Podcast Episode 14: Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee

Ep 15 – Lonelady – Former Things This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

Episode 15 of This Is Not Happening heads to the north west of England with Manchester artist Lonelady's third album, Former Things. After the heart-on-sleeve shogazey pop of Japanese Breakfast's Jubilee, Julie Campbell's solo guitar/drums/synth template brings 8 tracks of post-punk, electronic fusion, with Guy at the helm! In the second half of the episode, we stay in Manchester, each bringing a track from the city's fabled music history to the table. Our shortlist is here, and Guy's longlist lives here. Stick around and see what we thought of the picks:Guy  – Zoe Abalone – Vortex David – Paris Angels – Perfume Joey – Pip Milett – Hard LifeNolan  – Mr Scruff v Cyberpunks – A Space Disco Remix September's album of the month and all our new tracks, playlists, and chat from the past decade or more can be found on our blog at http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. Head down there and hopefully you'll like what we're talking about and if you do, we'd love to hear from you on the socials (links below).Episode #16 comes in the shape of Billie Eilish's new album Happier Than Ever as David bring his pop-beingness back to the fore. That next episode will be landing before the end of October.This Is Not Happening:Created by Joey, Nolan, Guy and David.Produced and Edited by Guy and Nolan.Twitter: @thisisnothapngInstagram: @thisisnothappeningpodEmail: thisisnothappeningpodcast@gmail.comReviews: http://www.ratethispodcast.com/thisisnothappening
  1. Ep 15 – Lonelady – Former Things
  2. Ep 14 – Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
  3. Ep 13 – Skyzoo – All The Brilliant Things
  4. This Is Not Happening – Season 2 Trailer
  5. Ep 12 – St Vincent – Daddy's Home

Episode 14 of This Is Not Happening heads from hip-hop to pop with Japanese Breakfast‘s Jubilee. The creation of Korean-American Michelle Zauner, this is her 3rd album and sees her move from a more shoegazey, loose style into the full pop universe. Joey comes at us with it, but do we feel the same way he does? Find out! As usual, there’s playlists that run alongside the episode here.

In the second half of the episode, we head back to new music, with a favourite from us that’s been released in the past three months. Our longlist is here, see what we thought of the picks:

Joey – CMAT – 2 Wrecked 2 Care
David – Wet Leg – Chaise Longue
Guy  – Public Service Broadcasting – People, Let’s Dance
Nolan  – GHEIST – You

August’s album of the month and all our new tracks, playlists, and chat from the past decade or more can be found on our blog at www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. Head down there and hopefully you’ll like what we’re talking about and if you do, we’d love to hear from you on the socials (links below).

Episode #15 hangs onto the summer with LoneLady’s Former Things. Guy’s bringing this slice of modern Mancunian synth and guitars to the gang. That next episode will be landing before the end of September.

This Is Not Happening:
Created by JoeyNolanGuy and David.
Produced and Edited by Guy and Nolan.
Twitter: @thisisnothapng
Instagram: @thisisnothappeningpod
Email: thisisnothappeningpodcast@gmail.com
Reviews: www.ratethispodcast.com/thisisnothappening

Jubilee

Podcast Episode 13 – Skyzoo – All The Brilliant Things

Ep 15 – Lonelady – Former Things This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

Episode 15 of This Is Not Happening heads to the north west of England with Manchester artist Lonelady's third album, Former Things. After the heart-on-sleeve shogazey pop of Japanese Breakfast's Jubilee, Julie Campbell's solo guitar/drums/synth template brings 8 tracks of post-punk, electronic fusion, with Guy at the helm! In the second half of the episode, we stay in Manchester, each bringing a track from the city's fabled music history to the table. Our shortlist is here, and Guy's longlist lives here. Stick around and see what we thought of the picks:Guy  – Zoe Abalone – Vortex David – Paris Angels – Perfume Joey – Pip Milett – Hard LifeNolan  – Mr Scruff v Cyberpunks – A Space Disco Remix September's album of the month and all our new tracks, playlists, and chat from the past decade or more can be found on our blog at http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. Head down there and hopefully you'll like what we're talking about and if you do, we'd love to hear from you on the socials (links below).Episode #16 comes in the shape of Billie Eilish's new album Happier Than Ever as David bring his pop-beingness back to the fore. That next episode will be landing before the end of October.This Is Not Happening:Created by Joey, Nolan, Guy and David.Produced and Edited by Guy and Nolan.Twitter: @thisisnothapngInstagram: @thisisnothappeningpodEmail: thisisnothappeningpodcast@gmail.comReviews: http://www.ratethispodcast.com/thisisnothappening
  1. Ep 15 – Lonelady – Former Things
  2. Ep 14 – Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
  3. Ep 13 – Skyzoo – All The Brilliant Things
  4. This Is Not Happening – Season 2 Trailer
  5. Ep 12 – St Vincent – Daddy's Home

Episode 13 of This Is Not Happening stays in NYC with Skyzoo‘s new album All The Brilliant Things following up the 70s palette of  St VincentDaddy’s Home.  The much-respected Brooklyn  MC‘s 7th album finds him  writing a paen to his changing city, gentrification and history. It’s a beguiling work that Nolan brought to us get deep on as we move into season 2 of the podcast.

In the second half of the episode, we talk tracks of the summer, with a favourite from us that reminds of us the warm months. Our longlist is here, see what we thought of the picks:

David – The Millennium – To Claudia On Thursday
Joey – Clive Field Marshall – Island In The Sun
Guy  – Metronomy – The Bay
Nolan  – Black Sheep – Summa Tha Time

July’s album of the month and all our new tracks, playlists, and chat from the past decade or more can be found on our blog at www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. Head down there and hopefully you’ll like what we’re talking about and if you do, we’d love to hear from you on the socials (links below).

Episode #14 takes us into the summer and is Joey’s chance to bring us a classic slice of modern pop with Japanese Breakfast‘s Jubilee. The next episode will be landing before the end of August.

This Is Not Happening:
Created by JoeyNolanGuy and David.
Produced and Edited by Guy and Nolan.
Twitter: @thisisnothapng
Instagram: @thisisnothappeningpod
Email: thisisnothappeningpodcast@gmail.com
Reviews: www.ratethispodcast.com/thisisnothappening

This Is Not Happening – Season 2 is here!

Ep 15 – Lonelady – Former Things This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

Episode 15 of This Is Not Happening heads to the north west of England with Manchester artist Lonelady's third album, Former Things. After the heart-on-sleeve shogazey pop of Japanese Breakfast's Jubilee, Julie Campbell's solo guitar/drums/synth template brings 8 tracks of post-punk, electronic fusion, with Guy at the helm! In the second half of the episode, we stay in Manchester, each bringing a track from the city's fabled music history to the table. Our shortlist is here, and Guy's longlist lives here. Stick around and see what we thought of the picks:Guy  – Zoe Abalone – Vortex David – Paris Angels – Perfume Joey – Pip Milett – Hard LifeNolan  – Mr Scruff v Cyberpunks – A Space Disco Remix September's album of the month and all our new tracks, playlists, and chat from the past decade or more can be found on our blog at http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. Head down there and hopefully you'll like what we're talking about and if you do, we'd love to hear from you on the socials (links below).Episode #16 comes in the shape of Billie Eilish's new album Happier Than Ever as David bring his pop-beingness back to the fore. That next episode will be landing before the end of October.This Is Not Happening:Created by Joey, Nolan, Guy and David.Produced and Edited by Guy and Nolan.Twitter: @thisisnothapngInstagram: @thisisnothappeningpodEmail: thisisnothappeningpodcast@gmail.comReviews: http://www.ratethispodcast.com/thisisnothappening
  1. Ep 15 – Lonelady – Former Things
  2. Ep 14 – Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
  3. Ep 13 – Skyzoo – All The Brilliant Things
  4. This Is Not Happening – Season 2 Trailer
  5. Ep 12 – St Vincent – Daddy's Home

How has a year gone by!? But here we are, on Season 2 of This Is Not Happening, an Album of the Month podcast from four of us: GuyJoeyNolan and David. We choose an album: we digest it, we praise it, we question it. And we bring tracks to the table. Every month. And you get to listen. Think of this as a highlights package. 

A year into it, we’ve been lucky enough to cover some amazing albums, right from the start. From RTJ to Arlo ParksGenesis Owusu to Sault, and the Weather Station to Jessie Ware. Rounding it off are Yves TumorPaul McCartneyBicepSt Vincent and Sufjan Stevens. We’ve also covered a review of 2020 in ep6. 

We’ve loved every minute so thanks to everyone that’s listened so far. We hope the next year will be just as enjoyable. We’ve got Skyzoo lined up next before the end of July and after that, Japanese Breakfast. After that? Who knows? That’s the fun. 

For all the albums of the month and all our new tracks, playlists, and chat from the past decade or more head to our blog at www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. Swing by and you’ll hopefully enjoy what we’re talking about and if you like it, we’d love to hear from you on the socials (links below).

This Is Not Happening:
Created by JoeyNolanGuy and David.
Produced and Edited by Guy and Nolan.
Twitter: @thisisnothapng
Instagram: @thisisnothappeningpod
Email: thisisnothappeningpodcast@gmail.com
Reviews: www.ratethispodcast.com/thisisnothappening

JUNE AOTM: Daddy’s Home – St Vincent

St Vincent aka Annie Clark, has been a major part of my musical landscape for the last decade. I latched on to her first album, Marry Me, in 2007, and immediately loved its slightly wonky sensibilities wrapped up in brilliant songs, and it’s been a mostly highly rewarding experience seeing her career and her ambitions grow with every album. She’s now pretty close to being a bonafide star – certainly an indie star anyway – and I saw that first hand as she effortlessly and brilliantly headlined the End of the Road festival a couple of years back. My wife, Caroline, absolutely adores her too – maybe even more than me – so she’s an artist who has been played to death in our house over the years.

But I’ve long ago come to realise that she’s a Marmite artist. Many friends to whom I’ve recommended her have come back with a blank look on their faces – they don’t ‘get’ her at all. I do kind of understand it – her sound can be very angular and jagged, and she wields her incredible guitar playing (more on that later) like a weapon. She’s wilfully, unapologetically arty, and it can often feel like she’s hiding herself behind a series of different personas. She can make obtuse decisions – like starting an album as brilliant as Strange Mercy with a track as hard to listen to as Chloe in the Afternoon. She seems to delight in setting fire to her previous incarnation, and I can see that might feel frustrating to an artist you’re trying to invest. Me, I fucking love her. I love trying to find the real Annie hiding, sometimes in plain sight, in her songs. I love the way she paints a picture with a song. Just try and listen to Year of the Tiger (also on Strange Mercy). It’s like a little movie.

Funnily enough, me and Annie’s first real musical differences came on her biggest album to date, the behemoth that was Masseduction. Recorded with hot shot producer Jack Antonoff, he of Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift album fame, it was a radical departure to the angular, electronic indie rock of her previous work. It was unapologetically pop with a capital P, with more nods to Kylie and Robyn than her indie peers. It was a critical and sales hit, along with single Los Ageless, and opened her up to a new audience (and led to those festival headlining moments). Friends who don’t like Annie C have complained they find her a bit cold. I never felt that at all until Masseduction. It just didn’t connect with me. It felt a little calculated, and it was – well, just a lot less original than anything she’d done until that point. She was trampling on much more familiar territory and I just couldn’t get as excited.

So when I heard that Annie was channeling 70s rock and Bowie on the new album, then frankly, I was chomping at the bit. I wanted to hear something more organic, something more emotionally connected. And I wanted to hear that incredible guitar back up high in the mix. We should mention her guitar playing for a minute. If you haven’t seen her life, it’s hard to quite grasp how good she is. She’s Prince-level good. She’s UNBELIEVABLE. I think she’s probably the most talented guitar player of her generation.

Pay Your Way in Pain did nothing to dampen my excitement. What a fucking song it is. And what an opening track it is on the album. It’s a proper rock song, and it sets up that mixture of emotional pain and retro irony quite beautifully. And then the came the new look for the record. Blonde wig, leather jacket. All very playful, all very Annie Clark. But also this extraordinary backstory about her father’s incarceration (which by the way she has NEVER mentioned up until this point!). Daddy’s Home? Nudge nudge wink wink. And then came the 5 star reviews, and lots of them.

So what did I feel when I started to listen to the whole album. Initially, I was just so, so happy. I loved it almost immediately. It was exactly what I was hoping for. Perhaps more downbeat and slow than I was expecting, but it seemed to wear its heart on its sleeve as much as you could ever hope from a musician who’s often been careful to cover her tracks.

The big surprise was that this was also made with Jack Antonoff. Who’d have thought it? In fact, the two of them recorded quite a lot of the album between them. Did Antonoff allow Clark to find that musical voice she was looking for, did he just give her that freedom? Or was there still something a little bit calculated about it? That was the only nagging thing I had in my head now and again as I listened.

And then…the backlash started. I must say, in the interests of balance, that it’s hardly that much of a backlash – as of today, it still has a whopping 86 on Metacritic. But there were a couple of extraordinary reviews – one from Pitchfork that seemed to damn it with faint praise, as well a much more damning piece on Slate that argued that this was her worst album, comparing her unfavourably to fellow pop chameleons Prince and Bowie. Both of those articles contain some pretty unbelievable accusations (Pitchfork – it’s racially insensitive for St V to mention Nina Simone alongside white artists. Slate – she’s actually never been that good a lyricist. That latter one made me laugh out loud. ARE YOU FUCKING JOKING ME, MATE?).

The whiff of double standards on female musicians, particularly singular artists with their own vision, hangs heavy in the air. And I don’t think that for a second that Annie Clark is asking to be compared to Prince or Bowie. But let’s leave some of the stupidity of some of the worst comments, and ask the tricky question – have they got a point? Is this album the real deal, or is it a kind of well-executed pastiche of a kind of mythical musical past? I suspect that as a collective, we’re going to end up on different sides of that question. I can’t wait for the pod!

My own experience is this. There are a few obvious big, brilliant belters – Pay Your Way, Down, Melting of the Sun. Down might be my favourite song on the album. And some have called The Melting of the Sun a bit clunky. I think it’s utterly glorious – a straight down the line love letter to those who’ve paved the way for her. And the analogy of the patriarchy melting like the sun is delicious.

But actually, on repeat listening, it’s not the 70s pastiche, or the sitar playing (though I LOVE the sitar playing!) or the Bowie schtick that’s sticking with me. It’s the songwriting. And it’s the smaller songs that have come to be amongst my favourites. Down and Out Downtown is just beautiful, At The Holiday Party is sad and compassionate, Somebody Like Me feels like Annie reckoning with herself and her personas in a really moving way. And right in the centre, the extraordinary Live in the Dream. Yes, it owes a hell of debt to Pink Floyd, and also to Bowie’s Diamond Dogs in lyrical theme, but I just can’t get enough of it. I’ve listened to that one track to death and I find it genuinely moving.

There are odd things about the album that jar a little. I think the sequencing is odd – I’d have put Live in the Dream later in the album, maybe pulled Down further up. For me, the title track, Daddy’s Home, is the album’s weak spot, and it’s a shame it’s sequenced as Track 3. I think this the one time that the nudge-nudge sexy/existential pain 70s vibe just doesn’t quite work. She’s hiding behind the song and it’s not telling us anything about the real story of her father’s incarceration. It feels a little cheap to use that as a sell. That’s a shame.

But the rest of the album? I’m not seeing a persona. I’m seeing a real human being singing about real human things – disappointment, love, dead-end careers, loneliness, the death of a friend. The things that Annie Clark’s detractors accuse her of – being angular, being difficult, hiding behind a persona – I honestly don’t think that’s true of this album, title track aside. In the end, the songs speak loud and clear. And if you’ll excuse me now, I’m just going to play it again…

Episode 10 – The Weather Station – Ignorance

Ep 15 – Lonelady – Former Things This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

Episode 15 of This Is Not Happening heads to the north west of England with Manchester artist Lonelady's third album, Former Things. After the heart-on-sleeve shogazey pop of Japanese Breakfast's Jubilee, Julie Campbell's solo guitar/drums/synth template brings 8 tracks of post-punk, electronic fusion, with Guy at the helm! In the second half of the episode, we stay in Manchester, each bringing a track from the city's fabled music history to the table. Our shortlist is here, and Guy's longlist lives here. Stick around and see what we thought of the picks:Guy  – Zoe Abalone – Vortex David – Paris Angels – Perfume Joey – Pip Milett – Hard LifeNolan  – Mr Scruff v Cyberpunks – A Space Disco Remix September's album of the month and all our new tracks, playlists, and chat from the past decade or more can be found on our blog at http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. Head down there and hopefully you'll like what we're talking about and if you do, we'd love to hear from you on the socials (links below).Episode #16 comes in the shape of Billie Eilish's new album Happier Than Ever as David bring his pop-beingness back to the fore. That next episode will be landing before the end of October.This Is Not Happening:Created by Joey, Nolan, Guy and David.Produced and Edited by Guy and Nolan.Twitter: @thisisnothapngInstagram: @thisisnothappeningpodEmail: thisisnothappeningpodcast@gmail.comReviews: http://www.ratethispodcast.com/thisisnothappening
  1. Ep 15 – Lonelady – Former Things
  2. Ep 14 – Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
  3. Ep 13 – Skyzoo – All The Brilliant Things
  4. This Is Not Happening – Season 2 Trailer
  5. Ep 12 – St Vincent – Daddy's Home

Episode 10 of This Is Not Happening finds us sticking with female artists but switching from the UK to Canada with the Weather Station’s Ignorance.  Tamara Lindeman’s group released its 5th album in 2021, and it marks another progression from folk-tinged songwriting to full-blown grown-up pop that touched on so many of our big influences. We all went on a journey with this, with Joey at the helm. We also put together an ‘inspired by’ playlist to sit with the album

In the second part of the show, we jumped off the deep end by picking a new track, secret santa-style for each other! Here’s the longlist, but the four we chose are:

David – Nolan chose: Brother Ali – Sensitive.
Guy – Joey chose: Howlin’ – Bind
Joey – David chose: Charlotte Adigery – Bear With Me (And I’ll Stand Bare Before You) 
Nolan – Guy chose: Vagabon – Water Me Down (Pancy Remix)

April’s album of the month and all our playlists, new music and discussions from the past decade or more can be found on our blog at www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. So check them out so to see what we ‘re talking about and if you like it, we’d love to hear from you. Socials are below. 

Episode #11 will be digging into the kaleidoscopic debut from Genesis Owusu: Smiling With No Teeth . An Australian-Ghanaian whose melting-pot influences have created one of the most fascinating and memorable albums of the year. Coming to you before the end of May.

This Is Not Happening:
Created by JoeyNolanGuy and David.
Produced and Edited by Guy and Nolan.
Twitter: @thisisnothapng
Instagram: @thisisnothappeningpod
Email: thisisnothappeningpodcast@gmail.com
Reviews: www.ratethispodcast.com/thisisnothappening

Not quite albums of the month…. the ones that got away.

It may seem like there’s always a nailed-on candidate for our albums of the month. But there’s all sorts of reasons that an album may not be chosen as AOTM. Way before we did the podcast, we were still having the same discussions and dilemmas. So why would it get derailed? Sometimes it’s as simple as the fact that we’ve already got it and have rinsed it before it could be chosen – Caribou’s Suddenly and Roisin Murphy’s Roisin Machine are both good examples of this last year – or sometimes there’s a veto from in the camp. Or it simply falls at the wrong time: your album’s released in March, you have June, and by the time your choice comes around, its old news.

I think we can all agree that should time be taken again for Roisin, we’d have chosen her over Sufjan 99 times out of 100. Hindsight is an easy out. But we loved it so much it sometimes feels like taking the less worn path (though Sufjan is hardly unlikely) is a better choice than choosing something everyone will love. Other times while one – or more – of us loves it, it’s pretty clear that it would be likely hated by the other. I know what I’ll be playing still in a year.

With Ep11 and April’s AOTM in question, this is a great example of that dilemma. @misterstory put me onto Menneskekollektivet by Lost Girls, a strange, ethereal collection of 5 tracks from Norwegians Jenny Hval and Havard Volden, that he brought to my attention as one of the 4 ‘new tracks’ up with Episode 10. 11 minutes of hypnotic music that’s part spoken word, part dancefloor chug, then in between meanders into the areas in between. I was half-captivated, half confused by it, but it definitely stuck in my head. And it pointed me to the album, which was just as off the wall, but just as beautiful. While it was in the mix for April, we also knew that it really wouldn’t be a ‘David’ album, and we weren’t sure it was a Nolan one either, and so it went to the cutting room floor. Which is odd as the album we chose – Genesis Owusu‘s Smiling With No Teeth – was just as ‘out there’ in many I(but different) ways. But it just seemed to be an album which would be a choice that would land with the four of us better. Having said that, we chose Macca, and look how that turned out for Ep7!

Going a bit deeper into the album than even Joey has so far, Love Lovers is probably the standout of the 5 tracks (total: 44 minutes for, yes, only five tracks). A tribal beat that morphs into techno, as Hval’s spoken words then wailing notes and Volden’s chords drive the melody, until it breaks out into an epic peak. Carried By Invisible Bodies also weaves around, its chords de- and re-tuned throughout, a sort of woozy, disorienting melody that I’m still not sure if I’d ever have the cojones to play out anywhere. It definitely skirts the fine line between musical genius and pretentiousness, and no doubt knows that. But the artist background of Hval (and this being considered an accessible counterpoint to her solo work!) makes this less of a surprise when you delve deeper.


We could probably do a whole series of albums that never quite made it to a chosen each month – we don’t by any means have just those 12 albums in our lives each year – but this one definitely stood out. For every choice there’s always one that ends up on the floor. If I had time again, I’d have chosen Everything Everything’s Reanimator because – no diss to Yves Tumor, my EP3 choice – I’m still playing it, all the time. In fact it’s turned into one of my favourite albums of the last 6 months. In music as in life, you live and learn.

April AOTM – ‘Ignorance’ by The Weather Station

Ignorance | The Weather Station

It’s my turn for Album of the Month and as usual, I’ve not found my selection an easy choice. I’ve selected Ignorance by The Weather Station, the 5th full length album from 36 year old, Canadian Tamara Linderman. I wasn’t aware of her music before the single ‘Robber’ was released late in 2020. Her early albums fit neatly into the ‘singer / songwriter’ folk genre but with each successive release her sound develops in complexity and the band becomes bigger along with the sound. A journey that delivers ‘Ignorance’, which is hard to define by genre but it seems that many still refer to her as a folk artist. This feels like an old label that doesn’t fit this album. But on the other hand, does it really matter?

My hesitation in choosing this album was 100% down to the hype. Last month we discussed Arlo Park’s ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ a new, young artist from the UK managing the burden of expectation of being called ‘the voice of a generation’. The hype around ‘Ignorance’ is of a different kind; to come so early in 2021 but to be touted as a contender for ‘album of the year’. It’s a simple, undeniable fact that this changes your listening experience … at least it does for me. I vividly remember my first experience of this album. I had heard Robber, loved it and then saw an early review massively praising the album. I got on it straight away, and loved it. It was a 9/10 for me. I told the crew this was to be my Album of the Month. Can you tell there is a ‘but’ coming? But then, despite its luxuriant scope, scale and shockingly beautiful soundscape, I failed to connect to it emotionally. Which is odd as it ticks SO many of my boxes. The lyrical context and content being one of them. But it still failed to truly dent me emotionally. I found it a little cold and I stopped listening to it as a result.

So why have I chosen it? I’ve chosen it as I’ve gone on such a roller coaster with this album that I thought it would be an interesting choice for discussion with my friends who I know will have an opinion. I have connected more with this album over time. I think it demands close attention, it does sound best in headphones (I know, I know everything does) but I’d argue this is a different album in headphones. It’s so ‘pleasant’ on a surface level that it can be a perfect background music for life but I think due to the fragility or Tamara’s vocals and lyrics, a different level of appreciation can be achieved through a focused, concentrated listen.

So, on to the music? This a 40 minute, 10 track album. Hallelujah! Thank you Tamara. It is SO dense (I mean this in the ‘good way’) that overstepping the 10 track mark might have been problematic. There are a couple of 5 minute tracks but generally we’re in the 3-4 minute track mark … so this must be pop music right? I think the answer to that is ‘yes’ you could go ‘art pop’ if you wanted people to snigger behind your back but I am going with ‘pop music’ and I’m ok with that. ‘Side A’ (by which i mean tracks 1-6) is upbeat and rhythmically driven giving way to a more melancholic ‘Side B’. Regardless of the tone of the tracks there are tons of melodic, rhythmic and lyrical hooks. Let’s get into a few of them.

‘Robber’ … wow. What a way to open an album. There’s an albums worth of motifs, trills, frills, strings, woodwind and spiky yet intriguing ideas in one track (and of course we all know I love a big organ). It’s a surprisingly anxious, urgent and threatening track to start an album with and I think you could argue that it could have closed the album? It constantly threatens to veer off into jazz noise but never quite carries through on the threat.

The album then opens up into 9 more tracks that, while they rarely play with the oddness and complexity of ‘Robber’, there’s a hell of a lot going on. How many influences can you hear in this album? Are they deliberate? Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Springsteen (Atlantic / Tried to Tell You) and a host of other 80’s radio rock smeared with synths (I can genuinely hear shades of Dire Straits!) but then also the strings and hints of 80’s ‘sophisti-pop’ chucked in for good measure. David will love the disco-tinged-drive of ‘Parking Lot’ and I think we’ll all appreciate the magical backing vocals on ‘Loss’.

There is loads to love about this album; pop hooks with scope, scale, ambition and complexity. An artist playing with a wide sound palette and clearing enjoying the process and the results. I am still yet to fully connect with it emotionally but I can feel that this building slowly over time.

Some questions that I think might be interesting to discuss;

What is hell is this (and as always, does that even matter)?

How do hyperbolic critical reviews impact your experience of an album?

What influences do you hear in it?

What do you think might be preventing my emotional connection (reading a wide range of reviews – I am not the only one)

March AOTM: Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams

Whilst most of us are waiting for 2021 to show a flicker of light, you could argue that music hasn’t let us down so far. After kicking of the year off with Bicep’s ‘Isles’ February has delivered another treat; ‘Collaped In Sunbeams’, the debuit Album from Arlo Parks. For transparency, I wasn’t too sure about this album or how to approach it. The cynic in me was slightly concerned about the hype. 

Much has already been written about the creation, but if you have missed the many articles here’s a top-line recap: Around a year ago Arlo Park embarked on writing her debut album as Covid hit. Instead of being whisked away to a glamorous recording studio in LA, New York or London Arlo and her writing partner hunkered down in a B&B in Hoxton and created much of this album as the world seemed to be falling apart. It seems that her focus could not be shaken and the results were fruitful.

As we all worked through 2020 we were treated with the first 5 tracks from the album; Eugine, Black Dog, Hurt, Green Eyes and Caroline.  Black Dog, a chillingly honest song about her friends depression landed on many (including our) Top Ten year end lists for tracks of the year. As David pointed out in our 2020 year end podcast, there was a lot of expectation and hype around her album. 

The album as a combined finished article is very approachable. From the spoken word intro into “Hurt’ Arlo quickly lets you into her world. Her honest lyrics are matched by her likeable vocals of the West London songstress. The pop sounding ‘Collapsed’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Caroline’ flow into each other and are pleasing on the ears whilst lyrically telling stories more in the vein of a poet than a pop star. She weaves stories into songs with ease, making you feel the album is closer to a conversation with a friend than a collection of songs. This is apparent as you move onto ‘Black Dog’, ‘Green Eyes’ and then ‘Just Go’ which feels like a summer jam on the outside and ever so familiar song about relationships to us all (at that age) when we think about our late teens and early 20’s. 

We often speak on this blog and our podcast about album pace. I’d argue this album has been mapped very well. Some reviews have questioned ‘Violet’, and have suggested it perhaps is one of the albums weaker songs. I think the opposite. The Portishead-esk track reminds us not to rest on our laurels and arguably is a nod to some of her less predictable influences such as Radiohead. After a quick break from the expected you’re quickly pulled into the well known ‘Eugene’. It reminds me of Lily Allen. Not just for the vocal presentation and similar West London accents but also ability to welcome you into the story that Arlo tells and Allen previously did on some of her work. This for me carries through to ‘Bluish’ and ‘Porta 400’. 

Like many debutant albums ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ oozes with vulnerability. It reminds me of so many conversations with friends at that time in my life. As a person in my 40’s I can relate to her as her songs remind me of so many things when I was a similar age to her. I think perhaps that’s the magic; her and the allowance into her world. 

It’s hard to read any article that doesn’t focus on the age of Arlo Parks which I struggle with. Many have arguably written their best work at this age; though perhaps this is the point. Is Arlo Parks going to be one of the greats? There is little doubt that poetic lyrics and welcoming vocals are ahead of many of her peers in a similar age group. 

The album is easy to listen to, and has been on constantly in our house. It flows nicely and doesn’t seem to offend any of our ears. I often catch my Hayley and the kids humming along. 

Any hype that this album has received is well earned in my opinion. Will she be one of the greats? I truly hope she can carry on the trajectory she has started on. But she has a lifetime of songs still to write and in the meantime this album has a fair bit of tread on it for me. There are many miles left in it before I’ll be needing the next model. 

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.

AOTM October 2020 – Sufjan Stevens ‘The Ascension’

Sufjan Stevens' Sprawling The Ascension Seeks Solace in Pessimism | Review  | Consequence of Sound

Well, this is going to be an interesting Album of the Month.

Each one of us on the blog/pod has a history with Sufjan Stevens. Some longer than others, some with more passion than others. But that doesn’t mean that we agree on all things Sufjan. Quite the opposite it appears. And if there was a Sufjan album to force a wedge between our personal preferences … then this is it.

My history with Sufjan was a little delayed given the wave of adoration that followed ‘Illinois’. Apparently I was a little slow on the uptake. Illinois was released in 2005 (gulp). I didn’t get to it until around 2009. I can mark the time well as my wife was pregnant with my first child and we (over) played it to death. She didn’t have the greatest pregnancy and now can’t listen to the album as it is so synonymous with feeling sick and bloated. Not Sufjan’s fault but still. I then bought the Age of Adz the day after my daughter was born. This album marked a seismic change in instrumentation from Sufjan … one that came with a very mixed (and in the case of David, surprisingly aggressive) reaction. I loved it, but hey, I’d just had a little girl. I would have loved most things.

Then came a silly Xmas album in 2012 … and then in 2015 we chose Carrie and Lowell (C&L) as album of the month. And I think we all agreed it’s close to perfection. As albums that I love to cry along to go, it’s right up there with Put Your Back N 2 it by Perfume Genius. It’s deeply personal, beautifully sparse, hypnotically produced and perfectly written.

A bunch of oddities have been released between then and now. But The Ascension is Mr. Steven’s first proper album since then. Much to David’s shock, the album is ‘Electro Sufjan’ again. But I would state that it is a very different proposition to Age of Adz. Age of Adz was full of pomp and theatrical posturing. I get why some hated it. I didn’t and that’s cool.

I think this album is at least as personal and introspective as C&L. Sufjan was moving from New York to the countryside of America and didn’t have access to his banjos, guitars and traditional range of instruments. He has said that he was limited to what he could plug into his computer. For me, this album does feel like he was ‘constrained’. But I am not sure if this is in a bad way. It’s a very different Sufjan Stevens we hear on this album and I am ok with that. Some have suggested it sounds like he’s ‘trying to hard’. I think this album sounds like he’s ‘trying’, i.e. this doesn’t feel 100% natural and feels less than 100% comfortable … but I am ok with this. I think I am getting into this vulnerability.

Let’s talk about its length. It’s long! 80 minutes. Exactly 100% longer than my preferred album length. There are some long old tracks on it too. The longest, America (12 mins) was the 1st single so it’s not like we didn’t have warning. He also shared Sugar ahead of the release date which clocks in at 7+ mins. He also shared a 15 strong track list for the album. So I guess this has to be considered as a ‘double album’ which isn’t usually a good thing.

You have to make a commitment to this album. I think it only makes sense when you do. I’ve practically listened to nothing else for a whole week. And I have been rewarded. I don’t ‘love’ this yet. But I am loving listening to it. As each track starts, I know that I like each one. There are no tracks here that I would remove. This is true for very few albums. Some tracks i like. Some I love. I think a few of my all time fave Sufjan tracks are on this album. He’s a great song writer and he’s doing something very different. I think we should respect that and applaud it.

Sufjan Steven’s is one of the few artists that when he’s reviewed, lazy critics don’t simply list a bunch of people he sounds like … cause he doesn’t. Other people sound like him. However, there are moments where for the 1st time I’ve thought … oh … he’s doing a Thom Yorke thing there (Ativan) or a Caribou drum production thing (I want to die happy and a few others). I don’t think he’s mastered the electronic craft yet and is therefore referencing others but again … I’m cool with that.

There are a few moments where someone should have tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘that’s enough Sufjan’ (i) America should be an 8 minute track, the last 4 minutes? Sorry but no (ii) Ativan should be 4 mins for the same reason.

So. At this point in time. I am very glad this is in my life. I am glad he’s done what he’s done. Oh, and Video Games is such a surprise. Where did that come from? Single of the year? (I can hear all of your screaming at me for suggesting that one).

Commit to it. Give it some space and time. It does deserve it.