Posted in Album of the Month, podcast

Podcast Episode 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights

Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

After a little summer break we're back! We get deep into our Album of the Month, Steve Lacy's Gemini Rights in Part 1. We dig a little deeper than most pods and make sure we've spent LOADS of time living with the album.  In Part 2 we have one of the best 'Spin It or Bin It' that I can remember – we each bring a track and ask each other 'Spin It or Bin It?'Part 1: Album of the Month – Steve Lacy's 'Gemini Rights'It's David's choice this month and he chooses the intriguing 'Gemini Rights'. Its a tight, punchy album which gave us loads to discuss: Tik Tok, the tension between joyous music and often bitter lyrics, the influence of gender and sexuality on this album and the age of massive change that we're living in.The chat references loads of music and we highly recommend that you check out the following if you're not familiar already;Raphael Sadiq's 'Instant Vintage'   Stevie Wonder's 'Innervisions' Frank Ocean's 'Channel Orange'Prince's 'Purple Rain'… and my big shout out – Serpentwithfeet's 'Deacon'Part 2: Spin It or Bin It – New Music (tracks from June 2022 onwards)In Part 2 we get into one of the best Spin It or Bin It? that we've had. We each bring a track that meets a different brief every month. This month is simple – 'New Music'. We then ask each other the binary question 'Spin It or Bin It?' and then choose a track of the month from the 4. Here's our choices … Guy's choice is Romare's 'Quiet Corners of My Mind'Nolan's choice is Danger Mouse and Black Thought's 'The Darkest Part'Joey's choice is Ela Minus and DJ Python's 'Parajos en Verano'David's choice is Sudan Archive's 'NBPQ (Topless)'Next MonthGuy will be running the show and hosting the discussion on Hot Chip's 'Freakout Release'. 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 http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. So check them out so to see what we like and where we clash, and comment if something catches your eye. We'd love to hear what you think. 
  1. Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights
  2. Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
  3. Ep. 23 – Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life on Earth
  4. Ep 22 – Big Thief – Dragon, New Warm Mountain …
  5. Ep 21 – Metronomy – Small World

After a little summer break we’re back! We get deep into our Album of the Month, Steve Lacy’s Gemini Rights in Part 1. We dig a little deeper than most pods and make sure we’ve spent LOADS of time living with the album.  In Part 2 we have one of the best ‘Spin It or Bin It’ that I can remember – we each bring a track and ask each other ‘Spin It or Bin It?’

Part 1: Album of the Month – Steve Lacy’s ‘Gemini Rights’

It’s David’s choice this month and he chooses the intriguing ‘Gemini Rights’. Its a tight, punchy album but gives us loads to discuss Tik Tok, the tension between joyous music and often bitter lyrics, the influence of gender and sexuality on this album and the age of massive change that we’re in.

The chat references loads of music and we highly recommend that you check out the following if you’re not familiar already;

Part 2: Spin It or Bin It – New Music (tracks from June 2022 onwards)

In Part 2 we get into one of the best Spin It or Bin It? that we’ve had. We each bring a track that meets a different brief every month. This month is simple – ‘New Music’. We then ask each other the binary question ‘Spin It or Bin It?’ and then choose a track of the month from the 4. Here’s our choices …

  1.  Guy’s choice is Romare’s ‘Quiet Corners of My Mind’
  2. Nolan’s choice is Danger Mouse and Black Thought’s ‘The Darkest Part’
  3. Joey’s choice is Ela Minus and DJ Python’s ‘Parajos en Verano’
  4. David’s choice is Sudan Archive’s ‘NBPQ (Topless)’

Next Month

Guy will be running the show and hosting the discussion on Hot Chip’s ‘Freakout Release’.

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. So check them out so to see what we like and where we clash, and comment if something catches your eye. We’d love to hear what you think. 

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, podcast, Tracks of the Month

Podcast Episode 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

After a little summer break we're back! We get deep into our Album of the Month, Steve Lacy's Gemini Rights in Part 1. We dig a little deeper than most pods and make sure we've spent LOADS of time living with the album.  In Part 2 we have one of the best 'Spin It or Bin It' that I can remember – we each bring a track and ask each other 'Spin It or Bin It?'Part 1: Album of the Month – Steve Lacy's 'Gemini Rights'It's David's choice this month and he chooses the intriguing 'Gemini Rights'. Its a tight, punchy album which gave us loads to discuss: Tik Tok, the tension between joyous music and often bitter lyrics, the influence of gender and sexuality on this album and the age of massive change that we're living in.The chat references loads of music and we highly recommend that you check out the following if you're not familiar already;Raphael Sadiq's 'Instant Vintage'   Stevie Wonder's 'Innervisions' Frank Ocean's 'Channel Orange'Prince's 'Purple Rain'… and my big shout out – Serpentwithfeet's 'Deacon'Part 2: Spin It or Bin It – New Music (tracks from June 2022 onwards)In Part 2 we get into one of the best Spin It or Bin It? that we've had. We each bring a track that meets a different brief every month. This month is simple – 'New Music'. We then ask each other the binary question 'Spin It or Bin It?' and then choose a track of the month from the 4. Here's our choices … Guy's choice is Romare's 'Quiet Corners of My Mind'Nolan's choice is Danger Mouse and Black Thought's 'The Darkest Part'Joey's choice is Ela Minus and DJ Python's 'Parajos en Verano'David's choice is Sudan Archive's 'NBPQ (Topless)'Next MonthGuy will be running the show and hosting the discussion on Hot Chip's 'Freakout Release'. 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 http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. So check them out so to see what we like and where we clash, and comment if something catches your eye. We'd love to hear what you think. 
  1. Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights
  2. Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
  3. Ep. 23 – Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life on Earth
  4. Ep 22 – Big Thief – Dragon, New Warm Mountain …
  5. Ep 21 – Metronomy – Small World

Our last Album of the Month (AOTM) was the beautiful ‘Life on Earth’ by Hurray for the Riff Raff. This month the  This Is Not Happening crew tackle Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’  head on! We get stuck right into this challenging album in Part 1 of the pod. In Part 2, we play ‘Spin It or Bin It?’ where we judge the tracks that we’ve chosen for this month’s theme.

Part 1 – Album of the Month

This month it’s Nolan’s choice, Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’ . We discuss the album in length, favourite tracks and their impact on us and other music fans and if there is a missing track from this album. 

We want you to have access to great conversations about great music – here are some links to some of the best content on this album that we’ve consumed;

  • A great ‘explainer’ article from Ambrosia for Heads  – read here
  • NYT’s Popcast Podcast Episode (this one is great for a Kendrick Sceptic view) – listen here
  • Great Tempo Tribe Podcast conversation – listen here
  • A shorter listen at 22 mins – the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast – listen here

This was one of our toughest albums to think and to talk about … but we hope you enjoy it.

Part 2 – Spin it or Bin It

In the second part of this episode we get stuck into 4 tracks representing this months theme – ‘LA Tracks’ – or favourite tracks from LA based artists. We all pick a track,  introduce our track and ask the others the painfully binary critical question; ‘spin it’ or ‘bin it?’ 

We try not to go super-obvious on our track selections each month … this is what we chose to represent LA;

  1. Joey’s track selection is – ‘Chum’ by Earl Sweatshirt
  2. David’s track selection is – ‘Twelve Thirty’ by The Mamas and the Papas
  3. Nolan’s track selection is – ‘Runners’ by Evidence ft. Defari
  4. Guy’s track selection is – ’86’ by Truncate

Next Month

Episode #25 will be with you soon – Guy will be guiding us through ‘We’ by Arcade Fire one of is favourite artists ever … what could go wrong? Have a listen to the album and  share some thoughts with us on the blog or on our Insta.

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. So check them out so to see what we like and where we clash, and comment if something catches your eye. We’d love to see what you think. 

Posted in Album of the Month, New Albums, podcast

May Album of the Month: Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

For May I was dead set on Pusha T’s “it’s Almost Dry’. It’s pretty impressive and has met all of my expectations. It’s perhaps my favourite album of 2022 thus far. All the stars were aligned, until Kendrick Lamar announced he was releasing new material in mid May after a 5 year hiatus. Sorry Pusha, sometime you need to make a sacrifice and this was an easy decision. 

Before we get into the new album, I think we need to remind ourselves how impactful he is. You would be hard pressed to have missed the evolution of Kendrick Lamar over the last 12 years. Through ’Section.80’, ‘good kid, M.A.D.D. city’, ’To Pimp a Butterfly’, ‘Untitled’ and ‘DAMN’ not to mention a plethora of guest appearances and film soundtrack anthems he’s created a vast catalogue with something for everyone it seems. 

From early 2010 he has been surrounded by hype. Back then, backed by Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q (with their Black Hippy supergroup), they started making serious waves with their unique West Coast sound. When Kendrick released Section.80 he had my attention straight away. ‘HiiiPower’ is still one of my favourite songs. Funny enough he reminds me a bit of Pusha T on that track and a few others on the album with his flow. It was only a matter of time until he found himself on a major, and Dr Dre’s Aftermath (through TDE Artists) was a natural home. Differing from other Aftermath artists, Lamar blazed his own trail without the ever present cross pollination of Aftermath artists that we’ve come accustomed to throughout their catalogue. ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ pushed Kendrick into the forefront of not just hip hop but the music industry. ‘Swimming Pools’ became a summer anthem, ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’ was a radio hit and ‘m.A.A.d city’ set foundations in hip hop that Kendrick was a serious contender as an MC. 

Kendrick teased us with his fierce flow in 2014 with a verse on ‘It’s On Again’ with Alecia Keys from the Spiderman soundtrack. Little did we know that that taster was nothing like what he was working on. He was about to move the nets. When Kendrick released ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ in 2015, it felt like he flipped music on its head. Was it hip hop, or was it a jazz album? It was the most creative album that broke the main stream in recent times and showed the world the layers that Kendrick was able to achieve. Not only musically, but also as a performance artist as he took the presentation of his live show to what felt like uncharted territory for a hip hop artist. The album wasn’t without faults. I still find it his least approachable album. Though it gained acclaim and opened him up to a new audience, it was a far step from his first album. The surprise release of Untitled brought many Kendrick fans back into the fold. We all got it, he still wanted to make the music that we loved, but the tracks on Untitled didn’t fit into what he was trying to do on Pimp a Butterfly. An album of rejected songs that were miles ahead of most albums… sort of insane, and very cool. 

By the time DAMN was released in 2017 Kendrick was an established artist that seemed to have found this nonchalant confidence that made the album arguably his best to date. By that point he had won Grammy’s, the Pulitzer Prize, and almost every other music related award. 

So his new album, where do you start? Well he’s taken a page from Big Thief and released an 18 song, 73 minute album. He starts with the album with the line ‘I’ve been going through something’… has he ever. There’s lots to go at!

I’m still digesting the album. Like many, I’ve spent the last week digesting (what I thought was) the lead single ’The Heart  Part 5’. The lyrics and the video are amazing and so important…. but the track isn’t on the album. This guy sits in a different space!

It’s hard to name an artist that has evolved and pushed boundaries as much as Kendrick, especially within hip hop. On this album we find a rounded Kendrick that musically blends the feels of both DAMM and TPAB. Lyrically his confidence is apparent throughout. His thoughts are honest, complex and at times uncomfortable. He has a voice and he uses it. He faces into some tough subjects; religion, addiction, infidelity, relationship struggles, queerness and so much more. Hip hop gives an artist a platform to delve into subjects perhaps different than other genres and he does this masterfully. 

N95 is the lead single. What a single! I’m trying to figure out what track I would share with someone as a good catchy track on this album to start? It’s tough. They’re all really deep. They all have layers. Sampha laces ‘Father Time’ with a lovely hook, but the song is beautifully honest. Perhaps too honest for some. On the flip side ‘We Cry Together’ is really hard to listen to at first, but also has a beauty to the bleak honesty. Unapologetically honest. Is anyone else like this in music? This is an album of two halves, and it being a digital only release it the moment lets you forget this is a double album. The first half cuts deeper the the second, but needs to be there for the second half to fully work.

I wrote some bullet points the other day about Kendrick when I was listing to his back catalogue: 

  • Kendrick is honest
  • Kendrick lets you into his mind, not just his world
  • I don’t think anyone really knows Kendrick Lamar through his music
  • Kendrick is an anomaly   

… my view still is the same after listening to the album for the first 5 times. 

Lamar has stated that ‘he is not the messiah’, but he does have a voice and a message. He has extreme influence on numerous generations, and all levels within those generations. People listen to Kendrick. Kids, mums, dads, grandparents. There is A LOT to digest with this album. And many will take the time to do so. Isn’t it wonderful that someone is making music that is so complex that everyone wants / needs to listen to? 

I look forward to all of us digging into this and everyones thoughts. There’s a lot to go at. Ive not even touched on who is Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers? Nor have I talked about the well thought out and controversial guest appearances? 

Posted in Album of the Month, podcast, Tracks of the Month

Podcast Episode 22 – Big Thief – Dragon New Mountain I Believe in You.

Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights This Is Not Happening – An Album Of The Month Podcast

After a little summer break we're back! We get deep into our Album of the Month, Steve Lacy's Gemini Rights in Part 1. We dig a little deeper than most pods and make sure we've spent LOADS of time living with the album.  In Part 2 we have one of the best 'Spin It or Bin It' that I can remember – we each bring a track and ask each other 'Spin It or Bin It?'Part 1: Album of the Month – Steve Lacy's 'Gemini Rights'It's David's choice this month and he chooses the intriguing 'Gemini Rights'. Its a tight, punchy album which gave us loads to discuss: Tik Tok, the tension between joyous music and often bitter lyrics, the influence of gender and sexuality on this album and the age of massive change that we're living in.The chat references loads of music and we highly recommend that you check out the following if you're not familiar already;Raphael Sadiq's 'Instant Vintage'   Stevie Wonder's 'Innervisions' Frank Ocean's 'Channel Orange'Prince's 'Purple Rain'… and my big shout out – Serpentwithfeet's 'Deacon'Part 2: Spin It or Bin It – New Music (tracks from June 2022 onwards)In Part 2 we get into one of the best Spin It or Bin It? that we've had. We each bring a track that meets a different brief every month. This month is simple – 'New Music'. We then ask each other the binary question 'Spin It or Bin It?' and then choose a track of the month from the 4. Here's our choices … Guy's choice is Romare's 'Quiet Corners of My Mind'Nolan's choice is Danger Mouse and Black Thought's 'The Darkest Part'Joey's choice is Ela Minus and DJ Python's 'Parajos en Verano'David's choice is Sudan Archive's 'NBPQ (Topless)'Next MonthGuy will be running the show and hosting the discussion on Hot Chip's 'Freakout Release'. 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 http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. So check them out so to see what we like and where we clash, and comment if something catches your eye. We'd love to hear what you think. 
  1. Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights
  2. Ep 24 – Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
  3. Ep. 23 – Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life on Earth
  4. Ep 22 – Big Thief – Dragon, New Warm Mountain …
  5. Ep 21 – Metronomy – Small World

Last month we shared our thoughts on Small World by Metronomy, all 9 tracks and 35 minutes worth. This month This Is Not Happening ups the ante with ‘Dragon, New Mountain …’, all 20 tracks and 80 minutes worth.  In part 1, we deep dive into the density of Big Thief and Part 2 we play ‘Spin It or Bin It?’ where we judge the tracks that we’ve chosen for this month’s theme.

Part 1 – Album of the Month

This month it’s David’s choice, ‘Dragon, New Mountain …’ by Big Thief. Three of us love Big Thief and have much more than a passing relationship with the band … whilst one of us is a Big Thief virgin. There was SO much written about this album as soon as it came out including a number of 100% reviews.  As always, we take a slower, more considered approach to criticism, living with this album for a couple of months and letting it really settle in before we reflect and share our views.

You don’t have to look to far to find interviews, reviews and videos on Big Thief and this album but some of the content that we consumed and discussed in part 1 can be found below;

  • The metacritic review page is always a goo start and can be found here
  • This is a great listen – ‘Out On The Line’ Podcast 
  • Really insightful take on the album – ‘Taking it Down’Podcast
  • If you love them … or not, this one’s got you covered -‘NY Times’ Podcast
  • A great article in Vulture – read it here

Part 2 – ‘Spin it’ or ‘Bin it?’

In the second part of this episode we get stuck into 4 tracks representing this months theme – ‘Not on Spotify’. We all pick a track,  introduce our track and ask the others the painfully binary critical question; ‘spin it’ or ‘bin it?’ 

This month was a little more ‘free form’ than usual … but an amusing listen none the less!

  1. Guy’s track selection is – Prassay – Krvsin
  2. David’s track selection is – Nick Drake – I Was Made to Love Magic
  3. Nolan’s track selection is – Pharoahe Monch – F You
  4. Joey’s track selection is – Joanna Newsome  – ‘81

Next Month

Episode #23 will be with you soon – Joey will be leading the discussion on ‘Life on Earth’ by Hurray for the Riff Raff. If you get the chance we’d love you to have a listen to the album before next month, perhaps share some thoughts with us on the blog or on our Insta. This albums getting a lot of positive attention and we think it’s going to be in a few year end lists.

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

April AOTM: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

Ah, the double album. What a complicated thing you are. How many double albums would make a better single album? Well, all of them, you could argue. But I think that, at its best, a double album that can offer something so much richer, shaggier and more honest about a band/artist and where it’s at than a nicely curated single. I’m thinking Sign ’O The Times. I’m thinking Tusk. And, of course, I’m thinking The White Album.

What do all those albums have in common? They’re sprawling. They’re free-wheeling. They encompass quite a few different genres and sounds within one record. Sometimes, they’re a sound of a band creaking at the edges, or falling apart. Oh, and they probably have a track or two we could do without. Not even the die-hardest Beatle fan (and I speak as one) would cry many tears if Wild Honey Pie or Don’t Pass Me By had failed to make the White Album final cut.

So where does Dragon (please don’t make me type out the full name of the album, which I’m sure we all agree is a fucking abomination of a title) sit amongst this? I guess we have to first acknowledge the extraordinary rise of Big Thief. The Brooklyn based quartet seem to have hit a crazy sweet spot somewhere between Americana traditionalists and indie wunderkinds. They encompass both the hipster Brooklyn where they live and the rural Minnesota and Texas of Adrienne Lenker and Buck Meek’s childhoods. Over the course of 5 increasingly confident albums, they’ve gone from new kids on the block to Grammy nominations and critical adoration. People FUCKING LOVE Big Thief. I’m one of them.

I first came across them about 5 years ago when I saw a Tiny Desk concert. The sound! The intensity! I was immediately smitten:

And yes, despite that, there is something elusive about them. I love them, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why they seem to do this stuff better than any of their contemporaries. Throw a rock in Brooklyn, and presumably you’d hit someone from an Americana indie band on the head. Is it just the songwriting? The passion of Lenker, and the interplay between her and Meek? Their appeal is hard to quantify. And as they’ve got bigger, there’s also been the beginnings of an inevitable backlash, a kind of ’what’s so special about Big Thief?’ This excellent NYT podcast does a good job of exploring this, especially as the host is one of those doubters: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-enigma-of-big-thief/id120315823?i=1000552637027

So what about the album? Christ, where to start? Well, it feels both like a progression from the excellent U.F.O.F. and Two Hands albums, and a giant leap forward – and perhaps also sideways, up, down, and in several directions at once. The variety of the songs is a bit dizzying, and it takes quite a bit of time to digest. Indeed, I still tend to listen to either the first or the second half of the album in one sitting, which is perhaps a strong hint that it’s almost TOO rich at times. In fact, if I’m being honest, I was confused about my initial response, and that was partly because the band had been slowly leaking songs onto Spotify, and EVERY SINGLE one of those songs were astonishing – so the more rag-tag, messy nature of the album felt almost like an anticlimax at first.

But as I stuck with it, every part of it began to grow on me. I started to love the stylistic changes, the random turns left and right. I began to enjoy the journey, the ambition, the blind optimism of committing this many songs to disc and having the confidence to just chuck it out there and let the audience work it out for themselves. I don’t think it’s always an easy listen, and it certainly has some weaker moments amongst many absolutely breathtaking songs.

Before we get into the songs, I want to say that I found it really handy breaking it up into the 4 parts of the album. It really helps make sense of the record and of the sequencing.

DISC 1/SIDE 1

The first few songs set up the schizophrenic nature of the album – CHANGE is classic Big Thief, as astonishing that might be one of the best songs they’ve ever written. TIME ESCAPING is a totally different beast, like a wonky pop song with that strange industrial rhythm section. And then, third track – WTF, they’re doing a really goofy country song, SPUD INFINITY, with a title as daft as the track. It’s certainly bold curation, I’ll give them that! CERTAINTY is a lovely duet that heads back into Laura Cantrell-style modern country. And then DRAGON (the title track) – what a glorious song, like a lost Dolly Parton ballad.

SIDE 2

Opens with SPARROW, which perhaps outstays its 5 minute run time, the first track I felt wasn’t quite essential. But then – boom! – into Cocteau Twins (yes, really!) territory with LITTLE THINGS. Couple of tracks later, FLOWER OF BLOOD sounds like a 80s/90s 4AD band, all feedback and grungy guitars. Next track BLURRED VIEW is a creepy lo-fi thing, with crappy drum machine (or crappy drums!) and Adrienne whispering/muttering darkly into the mic. Repetitive and weird. On we go.

DISC 2/SIDE 3

What an opener. RED MOON is a personal favourite, a proper Lucinda Williams country song that’s robust and cheerful (‘that’s my grandma!’). NO REASON is another astonishing ballad and another highlight, with a chorus that will not leave your brain. This song runs round my head all the time. WAKE ME UP TO DRIVE is a bit of a dirge, but I like its lo-fi energy. But A PROMISE IS A PENDULUM is amazing, delicate and lovely.

SIDE 4

So this is maybe where the album runs out of steam for me a little. Yes, it has one of the very best tracks on the album, SIMULATION SWARM. But I do wonder if too many of the last side’s tracks feel like a retread of earlier material. 12,000 LINES is lovely, but LOVE LOVE LOVE’s crunchy indie is a bit exhausting. THE ONLY PLACE feels like quite a minor tune. BLUE LIGHTNING is a lot of fun and sounds very much like the jam session it undoubtedly is, but by then I’m exhausted! And when I listen on Spotify, I often find myself thinking – oh is this the last song? And it’s not. Not a good sign!

So there we have it. It’s glorious, it’s confusing, it’s a mess, it’s ambitious. I guess the big question is – why did they make a double album? My guess is that they wanted to stretch their wings. They’ve made glorious single albums that work as a whole. They’re clearly prolific – look at the fact they released TWO albums – both amazing – in one year in 2019. They seem to me, on listening to this, that they’re just bursting with ideas, and they wanted to try out as many as possible. Whether that works for you will depend on how much you like ’em in the first place, and how tolerant you are of all these experiments, some of which are pretty free-wheeling.

For me, it works. It’s a wonderful album with some of the best songs of their career, but perhaps it just outstays its welcome a tiny bit. Having said all that, are there many songs I’d cull? Not really. Could they have made a more succinct single album? Well of course they could. Do I love that it’s a double album? I bloody do. Do I feel like I know the band better as a result? You betcha. Is it an occasionally frustrating listen? Of course it is: it’s a double album.

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

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 Album of the Month, New Albums, New Tunes

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…