Posted in Album of the Month, New Albums

February: Prize – Rozi Plain

I’m a big fan of mystery in music. By that I mean, listening to something and not quite knowing what it means, or what the words are saying, or what the melody is doing – but somehow, mysteriously, being moved by it. Bowie is, of course, the master of this, and Kate Bush likewise. But it’s always great when you come across something in the corner of the musical universe that is somehow not quite like anything else. You couldn’t quite say what genre it is, why you connect with it, or why it specifically speaks to you. Rozi Plain falls squarely into that category for me.

I first came across Rozi via This Is The Kit, the Bristol based folk-rock band fronted by the brilliant Kate Stables. And I first came across This is The Kit, bizarrely enough on a Maison Kitsuné chill out compilation sometime in the late noughties, when I was still taking my daughter to nursery, because I remember how much she liked the song ‘Two Wooden Spoons’.

Rozi P is a member of that band and tours and plays with them, as well as forging her own solo career. I’ve loved This Is The Kit for a long time, though interestingly I would say that they are a folk/folk rock/alt folk band. Whereas I’m not sure what Rozi Plain is. Anyway, I first came Rozi via Kate Staples, and at some point, I must have decided to listen to her 2016 album What A Boost.

Everything about that album is ‘unassuming’. The cover art, where Rozi has her hood on a raincoat, back to camera, facing a field. It’s like a not very good camera photo. It’s not artful, it’s very ordinary. She doesn’t look like a pop star at all. She never has, actually. I’ve never seen her do a ‘photoshoot’. Anyway, if I’m being honest, I liked but didn’t love that album. I guess I was expecting This Is The Kit v2, but actually it much more subtle, introspective and – yes – unassuming. It sounded like it didn’t mind if you listened to or not, it was there anyway, quietly existing in it own little corner.

How I underestimated that album. Because in the last 3 years, I bet you it’s one of the albums I’ve played the most. I return to it like a lost friend and I’m always happy to see it. And here’s the thing – I still feel like has a mystery to it, like I don’t quite know what it is. But it got under my skin like nothing else. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to describe her music, and I think that what is has is a lot of SPACE. It’s not folk music at all, the songwriting is pop music, but has an openness and a slight wonkiness that makes me thing of jazz more than anything?! Is that just me?

The mix and instruments are wide apart; it’s not fussy, it’s not trying too hard. It’s intimately produced, everything up close in the mix, and the really clever icing on the top is Rozi’s double tracked (ALWAYS double tracked!) vocal, both perfect and flat and, again, unassuming. No vocal ticks, no showing off. Subtle AF. But my god, it’s effective.

So to this new album, which has moved her sound and the conversation about what she is and what she does on considerably. This is squelchier affair, a lot more synths and swathes of electronic sound. But what remains is that commitment to the subtle, the mysterious and the gently persuasive. I don’t want to get hung up on a whole gender thing and resort to any stereotypes, but I do think this is a very female take on songwriting – it is insistent but it’s not trying to show off. And I get that someone could listen to this and miss the whole thing. To be honest, I was worried when I chose it that you all might feel that way too, and it’s been heartening to hear that she’s connecting with you.

So what’s going with the songwriting. Let’s start with a slightly fanciful quote from her own Bandcamp age:

The music of Rozi Plain has always felt like a freeze-frame. A colourful and graceful snapshot of the world, paused, suspended in time, and then gently toyed with, like stepping out of the linear world as we know it.

Yeah, I know, it’s a bit much, but it does touch on something. The songs kind of in a here and now. They’re about a current conversation, something that’s happening in real time. That’s actually quite unusual!

In Agreeing for Two, she sings:
“What should we call it
If nothing will do?
It’s nothing we’ll do
But what should we call it?”

I mean, who knows what the argument/discussion is about. But we know that feeling, right, about not being able to find common ground in a relationship?

All the way through the album, there are refrains in the lyrics that are repeated so often they’re like mantras:

If it’s a feeling/That’s going/When it goes/You even know/Help for you/Help for you/Help for you..

My god, that could be anything. Depression? The end of a relationship? Trying to help a friend? I love that space these songs give you to make sense of them in your way. Prove Your Good goes even further, reducing most of the whole song to that mantra (note it’s not Prove ‘YOU’RE’ Good but Prove YOUR Good i.e. prove that you have worth).

I’m going to go even further and do the worst thing possible: quite Pitchfork:

Working with minimalist guitar, gentle vocals, and an understated rhythm section, Plain constructs a careful lesson about the awe of being present in the moment.

Back to that thing about time again. Maybe that’s what keeps me coming back to her work. Listening to it puts me in the moment. I’m here and it’s now. I can work to it, I can relax to it, I can think to it. Can’t think of many records that’s true of.

I’m already loving this as much as the last record, and I’m also really grateful that it feels like a significant musical step forward. She’s not staying put, she’s on the move. And I’m very happy to be on the journey with her. Very much looking to your thoughts on this fascinating album!

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

Song for an Entrance | Joey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Album of the Month

AOTM | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen

… and the award for the best album title of 2022 goes to … Sudan Archives ‘Natural Brown Prom Queen’.

Sudan Archives, AKA Brittany Parks, is a 28 year old, musical force of nature from Cincinnati, Ohio but now based in LA. Natural Brown Prom Queen is her 2nd album and it’s getting significant and well deserved attention from the press, live audiences … and This Is Not Happening. This album is a rollercoaster ride, it’s wild, frenetic, original, chaotic, ridiculously high energy, high concept, totally individual, ambitious, and above all massive fun. It fuses Pop, R&B, Hip Hop, Dance, sounds of the 90s, early naughties, contemporary times … and perhaps even the future.

If you’ve not yet heard the album, have a listen here (other streaming platforms are available).

Two pods ago, David chose ‘Topless’, the first single off the album, as his selection for ‘Spin it or bin it’. I think we all ended up spinning it but we had an interesting discussion in getting there. Topless is a brave choice for the albums’ first single as it is so divisive, I can’t imagine anyone not having a pretty strong opinion about this track. I said something along the lines of ‘this is either the best or the worst track that anyone has chosen for Spin it or bin it’. Making your mind up about the track is a lot easier if you only listen to it, when you watch the video too, it’s close to sensory overload. Therefore, I’d recommend you first listen to the track here but you can also dive straight in to the video here …

There’s a lot going on isn’t there? While this track isn’t wholly representative of the album it does point you in the right direction.

The album is 18 tracks and 54 mins long. As Nolan has pointed out, this is pretty much standard Hip Hop / R&B album length these days. But also, this kind of length has caused problems before when we’re digesting previous albums of the month. It’s much easier to digest a tight 35-40 minute album if you’re tackling a new artist or something that’s not your natural musical tastes. Brother Guy, I’m thinking of you here. And the 54 mins of this album can hardly be described as ‘easy listening’. There is so much going on here that it asks quite a lot of the listener, even if this does fall into your natural wheel-house.

For me, the 18 tracks on the album fall into 3 different phases of the album. This is something that we’ve discussed quite a lot on Whats App and I am sure will be a central point of the pod. But here are the ‘phases’ as I hear the album.

Phase 1: Track 1 (Homemaker) to Track 8 (OMG Britt)

Phase 2: Track 9 (Chevy S10) to Track 13 (Do Your Thing)

Phase 3: Track 14 (Freakalizer) to Track 18 (#513)

With such a long album I often get interrupted when I listen and don’t get as many ‘all the way through’ runs with the album as I’d like. Therefore I tend to chop the album up and the above has begun to feel like a natural(ish) division. I don’t think for a second that Ms. Parks designed it like that but it’s the reality of my listening experience.

In short, the first 3rd contains all of the singles – Topless, Selfish Soul and OMG Britt. As with so many albums these days, it’s front loaded with the hook laden, immediate attention grabbing (perhaps not ‘radio friendly’) singles. Let’s take a quick minute to talk about Selfish Soul. This is a mega track. It’s got a similar attitude, vibe and bounce to ‘Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ and like that track is close to impossible to sit still to. But, it’s also weird AF. Or perhaps ‘wonky’ as Brother David would put it. It also touches on subject matter that I’ve never heard covered like this before.

As we always do, we love to share brilliant content from other blogs, websites and pods … I MASSIVELY encourage you to listen to the Song Exploder episode on this track which you can listen to here. It’s fascinating listening to Brittany talk about the recording process – her working alone in her home recording studio and sending the track to producers and remixers who do their thing, totally independently and send it back to her. She then picks and chooses what she likes and what she doesn’t. Whilst I am sure it’s not a unique approach its certainly not a common form of ‘collaboration’ that I’ve come across. However, you can definitely hear the hand of many creatives in this album … but their input seems to be moderated and modulated by Sudan Archives to create the final product that we hear and is totally hers.

One more track to call out from this first third … only cause you’re going to hear us speak about this so much more on the Pod is OMG Britt. David and I love it but Guy hates it with a passion I’m not sure I’ve seen before (sorry Nolan not sure what you think about it yet). Sudan Archives is at her spikiest and most aggressive on this track but for me, it’s a total banger.

So what about the 2nd and 3rd ‘phases’ of this album?

Phase 2 turns to more ambitious tracks of greater scope and scale. Chevy S10 is the perfect example. At over 6 minutes it’s the longest track on the album by some way. This song itself has as many phases as the album, all quite unique, equally ambitious and intriguing. This track reminds me of some of the longer, more experimental College Dropout Tracks in its complete ignorance of the rules that govern so much music in the Hip Hop / R&B genre. Also, I hear shades of Pyramids by Frank Ocean here too?

For me, the second phase contains some of the strongest tracks on the album, ChevyS10, Copycat and Flue are super strong tracks and TDLY is sparkling in it’s oddness and is great example of the violin playing that Sudan Archives has become famous for. This phase ends with the only skit on the album which I can take or leave but its only 50 seconds long and feels like it fits.

The final phase of the album doesn’t let up in it’s vast array of styles and genre influences on display. Freakalizer marries a lovely early 90’s beat with nu-soul early 2000’s vocals in a catchy, funky track with a bunch of vocal hooks. We then move to two, perfectly crafted slow jams (Homesick and Milk Me) before we move to the final two tracks, Yellow Brick Road and #513 that both remind me of late 90’s early naughties R&B and perhaps even Trip Hop influences (particularly #513) but alway with a contemporary twist or nod.

If you can’t tell, I think this album isn’t far off being perfect. I wouldn’t lose a single track and I don’t think I’d change anything about the sequencing. I love the massive list of influences that I can hear here. I love how they’re blended so well. I love the zero fucks given to genre rules and tropes. I am not sure if I’ve heard such a confident presentation of someone doing exactly what they want to do since ‘Smiling with no teeth’ by Genesis Owusu. I think I’d argue that Sudan Archives has achieved an album with a greater level of consistency. But I also appreciate that this is less accessible than ‘Smiling’ and I know for a fact that for one of us on the Pod, this album has been a struggle.

It should be an interesting discussion. Look out for the Pod episode dropping mid November wherever you get your podcasts!

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

Podcast Ep. 26 | Hot Chip | Freakout Release

Our first AOTM episode in 2023 finds us exploring Ab Soul's 'Herbert' in Part 1 and we focus on New Music for 'Spin It or Bin It' in Part 2.Part 1 | Album of the Month | Ab Soul | HerbertIt's Nolan's choice this month and he's taking us to his spiritual home – Hip Hop with Ab Soul's late 2022 release, 'Herbert'. For once, we're all coming to this artist pretty fresh . Nolan's been banging on about the singles from this album for like 6 months so giving the album some extended love seems a natural choice.If you've not heard it, we think it's well worth a listen …Go listen to the album – HereGo watch some videos – HereGo buy some merch – Here Our discussion focuses on how we'd describe the album, mental health, suicide and how these topics impact the album, the length of the album, the bangers and of course we touch on a few of the clangers too.We mention a few things that we'd highly recommend checking out, so here are the links;YouTube interview with Charlamagne Tha God – HereGQ interview – HereJoey's alternative, 10 track playlist that focuses on the bangers – HereGuy's alternative, 11 track playlist that focuses on the narrative – HerePart 2 | Spin It or Bin It | 'New Music' (Nov '22 onwards)We all pick a tack based on a theme and present to the rest of us to ask the simple question, Spin it or Bin it? The theme this month is a simple one 'New Music'. The only rule is that the track has to be released after November 2022. We chose albums from as far a field as Doncaster and Russia.David chose – 'Nothing Left to Loose' by Everything But the Girl Nolan chose – 'Like a Heart Won't Beat' by Skinny Pelembe  Joey chose – 'Let's Hold Our Hands Together' by Kito JempereDavid chose – 'Gorilla' by Little SimzNext MonthDavid is in the hot seat for AOTM and he's bringing Rozi Plain's new album 'Prize' to the table. We're all getting stuck in and seeing how we live with the album for a month or so. In Part 2, 'Spin It or Bin It?' will be a good one too … the theme next month is Protest Music.We've been writing the blog for years come and have a look – https://thisisnothappening.net/We've been writing the blog for years come and have a look – https://thisisnothappening.net/
  1. Ep 29 | Ab-Soul | Herbert
  2. Ep 28 | 2022 Top 10 Albums + Top Tracks
  3. Ep 27 | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen
  4. Ep 26 – Hot Chip – Freakout / Release
  5. Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights

We’re back again this month with our usual format. In Part 1 we go deep on Hot Chip’s latest album, in Part 2 we play ‘Spin It or Bin It’, where we choose a theme and each bring our choice of tracks. This month the theme is ‘Dance-Pop’.

Part 1 | Album of the Month | Hot Chip | Freakout/Release

It’s Guy’s choice this month and he chooses the one of his favourite band’s latest release. It’s always interesting when one of us chooses a band that they love and have loads of history with. 

Listen to the album – Here

The chat focuses around our initial impressions, favourite tracks, the difficulty of maintaining relevance and engagement on your 8th album … and we all have something to say on the sequencing of tracks on this album.

Guy has curated a 28 track playlist called ‘Hot Chip’s Hot Hits’ – have a listen to it here

During the chat there were loads of references to Hot Chip side projects, here are a few links for you to check out;

Part 2 | Spin It or Bin It | We all choose a Dance-Pop Track

In tribute to Hot Chip, the theme for Spin It or Bin It this month is Dance-Pop. Over the course of the month we all create a play list of our favourite Dance-Pop, a shortlist of 4 tracks and then choose a track to delight (or in my case annoy) the team. This month, the 4 tracks were …

  1. Nolan chose – Robyn | Dancing On My Own
  2. Guy chose – Cassius | The Sound of Violence
  3. Joey chose – The Knife | Pass This On
  4. David chose – Soulwax | NY Excuse 

The 16 track playlist of each of our 4 shortlisted tracks can be found here and it’s a belter!

Next Month

I (
Joey) will be running the show and hosting the discussion on Sudan Archive’s 2nd album – Natural Brown Prom Queen

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, podcast

Podcast Episode 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights

Our first AOTM episode in 2023 finds us exploring Ab Soul's 'Herbert' in Part 1 and we focus on New Music for 'Spin It or Bin It' in Part 2.Part 1 | Album of the Month | Ab Soul | HerbertIt's Nolan's choice this month and he's taking us to his spiritual home – Hip Hop with Ab Soul's late 2022 release, 'Herbert'. For once, we're all coming to this artist pretty fresh . Nolan's been banging on about the singles from this album for like 6 months so giving the album some extended love seems a natural choice.If you've not heard it, we think it's well worth a listen …Go listen to the album – HereGo watch some videos – HereGo buy some merch – Here Our discussion focuses on how we'd describe the album, mental health, suicide and how these topics impact the album, the length of the album, the bangers and of course we touch on a few of the clangers too.We mention a few things that we'd highly recommend checking out, so here are the links;YouTube interview with Charlamagne Tha God – HereGQ interview – HereJoey's alternative, 10 track playlist that focuses on the bangers – HereGuy's alternative, 11 track playlist that focuses on the narrative – HerePart 2 | Spin It or Bin It | 'New Music' (Nov '22 onwards)We all pick a tack based on a theme and present to the rest of us to ask the simple question, Spin it or Bin it? The theme this month is a simple one 'New Music'. The only rule is that the track has to be released after November 2022. We chose albums from as far a field as Doncaster and Russia.David chose – 'Nothing Left to Loose' by Everything But the Girl Nolan chose – 'Like a Heart Won't Beat' by Skinny Pelembe  Joey chose – 'Let's Hold Our Hands Together' by Kito JempereDavid chose – 'Gorilla' by Little SimzNext MonthDavid is in the hot seat for AOTM and he's bringing Rozi Plain's new album 'Prize' to the table. We're all getting stuck in and seeing how we live with the album for a month or so. In Part 2, 'Spin It or Bin It?' will be a good one too … the theme next month is Protest Music.We've been writing the blog for years come and have a look – https://thisisnothappening.net/We've been writing the blog for years come and have a look – https://thisisnothappening.net/
  1. Ep 29 | Ab-Soul | Herbert
  2. Ep 28 | 2022 Top 10 Albums + Top Tracks
  3. Ep 27 | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen
  4. Ep 26 – Hot Chip – Freakout / Release
  5. Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights

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

Our first AOTM episode in 2023 finds us exploring Ab Soul's 'Herbert' in Part 1 and we focus on New Music for 'Spin It or Bin It' in Part 2.Part 1 | Album of the Month | Ab Soul | HerbertIt's Nolan's choice this month and he's taking us to his spiritual home – Hip Hop with Ab Soul's late 2022 release, 'Herbert'. For once, we're all coming to this artist pretty fresh . Nolan's been banging on about the singles from this album for like 6 months so giving the album some extended love seems a natural choice.If you've not heard it, we think it's well worth a listen …Go listen to the album – HereGo watch some videos – HereGo buy some merch – Here Our discussion focuses on how we'd describe the album, mental health, suicide and how these topics impact the album, the length of the album, the bangers and of course we touch on a few of the clangers too.We mention a few things that we'd highly recommend checking out, so here are the links;YouTube interview with Charlamagne Tha God – HereGQ interview – HereJoey's alternative, 10 track playlist that focuses on the bangers – HereGuy's alternative, 11 track playlist that focuses on the narrative – HerePart 2 | Spin It or Bin It | 'New Music' (Nov '22 onwards)We all pick a tack based on a theme and present to the rest of us to ask the simple question, Spin it or Bin it? The theme this month is a simple one 'New Music'. The only rule is that the track has to be released after November 2022. We chose albums from as far a field as Doncaster and Russia.David chose – 'Nothing Left to Loose' by Everything But the Girl Nolan chose – 'Like a Heart Won't Beat' by Skinny Pelembe  Joey chose – 'Let's Hold Our Hands Together' by Kito JempereDavid chose – 'Gorilla' by Little SimzNext MonthDavid is in the hot seat for AOTM and he's bringing Rozi Plain's new album 'Prize' to the table. We're all getting stuck in and seeing how we live with the album for a month or so. In Part 2, 'Spin It or Bin It?' will be a good one too … the theme next month is Protest Music.We've been writing the blog for years come and have a look – https://thisisnothappening.net/We've been writing the blog for years come and have a look – https://thisisnothappening.net/
  1. Ep 29 | Ab-Soul | Herbert
  2. Ep 28 | 2022 Top 10 Albums + Top Tracks
  3. Ep 27 | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen
  4. Ep 26 – Hot Chip – Freakout / Release
  5. Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights

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.

Our first AOTM episode in 2023 finds us exploring Ab Soul's 'Herbert' in Part 1 and we focus on New Music for 'Spin It or Bin It' in Part 2.Part 1 | Album of the Month | Ab Soul | HerbertIt's Nolan's choice this month and he's taking us to his spiritual home – Hip Hop with Ab Soul's late 2022 release, 'Herbert'. For once, we're all coming to this artist pretty fresh . Nolan's been banging on about the singles from this album for like 6 months so giving the album some extended love seems a natural choice.If you've not heard it, we think it's well worth a listen …Go listen to the album – HereGo watch some videos – HereGo buy some merch – Here Our discussion focuses on how we'd describe the album, mental health, suicide and how these topics impact the album, the length of the album, the bangers and of course we touch on a few of the clangers too.We mention a few things that we'd highly recommend checking out, so here are the links;YouTube interview with Charlamagne Tha God – HereGQ interview – HereJoey's alternative, 10 track playlist that focuses on the bangers – HereGuy's alternative, 11 track playlist that focuses on the narrative – HerePart 2 | Spin It or Bin It | 'New Music' (Nov '22 onwards)We all pick a tack based on a theme and present to the rest of us to ask the simple question, Spin it or Bin it? The theme this month is a simple one 'New Music'. The only rule is that the track has to be released after November 2022. We chose albums from as far a field as Doncaster and Russia.David chose – 'Nothing Left to Loose' by Everything But the Girl Nolan chose – 'Like a Heart Won't Beat' by Skinny Pelembe  Joey chose – 'Let's Hold Our Hands Together' by Kito JempereDavid chose – 'Gorilla' by Little SimzNext MonthDavid is in the hot seat for AOTM and he's bringing Rozi Plain's new album 'Prize' to the table. We're all getting stuck in and seeing how we live with the album for a month or so. In Part 2, 'Spin It or Bin It?' will be a good one too … the theme next month is Protest Music.We've been writing the blog for years come and have a look – https://thisisnothappening.net/We've been writing the blog for years come and have a look – https://thisisnothappening.net/
  1. Ep 29 | Ab-Soul | Herbert
  2. Ep 28 | 2022 Top 10 Albums + Top Tracks
  3. Ep 27 | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen
  4. Ep 26 – Hot Chip – Freakout / Release
  5. Ep 25 – Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights

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.