Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mercury Prize 2017: Opinion

In case you didn't already know, The Mercury Prize is kind of a big deal. As it's own website states "It is the music equivalent to the Booker Prize for literature and the Turner Prize for art". For over  20 years it has been awarded to albums from the UK that have best captured the Zeitgeist. I look to the Mercury Prize to discover new music. Yet only one artist this year is unfamiliar to me. I'm just going to come out and admit it, this years list sucks. It's predictable, dull and just disappointing. I'm torn between anger and remembering that awards ceremonies really aren't worth getting angry about (even if you are nominated). Its worth remembering that in order to be eligible for the list artists have to submit roughly £200 and have their music available both physically, and on major download sites. Even so it feels that a lot has been missed out.

The Jazz Wild Card
This years token Jazz album (I'm assuming) comes from a group called Dinosaur. As I know little about jazz I cannot comment much. However it feels a bit disheartening that after Jazz's current explosion into being cool again in the US. In the UK it's still a niche genre, albeit one of the most vibrant and eclectic ones there is. I look forward to discovering what this band have to offer.

The Usual Suspects 
At this point The XX, and Alt- J have both won the prize and are being nominated for the 3rd time. The problem is that while both bands début albums were worthy prize winners, neither bands 3rd albums break new ground. 'Relaxer' is an awkward listen that has none of the coherency of their previous work. 'I see you' is equally as good as either of The XX's previous releases, but by now I've heard it all before. Kate Tempest's 'Let them eat chaos' is her boldest, darkest, and most overtly political yet. It's one of my favourites for this years prize. Yet considering that her début 'Everybody Down' was also nominated and that she was one of the judges last year. I'm not surprised to see her nominated this year.

The Urban Selection
I might be one of the few who is willing to say this, but I felt that Stormzy's début album 'Gang signs and prayer' was a massive disappointment. The album felt very uneven, a mix of hard-hitting grime anthems, mixed in with softer love songs. The problem was in that showing his maturity, Stormzy lost his edge. GS&P was a showcase of Stormzy's harder and softer sides, showing that he is the new star of grime, yet at the same time outgrowing it. I have to admit i've not heard either of the albums by J Hus or Loyle Carner. Yet the one album that feels absent is Wiley's late career masterpiece 'Godfather'. After Skepta's win last year it seems odd that the prize has snubbed grime for more mainstream hip hop sounds.

The WTF'S
2017 is the year that in the US, Hip-Hop overtook rock as the most popular music genre. Indie rock has been the bed-rock of 'guitar music' for some time now and if Blossoms and the Big Moon are the best that the UK can offer right now then the genre is surely in dire straights. The former being a soulless revival of 90's brit-pop with 70's prog keyboards. The latter being a fun yet immediately forgettable indie rock racket. If the Big Moon deserve a nomination it's for album they've made with Marika Hackman. My hatred for Ed Sheeran has given way to more of an indifference in recent years. My girlfriend likes Ed Sheeran, so rather than ranting about him (again). I shall state that there is an award for Ed Sheeran. Its called the Brit's.


The Hopefulls
Now that that's all over with there are only three albums at the time of writing which I want to see win the Mercury Prize in 2017. The first is by Glass Animals. While I don't rate them as highly as bands such as Django Django. Glass Animals have done a good job of continuing the trend of British  bands who are both clever and fun. They're a bit too 'topshop indie' for my taste, but I respect their eclectic nature. I'd happily see Kate Tempest walk away with an award for 'Let Them Eat Chaos. Yet my favourite album by far that's been nominated this year is the début from Sampha.
In a decade that is packed full of R&B, Alternative R&B, Neo-soul and whatever else. Sampha has managed to stand out from the crowd with an album that is deeply personal and emotional yet boldly experimental. Sampha stands out as being the UK's own Frank Ocean.

The albums in my order of preference 

Sampha - 'Process'
Kate Tempest - 'Let Them Eat Chaos'
Glass Animals - 'How to Be a Human Being'
J Hus - 'Common Sense'
Loyle Carner - 'Yesterday’s Gone'
The xx - 'I See You'
alt-j - 'Relaxer'
Dinosaur - 'Together, As One'
Stormzy - 'Gang Signs & Prayer'
The Big Moon - 'Love in the 4th Dimension'
Blossoms - 'Blossoms'
Ed Sheeran - '÷'


The albums I'd like to have seen nominated

Wiley - Godfather
Mr Jukes - God First
Roger Waters - Is this the life we really want?
Mura Masa - S/T

Bugzy Malone - King of the North
Public Service Broadcasting - Every Valley
Harry Styles - S/T (yes, really)
Wesley Gonzalez - Excellent Musician
Idles - Brutalism 
Ride - Weather Diaries 
Slowdive- S/T
Creeper - Eternity, in your arms
Formation - Look at the powerful people (this is the best album of the year in my opinion, why has no one else heard it?)
Pumarosa - The Witch
Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales - Room 29
 
https://www.mercuryprize.com/news/2017-hyundai-mercury-prize-albums-of-the-year-revealed

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Kevin Devine, George Gadd, Fugitive Empire. Live at the Sunflower Lounge 12/7/17 review.

I have to admit that before this show I had no idea who Kevin Devine was. I now realise that Kevin Devine is an accomplished solo artist with a discography dating back to 2001 and stints in punk bands Miracle of 86' and Bad Books (with Andy hull of Manchester Orchestra). The support acts were fittingly chosen for this show. Fugitive Empire (6.4/10) is the solo project of  'Alex 'F' Coates'. For this show he was backed by a guest guitarist* . Alex proudly wears his influences on his sleeve. Openly admitting to being inspired by Kevin Devine, Connor Oberst and Elliott Smith. The latter of which he was 'massively inspired' by for his penultimate song as well as finishing with a cover of one of Elliott Smith's song's. He also gave specific shout-outs to people who had come down to the show and the sound guy. Much like the two performers after him Alex balanced his melodic, stripped back, guitar based tunes with dry sarcastic banter, asking people to sing along and bragging that one of his songs 'Cognitive Dissonance' had been played on the radio. He also talked about about how another one of his songs was inspired by talking to a homeless man and how it changed his views on life.
Nottingham's George Gadd (6.8) started his set joking that he usually plays with a backing band "The Gadd Damn band"**. George can't seem to play any show without his audience cracking up with laughter. George is an acoustic singer/songwriter who draws from his own life experiences to write his songs. He seems to have no lack of weird and wonderful stories to draw inspiration from. Such as dumping an ex girlfriend, only to be chased by her one legged dad. Even just moving from Nottingham to Birmingham, makes for an engaging listen and overall metaphor for the trials of growing up. Of course this was drowned out a little bit by the heckles of 'George Gadd's fucking dad!' and other various shouts based around his last name. George just laughed and sighed 'Every fucking time'. George could just as easily be a stand up comedian as a singer/songwriter. acoustic gigs are rarely so hilarious. 
Kevin Devine's albums recently have been pretty aggressive punk rock style affairs. Yet he is comfortable with nothing but his acoustic guitar. This show found Kevin in a laid back mood direcly talking to members of his audience.  The set-list was mostly made up of older fan favourites and newer songs from last years album 'Instigator'. Without the God Damn band's backing the message of many of his songs is even clearer. He talked about how one of the songs he wrote in 2013, seemed too ridiculous at the time to release. Yet  he now thinks it's not ridiculous enough, because 'reality can surprise you'. On no song is it clearer that Kevin is a protest singer than on the poetic anti-war song 'Carnival'. Which inspired the crowd to spontaneously do the 'Oh Jeremy Corbyn' chant. The political reference might have gone over his head, but Kevin did talk about how amazing it is that 'One Nation army' not only became a hit but also became a football chant. Like the two performers before him Kevin is funny and laid back between songs. He talked about about the messages he gets on-line can annoy him. Including one person claiming that his last music video was for the worst song on the album. Not that this bothered him too much, as 'there's worse songs on that album'. Even so, his advice to take a break from the internet sometimes is a good idea.
Kevin Devine is a cult star. While he may not be successful in the mainstream. His small fan-base are passionate about him and his music. Towards the end Kevin thanked everyone for coming down and sincerely said that it was his favourite show that he had ever played in Birmingham.
(7.6)

Links:
www.facebook.com/pg/FugitiveEmpire
https://georgegadd.bandcamp.com/
http://www.kevindevine.net/

*from Solihull!
**Kevin Devine's backing band is the 'God Damn band', I didn't get that reference until now.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

XXXTENTACION - the guy hip-hop needs right now.

Kanye West was made for twitter. His tweets gave a fascinating yet disturbing insight into his mind and creative process. The appeal lay in being able to witness his madness from a safe distance. Yet occasionally Kanye did tweet something on point.
On the 12th February last year he tweeted the following thought provoking quotes. "Stop trying to demonize real artist Stop trying to compromise art. That’s why music is so fucking watered down right now I miss that DMX feeling. I miss that feeling so that’s what I want to help restore. They want to control us with money and perception and mute the culture". Typo's and grammar issues aside Kanye might have been onto something.
Hip hop in 2017 is bigger than it has ever been. Back in the 90's it was a different story. Snoop (doggy) Dogg drew the ire of the Daily Mail for his misogynistic language. Dr Dre assaulted a female reporter, 2pac was charged with rape, Ol' Dirty Bastard became both a pop star and career criminal, DMX was a proud member of a notorious LA gang. Yet all these rappers and many more gained huge commercial success. Biggie and 2pac were ultimately killed by the lifestyle they portrayed. Yet modern rappers rarely have to feel in danger for their lives. In 2017 Snoop Dogg, and Ice Cube have no problem starring in family friendly PG movies.When 21 Savage, Kodack Black, Lil Uzi Vert or Future rap about 'fucking your bitch', they're not attacking anyone in particular. Migos may have rapped about stirring up crack with an Uzi yet Quavo's omnipresence in the pop charts reflects the fact that nobody is particularly bothered or thrilled by what the likes of Biggie told as a bare bones retelling of life on the streets.
Enter XXXTENACION, XXL freshman and the figurehead of Soundcloud rap music. Some may dismiss him as a meme rather than an artist and the controversies over his arrests, feuds with over rappers and domestic violence reports have overshadowed his music so far, but maybe not for much longer. 
The fact that many of his growing fan-base deny his domestic violence reports seems odd seeing as the appeal of XT surely lies in the violent music he makes and just how scary and unhinged he often appears to be. Much like Ol' Dirty Bastard  XXXTENTACION might not be the best rapper, but his reputation precedes him. His mugshot is the most widely spread picture of him and the cover of his breakthrough single 'Look at me!' This is the first rapper in a long time who actually seems dangerous. He shuns collaborations with bigger rappers and his music veers from trap, punk and even the occasional soft ballad. He displays a willingness to experiment which the likes of 21 Savage and Kodack black have failed to show. Despite the dyed dreads, he lacks anything in common with the current league of 'mumble rappers'. His recent XXL freestyle being proof that unlike Playboi Carti he is above simply saying 'Aye' after every verse. With no beat and only 50 seconds can manage to question American history, his own psyche, and dismiss the current rap scene including J Cole. The opening line being "And hell is a just a government creation, and all the information they solicit isn't even closer to the truth, it was clear since the alteration". It's a simple yet masterful freestyle that leaves you hanging on for more. The rest of his lyrical output veers from intense self hatred to violent imagery, over a barrage of noisy chaotic beats. If nothing else, his musical output shows that he isn't willing to compromise, and has no interest in big name guest verses or star producers.
XXXTENTACION might have just tapped into what made hip-hop appealing in the first place. His music is dark violent and unhinged as the man himself. He seems like the real deal. A psychopath with a mic, waging war against the safe radio friendly hits of Drake and J Cole. No rapper has divided opinion as much as XXXTENTACION for some time. Yet at the very least he has an edge and a sense of danger that is currently missing in rap music. Moody disaffected teens everywhere might have just found their new idol.

Links:
http://www.capitalfm.com/artists/kanye-west/news/twitter-rant-best-moments/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7B9v_5pWjAg
http://chase.tv/xxxtentacion-turns-the-crowd-against-drake-during-his-rolling-loud-performance/

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Keywest live in Birmingham review

Today has been a lovely day. The sun is out, it's really fucking hot and I've been walking around Birmingham. Everyone has been really friendly and I even got to try out a vr exhibition at the waterhall in the bm&ag.
Another highlight of today was catching a few songs from Keywest in Birmingham's bullring area. My first impression of the band was of them being a bit too hipster for my taste . Probably due to their impressive beards and man buns. Yet The more I watched them, the more they won me over. Keywest play a particularly irish brand of Americana. Which isn't far off from the more famous likes of Kodaline or a less downbeat Hozier.
Their set was constantly disrupted by the Bible bashing of the fire and brimstone preacher next to them. The irony being that keywest themselves were the ones promoting messages of peace, love and postivity. Keywest took it in their stride, joking and shrugging off the yelling of the preacher next to them. While not a Christian band themselves they're song titles alone mention 'absolution', and 'salvation'. The latter being a true story of a friend of theirs overcoming domestic violence. Keywest are clearly a talented band, but it's their gleeful optimism that won the crowd of bystanders over. One bystander being a little girl who was fascinated by their music and how they were making it. Their singer said at the end that they had come to gain an audience while busking and to promote their second album. It seems like they've done that pretty well.
7.6\10

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Pink Violence, Zero, Figure 09, Lauren Marie. Live at The Sunflower Lounge review (30/6/17)

It's a rare privilege as a gig goer have a show where many of the audience are people I can count as my friends. Even rarer when the entire line-up of a show is made up of people I know. The first act on was Lauren Marie. A local singer songwriter who I have seen many times before. Her set-list was made up of her usual mix of delicate acoustic ballads, some of which are originals. Some of which are quieter, more relaxed takes on rock songs by the likes of Foo Fighters and Blink 182. Lauren is a talented singer and songwriter, but she can still be awkward and shy on stage at times, not that anyone seemed to mind.
After being a band for little over a year Crime and Punishment 2011 have already splintered into a series of side projects. CPK have just released a new single 'FUBAR',  off their upcoming debut akbum of the same name. It's a politically charged mix of rap and punk  that hints ast the new album being stripped back, very angry and very loud. One of CPK's two original MC's Jake (aka Glitch) left the band to focus on his own solo material, while CPK added 'Bathtub's Sam Hennerly as a drummer to their new line up.  
This show was almost a reunion for the original line up, featuring sets from Jake under his new moniker Zero and Dan Carter unveiling some songs from his upcoming solo album as Figure 09. also on the bill was Jason Tyler, CPK's resident DJ. For this show Jason DJ-ed for both acts as well as performing a solo set of his own.
Jake's solo project Zero (formerly J-Dead) is a departure from the grime and metal influences of CPK. Jake's solo material covers similarly dark themes but in a more subtle, nuanced style. Jake's approach to rapping as Zero is more that of a story teller, rapping over instrumentals from Twenty One Pilots, The XX and Placebo. Jake's stories are an insight into the trials of his growing up and young adulthood and trade rap bravado for brutal honesty and emotion. 
The same can be said for Dan's foray into solo material as Figure 09. Dan usually jumps into the audience and bounces around the place, running into things and curling up into a ball on the floor. As a solo artist Dan is a bit more serious. Before his show he asked the audience to come near as he wasn't going to be getting up in their faces for this set. Dan's new material has been mostly produced by CPK's Jason. His backing tracks have a similar feel as much of Crime and Punishment 2011's earlier material, taking elements of grime but with a more stripped back approach. Dan's set was just as emotionally charged and personal as Jake's. They both even used the same Placebo instrumental for each of their tracks and to their credit neither take on the instrumental is better than the other. Although this did lead for some friendly arguing between songs about who ripped off who.   Despite the emo nature of the music the show still made for a fun night. Dan and Jake joined each other a few times over the set. Despite having parted ways from CPK they both still trade bars brilliantly on stage and share an obvious fondness for each other, that makes me hope they can share more stages soon.
The final act of the show was Pink Violence. The first show under the name that Jason has performed in two years. Pink violence is an electronica project, in the same style of acts such as Crystal Castles. what followed was a trippy half hour set of warped samples, witch-house-aesthetics and trap beats which included Dan and Jake joining each other on stage once again for a charged cover of Skepta's 'Shutdown'.

links:
www.facebook.com/pg/laurenmarieuk
figure09.bandcamp.com/releases
www.facebook.com/Z370Music/
https://soundcloud.com/pinkviolence
crimepunishment2011.bandcamp.com/

Saturday, July 1, 2017

You've been listening to Dark Side Of the Moon all wrong.

The great thing about vinyl is that it allows you to hear music you've loved for years with fresh ears. Today I discovered that the best way to listen to Pink Floyd's classic Dark Side Of The Moon is side B then side A. Money always feels a bit out of place on side B. As a straight forward rock song and radio hit it's one of Pink Floyd's finest moments. Money' bought Pink Floyd success in America but at a cost. They were used to thoughtful and respectful crowds but now had to deliver to Americans who expected more funky rock numbers like their big hit. It usually feels out of place on this album as well. As track 1 side B it doesn't match the sound or vibe of the tracks before it. 'Money' makes more sense as an opener. Not just because it's a funky rock 'n roll number. But also because with the darker themes of the songs that follow it, such as death, madness, life, the universe and everything. 'Money' implies that greed is the gateway to madness. Which the rest of the album's existential crisis only seem to reflect more. 'Us & them' immediately sets a darker tone lyrically and the smoother, experimental sound for the rest of the album from there on. This way the anti-war message of the song is more prominent as it's the first impression of the rest of the album you hear and it isn't drowned out by the more ambient pieces. 
The original closer of Eclipse would usually sound far too epic for the middle of an album but the heartbeats and snippets of dialogue sync it perfectly with the start of side A. Without the straight forward rock n roll of 'money' DSOTM continues to get more and more experimental with the early electronica pieces 'on the run' and 'speak to me'. While 'the great gig in the sky' is nowhere near as tense or as huge sounding as 'eclipse' it is a more sombre, yet fitting end to the album. This way Dark Side ends without a bang, but an opportunity for reflection and thought on what has been hear up to that point and much like Eclipse the wild passionate screaming hints that the listeners journey into madness may be complete. 
Maybe there was a misprint and we've all been hearing this album wrong for decades. Obviously it's usually best to hear an album the way the artist intended. At the very least this is a way of making a classic album that many music nerds like me are already familiar with, seem new and exciting again.