Another Month’s Top Notch Listens (+ Radio Show Announcement!)

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Is anybody out there?

I’ve been having an incredibly busy summer, holidaying, writing music, living it up with my free time. This, unfortunately, means I haven’t written much original content for this blog in a while, sorry about that. But I have been writing for Bitter Sweet Symphonies, and have been reposting those articles on here, and I’m also going to write a piece on NOS Alive ’16, since I went, and saw, amongst other things, Radiohead and Arcade Fire. That’ll be worth a read right?

But anyway, for now, I thought I’d quickly do the same thing I did last time I had no time for full formal reviews, a cheeky roundup of what’s been on my headphones the last few weeks. ALSO stay tuned till the end, as I’m announcing details of a radio show I’m hosting next week (Wednesday 3rd August) in which some of these tracks might feature!

Cigarettes After Sex – Affection

‘Oh you’re gonna feel it someday’. So hums the gentle voice of Greg Gonzalez in this incredibly woozy tribute to love and strife. When you strip away the layers of reverb and ambience, the track itself is actually very simple, but the feel of heartache that quivers under the song’s skin is really quite something. I have a lot of love for this band.

Ty Segall – Californian Hills

I mean, come on, this track is just filth right? The murky, scratchy guitar lines, the nasally vocal delivery, the frantic intersections where all becomes rabid and wild, Ty Segall sounds downright dastardly on this cut from his newest album.

Mogwai – Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home

Part of the problem of constantly writing about new music is you tend to overlook the classics. Mogwai, a band I am very familiar with now (check out my review of Atomic), sound just as cinematic on this, their debut, as they do now. This opening track, with its patient bassline and stuttering opening speech, is thoroughly captivating, particularly on a long journey.

Rosemary Fairweather – Too Low

Now, I’ve written extensively about Rosemary Fairweather on Bittersweet Symphonies, but not on this track, which is by far my favourite. Atop a simple hip-hop beat, Fairweather’s delicate vocal and sensitive approach to dream pop sounds downright fantastic. It’s fast becoming one of my favourite tracks of this year, and I suggest you check the rest of her stuff out.

And there you have it, just a selection of the tracks I’ve been indulging in the last month or two. NOW, that radio announcement…

Cambridge 105, a community radio station based in Essex and Cambridgeshire, is giving me an hour to takeover their station and play some local unsigned music from both Cambridge and Manchester. I’m doing it under my band’s name Too Cool Kid, and I’ll be spinning some GREAT music, some you may have heard, much you won’t have heard. The show is live and on air on WEDNESDAY 3rd AUGUST at 9pm. If you fancy tuning in, you can do so via the online player on Cambridge 105’s website, which is…

http://cambridge105.fm/

To recap, the show is TOO COOL KID NMG TAKEOVER, Weds, 9pm BST. Do tune in!

More posts coming soon, take care, wash your hair, brush your teeth, look after yourself x

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The Strokes – Future Present Past EP REVIEW

 

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The Strokes embrace every element of their new EP’s title

The Strokes have always been hampered by their past exploits, and the problem has always been the same: if they continued making music like their debut, they were called safe, and if they deviated, people complained because it wasn’t Is This It. But in recent years, the band has diversified massively, with Albert Hammond Jr’s solo project, Julian Casablancas’ album with The Voidz, and Nikolai starting up Summer Moon. This could mean that finally, people will stop expecting The Strokes to recreate their past glory, and let them just do what they do best.

And it seems that, after 3 years of musical silence, they’ve decided to return with a concept EP, as Future Present Past’s track list seems to mirror its content. If the sinister 80s synth grumble of Drag Queen represents the band’s future, then OBLIVIUS is the band’s transitional present, and Threat Of Joy is a nostalgic flashback to the glory days.

Drag Queen, a song that’s strangely evasive despite its relative simplicity, kicks off the EP. Although the sound of this track is very sinister and interesting, it feels weirdly uncertain, as if the band weren’t quite sure what sort of song they wanted to make. There’s a noticeable influence from Julian Casablancas’ extra-curricular activities too; in fact, this track feels like it could’ve slotted neatly into the tracklist for Tyranny with its odd jazzy guitar stabs and tense chorus soaked bassline.

By contrast, OBLIVIUS is a flawless meld of every version of the band’s sonic blueprint. The low-fi feel of Room On Fire (a production style that encompasses the whole EP) is teemed with slower moody touches reminiscent of First Impressions Of Earth. The vocal melody darts about during the verses, settling on a fantastic hook in the choruses. ‘What side are you standing on?’ howls Julian, as the track explodes with pent up energy. It’s a great new addition for the band, although it feels as if it could’ve benefited from more solid backing vocals.

Threat Of Joy, with its spoken word opening, feels especially tongue and cheek. Julian Casablancas seems to be actively engaging with the band’s critics, asking why they won’t play with him anymore. But the song itself, with its laid back vibe and woozy delivery, is itself very playful. But, like OBLIVIUS, the song is crying out for committed backing vocals. We get some attempt, little bits here and there, but the choruses of both songs would benefit massively from a really strong harmony, and would take these songs to the next level.

What’s re-assuring about this EP is that it shows that The Strokes are still capable of working together and cranking out some really delightful tracks. The band sound largely cohesive throughout, though less so on Drag Queen. Future Present Past, as its title suggests, is very aware of the band’s heritage and history, and although its something of a safe release, it sounds like The Strokes are having fun playing together again, and when it comes down to it, isn’t that all that really matters? Despite its shortcomings, Future Present Past is a lot of fun, and a cheerful reminder that, for The Strokes, this isn’t it yet.

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool ALBUM REVIEW

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Radiohead make a stunning return with A Moon Shaped Pool

One does not simply LISTEN to a new Radiohead album. At this point, Radiohead inspire so much discussion when they drop any music, that it can take time to cut through the onslaught of journals, blogs and social media posts to get down to your own opinion.

In recent years, they have not been a band that necessarily thrived on the immediacy of their music. As time has gone on, they’ve become increasingly artful and subtle, making it difficult to have a knee jerk reaction to A Moon Shaped Pool on first listen.

Nonetheless, it is a new album, and one full of familiar Radiohead-isms, though there are enough tweaks and new ideas to make it stand apart from anything else in music, as well as anything else the band themselves have already done.

Production-wise, this album feels fragile and ethereal. It takes the brooding skeletal blueprint of The King Of Limbs’ more emotional cuts and injects it with the organic instrumentation that album was lacking, bringing Greenwood’s strings and Yorke’s vocal to the forefront on many of the tracks, most notably on Glass Eyes and Daydreaming.

In fact, Thom Yorke’s vocal hasn’t sounded this upfront and direct since the 90s. Gone is much of the swirling delay and reverb adorning tracks from TKOL and Yorke’s solo material, and his voice is all the more enthralling for it. It is, at times, totally bare, sitting atop the mix as if the man himself is standing an inch from your face, both intimidating and totally hypnotizing.

And of course, Nigel Godrich continues to allow Radiohead to be bottomlessly creative with production techniques. The shifts in bass and treble EQ in Ful Stop make the song sound as if it is, as Yorke croons on Burn The Witch, emerging from the shadows. Pieces of guitars are used as delayed percussive hits in Decks Dark, and the strange, shifting time signature of Identikit keeps you on your toes.

But production aside, there is one question being dodged: is A Moon Shaped Pool a good album?

Yes. It’s stunning.

Whereas TKOL left some feeling lacking, A Moon Shaped Pool is an album packed with captivating new material. I implied before that this album was not one that could be understood immediately, and this is true. To the casual listener, this album may not have much to offer initially, but you will inevitably want to go back and listen to it again, because the curiosity and intrigue of the music cannot be ignored.

Is this to say then, that this album is a love letter to Radiohead fans, meaningless to anyone outside their cult? Certainly not. Although initially, the inclusion of True Love Waits seemed like fan-service, in the context of the album, it acts as both a stark reminder of the band’s past, and a melancholy closer that causes chills. The song feels ghostly in comparison to the aggressive acoustic original that many expected to be the only version they’d ever hear, but it works. It’s as if Radiohead are showing that the overpowering sadness of waiting, of longing, can take the energy out of life in the same way that sadness has come to define the now definitive studio version of the song, and indeed much of this album.

This is an unescapably sad album, it delves deep, into the dark, and never really emerges. But it never feels insincere in being devastated. Like the moon from which it gets its title, the band acts as a temporary guiding light through a landscape that is shadowy and full of fear. The journey is uncertain, and at times even frightening, but you realise that beneath the evasive and veiled production lie enthralling songs and heart-wrenching truths. It is infinitely exciting, and completely unstoppable.

Burn The Witch – Radiohead TRACK REVIEW

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Radiohead cause a panic attack with their stunning return

We’ve been waiting on new Radiohead material for over 5 years now. Finally, after a typically strange and clever publicity campaign (the band erased all their social media sites and sent out cryptic postcards to fans), the band to end all bands are back with BURN THE WITCH.

What can be said about Radiohead at this point that hasn’t already been said? They’re a band who constantly redefine themselves, and endlessly push sonic boundaries. BURN THE WITCH is no different. Icy, urgent staccato strings kick the track off, and from there, Yorke’s soaring falsetto and a jittery, electronic beat take you through the burnings, the drownings, and the violence of the Salem Witch Trails.

Without meaning to say ‘I told you so’, it seems that Radiohead have indeed gone down a more filmic orchestral route this time around, as predicted (see HERE). However, the band have blended this new found organic-ness with their beloved electronic elements. Though I’m as yet not wholly convinced by the drum sound on the track, the beat is wicked, and it lends itself to the ominous tone of the piece.

Once again, Radiohead have proven themselves to be one of the most creative and intoxicating artists of our generation, putting their modern imitators, and quite frankly the rest of the music world, to shame. Who else could return after 5 years of soul-searching with an entirely new and exciting sound? Who else would have the daring to bring out a post-modern Eleanor Rigby in 2016?  Nobody but the 21st Century Beatles themselves. The sinister ambience of BURN THE WITCH is nothing short of spellbinding.

ALBUM REVIEW: MOGWAI – ATOMIC

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Mogwai hit harder than an atom bomb on their newest album

Inspiration is the key to all great art. Without it, it becomes directionless, and serves little purpose. The right inspiration, in the right hands, can create something truly brilliant.

This is just such the case with Mogwai’s stunning new album Atomic, an album which follows the band’s 20th Anniversary. Created as a soundtrack to the equally brilliant documentary of the same name, Atomic’s vast sonic landscapes and jittery sense of urgency are a perfect match for the danger and uncertainty of the documentary’s musings on nuclear power and its implications.

From the get go, this album soars. The uplifting tone of Ether, with its twinkling keys and staccato bass, perfectly mirrors the optimism of the nuclear age, whilst much of the rest of the tracks act as a stark contrast to this. Paranoia, power and the fear of untimely destruction are woven into the throbbing synth bass lines and ethereal keyboards that twinkle throughout tracks such as ‘U-235’ and ‘Weak Force’.

The album is as intoxicating as it is varied, pulling off delicacy and violence with total ease. French Horn and Violin on tracks like ‘Ether’ and ‘Are You A Dancer?’ provide a gentle relief from the growling textures of the more intense tracks like ‘Scram’. Some may find the steady build of the tracks tiring, but it’s worth your patience. Beautifully mixed as ever, full of fantastic music (and titles too; ’Bitterness Centrifuge’ is a particular favourite), there’s a lot to love about this project.

But this is not merely Mogwai pumping out a soundtrack. This album showcases real improvements to the band’s delivery. The inclusion of some of the more electronic elements of 2014’s Rave Tapes feel far more integrated into the arrangement this time around, and the blend of natural and electronic percussion works especially well, especially in consideration of the source material; just such a meld of natural and synthetic elements goes on in science.

Though there’s the odd moment where a track might seem to drag, overall this is a fantastically varied, highly intelligent album, full of levity and also foreboding. It’s a strong showing that again confirms Mogwai to be modern masters of their art.

The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it ALBUM REVIEW

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The 1975 deliver a gluttonously self indulgent new album 

I can think of no better example of musical self-awareness than The 1975. Regardless of what you think of them, it’s undeniable that they’ve cultivated a striking public image. From the stubbornly black and white nature of their early music videos to the garish neon pink they’ve adopted for their new album, the band have always been plagued by criticism of style over substance whilst simultaneously striding to unprecedented popularity.

And it’s this self-awareness that led Matt Healy to declare that ‘the world needs’ The 1975’s new album, and also influenced their most recent video for ‘The Sound’, which is intercut with critics’s negative comments. The four Manchester lads have always been conscious of their audience, their critics and their place in the musical landscape, which is admirable, but it also has major drawbacks.

If you thought that the word-count ruining title ‘I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’ was merely an indication of the album’s bloated runtime, you’d be wrong. Think of it as a demonstration of how deeply self-involved the band are with their image, to the extent that, yes indeed, this is an album of style over substance.

The music is just as glossy and glamorous sounding as before. The same clean guitars stab through a wall of sparkling keyboards, the songs still use such a baffling variety of sounds that it’s impossible to keep up with any new melodic developments, and Matt Healy’s lyrics are still centralized around the idea that if it has enough syllables, it’ll do. There’s genuinely a line on track ‘Change Of Heart’ that goes ‘you look shit and you smell a bit’, and another later on in the album which references Sainsbury’s. Maybe they’ve got a sponsorship deal going? Coming soon: The 1975 branded Pick ’n’ Mix; every sweet is pink and tastes exactly the same, just like their album.

This is not a diverse affair, the songs are repetitive, bleeding into one another to the extent where it’s difficult to pick them apart. This is the aforementioned drawback of being very conscious about your own sound. The 1975 refuse to leave their comfort zone, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with that, it feels as if a sonic blueprint is the full extent of the band’s creativity, because what really lets this album down is its lack of memorability. The band’s debut had ear-worm hooks, ‘Chocolate’, ‘Girls’, ‘The City’, ‘Heart Out’, ‘Sex’. These tracks were attractive because of their grit, their cheekiness, their underlying uncertainty. ‘ILIWYSFYASBYSUOI’ (see how ridiculous this is?) has ‘Love Me’, yes, but nothing else on here is as good as their debut, nothing is in any way groundbreaking, and nothing sets it apart.

It’s convenient that there’s a song called ‘UGH!’ on this album, because that’s the exact sentiment I’ll use to sum up my experience of it. This may seem like an obvious and uninspired joke, but then again, if The 1975 can do it, why can’t I?

Originally Published in The Mancunion 09/03/2016

Review: Foals & Everything Everything Live at Manchester Arena

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Foals and Everything Everything storm Manchester Arena in a blaze of glory

In all honesty, there’s little that can be said about Foals’ recent tour that hasn’t already been said. They’ve been crushing it wherever they turn up, playing fantastically and getting some huge love from their audiences at every gig they do; their show at Manchester Arena on February 13th was no different. At this point, it’s a widely held view that they (along with equally stunning support act Everything Everything) are one of the best live acts in the country. I have to agree, but not without applying a sense of reflection to the subject, just like Mark Twain would’ve wanted.

Perhaps it should be pointed out how I hold very opposite views about the bands’ most recent albums. In short, I found Foals’ to be as exciting as Shredded Wheat, and Everything Everything’s to be not only one of the best albums of that year, but also one of the most creatively jaw-dropping.

As such, Everything Everything’s set was undeniably captivating for me. A punchy set (and I mean punchy, the band didn’t waste a second for unnecessary chit chat) of mostly new material (they played nothing from breakout album ‘Man Alive’), the band, adorned in surprisingly stylish matching jackets, or in the case of Jonathan Higgs, Jedi robes, were brilliant.

Again, something that’s been written about endlessly is how fantastic ‘No Reptiles’ off their newest album is live. I was skeptical, I didn’t love that song, but the masses were right about it live. Perhaps it’s the harmonies, perhaps the added savagery of the synthesizer through PA speakers, either way it was the highlight of the set, but certainly not by default, as the whole show was superb. The only thing that held it back was the lack of visuals and space for the band to move, but then that’s the trade off of being a support act, and Everything Everything made it their own nonetheless. Highlights also included a bombastic rendition of ‘Distant Past’, as well as ‘Cough Cough’ and ‘Fortune 500’.

Foals, capitalizing on the levity of Everything Everything’s aftermath, launched into a brutal set of hits, and also brought a kaleidoscopic LED backdrop, which moved higher or lower depending on the mood of the song, a nice touch. ‘Snake Oil’ kicked off the set, and the energy level remained consistent throughout, with the struggle for supremacy in the various mosh-pits being an ongoing battle. But the real supremacy went to the musicality of the band themselves, who didn’t make a single false step, even when lead singer Yannis Philippakis was engulfed by the crowd upon which he was surfing. It was a blistering affair, and unlike Everything Everything, the band even delved into their first album material, cranking out Two Steps Twice to the surprise and delight of the crowd.

Can a band’s impressive live status mitigate an underwhelming album? No, but Foals’ performance did make me at least go back and re-listen to ‘What Went Down’ (my opinion of it is largely unchanged), as well as delve deeper into their back catalogue, so perhaps that’s all the matters.

Either way, both acts were hugely exciting to watch, though I would have liked to see more of Everything Everything. If you catch a chance to see them or Foals nearby, go. You won’t ‘Regret’ it (I couldn’t resist).