Posted in Album of the Month, Music chat, New Albums, New Tunes, podcast, Spin it or Bin It, Tracks of the Month, Uncategorized

Podcast Episode | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen

Ep 27 | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

Guess who's back. Back again. TINH's back. Tell a friend. This month, in Part 1 we go deep on this month's Album of the Month by Sudan Archives. In Part 2 we play 'Spin It or Bin It', where we choose a theme and each bring our choice of tracks. This month the theme is 'Our own personal entrance music'.Part 1 | Album of the Month | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom QueenIt's my (Joey's) choice this month and we've gone with a belter of a sophomore album by Sudan Archives that easily claims the best titled album of the year 'Natural Brown Prom Queen'  If you've not heard it and this inspires you … Go listen to the album – HereGo watch some videos – HereGo buy some merch – here (personally I've got my eye on the 'I just wanna get my titties out' t-shirt – here)As always we kick off with what we expected from the album and what we got. Then we explore favorite tracks, sequencing of the album, why 'OMG Britt' nearly ruined the whole thing for Guy', the creative process of making the album and the influences that we hear.We mention a few things that we'd highly recommend checking out, so here are the links;A great interview with Fader  – 'The World's most confident introvert'Fader interview in Podcast form – hereThe AWESOME Song Exploder episode on 'Selfish Soul' – hereAnd this incredible live performance – WOWZERSPart 2 | Spin It or Bin It | 'Our own personal entrance music'The theme for Spin It or Bin It is a bit different this month. We're choosing our 'Entrance Music' and describing the event or circumstances that we're entering. If that doesn't make too much sense, just listen to the episode!  This month, the 4 tracks were …David chose – Adriano Celentano | L'Unica Chance (plus David's blog post)Joey chose – Joey Valance and Brae (Feat. Logic) | Tanaka 2 (plus Joey's blog post)Guy chose – The Beastie Boys | Sabotage (plus Guy's blog post)Nolan chose – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis | Can't Hold Us (plus Nolan's blog post)Next MonthThe big one! The end of year review. Hold on tight. We count down our 10 favourite albums of the year, featuring lots of moaning about David's album scoring algorithm. We also present our tracks of the year. Can you sum up the year musically in one track? It's a lot tougher than you'd think.Other episodes of the pod and 10 years of the blo
  1. Ep 27 | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen
  2. Ep 26 – Hot Chip – Freakout / Release
  3. Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights
  4. Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
  5. Ep. 23 – Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life on Earth

Guess who’s back. Back again. TINH’s back. Tell a friend.

This month, in Part 1 we go deep on this month’s Album of the Month by Sudan Archives. In Part 2 we play ‘Spin It or Bin It’, where we choose a theme and each bring our choice of tracks. This month the theme is ‘Our own personal entrance music’.

Part 1 | Album of the Month | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen

It’s my (Joey’s) choice this month and we’ve gone with a belter of a sophomore album by Sudan Archives that easily claims the best titled album of the year ‘Natural Brown Prom Queen’  

If you’ve not heard it and this inspires you … 

  • Go listen to the album – Here
  • Go watch some videos – Here
  • Go buy some merch – here

(personally I’ve got my eye on the ‘I just wanna get my titties out’ t-shirt –here)

As always we kick off with what we expected from the album and what we got. Then we explore favorite tracks, sequencing of the album, why ‘OMG Britt’ nearly ruined the whole thing for Guy’, the creative process of making the album and the influences that we hear.

We mention a few things that we’d highly recommend checking out, so here are the links;

Part 2 | Spin It or Bin It | ‘Our own personal entrance music’

The theme for Spin It or Bin It is a bit different this month. We’re choosing our ‘Entrance Music’ and describing the event or circumstances that we’re entering. If that doesn’t make too much sense, just listen to the episode!  This month, the 4 tracks were …

  1. David chose – Adriano Celentano | L’Unica Chance (plus David’s blog post)
  2. Joey chose – Joey Valance and Brae (Feat. Logic) | Tanaka 2 (plus Joey’s blog post)
  3. Guy chose – The Beastie Boys | Sabotage  (plus Guy’s blog post)
  4. Nolan chose – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis | Can’t Hold Us (plus Nolan’s blog post)

Next Month

The big one! The end of year review. Hold on tight. 
We count down our 10 favourite albums of the year, featuring lots of moaning about David’s album scoring algorithm. We also present our tracks of the year. Can you sum up the year musically in one track? It’s a lot tougher than you’d think.

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. 

Posted in Music chat, New Tunes, podcast, Spin it or Bin It, Tracks of the Month

Song for an Entrance | Joey

This months’ theme is ‘entrance music’. We all pick our event or occasion (for us to enter) and a track that suits both us and the occasion (and hopefully something that the other brothers want to ‘spin’, rather than ‘bin’).

I’ve considered a number of different occasions but have picked a very specific event for which I’ll probably need to paint you a picture.

The setting for my story is a powerlifting gym in any unfashionable northern town, pick any, it doesn’t really matter. It’s about 20 mins off the M62 or perhaps off the M61 (again, it doesn’t really matter). It’s on the 2nd floor of the old mill building above a carpet warehouse, the paint’s peeling off the walls and it smells like, well, it smells like a powerlifting gym. There’s just enough room for a handful of family, friends and training partners. They’re either standing against the walls between squat racks or perched on benches.

You’re at your first powerlifting competition, except that word doesn’t really matter, nobody’s competing against each other, just themselves. 18 stone veterans, 7 stone first time teenage lifters and everything in between. Everybody cheers for everybody. Nobody wants to see anyone fail any lift.

Each lifter is allowed 60 seconds to make their lift. Lifters can choose their own music. Anything (but it’s mostly Metallica). So you get a maximum 60 seconds of your chosen track … but in reality you probably don’t want to take that long.

It’s not really ‘entrance’ music as you’re probably just walking from the corner of the room to the lifting platform. It’s not much of an entrance. But your track is your own personal hype-man, slapping you on the back and screaming in your ear. It plays for the time it takes to cinch your belt, chalk up and hit the smelling salts, approach the bar and go through your well practiced max deadlift ritual.

The track has to make you feel something visceral and it has to do it quickly. It has to connect in a way that taps into something real. Something physical. It’s not necessarily about all-out aggression (though it often is), it could be a head nodder, a party anthem or … it could be Tanaka 2 by Joey Valence and Brae featuring Logic;

When I first heard this track, I did what any self respecting friend should do and sent it straight to Nolan. His immediate response was ‘This is a proper Joey track, how much could you lift to this?’ My entrance music and my setting was chosen in one what’s app response.

I’ve hit all of my lifetime best lifts to one of two tracks – Ante Up by MOP feat. Busta Rhymes or Hip Hop by Dead Prez. But what’s the point in picking the obvious tracks that we all know?

I’ve gone for Tanaka 2 as it ticks all the big-lift-boxes. It’s an immediate shot of adrenaline straight into the central nervous system. Massive early 90s vibes with obvious nods to Beastie Boys but also slabs of Public Enemy Bomb Squad production tropes all wrapped up in a contemporary (El-P influenced ?) beat. It’s got a great guest-verse by Logic but the main vocal punch is delivered by Joey Valence in verse 1 and given the 60 second lift limit we won’t need anymore than that.

And also, it’s a brand new music release which is how we like to roll on the pod where possible.

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

SEPTEMBER: Gemini Rights – Steve Lacy

There are certain genres of music that I just can’t get enough of – Girl Groups of the 60s, 70s folk rock, Noughties Scandi electro pop, Native Tongues hip hop, basically anything French. Bring me more of any of these, and I’ll lap it up. And right up there with my absolute fave genres is what I’d call wonky R&B. It’s definitely R&B but it’s got a little kink in there – I’m talking everything from Miguel to Greentea Peng to Lucy Pearl to Solange to – yes, of course – Frank Ocean.

Some of those artists you could almost call soul music, and of course the line between soul and R&B has always been a difficult one to draw. But what you can hear is where that wonky R&B draws its inspiration. We’re talking 70s Curtis Mayfield at his most rootsy-ish, bit of Sly & The Family Stone, but perhaps the cornerstone of these influences is early 70s Stevie Wonder – and in particular, that incredible trilogy of albums that ran Talking Book – Innervisions – Fulfilingness First Finale.

What made those albums so groundbreaking wasn’t just the Moog synths, or Stevie’s ability to push the sound of soul music forward. It was also that they were deeply musical and driven as much by melody as they were by grooves. They expanded the language of soul/R&B and freed it up in such a profound way that they essentially became the template for so many artists who followed. Just like the shadow The Beatles have cast over rock since they recorded, I think Stevie did the same for R&B. Prince, surely the greatest innovator that followed Stevie, was clearly hugely inspired by that template – and he was just as comfortable singing an out and out pop song (Raspberry Beret) or a slow soul jam (If I Was Your Girlfriend) as he was writing a groove (Get Off).

I am SUCH a sucker for music influenced by these artists – that mixture of soul and groove and melody but also a bit of experimentation and oddness, just like Prince and Stevie had, is absolute catnip to me. To say that this album falls right into the centre of that universe is possibly even an understatement. If someone could have created an album for me, it would be this one. So I’m aware that my response is a personal one – well of course it is, all our responses are – but I don’t necessarily expect everyone to feel the same as I do!

So. Steve Lacy. Not a rock star name, certainly not an R&B name! I really liked The Internet, particularly their album Hive Mind. Sprouting out of the pretty out there Odd Future collective, they did a nice line in a forward thinking R&B jams, that, coupled with their sexually liberated/queer vibe, made them feel fresh and interesting. Steve joined the band half way through their life (they’re still going, but haven’t put out a record since 2018), and immediately added a missing layer to their sound. He then made a solo album, Apollo XXI in 2019 that I admired more than I liked. I found it frustrating – he was exactly the kind of artist I liked, and I willed myself to enjoy it, but there was something missing. You ever done that? You know the artist is capable of making something you’ll love, but somehow they haven’t delivered.

In all honesty, I wasn’t loving the look of many of the new releases when it came to this month, and then I noticed Steve Lacy had a new album out. And then I heard Bad Habit. And I was like – OK, THIS is the music I was hoping you’d make, Steve.

But nothing prepared me for how much I was going to LOOOOOOVE this record. What is that I find so beguiling about it?

  • Massive genre hopping? TICK
  • Sunny melodies mixed with angsty lyrics? TICK
  • Sexually ambiguous AF? TICK
  • Several genuine bangers? TICK

Opener STATIC is a perfect intro to the album – lyrically odd and personal, a weird mix of yearning, resentful and self-loathing (pretty much the album’s themes in a nutshell), before it ends with this beautiful cascading melody and incredible (5? 6?) part harmonies.

And then – oh boy – then the album gets going proper, and for me, Track 2 – 6 are the best sequence of songs I have heard on an album this year and better than most in any year. HELMET is Stevie meets Prince funky, with a giant slice of emotional angst thrown in. MERCURY, maybe my favourite song on the album, is a delicate Bossa Nova number with incredible harmonies, and a beautiful melody. I’ve probably listened to it 50 times already! BUTTONS is a Prince style slow jam with falsetto and lyrics of yearning and regret. BAD HABIT is a fucking slow banger with a refrain that will stick in your head for weeks.

(A sidebar: This got me thinking about great sequences of tracks and here’s 3 that immediately sprang to mind:

  • Tracks 2 – 6 (Slip Away – Wreath on Perfume Genius’s No Shape
  • Tracks 3 – 6 (Revival to Desire Lines) on Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest
  • The Opening 3 tracks of Mos Def’s The Ecstatic
  • 2 – 5 (Lost Ones to Doo Wop) on Lauren Hill’s the Miseducation...

A good discussion for a show sometime?)

Brother Joey has already suggested that he thinks the album falls off after this (though he also admits he hasn’t quite had time to connect with it yet). I’m not on board with this. BROTHER CODY is a strange, ethereal tune but I love it as a giant leftfield turn, full of gay desire and 80s synths. But my god, I love AMBER so much – I initially dismissed it as a bit of a filler, but it’s now completely won me over, not least that incredible moment where it moves from solo ballad to an entire choir of voices coming in. It reminds me of Frank Ocean at the absolute top of his game. It literally gives me goosebumps every time I listen. Give it some time and I hope it’ll do the same for you.

Then we’ve got another giant album highlight, SUNSHINE, a gorgeous sunny slab of delight, love Foushee’s voice on this, and the whole dreamy vibe.

Finally, we end GIVE YOU MY WORLD, in which Steve plays out his Prince obsession in a pure slow jam vibe. How much you dig this will depend on how much you like Prince style slow jams, but for me, what better way to close the album?

And then it’s over. 35 mins. That’s another big plus. What a statement and what a tight, lean way to express it. 35 mins, and then I go back to the beginning and press play again.

For the avoidance of doubt, this is currently my album of the year, and I’d be astonished if anything tops it. I doubt you’ll feel quite the same as me, but I hope this little gem of an album has got under your skin….

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 Music chat, New Tunes

Hello, 2022.

We’re through the hinterland of Dec/Jan release twilight and there’s some amazing new records out, many of which are from previous AOTM favourites. So here’s a little rundown from @whyohwhyohwhy of some picks.

Arlo Parks – Softly

A bit of a change-up, musically. Pace, a bit of a breaks/d’n’b feel and a big piano. Lovely.

Yard Act – Fixer Upper

It’s hardly novel to big these guys up, but this is a great track and brilliant lyrics.

Snail Mail – Valentine

I stumbled across this in my search for a Feb AOTM (before we Album clubbed it) and it’s really great guitar music, in the way that a lot isn’t around any more. The album is worth really checking out.

Mano Le Tough – Either Way

It’s like the album never really stopped….

The Weather Station – Endless Time

They did a new song. No one knew they were doing it. We all win.

Posted in Music chat, New Tunes

The Return of Mitski

Mitski – The Only Heartbreaker

We loved loved loved Mitski’s Be The Cowboy in 2018, and she’s back with a new album – Laurel Hell – in February 2022. Before this lands there’s a fantastic new EP, which takes in 3 sumptuous tracks including this upbeat, synth and guitar-pop of The Only Heartbreaker. Roll on next year!

Posted in Album of the Month, New Albums, New Tunes, podcast

Album of the Month November – Mano Le Tough: At the Moment

Mano Le Tough, Irish-born Niall Mannion’s career within Dance music has been one that all young music fans dream of. Initially stepping into the realm of dance music after toying with indie music in his teens he was quickly discovered (within minutes) of posting his first tracks on myspace by indie disco stalwart Tensnake in 2007. Soon after he moved to Berlin and quickly built a musical and DJ led following that most would dream of. Combing through his back catalogue, though at times limited, quality his always prevailed and so has his reputation.  This from Pampa Records sums up their artist to a tee: living alongside sought after personal singles, two full length albums, and remixes for, among others, The Pet Shop Boys, Roisin Murphy, Caribou and Erol Alkan, Mano became one of Europe’s most in-demand DJs, with headline performances across the continent’s dancefloors and the world’s biggest music festivals. Since early 2020, however, he’s been at home, attempting to channel inspiration from eighteen months without live music, amid the anxiety of a global pandemic’.

Any self proclaimed forward thinking dance music wanker like myself will point out that Mano Le Tough is one of the most consistent producers when creating adventurous dance records. In short the hipster dance geeks think he’s pretty special. His 2014 Boiler Room set is one of my most listened to DJ mixes. He has a slew of others that I regularly revisit. He’s a DJ that anyone serious about dance music should see at least once in their life, though this should not be a precursor to this album as this album takes you on  journey that at times would create dance floor moments but is more moulded to more laid back situations with a rear view on the dancefloor.

Last year we discussed on the podcast about music that was being made in lockdown and what the music would sound like. Like last months’ album, we’re starting to see the fruits ripened from 18 months of isolation. Largely hashed out in early 2020 from demos and new ideas you get the feel that this is an album of calmness away from the constant travel and DJing in the worlds best clubs every weekend. Mannion has mentioned in a couple interviews that not having his foot in a club every weekend let him to push himself beyond the traditional 4/4 structure that the majority of his previous releases always came back to. One interesting point is that Mannion is often overlooked for both his vocals and indie tinged tracks within dance music, which both shine throughout this album. 

We talk a lot about album order and the sequencing of tracks. After the masterclass of Billie Eillish, this too isn’t far away from perfection, though this is more like a perfectly arranged mixtape and less an overall piece of work. The length is hefty, 50 minutes and 12 minutes long. Although I can hear brother Joseph knocking his head on his kitchen table in Chorley at the length, I firmly believe that this won’t be an issue for him as the flow of this album is seamless. For Joey, the deep guitar lead dance feels will undoubtedly sit perfectly in his wheel house.

‘Aye Aye Mi Mi’ may be one of my tracks of the year and I suspect it’s got something in it for us all. I imagine dropping this in a back room somewhere with all four of us in attendance. I can imagine David doing a funny dance to it, Joey giving me his ‘what is this’ bass face, and Guy popping up his head whilst chewing the ear off of someone to swiftly lift his fist in approval. It’s an all-rounder that sits well in most places at most times.

From the psychedelic trip hop of ‘Moment to Change’ to the optimistic dreaminess of ‘Fado Fado’ and ‘Short Cuts’ and deep tinged dance bangers like ‘Pompeii’ and ‘So Many So Silent’ there’s more than enough to peak any music fans interest and keep them interested throughout the 50 minutes. Trying to pinpoint what this album is will be something that I think all of us will struggle to pigeonhole within a genre.

Although there have been similar albums within the realm of this album released recently, most notably new efforts by the Joy Orbison and Darkside, this album has connected with me the most. Perhaps the well woven slowdown sounds have moulded perfectly with the autumnal / early winter feels that I’m adapting to. That combined with the feeling that the likes of Caribou, LCD Soundsystem and Four Tet are all cut from the same cloth makes this album irresistible.

When explaining this album, it’s hard to pinpoint. Is it dance, is it indie, is it ambient, is there a point in categorising it? Whilst writing this I’m trying to get my head around why I love this album so much? ‘No Road Without a Turn’ perhaps sums it up best for me. It’s unexpected, full of emotion, it constantly evolves throughout. Both the song and the album, is something that everyone should have in their lives.

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

OCTOBER: Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish

This album is currently or has been number one in over 20 countries. Eilish is genuine, bona fide A list pop star – she sits alongside the Taylor Swifts and Lady Gagas at the top table. Her clothes, her love life, her age, her gender, her fanbase, her lyrics and her career in general have all been dissected over and over again by the press and also by her fans. This is an album about what that feels like. Perhaps that’s not so strange – plenty of of pop stars have sung about life in the fast lane. But what is strange is what Happier Than Ever represents. Eilish is a pop star who makes pop music. You all know I’ll defend the P word to my death. But what extraordinarily INTERESTING place pop music has gone in the last decade or so. Sure, it’s been heading that way for quite a while – but it’s certainly a long way from the Pussycat Dolls and Girls Aloud to this album. It’s the total antidote to those artists. It’s not manufactured, there is no ‘persona’ that Eilish appears to hide behind, and the entire album is not written by a team of crack songwriters, with a list of producers as long as the tracklist. The whole thing, from songwriting to production, was made by Eilish and her producer brother, Finneas. Not a single other musician plays on the entire album.

So if it’s not pop in the old-fashioned sense, then what is it? Well – Happier Than Ever is intimate, downbeat, incredibly personal, political, angry, frustrated, passionate, world-weary, poetic, sexy, goofy and funny. And that’s just off the top of my head. It’s also as tightly constructed as a piece of Swiss watch-making, and it has the best sequencing of any album I’ve heard this year. I’ve tried to find flaws, but dammit, I’m having to look very hard. In short, it is FUCKING AMAZING.

What’s really interesting is what a rich, satisfying listen this is despite the aural palette of the album not really being that wide. Songs tend to come in two flavours – the first is somewhere between synth ballad and pastoral folk (Getting Older, Billie Bossa Nova, Everybody Dies) and sultry, stripped-back grooves with a hint of darkness and even foreboding (I Didn’t Change My Number, Lost Cause, Oxycontin). It’s hardly an upbeat album, but it certainly feels like a more mature and emotionally diverse offering than her first record, brilliant though her debut was by anyone’s standards. So why does this palette work so well on this record? Because it’s a journey. Because each song is a perfect, self-contained composition that’s been crafted beautifully – but then sequenced on a record that takes us through a giant walk through Eilish’s life right now.

We kick off with Getting Older, a rumination on what she’s about to explore through the album – how she can see herself growing, where she’s finding self doubt, trying to process the things that have already happened to her – and then suddenly ending with the bullet of the last extraordinary couplet –

I’ve had some trauma, did things I didn’t wanna
Was too afraid to tell ya, but now, I think it’s time

And then she does. A toxic (former?) relationship in I Didn’t Change My Number – which she returns to in the title track Happier Than Ever; a secret new relationship on Billie Bossa Nova that’s then referenced again in the incredible NDA, then a beautiful act of self-love and hope in My Future (one of the highlights on the album for me). On we go through lust (Oxycontin), before we really get into the meet of the record – Eilish confronting the abuse that is endemic in the industry. She touches on this repeatedly in Goldwing and the angry, brilliant Your Power. I’m trying to imagine a pop album 10 or 20 years ago that could have a track like Everybody Dies, a song that genuinely explores the fear of death. Sound of the Underground it ain’t.

And then there’s the album’s mid point, a moment turns the question right at the listener on Not My Responsibility do you know me? Really know me? Of course we don’t, despite her sharing herself right in front of us. She lays it out. This is what it feels like to be judged constantly. Would you like me to be quiet? There are plenty of artists exploring the notions of what its like to a woman in this universe, but honestly, I don’t think anyone is working at this level. That’s another thing we should discuss – the lyrics. They’re consistently brilliant, sharp, funny – they elevate the already gorgeously constructed melodies into a miniature portrait of entire story, time and time again.

So how come this downbeat, at times almost folky album doesn’t come over like Taylor Swift’s Folklore? I think the simple answer is that Eilish isn’t using the genre as a crutch to create something slightly artificial. Swift – who I actually really like – always feels like she’s calculated her every more down to the last carefully arranged artfully hung woollen cardigan. Eilish feels like this is the music that’s in her head and has come out of her mouth. The lack of gap between her work and the listener is surely one of the reasons this works so well.

Finally, a word on the production. It’s genius. Those hypnotic synths, that slightly narcotic quality to the washed-out electronic sounds. And then Billie’s voice itself – so close to your ears, it’s like she’s whispering into them. I wonder if she’s used that same crazy Binaural head mic that Perfume Genius used on No Shape. It reminds me hugely of that intimacy mixed with very emotional electronica. God it’s good.

Something to share as we think about our response to this record….For some reason, YouTube’s not allowing me to embed any of the songs from album – but it is allowing to embed this extraordinary conversation below – ‘When Billie Met Stormzy’. Apart from it being a total joy to watch two such engaging stars who clearly have such a love for each other’s work (in particularly, Stormzy fanboying over Eilish is just gorgeous), it’s fascinating to see two artists recognise the other’s care and craft in their work. They’re not where they are by accident. They’re both so talented, they’re almost freakishly so by normal human standards. So it’s easy to think that Eilish might not be the real thing because she’s so young or that she’s secretly propped up a production team. The opposite is of course true, as this interview reminds us – she got signed when she was 14 because she is just INSANELY talented.

Happier Than Ever is, by surely anyone’s definition, one of the albums of the year. Indeed, it might well be my album of the year. I mean, what else could really be this well-realised, this articulate, this full of incredible song, giant hooks, intimate whispers?

Man, I’m overheated, can’t be defeated
Can’t be deleted, can’t un-believe it.

We’d better believe it. Bille Eilish is here to stay for a long time. This is only the next step on her journey, but what a fucking step it is.

Posted in New Tunes

A Boy Anonymous by Paris Texas

I’m a little bit obsessed with this 21 minute, 8-track mini-album by Compton duo Paris Texas.

They’re released 3 tracks from this mini-album in the build up to it’s release and I’ve loved each one a little more. Last time we chose ‘New Music’ for our track selection on the pod I nearly and should have chosen ‘Heavy Metal’. This time round ‘Force of Habit’ is in my 4 track shortlist …

The 8 tracks borrow from Hip Hop, Funk-Pop, Scrungey Garage Rock, and Electronica. It has lyrically strong tracks, jam-like groove tracks and just about everything else along the way.

As we spoke about on the pod last month, we struggle with new-Hip Hop … but there is some really interesting things being done and Paris Texas are doing pretty much all of them. I’m also loving the new Tyler The Creator album and this definitely owes something to the Odd Future vibe and is a good accompaniment if you like your Hip Hop experimental.