to roll: Arlo Parks, Bicep, Darkside, Foo Fighters plus a Madlib & FourTet collaboration which all should be solid. 

Plus unconfirmed but expect there will be new albums from Kanye West, Adele, Julia Stone, The Staves, Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky to name a few. 

Will 2021 meet our expectations? 

What are you looking forward to?

JANUARY: McCartney III

Saying that I’m a bit of a Beatles fan is like saying the Pope is a bit of a Catholic. They have been the guiding musical lights of my life. I think The Beatles were a kind of miracle, the greatest creative expression of that burst of working class energy that blossomed in post war Britain. They didn’t just change the course of music, they changed the course of culture and society. I was 10 when Lennon was shot – I remember being really upset, but I also remember that no one else my age really knew who he was. By the time I was in my early teens, I was a subscriber to Beatles Monthly. This, at the time, did not make me cool. It made me square and weird. Everyone else was listening to Duran Duran. I once saved up weeks of paper round money to buy a brick from the original Cavern Club (they were being sold off for charity).

Now here I am decades later, and nothing has really changed. The Cavern brick is framed on my wall. My daughter is called Astrid, not just because we loved the name, but also because of Astrid Kircherr, the Hamburg photographer who was so influential in shaping the band’s look. I have a cat called Ringo. My house is groaning with Beatles nonsense. I vowed to stop buying stupid Beatles tat, but my friends still buy me stuff and honestly, it’s always welcome. Astrid got me a Beatles calendar for Xmas. Of course she did.

Paul was always my favourite Beatle. Partly, I think, when I was young, his songs were the most melodic and warm hearted and easy to engage with. But partly, also, I never really had any truck with the idea that Lennon was the artist and poet, and that Paul was just the tuneful cheesemonger of the band. It was obvious to me that McCartney was the most versatile Beatle. Pastoral ballad? Mother Nature’s Son. Musical hall? When I’m 64. A song about death and loneliness written when he was only 22? Eleanor Rigby. Howling rock n roll, Little Richard style? I’m Down. Giant pop chorus? Hey Jude. Song that literally gave birth to heavy metal? Helter Skelter. Any real Beatles fan could see he was the engine of the band as well as one of its two geniuses. Sgt Pepper? Paul’s idea. Side 2 of Abbey Road? Paul put that together. It’s always a little secret when you meet another big Beatles fan – you both immediately check that you both agree Paul is your favourite Beatle. It nearly always is. John is for the part-timers.

Solo Paul was a different matter. As a teen, I lapped up the albums of the time – Tug of War, Pipes of Peace, and plenty of the Wings stuff, but in all honesty, a lot of those albums have not aged well. One or two good tunes aside, there is a lot of guff on them, and it’s the kind of guff that has haunted his reputation ever since 1970. It was telling that when we all started listening to this new album, that Joey was surprised to hear McCartney rocking out – had he been listening to Queens of the Stone Age, Joey asked? The answer, is, of course, is that it’s the other way round, but I also get that to the casual listener, McCartney’s reputation as a rocker has been lost under decades of Mull of Kintyre and Ebony and Ivory and Frog Chorus.

So yes, his solo work has certainly been a mixed bag. But there are real gems in there. Ram is, I think, his best album and one of the best solo Beatles albums. But McCartney I and II have both got really special places in my heart. They’re both totally solo efforts, with McCartney playing every instrument – as we find him doing here on III. McCartney I is a homespun and folky joy, and McCartney II is genuinely nuts – experimental and electronic and a great reminder that Macca has been a great boundary pusher throughout his life.

I’d heard rumours recently that this new album was a genuine revelation, but I was very, very nervous of suggesting McC III as our album of the month. Macca means too much to me, and I know he means an awful lot less to the rest of you, and means nothing at all to at least one of you! In all honesty, I was worried that it’d be ok but nothing more, and we’d spend the podcast ripping apart my greatest musical idol. Maybe that is what will happen, I don’t know. But this album has floored me. I never ever expected Macca to ever make another song that I really cared about, and certainly not (nearly) a whole album of them. I have listened to this album constantly since it came out. It has wrapped its arms around me and it’s now going to be part of my life forever. It’s the greatest musical surprise of the year.

So let’s talk about what works for me. Firstly, he’s relaxed and he’s himself and it just sounds honest and joyful. I’ve struggled even with the lauded albums of the last 20 years (Egypt Station, Chaos and Creation…) – to me, they sound like a shit hot producer has overproduced some slightly workaday McCartney material. None of them have really stayed with me. I think the lack of producer has completely liberated him. He didn’t even know he was making an album. You can literally hear him in the studio messing around on these songs. And bloody hell, what a musician he is – the drumming on the opening jam! The octave harmonies on Find My Way (and the harpsichord), the crunching guitars on Slidin, the crazy loops of vocals on Deep Deep Feeling.

What I also love is that he’s showing his full range – folk ballad (When Winter Comes), hard rockers (Lavatory Lil, Slidin’), pop song genius (Find My Way), slow tempo melody (Pretty Boys), hell even a song that – as Joey points out – sound like it has a Mac Miller RnB vibe (Deep Down). It’s an extraordinary range he’s showing. The album’s centrepiece, Deep Deep Feeling, goes even further, an astonishing 8 minute delve into tape loops, gorgeous soulful vocal experiments that feels raw and beautiful, and for me, justifies every second of its length. I do wonder if that song might divide opinion big time – it’ll be interesting to discuss.

The other surprising strength is his voice. I remember hearing him sing at the 2012 Olympics and being sad that his voice was clearly ‘going’. Well, he’s no longer trying to hide that. He’s 78. He’s an old man, and his voice sounds gruff and aged, but to me, at least, it’s an integral part of the album’s charm. It was when I was listening to Women & Wives that it hit me – this is very similar to the Johnny Cash albums he made at the end of his life with legendary Def Jam producer Rick Rubin. This is an old man wearing his age on his sleeve. You can hear it in the stoic lyrics of Pretty Boys – he was once one of those boys a long time ago. Not anymore.

Not everything works, let’s be really honest. His lyrics are a mixed bag, and I probably like them a lot more than the rest of you, but I can see that if you’re not digging all 8 minutes of Deep Deep Feeling, you might find them a bit cloying. The Kiss of Venus is a very ordinary song, and the one stinker on the album for me is Seize The Day – a naff sub-Beatles pub tune with bloody awful lyrics about being nice and something about eskimos. It’s a reminder that he’s never that far away from Mull of Kintyre if you’re not careful with Macca. But for me, that’s the only song I actively dislike. There is joy and musical interest to be found in every other tune, though I do also agree the opening jam could lose a minute or two.

I’m fully aware I’m writing as a fan of a man who has defined my life. I can’t imagine what this album feels like to a casual listener, or someone who’s not that bothered about The Beatles (also, what is WRONG with you?!). But I hope there is something in there for everyone, even if you don’t have quite the response I’ve had. Think this could be a really interesting discussion, anyway!

I wonder if this is his swan song. It certainly feels like a last race round the block – a chance for him to flex his musical muscles and remind everyone of his range. Or maybe, even better, this is just what Macca does when he’s locked down – write better songs than anyone else can. The comparison with Bowie’s Blackstar is interesting – obviously Blackstar is a much darker, existential record. That’s partly because Bowie was facing death and he knew it and that’s what he was writing about. But also, Bowie is a more existential soul. Macca is an optimist who believes that things are ‘getting better all the time’. Maybe this is what’s inside him at this age – a man who still wants to be there for you, who still delights in nature and the simple life, but also feels the pain of ageing and being in love. A lot of those kind of things aren’t very cool anymore, if they ever were, but I don’t think he cares about any of that now. He’s done everything. He’s written everything. He’s just the most famous musician in the whole world, jamming around in his studio for fun, and somehow out pops an incredibly coherent album, a last little musical present from the master. I couldn’t be happier about it.

2020 year end lists

Never has there been a year that we have looked forward to seeing the end of the year more than 2020. For all of the negatives one of the rare bright spots has been the music. As the world went through harrowing times, the artists of the world delivered some of the best albums and songs in recent memory.

We’re going to be talking through our collective top albums of the year on our December podcast. Ahead of that we thought we would share our personal top 10 albums and our favourite tracks of the year, which we’ve created a playlist for all to enjoy!

Nolan

Top 10 Albums

1. Sault – Untitled (Black Is)

2. Run The Jewels – RTJ4

3. Caribou – Suddenly

4, Marlowe – Marlowe 2

5. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

6. Royce 5’9 – the Allegory

7. Sa Roc – The Sharecropper’s Daughter

8. Romare – Home

9. Mac Miller – Circles

10. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

Favourite tracks of the year (in no particular order)

Royce 5’9 – Tricked

Aesop Rock – Drums On The Wheel

Phoebe Bridges – Garden Song

Sa Roc – deliverance

Troy Kingi – All Your Ships Have Sailed

Jayda G – Both Of Us

Disclosure – Tondo

Michael Mayer – Higher

Run The Jewels – Ooh La La

Marlowe – Otherworld

Guy

Top 10 Albums

1. Sault – Untitled [Black Is]

2. Caribou – Suddenly

3. Sault – Untitled [Rise]

4. Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine

5. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

6. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song

7. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure

8. Doves – The Universal Want

9. Laura Marling – Song For Our Daughter

10. The Vision – The Vision

Favourite tracks of the year (in no particular order)

Yves Tumor – Gospel For A New Century

Khruangbin – Time (You and I)

SAULT – Don’t Shoot Guns Down

Róisín Murphy; Soulwax – Something More – Soulwax Remix

Holy Fuck; Alexis Taylor – Luxe

Caribou – Home

Mim Suleiman – Mingi

Katy J Pearson – Take Back The Radio

Doves – Prisoners

Run The Jewels – JU$T

Joey

Top 10 Albums

1. Sault – Untitled (Black Is)

2. Caribou – Suddenly

3. Run The Jewels – RTJ4

4. Laura Marling – Song for our Daughter

5. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

6. Kevin Morby – Sundowner

7. US Girls – Heavy Light

8. Mac Miller – Circles

9. J HUS – Big Conspiracy 

10. Sevdaliza – Shabrang

Favourite tracks of the year (in no particular order)

Run the Jewels – JU$T

Kevin Morby – Sundowner

Home – Caribou

Perfume Genius. – Your body changes everything

U.S. Girls – 4 American Dollars

Laura Marling – Held Down

Nilufer Yanya – Crash

La Vita Nuova –  Christine and the Queens

So We Don’t Forget – Khruangbin

Lamp Lady – Sevdaliza

David

Top 10 Albums

1. Sault – Untitled (Black Is)

2. Caribou – Suddenly

3. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

4. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

5. Roisin Murphy  – Machine

6. US Girls – Heavy Light

7. Loma  – Don’t Shy Away

8. Jessie Ware- What’s Your Pleasure?

9. Fleet Foxes – Shore

10. Songhoy Blues – Optimisme

Favourite tracks of the year (in no particular order)

Run The Jewels – JU$T (feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha)

Róisín Murphy – Something More – Extended Mix

Arlo Parks – Black Dog

The Weeknd – Blinding Lights

Waxahatchee – Fire

Anderson .Paak – Lockdown

Katy J Pearson – Take Back The Radio

Marlowe; L’Orange; Solemn Brigham – Future Power Sources

SAULT feat. Michael Kiwanuka – Bow

Sylvan Esso – Ferris Wheel