Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mercury Prize 2015 Soapbox

So it's the time of year again that the Mercury Prize Short-list is announced. The majority of people are probably not aware that this exists as they go about their days blissfully unaware of the fact that most of these acts exist. But for a small proportion of us who love music this is our grand national. Those of us who take music that little bit too seriously love this. It gives us a chance to actually bet on who might win, and vent frustration on who should have been nominated in think piece blogs such as this. This Mercury's are more or less the same each year. You can divide it into categories pretty easily.
The big hitters:
Every year a few of the biggest acts our country has produced get nominated. This year Florence Welch became a true icon. Touring all over the world and headlining Glastonbury for the first time. It's just as well that her album is brilliant. Her foghorn vocals have been toned down but this is a bit of a hollow victory. The twee harps of the earlier records have been replaced with brass horns. 'How big...' is a truly massive album. Good enough to win, but maybe not edgy enough to truly deserve the prize. The other obvious entry is Syro By Aphex Twin. Not being a fan of him before hearing this has biased me a bit. The few dissenting voices claiming that the album is in some way dull or short of his standards, seem as bewildering to me as the album itself. It deserves a Mercury, but anyone who has his own WW2 tank probably doesn't need one.
This year Eska, C Duncan and Benjamin Clementine are the Who? nominees. The best part of the mercury's for me is discovering new artists that I would not otherwise would have heard of. There is no token jazz entries this year. I've not heard of any of these artists. I hadn't heard of Jon Hopkins before he was nominated for 'Immunity'. While I was happy that James Blake won that year. Immunity is on a totally different level. I believe it's one of the best electronic albums of all time. I hope I grow to love the artists I've not heard of on this years list.
Solid Bets: 
While most people tend to lighten up by album number three Ghostpoet's music only seems to get more and more depressing. Which is admirable, even if I worry if he's OK. In my view his first album is still the best as it was his unique take on Hip Hop and electronica that first made me a fan. With 'Shedding Skin' Ghostpoet has embraced a new jazzy direction. It's a fantastic album but not a very fun one. Jamie XX is a solid bet. I've not heard it but I know 'In Colour' is fantastic. Soak, Gaz Coombes and Rosin Murphy will probably do OK. Usually the winner is decided at the last minute so it can be the more underrated records that win. I think the two that deserve to win are Slaves and Wolf Alice. Wolf Alice in particular. 'My Love is Cool' seems to summarise 2015 like no other record. In 10 years time it will sound totally dated. But every decade needs music that defines it. A Mercury will help cement the album's status for future generations.
As usual there is nothing from the genre of heavy metal. Bring Me The Horizon would have deserved a nod but the album came out too late. I love God Damn but it's not exactly music for the brain. It's sad that metal never gets a nod but can you seriously think of a metal band that deserves it?  Asking Alexandria Mercury winners? excuse me while I vomit. Grime Is over looked too but that's because despite the revival only JME would actually be elegable.
Public Service Broadcasting are the big WTF? exclusion. The Race For Space is a near perfect album. Poignant, funny, and moving. It's got great tunes and is a fantastic example of how music  has progressed in this decade. Sleaford Mods obviously never paid the £170. Everything Everything's exclusion seems a bit strange. But I never heard that LP so I can't say much. Swim Deep's new record  is a fantastic musical trip, which sadly came out too late to be in with a shot. Django Django also deserved a second nomination for their fantastic Sophomore LP.
It's not the best list the Mercury's have come up with, but there's still plenty of great records on there.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

OXJAM Brum Feat: Crime and Punishment 2011, SLTP, Neumonics. 17/10. Review.

If you have read the Crime and Punishment 2011 interview (scroll down if you've not read it) then like me you'd be curious to see what they're really like on a stage. I did their first ever photo-shoot,. which involved stripping outside a strip club and a plastic chainsaw.  This years OXJAM  gave a ridiculous amount of value for money. With performers playing at 7 venues across Birmingham from midday to 1am. All for just £10 on the door of any of the venues. I saw that the Sunflower Lounge. After the madness of the photo-shoot the first band I saw was Neumonics (7.2/10). Neumonics are a Northampton based rock trio. They dress in all black and play really well together. Their singer uses pedals to loop his guitar playing for extra heaviness and goes wild on his guitar head-banging and shredding away. The pedals also added a touch of electonica to the bands sound. They claim to be influenced by 90's shoegaze, but I think the singer had a touch of glam about him. Neumonics are a loud rock n roll band and I think they're pretty great.
D.AN Carter
SLTP's name is a acronym for Summer Loving Torture Party (6/10) were up next. They're a newly formed Birmingham based act. Their sound is pretty conventional indie. Not really far off from The Maccabees or Bombay Bicycle Club. But they play really well together as a band. They've got decent songs and they play them with plenty of spirit.
Joey Sniper
I was really excited to see Crime and Punishment 2011 (7.2/10) as they said their set would blow my dick off. I also wanted to see if they were a genuine band or just a piss take. The truth is that they're a bit of both. Look at any great hip hop group and you'll see a mix of personalities and individuals. Crime and Punishment share this trait. They have the bearded screaming metal dude called Joey Sniper (who I suggested should call himself Kenilworth Lamar). The quiet yet only actual serious MC in the group, Glitch, and the nutter that is D.A.N Carter. On beats is Jason, who basically provides the same ethereal witch-house hip hop that he does as Pink Violence. But he also threw in some heavier guitar tracks. They did a cover of Linkin Park's 'Nobody's listening' with all the angst of the original.  They also brought the heaviness with their own song 'Hellbound'. Put all this together and you've got an incredibly loud, high energy show. Dan and Joey Sniper got right into peoples faces and ran about the place screaming and jumping about like Nu metal never died. The show was loads of fun and great to watch and be a part of. Only a few people were there and those who were were either loving it or a bit confused. Crime and Punishment 2011 are not really a grime act like I was led to believe. They mix a lot of styles. It's hard to tell whether any of them are being serious at any time. The banter never stops with this lot and they all share in jokes like a real clique. Afterwards I said to them that it ' actually wasn't shit'. Which they seemed happy with. I really want to join them as it just looks like so much fun. If they want a guitarist they know where to find me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Great Birmingham Run 2015

I woke up at 7 am to  get ready. Arte a breakfast of porridge, maple syrup and bananas. We were dropped off  near Digbeth and walked to the start point. Met a few runners who were confused where that was but eventually found it pretty easily. There was a few gazebos and porta-loos set up on the Aston University campus. Where two students amazingly still awake and still drunk at 8am decided to chat to the runners. There were people  from all over  in this little park. Some with bright jacjkets and iPhones strapped to their arms. Some with flags of what time they could achieve on their backs. I saw a Minion. Two grown adults dressed as baby's for the Birmingham Children's Hospital, a guy with a washing machine strapped to his back, a cave man, and of course Wally.  It was a grey sky and a bitterly chilly morning. We all separated in our own little quarters. I was in the white section. The third group to go after the professional athletes and orange runners.  The Birmingham Community Gospel Choir (winner of Gospel Choir of the Year 2015) sung through the speakers. While a man from Free radio, played tunes and told us all what was going on. The wait for the warm up felt like ages. When the warm up finally came is was more of a workout in it's own right. They gave us exercise which are really hard to do in small spaces. Like punching in front of you and squats.
I was eager to get going to just feel warm. Most runners still have yet to grasp that when you start a race, you shouldn't actually race. There's no need to sprint over the starting line and  doing  this not only wears you out for later,  but is unfair on runners starting at a slower pace. Knowing the torture of the last two miles, I knew I'd have to set a slower pace. The first two miles went through the neglected backstreet's on the way to Edgbaston. Throughout people watched, cheered and offered sweets. Thousands of people took part  this year  and everyone ran at different paces.  I was important to not get competitive. Many people ran ahead of me and many people stopped so they could walk 50 yards ahead. I ran every step of the way. The check points had people handing out thousands of bottles of water and Lucozade. Almost all of which were dropped immediately after taking one sip. I amused myself by stepping on them and causing sprays of water. Which was funnier last year when it was much hotter. I also saw a girl holding a sign with "motivational poster" written on it. So I shouted back 'apathetic response'.
Throughout the route there were bands playing, groups of drummers and people representing charity's. Yet people were taking time out of their day just to watch and cheer us all on. The uphill bits were difficult but I was able to sprint down as soon as I found a downhill stretch. The run went through Bournville and back through to Edgbaston where we ran through the cricket ground. Which isn't as impressive from some angles. I knew that I had to save my energy, The endless supply of lucozade and sweets helped. But by the run though Cannon Hill park  things got difficult. I knew that the run up the dual carriageway would be difficult, ad it was. The last 2.1 miles seemed to go on forever. Eventually though, the run finished down broad street. As people cheered and I finally finished All I could do was repeat the time, that I'd seen over and over again. I got my bag, with T shirt and medal, and found somewhere to stretch out. I ran every step of the way, while still battling a cold and came away with a time of 02:29:06. Nearly 3 minutes off my time last year. Pretty good considering I hardly trained for it. But I'm still feeling tired and sore now.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Adam Ficek, JJ Pluto, Mike Moloney, Lauren Pryke. Live at the Sunflower lounge review

I went out on the 3rd of October with a few mates. We went to Uprawr but soon got bored so we went back to one of  our houses for a group pizza, chill and Netflix session. Have you ever seen R.I.P.D? Don't. It's awful. Anyway after stumbling around town in a hungover daze, the idea of  seeing some acoustic acts on the night seemed like a very nice idea.
Fast forward a few hours and Lauren Pryke has the unenviable task of opening tonight's gig. Lauren plays with an acoustic guitar and her sets are usually a mix of covers and her own original songs. Her stage manner suggested someone who was a bit shy. Which is understand able as she was performing to only handful of people and it was all a bit awkward. She's got a great voice and is good at giving old songs such as 'Mr Brightside' or old Blink 182 songs a new lease of life. Turning them in to delicate acoustic songs, and giving them a sparse beauty that the studio versions don't have. Her own songs also a show a lot of promise.
I missed a lot of Mike Moloney's set because I was in The Sunflower Lounge back room doing the hilarious Crime and Punishment 2011 interview. If you've not read it then scroll down and gizza click. We talked about everything from Cocaine to Mint Ice cream. Mike's music is similarly laid back and acoustic based. He's actually a really cool guy. Great fashion sense. I enjoyed his music but as I missed most of it can't think of much to say. I'm sorry Mike. I'm sure I'll see you play another time.
Following this was one of Alex Moir's first ever gigs as JJ Pluto. The JJ stands for 'Jay Jay', and the set was made up of all the songs he's wrote under his own name. While he was great with a backing band, he can still pull off a great set by himself. JJ has so many great songs. The world needs to hear them.
In case you didn't already know Adam Ficek once played drums for the Babyshambles. Until on day he didn't. You might also be aware of his Roses Kings Castles project. Adam seemed a bit unrehearsed.  I think he played a few newbies, but It was the tracks from 'The Blinding' EP that really stood out. A sort of stopgap EP that the Babyshambles released in 2006. The Blinding contains some of their best ever songs. So I loved being able to hear them played live. Adam forgot how to play bits of some of the old songs. Some solo's were fluffed and some songs started but weren't finished. most performers would be quietly pushed off stage but Adam just had to smile and he was forgiven. He exudes a carefree positive charisma. He had no problem interrupting his set to banter with audience members (there wasn't many of us there) or chatting with us all later on. There was a lot of talent playing this night, but the lack of people showing up to these things worries me. 


The 50 Best Albums of 2015

1.Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
For a moment there it looked as if Kendrick was going to sell out. After becoming one of the most feted rappers of all time with ‘Good Kid M.A.A.D City’. The first single ‘I’ showed a much more upbeat mainstream direction. It looked as if Kendrick was going to make songs for the radio. Who could blame him? He had earned the right do whatever the hell he liked. Then came the infamous ‘Control’ verse where he not only claimed to be better than most other rappers, but named the specific ones he knew he could beat. It’s just as well that ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ turned out to be his masterpiece. A 70 Minute long Jazz-Funk- Hip-Hop odyssey. Keeping guest verses to a minimum, but including Thundercat, George Clinton and Flying Lotus on his team of collaborators.  TPAB takes Hip Hop back to its roots, but also shows where it’s headed. He uses poetry to tell his story, which includes tales of gang warfare, deals with the devil, his hatred of himself and a conversation with 2pac from beyond the grave. TPAB finds Kendrick directly referencing Obama, ‘The Judge’ and the ‘Po Po’. His anger at the events in Ferguson, is balanced by his own philosophical approach. His flow is astonishing, and lyrics constantly on point.  The fact that this curveball of a record this broke streaming records, proves that hip hop is ready to enter its third golden age. This was the moment that the ‘good kid’ went from a ‘peasant to a prince to a motherfucking king’. All hail King Kunta.

2. Public Service Broadcasting – The Race for Space
For a record with no sung lyrics, ‘The Race for Space’ is a very emotional album. By focussing on the lesser heard sound bites and the unsung heroes of the space race. PSB tell a story that the listener can connect with. ‘Sputnik’, and ‘Gagarin’ capture the excitement of the first steps into space. Yet ‘fire in the cockpit’ show the horror of when it all went wrong.  ‘Go’ captures the joy of the moon landing from the ground crew’s perspective and ‘Tomorrow’ leaves the album on a melancholy note, with the last ever trip to the moon in 1972. The sound bites from news clips and ground control tell the story and PSB’s fantastic musicianship does the rest.

3. Tame Impala – Currents
Ever wondered what the 80’s would sound like if you lit a candle underneath it and watched it melt? Tame Impala excel at putting the past through their psychedelic kaleidoscope. Of all the albums made in 2015 this is the most addictive. The more you hear these songs the more you love them. Unlike most 80’s revamps Kevin Parker doesn’t forget the cheese. Currents is gloriously naff throughout. Yet he has access to technology that didn’t exist back in the 80’s. It sounds like a new wave band travelled into the distant future to record it. Psych is rarely as lovable and fun as Currents.

4. Roots Manuva - Bleeds
Over 10 years on from his first career defining work 'Run Come Save Me'. Bleeds finds Rodney Smith, not so much back on top form, but with his best album yet. Partnered with the mysterious producer and co-writer Fred. Roots rhymes are righteous. 'Hard Bastards' finds him rapping about the Britain's working classes. "The Government don't trust them, and keeps them all in place, with cheap food and cheap booze that keeps them out of shape". While 'I know your face' is the story of a man in a coma told from his point of view. 'Bleeds' apes many styles. From the craziest beats Four Tet has ever produced on 'Facety 2:11, or the gritty UK response to US trap music on 'Crying'. 'Bleeds' is dark yet soulful, and with no guest verses, Roots Manuva's rapping is the star of the show. There's not a single verse on 'Bleeds' which isn't brilliant. Roots Manuva has made yet another one of UK hip hop's landmark albums.

5.    Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
For all the talk about the death of rock music, the fact is that many have ignored the obvious. In any decade music will progress and evolve. Right now ‘My love is Cool’ is the sound of rock in 2015. It has the riffs of Royal Blood and the pristine modern production of Bring me the Horizon or the 1975. Yet it is Ellie Rowsell that makes them unique. Whether screaming her heart out or singling softly, she is what makes the album special. In truth ‘My Love Is Cool’ doesn’t even feature much guitar work. It’s the best pop album of the year, and it was made by a rock band.   

6.    Blur – The Magic Whip
A welcome reminder that Blur were not just one of the best bands of the 90’s but one of the strangest. ‘The Magic Whip’ finds Damon Albarn’s observational eye cast on a vast scale. The songs seem straightforward at first but are complex and beguiling. Each listen reveals new treasures.

7.    Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I sit and think, sometimes I just sit
Courtney Barnett is one of the most talented songwriters of her generation. She makes the mundane hilarious and poignant. She takes her own depression and anxiety and makes it into something that is a joy to listen to.

8.    Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz
While the world gawped at her ‘controversial’ outfits at the VMA’s. Miley quietly dropped this 90 minute gem of album. Throughout its 23 tracks you’ll find funk, hip-hop, piano ballads and beautiful acoustica twisted through a psychedelic haze. There are a few missteps, but the quality is kept high throughout. The lyrical content is incredibly candid but gives the listener a glimpse of the complex and conflicted human being beneath the skimpy outfits. 

9.    Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
Were you disappointed by Random Access Memories? This is the album for you. ‘Why Make Sense’ is a musical game of buckaroo. Hot Chip mix nods to old school house, disco, hip hop, funk, soul and electronica into a 10 track album that is buzzing with inventiveness but never once feels overworked or rushed. A sign that Hot Chip have become masters of their craft.

10.  Girlpool – Before the world was big
Two sisters and a guitar, that’s all it is. Whether 23 minutes actually counts as an album is debateable but Girlpool make every single second and note count. They mix riot grrl brattiness with a genuine poignancy about the challenges of growing up. It’s hard not to feel a bit of a voyeur when hearing these teenage girls singing. Their voices chime perfectly together. The lyrics are either straight forward, or oddly nonsensical. But every single word is delivered with power. This is a very special record. Essential listening for anyone who has not yet found their place in the world.

11    Chemical Brothers – Born in the Echoes
Attention Rudimental fans! This is what Dance music actually sounds like. The Chemical Brothers are now firmly in the weird phase of their career. While the guest cameos don’t always work, the album is packed full of bangers. ‘I’ll See You There’ and ‘Radiate’ find them paying homage to The Beatles and Kraftwerk. Overall it’s more proof that The Chemical Brothers are one of the best acts of any genre to come from the UK.

12  Swim Deep – Mothers  (A true reinvention)
13.  Peace – Happy People (2nd album growing pains)
14.  Vietcong- Vietcong (Tense post punk/krautrock)
15.  Sleaford Mods – Key Markets (Musical special brew)
16.  Sleater Kinney – No Cities to Love 
This is an awesome punk album. I played this until I was sick of it
17.  Follakzoid - ||| 
Droning 10 minute long Krautrock jams from Chile.
18.  La Priest - Inji (funktronica)
19.  Grimes - Art Angels (Pop music. Sort of)
20.  Jamie XX - In Colour
21.  Shamir – Ratchet (Funk/House Bangers)
22.  Etienne De Crecy – Super Discount 3 (French Funk/house)
23.  FIDLAR – Too (nihilistic yet catchy pop punk)
24.  Tyler, the Creator – Cherry Bomb (Crazy Hip-Hop shit)
25.  God Damn – Vultures (LOUD AS FUCK)
26.  Mark Ronson – Uptown Special (Much more than Uptown Funk)
27. Guy Garvey - Courting the Squall
28.  Deerhunter - Fading Frontier (Poignant psych rock)
29.  Florence + The Machine – How Big How Blue How beautiful (The moment Flo became a superstar)
30.  Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin (It's great, but it is a bit depressing)
31.  Drenge – Undertow (Doomy 2nd album)
32.  Django Django – Born under Saturn (Clever yet loads of fun)
33.  Slaves – Are you Satisfied? (Punk isn’t dead!)
34.  The Prodigy – The Day is my Enemy (Subtle as a punch to the face)
35.  The Vaccines  - English Graffiti (Indie rockers try new things)
36.  HANZ – Reducer (Experimental dance freebie)
37.  Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – Surf (Joyous Hip Hop freebie)
38.  Table Scraps - More time For Strangers (Rock ‘n Roll!)
39.  Foals – What went Down (Predictable, but great 4th album)
40.  Lil BUB - Science and Magic
The d├ębut instrumental concept album about a cat from space. Featuring loads of purring, orchestral bits, keyboard solos and 8 - bit bleeps. It's modern yet very retro. Epic and loads of fun.
41.  The Pretty Things - The Sweet Pretty Things (are in bed now of course?....)
42.  Diagrams – Chromatics (Folktronica)
43.  Evans The Death – Expect Delays  (Folk-Rock)
44.  Rey Pila – The Future Sugar (Mexican Strokes)
45.  Run the Jewels – Meow the Jewels (PURRRR)
46.  Drake –If you're reading This it's too late.
47.  King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Paper Mache Dream Baloon
Only the second album this year from the prolific aussie psych legends. PMDB is their most chilled out LP yet. One of those albums that needs to be heard on Vinyl.
48.  Disclosure – Caracal (Garage and Chill)
49. Songhoy Blues - Music in Exile (Funky Rhythm and Blues Excellence)
50. Jeff Bridges - Sleeping Tapes (Zzzzzzzzzz)

 NOTE: As I'm always buying/downloading new stuff, the contents of this list may change.