Happy (just about) June Brothers. I am going to stick with the tradition of starting my AOTM post by apologising. I have been under-active on our little blog and I am very late to the June AOTM party. The reasons are the same as usual. Life is too hectic and I am poor at managing it. I have taken steps, I am currently working my notice period and changing jobs with the aim of a longer term better quality of life. Another change that I have made this year is that I have not let me love of music suffer at the hands of a hectic life. My escape into music this year has focused mostly on calm and ‘therapeutic’ additions to my new-music folders. ‘Not Even Happiness’ is no exception to this trend.
I would like to present what I consider to be, a thing of beauty. It’s probably filed under ‘Folk’ of some sort but Guy, please don’t let that put you off. For me this is irrelevant as this works on so many levels and for so many environments. I listen to this all the time. It’s been a universal constant in my life since it was released earlier in the year. Back in the cold of Feb and March it felt like a warm winter blanket. In April and May it felt like shoots springing-up through new ground. Now it feels like a cold beer on a sticky evening, chilling out on the decking. There few albums that can pull off this trick.
I won’t go track by track on this one as I could make a strong claim for each one to be my favourite or my ‘stand-out’ track from the album. The instrumentation is simple, sparse basic. Her voice is immaculate and the production of her voice matches this perfection. Her range is impressive but she never feels the need to make a show of it. There are no fancy, show-off vocal embellishments, there is no need. Her finger picking is beautiful. I think its interesting that she chooses to use an electric guitar rather than an acoustic guitar on some tracks. The guitar is paired with a small and varied number of other instruments through out the album, few tracks have more than 2 or 3 instruments and I think I am write to say that there is no percussion on the whole album?
The result is a hauntingly beautiful collection of songs that merge and sway into one another like clothes on a line. This album brings out the best in me. It makes me smile, and loving, and grateful, and thankful. It makes me kiss my wife and ruffle my kids hair. I am a happier person for this album being in my life. I hope that you enjoy it and I hope it makes a similar emotional dent in your life.
Happy listening. As always, if you can give it a run through on headphones you won’t be disappointed.
I’m having significant IT issues so can’t attach any thing at this moment … but I wanted to ask the following question;
‘Is Damn. the best Hip Hop album ever?’
In no particular order, the albums that I have most enjoyed this year …
Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
No matter what mood I am in I love listening to this. It’s bizzarely universal for me. If I want to jump about and sing like nobody is in the room then I put it on, if I want to chill out, I put it on. Morning, evening. I think you get the point.
Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
I loved his first, I loved the Darkside album and I love this. I don’t think this is as strong as Darkstar – Psychic but its a hell of a listen.
Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm – Trance Frendz
I listen to loads of music that I would never choose for the AOTM. Maybe that is disrespectful to the Brothers. Perhaps I should branch out? These two musicians / composers (whatever) get together to go on hikes and talk about making music. Occasionally they meet in one or the others home cities to make some music. One evening they recorded 6 tracks, live with no overdubs or post fannying about. They created a haunting alum of calm lilting piano music that is then blended into electronic claustrophobia. Those of you who know Paul Ledger will appreciate his comment after he sat in the dark and listened in full on his head phones ‘Its beautiful Joey but you’re still one dark fucker’.
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
I didn’t know what to make of this at first … I love it now. He’s pretty bloody consistent isn’t he!
Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine
I don’t care if its not the artists original words, language guests etc. I love love love it. Probably album of the year for me. Thank you David.
Anderson .Paak – Malibu
This has been with me nearly all the year I think. This and Frankie Cosmos. They’ve been consistently albums I’ve turned to.
Agnes Obel – Citizen of Glass
What a sad, sad day. And another sudden death from an icon that crossed boundaries, race, sex, genres, and the globe. It’s easy now to look at him and think how crazy he looked and sounded, but you have to remember this was in a time when no one looked that way or sounded that way.
He played every instrument on his albums, certainly early on. A shy, introverted man that concocted an extroverted stage persona that took him to places that maybe even he didn’t know he’d reach. And what places. The fact that a guy could take r’n’b and make it funky, take a guitar and fuse rock with them both, and all at a time when someone of his race and background just didn’t succeed off their own back. He rewrote the rules, and for a time, there was no one on the planet that was as cool, as successful, as autonomous, as funky, and as star-studded as he was. He made films (fully formed in his mind before the cameras rolled), he produced five albums of unreleased work for everything that saw the light of day, he wrote for others (Chaka Khan, The Bangles, Cyndi Lauper, Alicia Keys, Stevie Nicks, MC Hammer for starters) and his legacy is 30 years of people wanting to sound like him, want to be him, and no one ever came close. And now no one ever will.
These days everything seems a facsimile of something else, but he didn’t sound like anyone, and no one sounded like him. He turned rock starts onto r’n’b and r’n’b artists onto funk, to soul, to anything he laid his hands to. His music knew no boundaries. And his style and his overt sexuality scared the shit out of middle America, and it captivated everyone else. I remember seeing his album covers when I was a kid, and it was as if he’d landed from another planet. Sometimes it felt like he had. He made kids from all backgrounds realise that they could make something of themselves, and he gave his time and money to causes that mattered, with little fanfare and publicity, and he had no qualms making those statements when it had the most exposure (search for his speech at the Grammys when he chose to support Black Lives Matter).
His output may have waned in quality in recent times, but when you have Prince, Controversy, Sign ‘O’ The Times, 1999, Lovesexy, Graffitti Bridge, Purple Rain, and many more to fall back on, you have a little leeway. He played right to the end, touring relentlessly over his entire career, with 21 famous nights at the O2 (then straight to the Indigo2 to do another show afterwards), then so many secret gigs in the last few years, even having a party at his legendary Paisley Park home last weekend. He famously said that he would make a song every day for the rest of his life. One can only imagine the size of the unreleased vaults, and the quality, but then for a man that was so private and had such control over his legacy, perhaps his epitaph will be just that: no Tupac-style re-releases. It would have him smiling down one last time, but with a back catalogue like that who needs bootlegs and secret albums?
Perhaps, like Bowie, he was ill. Stories flickered around the internet lately, but of course, no one really knew. Perhaps that tsunami of live shows of late was his raging against the dying of the light. We may never know. Even his piano tour was sold out, with no one, of course, realising it was his last. You rarely get to go out on your own terms, but it would be very Prince to be able to dictate even that. He changed his name, his style, he gave his music away in a newspaper and it was never anything less than simply what he wanted to do.
I’m no diehard fan. But nor do I claim to be. My twin brother Dave got me into him in our teens. I remember him playing Sign ‘O’ The Times relentlessly when we were at school, and while I listened and took it in, he was a full-on worshipper. But then you can’t help, as a child of the 80s, to have just been part of Prince’s world. He was everywhere: on MTV, in the cinema, on the radio, this huge, larger than life force of nature, making these amazing videos, that were barely concealing (or not at all much of the time) their sexuality. As a teenager in the late 80s, it felt like we were in on the secret as he sung Cream, Gett Off, Kiss, and so many more. He seemed everywhere, talking directly to his fans in the most colourful ways.
Much later in life, as I started playing records here and there, Prince pretty much popped up at the most fun and memorable times: I’ve dropped him at many of my best friends’ weddings (Controversy is the clear winner here), I’ve danced to many classics at Bugged Out to bring in each new year, and playing on the radio for the last two years he pops up regularly. You can’t refuse dancing to his Funkness. You never could. His music was powerful and above all it made you feel good. That’s a legacy as bright as any.
Hearing he’s gone, following so soon after Bowie, feels all of a sudden like we’ve got a big gap for genius left in the world now. It’s cliched and trite to say there will never be anyone else like him. So much feels like recycling these days in popular culture, but no one could ever sound like Prince did. This is the man that once stepped onstage with James Brown and Michael Jackson, played guitar then took his jacket off and danced, and everyone else just looked like second best. With everything so accessible now, the mystique that stayed with him all his life feels quaint and unusual, like a throwback to a more innocent time, but he was anything but innocent.
He’s probably busy covering Changes with Bowie right now, with God still sitting with his mouth open reading the back of the Lovesexy gatefold. It would be just what he’d wanted and just what we’d expect. It’s pretty hard to find someone that doesn’t like a single Prince record, because he crossed every boundary there was to cross. And that’s probably the most fitting epitaph of all.
Rest In Peace, Purple one.
New Shit Robot album incoming after 3 years, and it’s been worth the wait. I’m a big big fan, and after We Got A Love, which was bouncy, but a bit overproduced and ‘big’, this is a sharp turn 90 degrees. It’s apparently produced entirely on hardware and not massively reworked, but lots of live takes. It’s a much more ‘studio’ album, but sounds like proper dance music, and yet it’s still packed full of emotion.
This is the opening single, with frequent collaborator Alexis Taylor and it’s all pads and wistful lyrics. I love it. And the video isn’t bad either.
From that hitherto undiscovered hinterland of the sugary pop/rap crossover, Portsmouth. I can’t tell if it’s a guilty pleasure or just a straight up enjoyable one, but I LOVE this.