Sunday, November 19, 2017

The best albums of 2017 (honorable mentions)

These are all albums that are worth hearing but were not quite good enough to make the top 50. Listed in no particular order .

Figure 0.9 - Casket (based on a true story)
Stormzy - Gang Signs and Prayer
J Hus - Common Sense
Inheaven - S/t
Chealsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun
Baxter Dury - Prince of tears
Kelela - Take me apart
SZA - Control
The National - Sleep Well Beast
Drake - More Life
Weezer - Pacific Daydream
Elbow - Little Fictions
Lil Pump - S/T
Slowdive - Slowdive
Kasabian - For Crying Out Loud
Blondie - Polinator
Sylvan Esso - What now?
King Gizzard and the Lizard wizard - Murder of the universe
Alex G - Rocket
Rat Boy - Scum
Neil Cicerega - Mouth Moods
The Drums - Abysmal Thoughts
Beth Ditto - Fake Sugar
Songhoy Blues - The Resistance
Mr Jukes - God First
Girl Ray - Earl Grey
Wesley Gonzalez - Excellent Musician
Phoenix - Ti Amo
Mura Masa - S/T
Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam - The Mirage/Sink or swim
Kasabian - For Crying Out Loud
Queens Of The Stone Age - Villians
Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference
Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins

The best albums of 2017

1. Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales - Room 29
Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales are two individuals who seem to be perfectly suited to each other for a collaborative project. Room 29 is about the (in)famous Chateau Marmont Hotel. Known for decades of decadent parties hosted by the rich and famous. Jarvis and Chilly go a bit further than just detailing the excess. Chilly Gonzales provides a rich improvised piano backdrop to Jarvis Cocker's part sung/part spoken monologues. Jarvis finds time to sing about his own childhood and how it inspired his own love of TV and film. Chilly also provides a piano backdrop to a narration of Howard Hughes time in the hotel.  Much of Room 29 has an intimate feel about it. As if you're in the room with Jarvis making slightly awkward post coital conversation.
Key Track - Trick Of The Light

2. Wiley - Godfather  
Very few Grime MC's could go back to their roots so successfully after years of experimenting with more mainstream pop sounds. Even fewer manage to do this at the top of their game. On 'Godfather' Wiley lives up to his name. There is not a verse on the album that isn't delivered with passion or fire whether that be from Wiley himself or the several guests that litter the track-list. He's frequently funny, witty and quotable. Wiley commands respect from his peers and newcomers alike. Most notably from a frenzied Ghetts on 'Bang' The production is hard-hitting, throwing back to the sounds that made grime so vital in the first place. From the ethereal intro and robotic, eski-beats of 'Birds and Bars', Godfather hooks the listener in, with the exception of the slightly disappointing Slow jam/break up song 'U were Always (part 2)' every single track is a banger.
Key Song- Can't Go Wrong

3. Sampha - Process
The genre recently christened 'Alternative RNB' has already become so saturated and mainstream that it takes someone truly special to break through and make their voice heard. Unlike Frank Ocean, or FKA Twigs, who are mostly focussed on sexuality and relationships. Process finds Sampha reflecting on his guilt and sadness following the loss of his mother. Sampha pulls off the neat trick of doing this via an expertly produced and wildly experimental batch of songs, that take cues from early Massive Attack as much as the piano balladry of James Blake. The mix of eclectic production and poignant song-writing made Process a worthy Mercury Prize winner.
Key track - Blood On Me

4. Creeper - Eternity, in your arms
It was inevitable that with My Chemical romance still inactive and many other heroes of the 00's pop punk and emo scenes either defunct or changing sound and style, that a new band would emerge to pick up where they all left off. Enter Creeper. A band with the looks, sound, STYLE, and most importantly, the tunes to make pop punk vital again. They may not be the most innovative or original bands (country & western balladry aside) but it's the songs that really stand out. Landing somewhere between the operatics of Meatloaf and the angst of MCR, every song here demands to be sung along as loud as humanly possible.
Key Track - Misery

5. Tyler, The Creator - (SCUM FUCK) Flower Boy
Flower Boy is the album where Tyler finally lives up to the massive potential that he has shown since his Odd Future beginnings. It shows him taking huge steps forward as both an MC and a producer. Fleshing out the quirky production style that made OF stand out in the first place and ditching the rape jokes and daddy issues for an in depth look at his psyche, materialism, loneliness and how fame and fortune has affected him.
Key Track - See You Again

6. Kendrick Lamar - Damn 
While 'DAMN' may initially seem like a return to the psychedelic tinged trap sound of Kendrick's breakthrough tape 'Overly Dedicated'. Repeated listens reveal an album just as ambitious and complex as his previous jazz/funk tinged masterpiece 'To Pimp A Butterfly'. Much like his previous two albums 'DAMN' finds Kendrick at the centre of his own semi-autobiographical concept album. 'DAMN' tells the story of his life in reverse, drawing parallels between his imagined early death and upbringing. What's more impressive is the themes of deadly sins and judgement weaved into each song alongside sly jabs at authority figures and hit singles. 'DAMN' is more proof that Kendrick is a G.O.A.T.
Key Track - DNA

7. Pumarosa - The Witch 
While some may lazily lump Pumarosa in with their other guitar based London contemporaries. 'The Witch' is a début that marks Pumarosa as one of the most fascinating and intriguing young British rock bands. 'The Witch' is a heady psychedelic mix of an album that melds 90's britpop, trip-hop, and even hints of space rock together, with, hippy-ish vibes, consistently funky grooves and Isobel's haunting vocals. The tracks on 'The Witch' are all so incredibly varied and subtle that its hard to simply define what Pumarosa sound like. When all their influences come together, such as on the trippy, 'priestess' or the catchy 'My gruesome loving friend', this peerless band craft a sound that is completely their own.
Key track - My gruesome loving friend.

8. St Vincent - MASSEDUCTION
10 plus years into career and ST Vincent is still an artist who can't be pinned down. MASSEDUCTION is both her most poignant and emotional album as-well as being her most aggressive. ST Vincent excels at both sexually charged Nine Inch Nails tinged industrial rock as much as she does piano ballads, 'Happy Birthday Johnny' and 'New York' being beautifully melancholy ballads about the loneliness that can come with living in big cities. Her stories are so rich and full of detail that they seem to have come directly from her experience. 'Dancing with a ghost' and 'Slow Disco' are both full of lush orchestral instrumentation. Few artists are able to accomplish as much in a 40 minute album.
Key Track - New York

9. Loyle Carner - Yesterday's Gone
Sometimes being an MC isn't just about money drugs and hoes, sometimes all you need to be is yourself. Not since Mike Skinner has the UK produced a rapper so comfortable just being himself. despite not being from the ghetto Ben Loyle-Carner, has been through a lot from such a young age, from break-ups, his ADHD, Dyslexia, and loss of his Step-Father. All of which makes 'Yesterday's Gone a much more honest and personal record than you'd get from your average rapper. Much of 'Yesterday's Gone' is Loyle's Anglicised take on the Jazz-rap sound popularised by J Cole and Kendrick Lamar with his own hints of gospel and spoken word dialogue. The main reason 'Yesterday's gone appears so high on this list is the spoken word monologue by his own mother on 'Son of Jean'. Jean's description of her 'Scribble of a boy' is a beautiful and genuinely touching moment.
Key track - Mrs C

10. Brockhampton - Saturation 2
Brockhampton blew up in 2017 thanks to 2 excellent full length albums (and a third still to come). following on from their 2016 début 'All American Trash' and Kevin Abstract's Masterful solo album 'American Boyfriend'. Brockhampton are a hip hip group (or 'Boy-band' as they insist on being called) packed full of creative and amazingly talented individuals. Both Saturation albums show off an array of creativity. From the left field production, bars that mix the personal, political and hilarious Brockhampton seem unable to put a foot wrong. 'Saturation 2' creeps slightly higher up the list as it refines the sound crafted on 'Saturation' and because it's both musically and lyrically more direct. Kevin Abstract's bars 'about being gay' and Ameer Van's brutal personal history of racism make Brockhampton seem more relevant and vital than almost anyone else in hip-hop.
Key track - Junky

11. Brockhampton - Saturation
12. Spoon - Hot Thoughts
13. Japandroids- Near To the Wild Heart of life
14. Wolf Alice - Visions Of a life
15. Joey Bada$$- All AmeriKKKan Bada$$
16. Laura Marling - Semper Femina
17. The XX - I see you
18. Father John Misty - Pure comedy
19.  Formation - Look at all the powerful people
20. Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice
21. Ibibio Sound Machine -Uyai
22. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
23. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana
24. Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent
25. Public Service Broadcasting - Every Valley
26. Enter Shikari - The Spark
27. Paramore - After Laughter
28. Luke Rainsford - I feel at home with you
30. Ghostpoet - Dark Days and Canapes
31. Lowly - Heba
32. Astroid Boys - Broke
33. Mac Demarco- This Old Dog
34. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard/The Mild high Club - Sketches of Brunswick East.
35. Hoops - Routines
36. Perfume Genius - No Shape.
37. Ride - Weather Diaries
38. Idles - Brutalism
39. Kevin Devine - We are Who We've always been
40. The Horrors - V
41. Harry Styles - S/T
42. Everything Everything - A Fever Dream
43. Benjamin Clementine - I tell a fly
44. (Thee) Oh Sees - ORC
45. King Krule - The OOZ
46. Black Mekon - One in the hate.
47. Superfood - Bambino
48. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Polygondwanaland
49. Amine - Good For You
50. Dizzee Rascal - Raskit

Note: This list may change slightly before the end of the year, (Bjork's new one might kick something out)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Wolf Alice, Sunflower Bean and Superfood. Live in Birmingham Review (16/11/17)

I wasn't initially too impressed by Superfood's (7.2) reinvention from Brit-pop aping B-Towner's to Dirty Hit signed sample junkies. Superfood have clearly become one of the most unique and creative indie bands to come from Birmingham or otherwise. Yet I don't think the new songs are quite up to the standards of the older material. Although the crowd that came early for their home-town set don't seem to agree with me. While 'Bambino' is mostly based around samples and laptop beats. The live band that is Superfood is a different beast. Carl Griffin and Emily Baker still tour with the band and their live sound benefits hugely from the drumming of the former. Dom and Ryan may incorporate more sampling into songs such as 'double dutch' but their twin guitars make for a noisier, heavier band. The mosh-pits that ensued show that Superfood have stepped up their game massively.

Sunflower Bean (7.6) are not one for introductions, Nick Kivlen and Julia Cumming ran onto the stage, both simply saying 'Hi' before starting their set. It's not hard to see why they have gained so much hype over the past year. Sunflower Bean look and sound like a music nerds wet dream. Looking like a young Debbie Harry and Bob Dylan in shiny silver jumpsuits and taking cues from a melting pot of sounds. The occasional heavy Sabbath riffs, trippy Tame Impala jams, C86 indie and the many New York bands to break through before them. As Sunflower Bean are keen to remind people, they are from New York city. All the best New York bands soak in the grit, pollution and paranoia of the city in their sound. Unfortunately Sunflower Bean are not one of those bands. Lacking the edginess that made their forebears so appealing. They also lack a unique enough sound to have the same influence as the likes of Television, The Strokes or Parquet Courts*. The best moments are the extended jams when songs such as 'Come On' are stretched far out enough to show that Sunflower Bean are clearly fantastically talented musicians. When they become more than the sum of their influences, they could become something very special.  

There are two sides to Wolf Alice (9.2). Both are best represented by the first two songs of their set and second album 'Visions of a Life'. Heavenward is Wolf Alice at their most beautiful and melancholy. The studio version of the track simply can't contain the beautiful noise the band make live, nor the vocal abilities of Ellie Rowsell. Not since 8 years ago when I saw Florence and the Machine play in the same room have I heard a singer so fantastic at projecting her voice. While Florence has a tendency to over sing, Ellie fills the room with her almost operatic range. The other side of Wolf Alice and Ellie is the gloriously pissed off 'Yuk Foo'. While 'Heavenward' was Ellie sounding virginal and well.. heavenly. 'Yuk Foo' is the sweary, screamy flipside. Ellie's ability to go from one extreme to another marks her out as being one of the great female rock singers.
Wolf Alice also remind me of the old adage that 'less is more' with some of the most creative stage lighting I've seen a band use. For most of the songs they wre bathed in white spotlights, or flooded with red or blue lights. The white lighting was a plus for all the many fans taking photographs on their phones. A mirror-ball shone for the more romantic 'don't delete the kisses' and 'beautifully unconventional'.
Interaction with the audience as kept to a minimum, with Ellie saying that they 'always get the best mosh-pits in brum' and 'we love it here!'. I get the feeling that Wolf Alice were being sincere. The setlist was a mix of the songs from their classic début album and earlier hits. Newer tracks such as 'planet hunter' and 'sadboy' (sadly not dedicated to Lil Peep) may not have the instant mosh pit starting appeal of 'your loves whore' or 'you're a germ' yet they have an eerily subtle quality of their own, that matched the slight chill in the air and natural lighting. After an incendiary 'moaning lisa smile' where Joff tossed his guitar up in the air and looked on the verge of smashing it up. 'Visions of a life' was stretched out and made as loud and heavy as possible. Mixing pastoral elements into their sound, I think it's the modern equivalent of what Led Zeppelin did with their third album. Epic, heavy and oddly folky at the same time. 'Fluffy' pulled things back to their punk roots, and the inevitable encore ended with what is probably the definitive Wolf Alice song 'Giant Peach'. As a sea of fans, jumped, pushed each other and sat on each other shoulders. Believe the hype, Wolf Alice are one of the great British rock bands.

*yeah yeah, I know they're from Texas

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Run the Jewels + Danny Brown Live at the 02 Academy review (14/11/17)

As you might expect from a man who is rumoured to have turned down a spot in D12 because he didn't want to wear baggy jeans Danny Brown (8/10) never does things the easy way. Coming on stage with a mile wide smile, either high on his rapturous applause or whatever he was smoking backstage. Danny warmed up the crowd with 'Die like a Rockstar' before filling the set with deep cuts from his discography. This was made up of his most abrasive, noisy cuts, mixing Arca- like electronics with an almost eski-beat style grime sound. As you might expect from a man who sells his own branded condoms* and rolling papers on his merch table. Danny's lyrics mostly focus on sex and drugs. Yet he's more compelling and likeable than your average rapper, running up and down the stage, spitting bars in his trademark cartoonish style. It wasn't until half way through that we heard anything from last year's breakthrough album 'The Atrocity Exhibition', yet it was worth the wait. 'Lost' had the crowd waving their hands up and down. For 'Aint it funny' the DJ stopped the beat so the crowd could shout the chorus. By the time 'Really Doe' and 'When It Rain' blasted out the speakers Danny had the crowd in the palm of his hand.

Before the show EL-P's twitter feed found him in a reflective mood. Writing about his family history and own struggles with alcoholism. If El-P had been in a sour mood it didn't show. From the moment He and Killer Mike took to the stage under a huge inflatable recreation of the RTJ3 album cover and launched into 'Talk To Me and 'Legend Has It' an ecstatic crowd jumped, surged and waved their gun hands in the air. While RTJ's fans seem to come from all sorts of different backgrounds, it's clear that there are no casual fans. RTJ may make some of the most vital politically charged music of this decade this show was full of positivity. Mostly because of the love EL-P and Killer Mike share for each other. Both MC's were incredibly in sync, finishing each others bars, high five-ing and cracking jokes through the set. Many of the best moments of the show were the interludes where RTJ talked to the crowd. Killer Mike beamed with joy when he saw another father with his son and praised the dad for getting his son into their music. El-P gave a shout out to the 'over 35's on the balcony' saying that if they were at this show they'd be up there with them.
Run The Jewels are a great example of how to put on a show responsibly, asking everyone in the crowd to step back and to 'not put your hands on anyone you don't know'. RTJ have a clear love for their fans, throwing T-shirts into the crowd and catching one thrown at them, and reading the note attached to it.
The only real disappointment was the lack of a Danny Brown cameo for 'Hey Kids', yet RTJ had already delivered so much that it hardly mattered. 'Oh My Darling Don't Cry', 'Call Ticketron', and 'Close your eyes' are all certified bangers, the latter aided by retina blasting strobe-lights. 'After Don't get Captured' El-P hoped he could touch us 'all like I touch myself' with some of his own poetry, which was actually just the opening bars of 'Panther like a Panther'. The most inspiring part of the show was Killer Mike's spoken introduction for 'Down'. Talking openly and honestly about his love for his late mother and the depression that both he and her have struggled with and advising anyone who struggles with depression to seek help and talk to others about it. 'Down' was supposed to be their last song but the inevitable cries of RTJ! led to 'A Christmas Fucking Miracle'. 


*£3 for a condom! fuck that. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Seafoal, Connor O' Rourke, Apollo and Figure 0.9. Live at Subside review (7/11/17)

While his old band Crime and Punishment 2011 may be nearing its end Dan Carter aka Figure 0.9 (7/10) is already off to a flying start, with his début album Casket having come out in September. While Crime and punishment 2011 shows were notable for Dan jumping about the place and getting right in people's faces. Dan now stands rapping his heart out on centre stage. 'Casket' is the start of Dan taking his song-writing in a more meaningful direction, with CPK's beat maker Pink Violence providing a dark industrial tinged grime backdrop for his bars. The show made for a reunion of sorts as his former band mate Zero joined him for reflecting. The finale of this opening set was 'Casket'. Which his own emotionally charged interpretation of Placebo's 'follow the cops' back home', before Dan left so 'people with instruments can take to the stage'.
Apollo (7.2) is a unique artist. His set found him playing as a one man band with only his vocals, violin and an electric drum machine/sampler for all of his songs. While his gothic take on electronica may seem very experimental in style. He has a knack for turning his sparse production and introspective lyrics into memorable pop songs. His violin adds character to a lot of these songs, when he's not combining it with his sampler to create a beautiful cacophony of noise. 
Connor O' Rourke (5.2) seemed a bit like the odd one out for this show, being the only acoustic artist on a line up of dark electronic acts. He seemed aware of this, making many self deprecating jokes throughout his set. His pastoral folk songs reminded me of Bon Iver at his most heartbroken and passionate.

The thing that confused me about Seafoal (7.6) is that at first I had no idea how her dark gothic electronica is made. The synth tones seemingly coming out of nowhere until I realised that there was a backing track coming from somewhere. While cuts from her latest EP 'Xeraclius' were obvious highlights, there are two sides to Seafoal. One is the pint sized 'fake trans' punk who makes dark gothic electronica. The other is an acoustic singer-songwriter. Her cover of Linkin Park's 'Numb' was a heartfelt tribute to the late Chester Bennington. The subtleties of this and her own acoustic songs 'Soulsick' and 'Van Gogh' (she hates it less played acoustically) were sadly a bit lost over the relentless chatter of the Subside crowd. After the acoustic section it was back to her current sound. Seafoal has a great band to back her songs with and an amazing sense of style. A small following of devotees wearing her beanies is proof that with each of these shows she is winning more people over.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Weezer + The Orwells. Live at the 02 Academy Birmingham (27/10/17) review

When you see Mario Cuomo* onstage it's hard to imagine him ever doing anything else. He might be a bit less rowdy than in The Orwells infamous early performances (and he's had a haircut) yet he still stared down the audience with a manic intensity. Mario was clearly ill and open to admitting it. His trademark raspy scream was clearly only making it worse as he was coughing between songs. Yet him and the band were still able to put on a great show. While Weezer still haven't shaken off their 'college rock' image. The Orwells have the same rough edge that made bands such as DR Feelgood so exciting in the 70's with their own Americanised spin on the pub rock sound.
The Orwells seem like they've been in a few scraps. Yet far from being another dumb punk rock band their extended instrumental jam (presumably to let Mario rest his throat) showed off their fantastic musical ability. (7.6/10)
Weezer's Birmingham show this year was the same day as the release of their new album 'Pacific Daydream'**, the room was completely sold out and packed full of ecstatic fans, happily waving homemade banners and batting about balloons before the band came on-stage. When Weezer did arrive on-stage it was to huge applause and an entire audience immediately singing along to every word of 'The world has turned and left me here'.
Few bands have a back catalogue so stuffed with hits as Weezer. For about an hour and a half every single song they played had an ecstatic crowd singing along to every word. Highlights from their recent 'White album' such as 'thank god for girls' and 'king of the world' are now almost as loved as older hits like 'El Scorcho', 'Pork and beans' and almost every single track from their début 'blue album'. Weezer realise that rock music has got to be fun, and clearly have a love for the theatrics of 70's bands such ass Kiss or AC/DC. Rivers comes across like the nerdy kid to Angus Young's wild child with his own shirt and tie/Gibson SG getup, regularly showing off the naked woman on the back of his guitar.
The only real lulls in the show were when Rivers Coumo bought out a keyboard for their latest single 'Happy Hour' and the following instrumental piece, both met with less enthusiastic singing, polite applause and a cheer when Rivers picked up his guitar again. Like many other bands recently Weezer seem to be stuck between delivering radio friendly pop rock hits and playing for a fan-base that wants to hear the louder early stuff. This isn't much of a problem for Weezer however as they are as much as kick ass rock 'n roll band as a pop group, as 'The sweater song' reminded everyone. This was followed by an odd yet fitting cover of Mike Posner's 'I took a pill in Ibiza. From this point on it was all hits, 'Island in the sun', 'Beverly Hills', Hashpipe, 'Say it aint so' and the recent hit 'Feels like summer', all being more massive sing-alongs. After all this Weezer had already delivered an amazing show yet there was still something missing. 'Say it aint so' would have been a perfect closer to the show but Weezer only had to play one song for the inevitable encore, the song that made Weezer huge in the first place, 'Buddy Holly'. Which was made just a little bit better by the exploding confetti cannons. Ultimately this show was a reminder of how much fun standing in a crowd and shouting along to great rock songs can be.


*No relation to Rivers but what a coincidence right?
*funnily enough Rivers Coumo didn't seem to realise this, asking if the album had come out in the UK yet.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Buggles - One of the most important british bands ever?

I have this theory. The Buggles are one of the most important bands that Great Britain has ever produced. Bear with me on this one, after all this is the great country that produced The Smiths, Black Sabbath, The Beatles, The Cure, The Sex Pistols, PJ Harvey, The Slits, and an endlessly long list of groups to follow on from that. Despite the one hit The Buggles are very much an anomaly. The reasons behind the name of the band and title of their first album alone are bizzare. The name coming from a strange vision of a mad scientist creating fake alternate versions of famous bands (The Buggles -The Beatles) and the album 'The age of plastic' a reference to the band being a 'plastic group'. The Buggles may have actually foreseen the modern era where interchangeable DJ's and talent show starts rule the airwaves. I'm not saying that The Buggles are not one of the most important British bands because of the incredible success Trevor Horn gained as a hit song producer since then or the fact that the duo's time in YES helped the prog giants survive during one of the odder periods of their history.
What made the Buggles special is the joyful silliness of many of their songs. The song titles on their début album alone are as gleefully deranged as the music with in. 'Johnny on the monorail', 'Kid Dynamo', 'I love you (miss robot)' and 'clean clean' are more than just pointless exercises in silliness but also subtly clever pop songs that take in elements of 'techno-pop', new wave, post punk and even progressive rock. 'Video killed the radio star' and one of the follow up singles 'Elstree' both share a nostalgia for a Britain that they may have barely remembered.
I'm saying that The Buggles are important and influential because there is an odd trend in the UK for bands who are as clever as they are silly. A trend which has peaked over the past decade with British bands such as Django Django, (early) Calvin Harris, Hot Chip, Metronomy, Glass Animals, Public Service Broadcasting, Teleman, Everything Everything, Alt-J, Dutch Uncles, Wild Beasts, LA Priest, Superfood, The 1975
and many more.
I see a similar mix of silliness, cleverness, genre mixing and Englishness in many of the bands I mentioned above. PSB's dancing spacemen, Glass Animals' pineapple fetish, Django Django's Hawaiian shirts, Metronomy's fake girl vocals, and pretty much everything about Hot Chip are reminiscent of what The Buggles started on their 1980 début. The bands I love most are those can be clever without being pretentious, fun yet self aware. I believe that more so than Talking Heads, or Sparks, this is something The Buggles have helped influence. The Buggles were so ahead of their time that they helped kill the radio star themselves. 'Video Killed The Radio Star' was famously the first music video to be played on MTV, scoring their only hit in the USA years after it was first released in the UK. It seems fitting that this slightly obscure band from the early 80's sound in far better company amongst today's indie bands than the new wave bands that succeeded them.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Interview with Figure.09

For the past few year or so I've been covering Crime and Punishment 2011 on this blog. The birmingham group make an eclectic mix of grime, electronica and heavy metal. one of the groups founder members Dan is going solo and releasing his solo début 'Casket' on September 1st. Much like his solo career this interview is a bit more serious than the often hilarious ramblings that made up my interviews with Crime and punishment 2011. 

Dan: I feel like I’ve proper calmed down, compared to when I first started Crime & Punishment 2011. I feel like I’ve progressed both musically and as a human. Which is nice. I feel like I’m definitely a lot calmer and not someone who’s making ridiculous statements anymore. Its nice to be a be a bit more chill and just be myself.
Me so is that what the album’s about? Being more chill being more yourself?
Dan: Not necessarily. A running theme of the album is believing in yourself and not really caring what other people think of you. I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people to be honest.  I think some people are going to listen to some of the songs and think is the same person who was spitting on FUBAR or rucksack or whatever. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by the song Joe’s on Joe’s showed a side of him that I don’t think a lot of people knew he had.
Me: so it’s not just Joe screaming?
Dan: no, he’s doing more spoken word stuff. When I showed my other half the song we did she cried so that was sick. This is definitely my most honest work.
Me: I could tell when I saw you perform some of these songs At The Sunflower Lounge that these were more personal songs and that one of them was very specifically about your other half.
Dan: Well one of them was, each song is about a very specific subject. Like one song is just about love in general. Obviously I’ve got some songs that are just about me being a sick MC and then there are some songs that are just, like, dealing with darkness and stuff.
Me: Is it the same themes that you’d get with Crime and Punishment 2011?
Dan: To be honest no, not really. There are a couple of songs on there that could have been crime and punishment songs if Joe had been on them.  But that’s just because it’s the kind of music that I like to listen to. I’m trying to make each song on this as different as possible. Obviously, Salem Witch Trials came out 3 or 4 days ago and the response to that has been a lot better than I expected. But to be honest it hasn’t really set the tone for the whole album. I’ve tried to make it as much like a proper album as possible, like I’ve put a couple of skits in there. There’s three main themes on the album. Frustration at the world, not feeling like you can be yourself and appreciating what you’ve got around you. When I heard about Chester Bennington it made me feel that I needed to Put these songs on the album. Like one songs called Treehouse, that is a song I wrote but then didn’t want to record because I thought I might offend, well not offend but it does concern many opinions that people close to me have had about my musical endeavours and its kind of me just saying like ‘fuck you’ I’m not going to be offended by what people think of me. It doesn’t matter if you’re a cunt in some band, who I don’t like or if you’re my best friend. I think a lot of it’s going to really surprise people.  I’m trying to do this as properly as possible. Crime and Punishment is in no way dead, I think it’s good that were having this downtime because when we come back I think we will be stronger. If someone comes away from the album feeling an emotion then I feel I will have done my job.

After this we talked at length about Dan's new change to vegetarianism and about the music that inspires him. He admits to taking 'quite a bit of inspiration' from XXXTENTACION, and while he's not really into 'the soundcloud rap thing' he thinks it's good that 'people are being more open with themselves'. He cites other UK artists such as Manga St Hilare and Dave as being influences and while he isn't tying himself down to grime the next single off 'Casket' most likely be 'Dragon' which is the grimiest song on the record. The production has been mostly handled by Crime & Punishment 2011's Jason 'Pink Violence' Tyler and while the album will initially be released on Bandcamp he is later aiming to push it further and have it on major streaming platforms soon.

Black Mekon - One In the Hate. Album review

Well this is a surprise. After the success of their brilliantly retro, and yet somehow very forward thinking '45 consortium' subscription service, each month you get a split 7" with Black Mekon and another band, recent ones have included Table Scraps and Bob Log the Third. They've bucked their own trend and released another whole album. Sometimes you know an album is going to be great just by looking at the track-list. 'One in the hate' features such gems as 'Janey was a klepto', 'Frank died hanging from an electric fence', 'hold on to your hate', and 'I just really wanna be your man'. Whatever fantastic stories 'Janey and Frank have might be a bit hard to make out as Black Mekon's vocals are distorted and scuzzy as everything else on the rest of this 26 minute long album. Black Mekon tap into the same mentality that made rock' n roll exciting in the first place. Nothing here extends beyond 2 and a half minutes and everything demands to be played as loud as humanly possible. That it sounds as if it was recorded on an old Nokia only makes it better. Every track is clearly performed live and put straight on the record. You can hear the buzz of the guitar strings, the smashes and clashes of the drums and the rumble of the bass. 'Roman Wonder' is the blues as it was meant to be played. The slide guitar sounds as if it's barely been tuned, and the other riffs just repeat over and over. Black Mekon take a pause for a few seconds breath on 'Salt Liquor' which only adds to the feeling that this album was finished in one take. 'Hold on to your hate' is so stripped back that it doesn't even have the drums and bass backing it. 'Rats out' is so stripped back it barely has vocals on it. 'Fresh Hell' features the inevitable harmonica, and the sound of the bands instruments falling apart under the stress of being thrashed over the past 20 minutes. If you like the blues pure and authentic then you'll probably hate this album. If you like rock n roll noisy, loud and off the chain then you'll love this to death.


Eat Me, Institutes + Fun Sponge. Live at Subside review (23/8/17)

Another free show at Subside on a Wednesday night began with an acoustic singer songwriter named James Leese, singing his heart out to the handful of present punters. I didn't catch much of his set but I was impressed by the passion of his performance. Next up was Fun Sponge (6/10). A delightfully ramshackle duo who describe themselves as 'rock music for kids who cry after sex'. Their music is mostly short sharp blasts of punk-ish rock 'n roll. With song titles such as 'Fuck you' and 'Cuckold' they clearly don't take themselves seriously, but they make a fuck load of noise and seem to have a lot of fun doing it. Which is what this whole rock 'n roll thing is about isn't it?
Despite the crap name Institutes (6.8) are one of the most interesting bands I've seen from Birmingham in a while. They remind me of some other Birmingham bands such as Peace or Editors, yet I still feel that they've crafted a sound of their own. Using an armada of effects pedals Institutes created a huge wall of sound and ended the show with screeching feedback. They've got a similar feel to some of Foals more recent material. They've got that same, murky, sweaty feel to some of their songs, which is only added to by the chiming tropical sounding guitars. It's rare that a new band will appear so fully formed.
Eat Me (8/10) are now probably one of my favourite bands. Which is why I was a bit disappointed to see that few people had come out to see them. This was a shame as Eat Me were on top form. They seemed pretty unfased at the lack of a crowd, and decided to have a good time anyway. At one point their singer said "thanks so much, you guys are all standing up, thats so cool!". He also had a description for almost every song and what it was about. For example, the song mumble is 'about when people can't understand what your saying'. Some other songs were described as being 'dedicated to all those who prefer less clothes', and 'for anyone who's too immature for the person they're in love with'. Despite the sarcasm and mock posh accents Eat Me are a genuinely great band. They have a complete disregard for convention, playing the relatively simple genre of slacker rock with carefree abandon. Their songs regularly change direction, pace and time signature's within their three minutes. It takes a special level of skill to sound as off the wall as Eat Me do. The more gigs like this they play the more attention they'll hopefully get. 


Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Flapper & why it needs to be saved.

The venue formerly known as the Flapper and Firkin has been my favourite of all Birmingham's dwindling number of music venues for a few years now.  It's on the canal-side opposite the Barclaycard arena. I remember getting lost twice trying to find the place. The fact that there are no directions to it, and that it's hidden behind a block of flats only makes it cooler somehow. A secret retreat for those in the know. Inside the Flapper is one of the few pubs left that has a rock n roll spirit. The walls are proudly decorated with framed posters from shows gone by and black velvet skull wallpaper. It's got a smoking balcony, a pool table, two pinball machines, and the soundtrack is rock 'n roll played loud. The flapper boasts a nice array of beers on trap and in bottles as well as a delightfully eccentric motley crue of bartenders to serve them. There is no carvery but pizza can be ordered straight to your table. Outside you'll find a canal-side area which is the perfect place to sit by and watch the world go by during the summertime.
The real highlight is downstairs, where opposite the toilets is an empty black room that was probably once a cellar. This is a room that has hosted countless bands. Last week I was in this room as a sold out Milk Teeth turned the place into a sauna. The small room had sweat dripping from the walls, and a crowd that surfed, moshed and sang along to every song. the same happened at many other shows I have seen here. Some shows have been much less packed or rowdy. But if you ask any band where they began. They will say that they played in a small grass roots venue. After all where would On a Friday, Starfish, or Feedback have played before they became Radiohead, Coldplay and U2? In the case of the Flapper, it was Editors who became a huge deal off the back of those early Flapper shows. The corporate owned venues littered throughout the UK don't give bands the chance to play so early on in their careers or give fans a chance to interact with them.  An oft-stated statistic has shown that The UK has lost 40% of it's live venues over the past decade. In Birmingham we have lost The Adam and Eve and The Rainbow recently and the scene has suffered for it. The Flapper is special because it excels as both a pub and a live venue. It has an atmosphere that can't be matched by the various academies that litter our country. Personally I will be gutted if we lose The Flapper too. As anyone can tell you pubs are not always just retail spaces that are licensed to serve alcohol. Much like the Hare and hounds The Flapper is special because it is both a great pub and a fantastic live venue. It's where I have made friends and later cemented those friendships. Its where I've seen live shows that helped define my early adulthood. a part of me in in The Flapper and if it's knocked down to make flats then a part of me dies with it. Gentrification of this sort only benefits those who make the money off it. Gleaming tall towers make a city a pretty place to visit, but not a nice place to live. Culture is important and should be protected regardless of what form it comes in. Please sign and share the link below and spread the message to everyone.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Milk Teeth, Employed to Serve, Wallflower. Live at The Flapper (27/7/17) Review

London's Wallflower (6.4/10) are similar to a lot of bands I've seen lately who play an earnest type of rock music that doesn't seem to have a name yet. Grungey yet melodic, introspective but not entirely emo. I think I'll call them 'post-emo'. Much like an actual wallflower, their music is pretty yet doesn't draw much attention to itself. They make an impressive wall of sound together and they do a good job of being melodic yet heavy at the same time.
Having never heard of Employed to Serve (7.6) before this show I was expecting another pop punk or emo band so I was pleasantly surprised to hear a barrage of ear destroying death metal. Suddenly the crowd's divide between hairy tattooed metal-heads and sullen teenage girls made perfect sense. ETS' guitarist said that he wanted to 'see some movement!' otherwise we might as well have all stayed home. The crowd in the Flapper happily obliged and started a circle pit, crowd-surfed and split in to a wall of death. ETS have all the trademarks of a great death metal* band. The guitar solos, thundering drums, gloriously doomy detuned riffs and screamed vocals. It was a surprise discovering that their singer is female half way through the show. With all the chaos going on I didn't really get a good look at the band. Their singer said that she was happy to have been included as the support on this tour and that more shows should have this much variety. I can't help but agree.
Last time I saw Milk Teeth (8) they were headlining The Sunflower Lounge. Becky wasn't present and Josh Bannister** had to make do as the singer. After (now defunct brummie hopefuls) Curb left the stage only a handful of punters were left. Milk Teeth coped well, but without Becky they were a pretty standard screamo band. This is why I was surprised to see Milk Teeth go from strength to to strength since then, becoming one of the UK's best and hottest new rock bands in the coming months. Milk Teeth at the Flapper was a different story, with a sold out crowd and the walls already dripping with sweat. Milk Teeth took to the stage with the lights off and after a short intro of samples, including the star wars theme and Smash Mouth. Milk Teeth launched right into their last single 'owning your okayness', which inspired a sing-along and crowd surge. Things kicked off even more with 'Brickwork' starting mosh-pits and the shouted refrain "all the words that you said left a hole in the back of my head". Things calmed down for the quieter 'Swear Jar' which once again the crowd knew all of the words too. 'Melon' led to a quick cover of the Foo Fighters classic 'Everlong' which fit intro the set perfectly. At some point in the show Milk teeth claimed at some point that this was the favourite show they'd ever played with faulty gear. Things sounded fine from where I was standing.
Becky introduced Milk Teeth's most recent single by explaining why Milk Teeth's new EP is called 'Be nice' (which was written in neon lights on the bands amps). She talked about how no one really knew what was going on in Chester Bennington's mind in his last weeks, but it would have helped if were were all just a bit nicer to each other. It's easy to see why Milk Teeth are becoming one of the UK's most loved bands. The new songs are some of the best they've written yet. the closing track from the new EP 'Hibernate' closed the show. Part slow acoustic number, part heavy rock song. It made for a great climax to a fun and very sweaty show.

Sadly the venue in which this and many more brilliant shows have happened is facing closure. If we don't succeed in keeping it open. It will become another hotel/block of flats. If you don't want to lose this treasured venue. Please sign, share and donate here.

*I'm sorry if I've got this wrong but I really don't care that much about heavy metal sub-genres 
**Who has since left the band

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.

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

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.


*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.


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.

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'.


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.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (leftover photos).

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow + Sweet. Live at The Genting Arena. (Review 28/6/17)

The Sweet (8/10) have never really had their fair dues and no one seems more aware of that than themselves. Sweet thanked Ritchie Blackmore for the opportunity to play an arena. As "we're a British band and we deserve to play here more than we do". If this sounds like moaning then it wasn't. Sweet clearly enjoy playing hugely. They still have the energy and enthusiasm of a much younger band. Founder member Andy Scott also pointed out that due to his recent knee surgery he was "drugged up to my eye balls, like all the gigs in my 20's". The reason Sweet might be overlooked in their own country is that despite the pop songs, they're a hard rock band. A point they're still proving 40 years later. Their songs are irresistibly fun and catchy. Fox on the Run (a recent chart hit because of Guardians of the Galaxy - but not in the UK), Blockbuster, Teenage Rampage and Ballroom Blitz, were all able to have an entirely seated audience* standing, clapping and singing along. The Sweet formed over 40 years ago, but it feels like they are only getting started.

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow preceded their set with a huge union jack projection, with pictures of their many old tickets stubs projected onto the screen to 'Land of hope and glory'. An indication that this wasn't going to be a 40 minute greatest hits set. The Union Jack gave way to an actual rainbow as Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow came on to the stage to huge applause. It quickly became apparent through the opener 'Spotlight kid' that despite 20 years of loving in the middle ages Ritchie is still both a rock legend and guitar hero. The singer for this line up is the Italian, Ronnie Romero. Ronnie seems to have been born destined for this job. Attractive, charismatic and a fantastic singer, Ronnie was born for the job. Ronnie is clearly standing on the shoulders of giants such as DIO, Gillan and erm... Bonnet. Yet unlike many of those singers there was clearly no clash between him and Ritchie as he was as much of a fan as anyone in the crowd, and a fitting side-man for the rock legend. It did however feel at times that Ronnie was bordering on karaoke, paying tribute to DIO by imitating his voice perfectly. Ronnie Romero is be a fantastic singer but I never really heard his voice.
The two hour set was filled with Deep Purple and Rainbow anthems and deep cuts with a fantastic light show throughout. Ritchie paid tribute to both Jon lord (with a long instrumental acoustic guitar piece) and DIO (with pictures and footage of the 70's band on the screen behind them) Rainbow in 2017 are still as excessive as in 77'. Ritchie incorporated Beethoven's 'Ode to joy' into his own 'Difficult to Cure' and Jens Johannson's ten minute keyboard solo was a welcome toilet break opportunity and reminder of why punk had to happen. More fun was the drum solo where David Keith shared his kit with Ronnie Romero, for the first two man drum solo I've ever seen.
Thankfully 'All Night Long', Since You've been gone' and 'Long live Rock N' Roll' made up for the extended soloing. Although Ritchie Blackmore gained cheers for every solo. He also seems quite literally down to earth** with his fans, sitting on the stage, shaking hands and listening to requests from people in the front rows. It's probably not because I shouted for it, but Deep Purple's 'Black Night' went down a storm, as did 'Burn'. Of course the last song of the show had to be 'Smoke on the Water', the most famous riff of all time played by the man who wrote it, awesome.

*Having this show as an entirely seated event was a stupid idea. I was grateful to have a seat for much of this 2+ hour show but the marshall's had their work cut out for them keeping people confined to their seats. Having a standing show would have worked much better.  
** yeah yeah, I know.