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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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).

REVIEW: NME AWARDS TOUR, MANCHESTER ACADEMY (BLOC PARTY, DRENGE, RAT BOY, BUGZY MALONE)

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Saturday’s NME Tour was an evening of nostalgia and new beginnings

If there’s one theme tying together every act at Saturday’s NME Awards Tour, it’s new beginnings.

NME itself, having re-launched as a free magazine to massive criticism, is in something of a soul-searching phase currently, and in sense, so too are all of the artists from the evening’s lineup.

Bugzy Malone, rising star of the hip-hop scene, is fighting to prove he’s more than just another Grime rapper, a genre often labeled as being a fad. Rat Boy and Drenge are also looking for their place in the music world, with Drenge having just come out with a new album that showcases a beefier sound. And then of course there’s Bloc Party, currently touring with a new lineup and an eclectic collection of new material.

It seems that all involved in Saturday’s show are out to prove themselves, and all are looking for a happy ending to their new beginnings.

Bugzy Malone kicked off proceedings with a lively, albeit uninventive set. However, despite the lacking instrumental variety, he made good use of his vocal prowess, at one point indulging in a ferocious solo flow which culminated in what can only be described as a filthy drop.

Next up were Rat Boy, who practically tumbled onstage in a ramshackle mess of scruffy clothes and teenage cheekiness. Entertainingly petulant throughout, the youthful foursome were hugely enjoyable, ballsy, and whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

Drenge, arguably the underdogs of the evening, delivered just as exciting a set. However, the band seemed at times far too clean-cut and calculated for the kind of dirty modern rock they were dishing out; they lacked a sense of danger that bands of their category should carry with them at all times. This didn’t detract from the audience’s enjoyment of their set though, as crowd surfers were being dragged from the mass of bodies at least once per song, particularly noticeable during ‘Bloodsports’.

And then Bloc Party arrived.

Lead singer Kele, sauntering onstage in what can only be described as pajamas, greeted the crowd with his usual cordiality, as the band not so much launched but initiated their set. Beginning with ‘The Good News’ wasn’t the explosive start that everyone was anticipating. It seemed to undercut the visceral excitement that had been built up by the previous acts. The next few new tracks were received with some excitement, but not nearly as much as you’d expect from a band of Bloc Party’s status. At times, the members even seemed nervous; Russell and Kele looked bored during ‘Banquet’, a song which was a little sloppy in its performance. Not that anyone cared of course, any and all Bloc Party material pre-dating 2010 caused nothing short of a hysteria. Classics like ‘Helicopter’ and ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ were met with thundering applause, as was ‘Flux’.

But throughout the set, however much the crowd were loving it, there was the inescapable feeling that Bloc Party were desperately trying to get the audience to love their new material, material which just isn’t as strong as their older work. No matter how good the band were, no matter how inventive the sampling or poignant the lyrics, the longing for great Bloc Party classics such as ‘Like Eating Glass’ and ‘The Pioneers’ was there, and that’s a shame, because performance-wise, the band were virtually flawless.

What’s clear is that Bloc Party’s new lineup doesn’t detract from their live impact, and I’m certain that the crowd left the venue satisfied, even craving more. But for this reviewer, the way that the band’s classics outshone the rest of the set is a sad sign that they have little more to offer their fanbase.

Overall though, the evening was a blast, and if nothing else, it demonstrated that there’s plenty of fresh musical meat on offer for the future.

 

Originally published in The Mancunion 15/02/2016

Spectre & Speculation- Where Will Radiohead Go Next?

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Jay Plent muses on what Britain’s most influential band will do next

With the Christmas release of their rejected Bond theme ‘Spectre’, now seems as good a time as any to speculate on what Radiohead’s eagerly awaited follow-up to 2011’s The King Of Limbs will sound like. 

Radiohead are famed for taking daring and inventive sidesteps in their music, so naturally, when a band as diversified in their interests re-assembles after a nearly 5 year hiatus, there’s bound to be some shake-up. 

The possibilities following TKOL, a short, down-tempo affair scattered with electronic stutterings, seems endless. So where will Radiohead go next? What fresh musical indulgence will they deliver us?

This is my speculation; Radiohead are unlikely to continue with the folk-electronic feel of TKOL, primarily because Thom Yorke has been pursuing that with Atoms For Peace and his recent Bit-torrent release Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, and frankly doing so with far more finesse than on TKOL. There’s little chance of them returning to any OK Computer-era guitar rock (although it’s rumoured they’re re-working an old song called ‘Lift’ from that period), as the band have moved beyond such trivial attachments, and Thom Yorke is on record as saying that he hates rock music.

An untrained eye would suggest then, that we’ve been given little clue as to where the next album will take Radiohead; not so.

Jonny Greenwood has been spending a significant amount of time with The London Contemporary Orchestra, and composing for films such as Inherent Vice. The conceptual pieces he has been creating for these projects could influence the next Radiohead album, especially given that the band recently shared images of them in the studio with a full orchestra.

Though the band’s use of orchestral instruments is not new, we should return, not just to ‘Spectre’, but also to their second most recent song ‘The Daily Mail’. Both these tracks, unlike TKOL, feature a far more organic collection of instruments, prominent piano, horns and strings. They sound brooding, dramatic and natural, almost filmic.

As mentioned, this is pure speculation, but I believe the band are going to go in the direction of their most recent releases, a more gentle and growth driven sound rooted in classical instruments, but given a contemporary twist. As a band with such expertise at crafting the most heartbreaking of music, it would be a natural fit to their talents. It’s also a style the band could sit in perfectly given that they are aging (though gracefully, I should add). This isn’t to say the band will totally abandon sampling and electronic elements, that’d be a tragedy, but I suspect they’ll be more in the foreground than centre stage.

Of course, this is merely conjecture. Only time will tell whether Radiohead follow through with another gorgeously rich album, or whether, in his spare time, Thom Yorke has got really into acid house and decided that 2016 really needs more acid house and so Radiohead are gonna make the acididiest acid house ever to be played in a house party whilst on acid.

Originally published in The Mancunion 10/02/16

Wolf Alice – “My Love Is Cool” Album Review

Wolf Alice are tame and unthreatening on their debut LP

Wolf Alice are tame and unthreatening on their debut LP

Desperately trying to relive the glory days of post 21st century indie rock, Wolf Alice’s debut album does just this, but without any of the innovation or song-writing talent. Though it packs a sonic punch, My Love Is Cool simply doesn’t have the musical power behind it to cause any meaningful damage to the rock template.

Tracks like Bros and Lisbon seem energetic; the meeting of female and male vocals is a charming effect, but the tracks pull off the incredible feat of being both bottomless and shallow. There’s very little in the way of grit or excitement, which is a shame given that lead singer Ellie could pull it off, as evidenced by the terrifying cackle at the end of You’re A Germ, by far and away the best track. Even the song titles themselves are screamingly safe, though perhaps I’m missing the hilarious irony of a heavy rock song called Fluffy.

Even so, the biggest failing of this album is its lack of imagination. Despite the spacious, reverb soaked production and filthy guitar tones, it feels utterly sterile, and this isn’t helped by the lacklustre writing and copy-paste approach to everything that made Garbage exciting in the 90s. By the time you reach the end, and you realise that after The Wonderwhy there’s a (sigh) hidden track, there’s really no reason to revisit the full album except for a few choice tracks, namely You’re A Germ, Freazy and Fluffy. Artists, for goodness sake, stop putting hidden tracks on your albums, it’s 2015, nobody cares, and this goes for everyone. If a track isn’t good enough to inhabit the main body of your album, don’t just hide it at the end; if nothing else it means reviewers have to stick around for your precious self-indulgent nonsense.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I have to condemn this album as just plain boring. I say this because I really wanted to like this LP, I had hoped it might be the kick up the ass indie rock needed to get exciting again, a more synthy Is This It, if you will. However, nothing memorable is brought to the table. As far as I’m concerned, Wolf Alice are just another bland-ie rock band hyped ridiculously by the press in an effort to support the fleeting pop-rock revival going on in mainstream music today.

Tracks worth hearing: You’re A Germ, Freazy, Fluffy

This Month’s Top Notch Listens

So I don’t have a great deal of free time at the moment, on account of living out a tedious study filled lifestyle which is gradually crushing my soul like a tangerine in a vice. That being said, because I’m spending so much time face down in a book with headphones in, I’m ploughing through music faster than the time I was bought a meter long packet of Jaffa Cakes for Christmas. However, unlike that incident, this overdose of music hasn’t ended in me vomiting…yet. In light of this, here’s a couple of tracks I’ve been really digging these last few weeks.

INHEAVEN – REGENERATION

If the shouty capitalisation of INHEAVEN’s name on their social media outlets is any indication of their desperate need for attention, then it’s entirely justified. ‘REGENERATION’, dropped as a vinyl release off the back of Cult records, is a chaotic, soaring anthem, encompassing the stark detachment of the teenage condition. It’s a ballsy, yet highly accomplished piece of indie rock; the interplay of falsetto female and roaring male vocal is a joy. Oh, and that chorus hook, good luck not singing that over the next few days (even if it puts me in mind of The Who’s My Generation…)

ALABAMA SHAKES – FUTURE PEOPLE 

Does Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes have the best voice in alternative rock at the moment? I’ll leave that to your good judgement, as ‘Future People’, by far the standout track on the new Sound & Color LP, showcases soulful, technical vocals, and a distorted bass drop that will make you lose control of your limbs. Seriously, stop reading, start digging.

BECK – MORNING 

I must confess that I’ve only recently started to look over Beck’s music in light of his supporting The Strokes in June (a concert which I’m going to, and might well be the highlight of my year). That being said, his grammy winning Morning Phase LP is as creamy and unchallenging a listen as you can possibly imagine, though not particularly inspired or creative. The opening track ‘Morning’ is perfectly soothing and delicate, ideal for clearing a clouded mind such as mine after a long day.

KT TUNSTALL – OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD 

Again, an older track, but one that ought to be played, replayed, and surgically implanted into your brain so that you can summon it on command to soundtrack your life. Not only is this track fabulously produced, but “all the muscles tighten in your face” might well be one of the most fantastic lyrics ever to describe guilt or loss. KT Tunstall seems to have vanished in recent years, but we need her back so she can deliver more of this fantastic nostalgic goodness. By far one of my favourite songs at the moment, both uplifting and desperately sad all at once.

SAVAGES – SHE WILL

Savages are one of those bands with so much attitude that even whilst you’re enjoying their music, you feel they might leap out of the speakers and stab you in the chest. This kind of frantic, on-the-edge excitement is exactly what ‘She Will’ delivers, as well as fantastic guitar lines, dark lyrics analysing the patriarchy and enough angst and outrage to spark a fire. Grow your hair down and thrash to this perfect piece of post punk.

And there ya go, 5 top notch tracks to keep you going through whatever turmoil you’re enduring right now. Might not be quite as ordered and cohesive as my other posts (particularly the various sized media links, I can only apologise), but these artists are all worth checking out. Get going, go on, scram!

Last Albums – Who Did It Best?

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There are many ‘Last albums’ … but which were worth it?

Last albums. They’re heart breaking in many ways. They mark the end of a musical journey, the final curtain, a sad farewell. They’re also hard to predict, as we constantly see bands on the brink of separation, be it Radiohead during the making of Kid A, The Strokes seemingly every five minutes, etc, etc.

Radiohead, in fact, is where a debate started between a good friend and I. We were discussing “King of Limbs,” the album Radiohead released in 2011, and saying that although we were excited for a new album, it was only really because the two of us had been so underwhelmed by K.O.L. Had that been their last album, which, given the band’s long hiatus, it could well have been, we’d have been disappointed. Which begged the question: which band had the best last album?

We outlined some criteria. A band’s last studio album had to be before a willing breakup, NOT caused by the death of a member [eliminating the Doors and Nirvana, for example], and had to be the absolute final, so albums after reformations didn’t count [greatest hits, remixes, or compilations of any kind were also eliminated]. Additionally, this album didn’t have to necessarily be their BEST album, but had to be an album good enough to give a satisfying conclusion to their musical tale. And finally, they had to have had more than one album. In my opinion, bands, especially ones with one principal songwriter, tend to deteriorate as soon as other members start to want a piece of song writing royalties, and so their material would therefore become worse as the band’s relationship worsened. In short, the band had to have the opportunity to become bad.

Therefore, our question was thus: who produced the most satisfying final album, standing up amidst the material that existed at their peak?

We struggled to find an answer. Some of the examples that came up were Joy Division, but of course this was eliminated on account of Ian Curtis’ tragic suicide, The White Stripes’ ‘Icky Thump,’ though we agreed that this was not a satisfying conclusion to band that had totally reshaped blues rock, and Blur. Blur don’t apply either really, technically they still play together, and besides, their strength, we thought, was more in their singles than their albums.

After wrestling this question for some time, I, in stroke of bizarre clarity, summarised ONE band that had released a satisfactory final album that met our harsh guidelines:

My Chemical Romance.

“BULLSHIT!” proclaimed the masses. Wait. Hear me out. Though I don’t personally count MCR as one of my favourite bands [perhaps I’ll explain why in the future], their final album “Danger Days: The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys,” is by far my favourite album of theirs. Many MCR fans were divided by it as an album, as it abandoned the aesthetic that their fans had come to know and love, but on song writing alone, it was quite a strong effort; tracks like “Summertime” are excellent. As a final effort then, it was not their best [that crown I think resoundingly goes to ‘The Black Parade’], but comparative to the rest of their discography, a very good final release.

We were both surprised, and a little annoyed that this was the only band we could think of that had met our criteria, however, given how strict we were with those boundaries, it made sense that our conclusion was not one we expected. Later, I realised that The Police’s final album also met our specifications, but I think it’s fair we let MCR have this one. Either way, it made for an interesting discussion, and demonstrates how important the relationship politics in music are.

In light of our conclusion, what do you think? What other bands had a GREAT final album? Leave a comment below. Tell us your thoughts. Were we wrong? Probably. Prove it.

 

Happy New Year. Much love

J