New year, new music. And this is a story of one song, that lead me to an album, and how something that simple can bring such reward. I have been aware of the gloriously named Holy Fuck for a while, from their pleasingly daft videos, their excellent remixes, and the fact that they REALLY sounded like they should be on DFA. Their music – four guys, a bit of a rotating cast of synths, guitars, drums and a bunch of hardware – felt like something I should really be into but never quite did.
Then I heard Luxe on 6Music (of course) and I realised they may have finally got into my head for good. Yes, it has Alexis Taylor of my fanboy crush Hot Chip on it, but it’s much more that it’s an incredible track. Because even his idiosyncratic vocals are only somewhere in the morass, distorted in feedback and muffled in the mid-range as the track first wobbles around an odd sub-bassline and crisp drums, piano stabs, teasing with its destination for way longer than it should be possible to do, before it falls into structure, and then emerges into the sunlight, a percussive cut of modern, shimmering pop music. It’s quite the opener, and that’s possibly the main criticism of the album: where do you go from there?
The answer is, more of the same. And it just about hangs on to get away with it. Because it’s mining some of the best things about that oft-overdone, tired indie-dance hybrid that I’ve heard in a while. And while there’s echoes of all sorts of things in there, it also sounds like their own sound. The title track has shades of LCD – a vein that runs through all their music’s DNA – but there’s a lot of the Reflektor-era James Murphy-reworked Arcade Fire in there too, all scuzzy, submerged vocals, heavy drums, bleepy leads and jangling guitars and ooh-wee-ooh chorus. Endless bucks the trend, much more a guitar track, which to me comes much closer to previous AOTM and personal favourite Hookworms, with its edging into psych-rock and almost operatic stylings.
And what Holy Fuck lack in a singular vocal frontman – think their own Murphy, or Taylor – they make up in clever use of layering, distortion and harmonies. Free Gloss nails this perfectly with its soaring chorus that blends vocals, feedback and guitars, complete with a rocking, solo that makes me want to go and jump around a little club (only to find out their Manchester gig is sold out). There’s elements of the Chemical Brothers too, with Moment’s relentless drum-driven intro, and No Error is a brave sub-3 minute funk-smeared wobbler. What they may lack in perfectly balanced songcraft, they make up for in sheer exuberance and brio – San Sebastian is an almost angry, shouty, 90s throwback that sounds a bit like a discarded Blur b-side from before they went twee and irritating, with nods to Tame Impala, while Ruby doesn’t let up the pace, flowering at the death with a lovely, unexpected melody that fades into the ether as the distorted chords disappear. I also find myself thinking about 2020 uber-release Caribou at more than one juncture. This is a good thing. Yet for all their jangly, energetic energy, there’s more nuance than you’d first think, and a few listens in, the album takes on a much more three-dimensional shape.
In fact, for a band who’ve been around for so long (fourteen years and five albums) I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to properly seek them out. Perhaps this album is a that much of a step up. Because it’s certainly a coherent whole, and refreshing that, at 41 minutes, there’s not much filler in here. Yes, everyone’s buying Caribou, but that’s almost a given it’ll be loved. This is much more of a gamble, and one I think that’s handsomely paid off.
Welcome to a new year and a new decade, brothers. After a month off and all of us caught up with last year’s excellent music, let’s start off with a look back – with the reissue of one of rock’s great lost albums.
“Underrated” is a word we’ve discussed before; it is, of course, too easily used and often described things that have not been that highly rated for a good reason. As a bit of a vinyl junkie, and an aficionado of all things 60s and 70s, many are the ‘underrated’ albums I’ve bought, only to find they languished in obscurity for a damn good reason.
So let’s start with a bit of background for Mr Clark. Founding member of The Byrds, he quickly became the band’s main songwriter, and wrote an astonishing number of their well-known songs (Eight Miles High, I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better, Set You Free This Time). I hadn’t quite realised what a creative driving force he’d been in the band – especially when you consider this is a band with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby in it. The band used to call him the ‘Hillbilly Shakespeare’, because of his incredible talent for mystical lyrics despite his humble background.
However, he didn’t stay in the band beyond the third album, partly because of a chronic fear of flying, and partly because the rest of the band were pissed off that he earned more because of the songwriting royalties.
I really like the Byrds, always have, and as a Beatles nut, I’m hugely aware of their influence on the band – it was the Byrds jangling 12 string Rickenbacker that got Harrison to pick up one of his own and start adding it to the Beatles sound – which you can clearly here from Rubber Soul onwards. But I wouldn’t say I *listen* to the Byrds that much. Like The Beach Boys, I hugely admire what they did, but I don’t check in with them much.
Like a lot of the counter-cultural American rock artists of that era, Clark’s solo work after The Byrds showed him flirting quite heavily with country rock, particularly with his Dillard & Clark albums with bluegrass guitarist Doug Dillard. It’s pleasant enough stuff, but Gram Parsons, another Byrds alumni, was doing this stuff so much better.
All of this is a way of saying – Clark was obviously an insanely prodigious talent, but once he left The Byrds, there was no suggestion he was about to do anything that groundbreaking in his musical career.
It’s 1974. Clark has briefly rejoined a reformed Byrds, and the resulting album impresses mega-producer David Geffen enough to sign him to Asylum Records. This is the hippest, hottest label in the US at the time – home to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and The Eagles. Geffen gives Clark a pretty whopping budget to go and make the album of his dreams….
What first hits you about the album is its ambition. Wikipedia helpfully describes this as “country rock, folk, gospel, soul and choral music with poetic, mystical lyrics”. It’s fucking extraordinary. Just listen to Strength of Strings alone. It’s a masterpiece:
(Eagle eared listeners of a certain age might recognised this as covered by This Mortal Coil on one of their albums. Perhaps it’s no coincidenc that it’s their label, 4AD, that put out this reissue.)
The other thing about No Other is that it also kind of sounds like everything – and then you remember that the ‘everything’ you’re thinking of came AFTER this record. Fleetwood Mac and Rumours in particular owe an enormous debt to the freewheeling genre-hopping of this album, as does some Dylan mid to late 70s output. As for the millennial era, this albums has clearly been a huge influence to a million bands, from Grizzly Bear (who’ve covered No Other songs live) to Arcade Fire to The National to every other flipping American indie band who’ve ever flirted with Americana.
So why is it so underrated? Why wasn’t it sitting next to Rumours in your parents’ record collection? Well, when Geffen heard what Clark delivered him, he lacked the vision to understand it. He thought it was a piece of shit, and berated Clark both privately and publicly, then spent nothing promoting it. That, along with frankly bizarre 1920s looking cover that gives no hint of what was inside, meant that Gene Clark’s incredible album bombed.
He never recovered from the devastating disappointment, and fell into the depressingly familiar cycle of drugs and addiction, and though he staggered on through the 80s, he never made an album of this stature again. Addiction eventually took his life aged only 46, in 1991.
What he has left is an album that can genuinely stand shoulder to shoulder to much of the greatest rock music of the era. And you can hear in that plaintive voice that he is delivering the album of his life. It is a tragedy too often told in the music industry that an artist has die before their work is appreciated. It’s never truer than with Gene Clark and No Other. Let’s at least be grateful that the ‘Hillbilly Shakespeare’ got to make his masterpiece.
I genuinely don’t really know where to start with this one. First, I guess I should start with an apology. I know what it feels like to have an AOTM chosen that you know will be an effort for you. David, I am sorry. However, I have not chosen this because I am a huge Nick Cave fan. I have a passing knowledge of his music acquired some from of my previous (intense but failed) relationships. I have only ever bought one other Nick Cave album, Dig, Lazarus Dig from 2008. Bought on the strength of reviews, loved at the time but rarely played since.
What I do love about Nick Cave is his undeniably prolific creative output. I think this is his 17th studio album with Bad Seeds, add to that Grinderman and other side projects, soundtracks, screen plays, acting roles, exhibitions etc. This can be seen as self indulgent or it can be viewed more favourably as an endless stream of creativity. A stream that stopped a couple of years ago.
I don’t read too much music press if I am honest. I didn’t know about the loss of his teenage Son Arthur until the release of Ghosteen. I approached the album with some trepidation. I didn’t know what to expect and listened mostly without reading reviews in any detail. When you listen you are going to have to make a decision to give this a go or not. I hope you go with it. What you will find is a double album (double sorry David). The 2nd album contains two 12 minute songs (triple sorry David). As AOTM ‘asks’ go, this is a big one.
What first struck me is the ‘soundscape’. I never know if ‘soundscape’ is the right word. If it were a film it would be the ‘mise en scene’ so what ever the music equivalent of that is, that’s what I mean. Rich textured, chesty, vibrating analogue synths, strings, choral, gospel tinged backing vocals, piano’s and that voice. No matter what you think of Nick Cave, his voice is fucking incredible. It feels like his career to date, he’s been practicing to sing these lyrics and these songs. The first CD/side of the album is formed of 3-6 minute, beautiful and relatively conventional tracks. The 2nd and 3rd tracks, ‘Bright Horses’ and ‘Waiting for You’ are undeniably beautiful ballads. I think they will act as ‘anchor’ tracks that you will find yourself falling for on repeated listens. They are the most conventional and identifiable tracks and feature some achingly beautiful lyrics.
‘He’s the little white shape dancing at the end of the hall / the wish that time couldn’t dissolve’
And for me, this line, is a beautiful example of what I love about this album. ‘Arthur’ is never named. The word ‘death’ never appears. Neither does ‘grief’. Nor ‘loss’. There is close to no use of the past tense. The album revolves around the positivity and hope of the present and future tenses.
This album is not about loss. It is about permanence.
It is about the power of love and of memory. It makes me feel that there can be beauty found in the deepest tragedy which somehow makes me feel more connected with the things that I love the most.
Before Sammy was born we called him ‘Wolfgang’ it stuck so much we considered it for real. It feels like ‘Ghosteen’ is used in a similar manner by the Cave family on the other side of the life continuum. ‘There is nothing wrong with loving something that you can’t hold in your hand’
Back to the ‘ask’ – David, CD 2 will be a challenge for you. I’ll just call that now. I do urge you to give it a go though. I have these tracks play continuously CD1 and CD2 without interruption and feel this is the best experience. Nick Cave talks about the CD2’s tracks being the ‘parent’ tracks, they were written first and spawned the ‘children’, the tracks found on CD1. This only really makes sense when you become deeply familiar with the music. I hope this is somewhere that you get with this beautiful music.
‘I am beside you, look for me’
As the landscape in Rap has changed over the last 5 years I’ve stuck to what I know. The exception has been the ever consistent ‘Mello Music Group’ and their pillar producer Apollo Brown. Over recent years he has partnered with the likes of Ghostface Killah, Planet Asia, Ras Kass, Rapper Bog Pooh and Joell Ortiz among others. His boom bap soul filled Detroit sound has not only re-invigorated many MC’s careers but has also has owned much of my listening time.
Apollo Brown’s latest effort perhaps is his most challenging and best executed to date. Encompassing 59 Detroit MC’s his ‘Sincerely Detroit’ is a love letter to a city of sorts and showcases the depth of MC pedigree that the city has to offer. Through 21 tracks you feel the love and pain that the currently ran down and trying City of Detroit brings on a daily basis with Apollo perfectly pasting together an onslaught of head nodding beats.
Brown’s MC’s combination on first glance is un-expected but work well. Tying up Nolan The Ninja and Dopehead on ‘Skimmin’ shouldn’t work but it does. Whilst teaming up Guilty Simpson and Fat Ray on ‘The Backbone’ seems like a life long partnership.
Detroit heavy hitters Royce 5’9, Guilty Simpson and Slum Village all deliver lyrically but don’t over shadow the rest. At one moment you’re blown away by Paradime on ‘Never’ or the smooth bars from Boog Brown. I admit that 21 tracks can seems allot in the days of EP’s and short albums but the further I get into this album I struggle to find a track that I would drop.
Why do I love this album? It’s pure hop hop, it’s boom bap, and conveys the honesty that I struggle to find in hip hop these days. It reminds me of the hip hop I fell in love with in the late 90’s when I bought decks and hunted for raw underground hip hop.
Being mindful that this may move you away from your hip hop comfort zone I encourage you to spend some time with this album, it’s worth the investment.
Yes, brothers, it’s a bit late, but my god, it’s worth the wait. What can you say about Michael Kiwanuka that’s not already been said? Let’s get the cliches out of the way first: he harks back to the best soul musicians of the 60s and 70s, be it Bill Withers, The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, with a twinge of the jazz he so adores, but he brings that soul, that classic guitar into the modern age, (with a little help from the talents of Danger Mouse and Inflo) with electronic touches and flourishes. Oh, and I think we forgot that it’s easy listening, middle-class soul that belies a depth and richness, and a self-criticism that shows underneath the wizadry, there’s real doubt, loss and sadness.
Now that’s over with, let’s talk about what goes outside the usual tick-box talking points. Because in Michael Kiwanuka we have an artist that could be set to ascend to the heights of a modern great, at a time when the music he makes feels beautifully out of step with everything else on show: tracks that you expect to crackle with the fizz of vinyl, that don’t adhere to radio-friendly lengths or structures, (yet get picked up by globally renowned TV shows) however simple they may seem at first sight. Yes, you may say he should’ve been born 30 years earlier, but in some ways, that would’ve meant he’d perhaps sunk back into the ‘really good’ with so many legends around him. Truth be told, we’re lucky he’s around now, because that means he stands out, and – for those of us of a certain age – he beautifully espouses the virtues of proper songwriting.
And yet, it could’ve been so different. In many ways Kiwanuka is an anachronism. An immigrant kid, growing up in a white, middle-class suburb in north London, stripped of some of the struggles that peers may have encountered. Growing up immersed in jazz and soul, rather than hip-hop or r’n’b, a skater (but really, not that good), and dropping out of his dream course at the Royal Academy to write some songs, play them in a pub, and see where it went, assuming it’d be respected session musician, and never Glastonbury headliner, and singer-songwriter that spent years both convinced his own voice wasn’t up to the mark, then when fame finally hit, wracked with self-doubt, a self-labelled impostor that walked out of sessions with Kanye and struggled singing songs about the bleak side of love as he was getting married himself.
But to stick with Kiwanuka is an experience that rewards you, continually. Even the breakout Home Again, and the BBC Sound of 2012 – which seems so incredibly long ago – didn’t seem to quite bring him the expected success he’d been talked up for. It wasn’t until Love And Hate, four years later, that the it felt like the world caught up. It debuted at No.1 in the UK, and was an album that improved with every listen, his voice just drifting into gravelly, lovelorn ennui, cloaked in sadness. It was hard enough to listen to sometimes in good days, let alone when you’d gone through a break-up, or suffered loss. Every track dripped with sadness, with subtle, careworn character that settled like winter snow. And when he found his voice as a black man in the modern world, it gave us musical glory.
So where do you go from here? Radical reinvention? Pastiche? In this case, a bit of that, but mostly taking what made you so loved, and adding layers. But as with his own character, it’s not a brash statement, but something enveloped in a sound so pure, rich and powerful, that it reveals itself slowly. And shows that along with musical growth, Kiwanuka is also starting to feel more at home with himself. The first single, You Ain’t The Problem, finds him coming to the realisation that, whatever tribulations and doubt there is, it’s not himself that’s at the centre of it. Hero is self-questioning, with a video that puts his own contradictions at its heart, but doesn’t put the blame at his own door, and throughout the album, there are songs whose first impact is ‘that’s nice’, but as you delve deeper and let the music wash over you, and the lyrics sink in, you get to enjoy the slow-burning, blossoming joy as the album slowly shifts under your feet, and you just want to listen again, and again, and again.
Not everything, it seems has to be accessible and obvious from the off, and so this gentle but powerful anachronism, at odds with a fast-paced, condensed, over-saturated world, is everything it should be: a current classic, a future classic, and one of the albums of the year. Amen, Michael.
While we’re a-waiting for FKA to drop, I thought I’d share an album that has really got under my skin. sir Was is a dude from a remote Swedish village and this is his 2nd album.
It was this collaboration with Little Dragon on the album that first caught my attention. You might have heard it, 6 Music have been rinsing it, and I put it on that recent comp I posted on here:
So then I checked the album out. First couple of times I listened, I thought – yeah, this is quite cool. But it’s pretty downbeat and quite minor, and maybe I won’t stick with it for long. But I did. I really did. I keep coming back to it and playing it, and it has totally got me.
So here’s the thing – it is one of the most undefinable sounds I think I’ve ever heard. It’s not dance music really, not at all, but it feels like it’s made my someone with those sensibilities. But his voice and the production also sounds like lush 70s West Coast pop. And then there are other really interesting tracks that sound like – yes, really – This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins. In fact, this album could easily be on 4AD.
It really is the most beguiling mix of stuff. And the three tracks I’ve posted on here (the only ones on YouTube) are the more obvious end of the album. But I’d be really interested in what you think when you immerse yourself in it. It’s not a long album and it’s very easy and enjoayable listen. But what I love is how it’s opened itself up, the more I’ve listened to it. It had hidden depths. I flipping LOVE it when music is like that.
So there you. An October bonus. Check him out.
So, after a month of for summer hi-jinx – getting married! moving house! raising kids! Listening to music! – we’re back, back, back!
So here’s the long-awaited new offering from a band that are very beloved of this parish. Off the back of a pretty sweltering run of belting singles leading up to the album, the question on everyone’s lips (well, mine anyway): have they finally made an album that can stand up to their masterpiece, THE ENGLISH RIVIERA.
But then it’s never easy with Metronomy, so even answering that question is quite tricky. Joe Mount is such a wilful bastard, and clearly likes doing whatever the fuck he wants, and never more than on this 17 track album that features 6 instrumentals. Chasing the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame is not top of Mount’s aims in life.
The answer is YES and NO at the same time, and because it’s Metronomy, I think you probably know what I mean. It is undeniably the band’s strongest offering in years, and thought Summer 08 had a couple of belting tunes on it, I personally don’t think they’ve made a properly cohesive album since Riviera. For the record, I thought Love Letters was a steaming pile of crap.
Forever has two very very big things going for it. Firstly, it has a really wonderful set of songs on it. From Lately to Salted Caramel Ice Cream to Insecurity to The Light to Sex Emoji (yes, even Sex Emoji), this is an album overflowing with funky, fresh ideas and the kind of Metronomy songs you long for – the kind you’d end up adding to a Best of Spotify compilation.
The second thing I love about this album is that it really does feel like a complete piece of work. Songs flow into each other, and even some of the instrumentals, which I initially found indulgent and overly-long, really start to come alive (a work trip with a lot of walking around London with my headphones changed my view on these). You can hear Morodor and early Daft Punk and even some kind of freak folk influences on some of these, and I think it’s quite brave of Mount to go for it, when you could have just have made a very tight 9 track belter.
However, let’s not kid ourselves. Any 17 track album has superfluous filler. Hell, even The White Album’s got Bungalow Bill and Wild Honey Pie. The second half of the album is perhaps lighter on the really strongest stuff, and it starts to sag a little. And there are moments when Mount’s use of repetition – which he uses SO cleverly in his songs – is just too self-indulged. Mount himself jokingly said the album was pretentious and too long when he was asked about it. Or maybe he wasn’t joking. Who knows?
So sure, in time I’ll probably flick past the odd track or two. And there are moments that are a lot less than necessary. But mostly, it feels vital and fresh and 20 times more interesting than anything most artists are doing, let alone after nearly two decades (yup!) of making music.
Metronomy Forever? You betcha.