Sometimes you enjoy a band, but you know they could be so much more. And you will them into becoming that thing, and so often, that just doesn’t happen. They plough the same furrow with decreasingly fruitful results, until, by album three, you feel something die inside you and you know your relationship with them is over.
I’m always keeping an eye on the local music scene in Leeds. It’s not a bad scene and it always has some bands worth listening to, but often they peter out before they get going. I first noticed there was a bit new psyche thing going a few years ago, and some of it actually seemed really good. At the forefront of that were Hookworms. They’ve made two really solid albums, the first building on the first and expanding its sound. But they were solidly PSYCH albums, sounding something like this:
I’d seen them live and I’m partial to a bit of Krautrock, so it was right in my wheelhouse, but they are REALLY good live, and a lot more punky that you might think, but they weren’t exactly inventing the wheel (to complete the wheel related references). I remember thinking, rather fancifully like a twat, that they were ‘Austerity Psych’ – psych rock channelling the anger of our era in a Northern city.
And then an absence of a couple of years. And then, a month or two ago, I hear THIS on 6Music:
And my mind is blown. THAT is Hookworms? Sweet Jesus, yes. It’s Hookworms having babies with New Order, LCD Soundsystem and every other slice of dance rock heaven you could ever imagine. Everything has gone widescreen. The lead singer, MJ, one of rock’s more unlikely looking lead singers, has no longer hidden his voice behind acres of reverb, and wow, he actually has an amazing voice. The ANGER and the punk attitude is still there (this is, after all, about depression and dealing with the death of a friend), but what a canvas to paint it on.
And then came the album, and the fear that this one truly amazing song would be sat amongst a load of psych songs of old, standing out like a sore thing. Not a bit of it. STATIC RESISTANCE is probably the closest thing to Hookworms of old, but even that has crispness and urgency to it that really stands out. It’s a GREAT Track 2:
It doesn’t let up from there. ULLSWATER is another banger, to rival NEGATIVE SPACE, as is OPENER, which feels almost joyful. And then there’s the other surprise – the soft, almost balladeering underbelly of a band that with hitherto all hard Krautrock beats. THE SOFT SEASON is sweet and moving, and EACH TIME WE PASS is, well, actually quite dreamy!
I think this a major piece of work. It works totally as an album and a vision, and it’s rewarded me every time I’ve played it.
Finally, can we talk about the sequencing? Brother Joey, I know it’s a bugbear of yours and mine when a good album is badly sequenced. Just how beautifully sequenced is this? ULLSWATER as a Track 3 basically says – yes, the whole album is as good as this. And then THE SOFT SEASON is that sudden blast of tenderness that opens out the whole album’s palette. And at the back end, SHORTCOMINGS has got to be the best closer to an album I’ve heard in a long time. It’s up there with my favourite songs on the whole thing – James Murphy would be proud of that one.
It’s only March but I can’t see this not being one of my albums of the year.
So yeah, sometimes those bands you invest in do reward you by turning into something much bigger than you’d ever imagined…
Hype. I really struggle to buy albums that have hype around them. I don’t know why?Maybe because I have seen the mechanics of how albums get hyped, and I have grown to discount it now to being a load of rubbish. The issue is that at times there are albums that have deserved their hype growing through well-earned excitement, self-propelled by fans. Bicep’s debut album is a case and point of this; I fought it and massively then regretted it when I finally gave it a go. This album desserves the hype.
So where did the hype come from you ask? Well if you ask any of the cool kids they’ll tell you that ‘Bicep are the Irish production duo behind the most-excellent Feel My Bicep blog which has a reputation for blogging only the finest quality house, disco and techno.’ In-fact every article about them seems to start with that line. My line is this: ‘Bicep popped onto my radar a few years ago whilst playing the Space terrace in Ibiza. Ever since they seem to have kept on popping up every few months. Aside from the blog they make some really good music. They’re edit of Diminica’s ‘Gotta Let Go’ propelled them into every club in the summer of 2015 and the rest is history’. At this point I must admit this is when I stopped paying attention to them, too much hype.
I don’t want to delve too much into this album as I want you to discover it yourself. I will say that there are some massive ticks for me with their debut long player.
- It’s a dance album that takes you on a journey between laid back to head down in a dark corner stomping and does it well.
- It’s a dance album that is an actual album and not just a bunch of singles strapped together.
- Instead of releasing on a major label they have signed to Ninja Tune, which I think is pretty cool.
Sadly I don’t go clubbing anymore. I’m not sure if I even want to go to a club ever again. I do still like dance music and I think there is allot of great music being released. Dance music seems to have superseded four decades and with that four generations of new fans. If this is what clubbers are listening to at the moment a firmly tip my hat to them, this is good shit.
This was one of my (late) top picks for last year and I love it. I hope it ticks as many boxes for you as me. Enjoy brothers.
I must admit that I was a bit surprised that the rest of the brothers have neglected Gang Starr from their music collections, though it excites me that I’m welcoming you all to something new.
Gang Starr consisted of two members, MC Guru and DJ Premier. By the point that this album was released in 1998 both as a group (this was their 5th album) and side projects (Guru’s Jazzmazztazz and DJ premier well know beats through the famed D&D studios) Gang Starr were arguably at the top of their game. This album had ALLOT of expectations around it from all levels. The questions was could classic Hip Hop live in 1998?
If you recollect in the 1998 it was a time of champagne and fur coats in rap videos, the back end of the West Coast Vs East Coast beef and the accent of No Limit records….. essentially there was allot of whack rap being released. It was also a time that independent hip hop was gaining traction. The rise of the internet was allowing underground independent hip hop record labels such as Rawkus, ABB Records and Fat Beats distribution to have a wider reach. Very much at the forefront of boom bap backpack rap Gang Starr whom had allot to prove with this album. Their record label wanted radio plays, they wanted to keep their street cred. The result could go either way. Could they still engage the mainstream whilst keeping the backpackers happy?
This album for me was a masterstroke in making a complete album without losing credit. The NY underground boom bap is heavily represented with tracks like ‘You Know My Steez’, ‘The Milita’ and ‘Work’. On the other hand they dipped their toes into the mainstream with tracks like ‘Royalty’ and the reflective ‘Moment of Truth’.
Guru’s voice commands respect and his lyrics span from insight to straight battle raps. Look up the lyrics for ‘You Know My Steez’. I must have listened to that track 100 times in the first day I had the album. As for the beats that DJ Premier came with, and the cuts….. to this day are some of the best!
This album brings back allot of memories for me, I was listening to it when my plane was approaching London when I came over to UK for ‘a few months’ in 2001. Inspecta Deck’s verse on ‘Above the Clouds’ being one of my favourite of all time and apt as the plane broke through the cloud cover of the UK to expose London. ‘Work’ is still one of my favourite tracks to get me going when I run. The tingle that I got the first time I heard ‘You Know My Steez’, and how I lost my shit when I first hear Freddie Foxx on ‘The Militia’.
I still come back to this album, it’s a classic. Give this some time and enjoy. There’s lots to get stuck into with Moment of Truth.
Ok, so some disclosure here first off: I was always a fan of N.E.R.D. back in the day, but honestly, never a die-hard. I loved In Search Of… and Fly Or Die but it feels like a long, long time ago that I listened to much beyond the hits. And I think it’s fair to say it was a different time. Back in 2001 and 2004 (when those came out) they seemed pretty much like something totally new: they were hip-hop, but they had guitars, they were cool, good looking, ridiculously talented, and of course, alongside this, they were The Neptunes. For all the brash, boisterous records they released as N.E.R.D., they were also one of the production outfits of the decade. Their Clones album had everyone on it, all produced with their slick, gossamer-like studio skills, and brought some of the best hip-hop of those years. Kelis, Snoop, N.O.R.E., Nelly, Busta, Ludacris… they sprinkled their gold dust on everyone. And so, well, I gravitated away from N.E.R.D. to the Neptunes.
So, fast-forward to 2017, and it’s been 7 years since their last long-player and the world’s changed. Have N.E.R.D.? I’ve certainly changed, and this was an album of the month that I’ve come to pretty much totally cold. Given Pharell’s polymathic skills, its’ a question that will it work or will it prove an ill-fated comeback. This is enough to give me the cold sweats, especially where it’s a genre I’m less than enamoured with than the rest of you gents. So, is No One Ever Really Dies (yes, that’s what the initials mean) really a step forward? Looking at the (inevitable) guests it certainly feels very 2017: Kendrick, Gucci Mane, Rhianna, Future, and Ed Sheeran. Yes. Him. Then there’s Andre 3000, an interesting nod to the past.
I’m three listens in, and I have to say, my first reaction is that I FEEL OLD. I know I am old, but really, for a man that’s pretty mired in the old school sound of samples, turntablism, and classic hip-hop, this feels so alien. It’s not like I don’t like new stuff – Kendrick is brilliant, Frank Ocean likewise, and there’s new records that still shake me (A Tribe Called Quest’s new record is one of my favourite albums of the last ten years, already) – but the new production style that sits somewhere less grinding than trap, but still with percussive, nervous tics and few melodies that open Lemon is way out of my comfort zone. In fact, the first listen almost makes me feel like I’ve tried to watch the news in a foreign language. Or use Snapchat.
But…. but…. it’s not all dad jokes and cliches. As I revisit, things start to gel. Lemon is a ballsy opening track, with Rhianna’s words and voice suiting its bombast well. Andre 3000’s golden skills on Rollinem 7s makes you wish he’d actually make a new album of his own. The brash melodies of Deep Down Body Thurst are bright and bouncy. It starts to emerge out of the mist, and I feel less like the new dad I am, trying to listen to Radio 1. Kendrick makes reading the phone book interesting, so he’s always listenable on Kites, and on Don’t Don’t Do It (though do they have to really overdo it on everything, rather than just make a perfectly-pitched record?). The overriding feeling so far is that there’s an album waiting to get out, if I just give it more time. It’s a much more coherent beast than some of their patchwork earlier albums, and much better for it. But it’s also an obvious truth that the modern style of hip-hop they’re swiping just isn’t my bag, so either I’ll end up liking it in spite of that, or going off it because of it. Pharrell didn’t need to make this album, and he certainly didn’t need the money, so while only time will tell, it’s good to have them back.
Welcome to my 2nd write up of an AOTM. First it was the write-up of Plunge by Fever Ray that I wrote before finding out that it was not released on CD yet. The second is an album that I chose Plunge over initially. The first reason for this is that I am committed, long term lover of The Knife and Fever Ray and wanted to take the opportunity to choose an artist who has meant so much to me for such a long time. The second reason was that David chose a ‘soul’ album for for the November album and I thought this might be a bit ‘samey’ for the following month. However, I have listened to this and Jordan Rakei back to back a few times and in doing so am pretty confident that this is a different enough proposition to propose for the festive edition of AOTM.
Apparently Moses Sumney falls into the sub-wanky-genre of ‘Art-Soul’. Have you heard this term before? I hadn’t and didn’t/don’t really understand it. I was expecting this to be a lot more ‘noodle’ given this art-soul description. While the tracks rarely fit verse / chorus / verse structure, i do feel its relatively conventional and accessible. I have had this in my life for a few months now and it has delivered more over time. I am sue that I think this is absolutely a soul album. But it is a very sparse, austere, often fragile but always perfectly beautiful version of ‘soul’. The album relies heavily on the blues, melancholy and introspection.
This feels like an album of it’s time without borrowing contemporary tropes and production flourishes from it’s recent ‘R&B’ cousins. Again this is perhaps closer to Michael Kiwanuka than it is Jordan Rakei? I think the brothers will like it at first, and those brothers that stick with it will love it.
Welcome back Karin. You’ve been missed.
I am very pleased to be able to choose the new Fever Ray album for December AOTM. Merry Xmas Brothers.
My introduction to Fever Ray (aka Karin Dreijer) came before I think I had ever heard anything by The Knife, the band that Karin created with her brother Olof. The Knife were a European Electronic phenomenon in the early ’90s perhaps never having the success or influence they enjoyed in Europe and Internationally. I worked backwards from my love of Fever Ray’s debut Fever Ray into The Knife back catalogue.
The album, Fever Ray was a (logical!?) musical progression from Silent Shout, The Knife album that preceded it chronologically. Silent Shout was a fairly dramatic, progression from The Knife’s earlier output focusing in on the more intense, dark and moody qualities of the previous albums. Fever Ray picked up this baton and Karin explored much more personal of pregnancy and motherhood as Fever Ray. She shared something we’d never heard or seen (please check out the videos from this album) from her work with her brother. The fact that the release of this album and Stacey and my love of it coincided with Stacey’s pregnancy and our early parenthood made this is a very special album.
If Fever Ray was a progression from Silent Shout then ‘Plunge’, in turns picks up many of the stylistic turns explored on ‘Shaking the Habitual’ the last Knife album. ‘Shaking the Habitual’ was mental. It was a pretty tough listen even for a fan. I do like it very much … but I don’t play it too much! I am sure that when you first listen to ‘Plunge’ you may feel similar emotions but I implore you to dive into it head-first. Create occasions where it’s oppressive, angular and downright scary nature is a plus … not sure what those occasions are really but immerse yourself and its brilliance will reveal itself.
Karin’s voice is urgent, pleading, desperate and reflects the less conventional electronic soundscape that creates each song. But when needed, she turns into a Scandi-Electro-Pop queen sounding cute and friendly. This dark and light is found all over the album. IDK About You is a great piece of urgent Punk Pop but at 150BPM comes across like an assault the first few listens. Again, once you get it, you really get it. ‘This Country’ see’s Karin open, explicit, politically charged and exposed. ‘To The Moon and Back’ harks back to The Knife’s perfect pop moments on the Deep Cuts album. It sounds like the gorgeous radio friendly ‘Heartbeats’ or ‘Pass This On’ until Karin coo’s ‘I want to run my fingers up your pussy’ … oh, she went there. How Karin.
So don’t relax and sit back to listen to this. It won’t work. But do get involved with it’s complexity and range.
Ah, blue-eyed soul. A double-edged term that come across as much as insult as praise. It implies a lack of depth, a lack of the heritage of the music, not just racially but in terms of authenticity. Maybe this isn’t quite blue-eyed soul, but it’s certainly made by an artist who’s steeped deeply both in the history of the music and current trends. It’s also not quite accurate to say he’s a white guy singing a historically black genre. To be specific, he’s a Kiwi of Pacific Islander heritage who now lives in London and signed to Ninja Tune. How fantastically 21st Century.
So where did this come from? That was what I thought when I first heard ‘Goodbyes’. It was one of those times I immediately Googled the artist, found he’d made a whole album, and then just sat opened-mouthed when I sat down and listened to it. The opening number, ‘Eye to Eye’ starts like a soul ballad, and then when it kicks in, you know you’re going somewhere really interesting. That edgy, nervous arrangement, almost jazz-sounding at at times, is such a great counterpoint to his sweet voice.
This is such a tough genre to excel in. I mean, I think I’d call this a soul record, but it’s a post-dance era soul record, I suppose in the same way that Sampha is. There’s also a touch of those downbeat artists like James Blake in there too. But where some of this genre can be a little hit-and-miss – for example, I LOVE the highlights of the Sampha album, but there’s some filler on there, I really love the whole of this. It’s so fully-formed, it’s so rich, it’s so delicious to listen to. It’s beautifully produced too – those strings remind me of Craig Armstrong’s work on Massive Attack’s finest albums. In fact, Massive Attack are a real cornerstone, influence wise. Time for a trip hop revival, anyone? 😉
There are two stages to your relationship to an album, I find. The first is: do I keep playing it when I first get into it? This has been a huge yes – I’ve had to start rationing myself because I’ve listened so many times. The second stage is: Will I come back to this, year after year – has it become a permanent part of my musical landscape. Well, of course, I won’t know that yet. But if you’re asking me to guess right now, I’m pretty certain it will be. I like it that much.
Highlights: opener Eye to Eye, the straight-up soul of Nerve, funky, melancholic single Goodbyes, Massive Attack-esque Hiding Place. But honestly, I love the whole thing!