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. 

Crime And Punishment 2011, Last Light, Blank Parody, Chalet Lines. Live at The Flapper (25/6/17) review

Chalet Lines (7.2/10) is the occasional solo project of Joe Parker. The occasional singer of Birmingham 'Sadcore' group Enquiry The last time I saw Chalet lines It was also at the Flapper.  It was a few years ago now yet I remember enjoying his music but not particularly being that impressed by it. However two years have gone by and their is an obvious huge difference. This is partly down to a whole new set-up. While it might have been pretty funny watching him struggle with the complex looking keyboard and pedals, the guitar effects and backing drum sound gave the songs a new lease of life (or maybe he's just written better songs since then, I'm not sure). Chalet Lines evokes the same washed out, slightly psychedelic indie rock of Mac Demarco or Kurt Vile. The stripped back approach whether deliberate or not works in Joe's favour. what also works for Joe is how likeable and funny he is on-stage, even if only a handful of people have showed up. He's also got the best hair I've ever seen on anyone. ever.
Blank Parody (6) turned up with two less members than usual to play a sort of stripped back -not quite acoustic set. To be fair to them they gave it their all, performing their set with all the gusto and enthusiasm of a headline set. The small gathering of fans seemed to enjoy it a lot too. Unfortunately I feel that Blank Parody are just not really unique or raw enough for my taste. Blank Parody have the look and attitude to fit in alongside the likes of The Amazons and Circa Waves but lack a unique personality or sound of their own. 
Next up was  Last Light (6.8) a band who evoke the no nonsense emo of bands like Brand New or Taking Back Sunday. While they're not entirely original was impressed by their musical ability and their blend of melodic guitar sounds with heavy riffs. They took the lack of a decent audience well and joked a lot between songs, saying "don't all rush to the front at once! "and claiming that one of their songs is 'big in the teen Turkish Goth scene"
Birmingham's 'Grimecore' pioneers Crime and Punishment 2011's set this time was the last of their short 'weekender' tour. Unfortunately not many people had shown up for this Sunday night headline set but CPK still did their best despite their tiredness and delivered a full set. CPK's début album FUBAR is due out soon and it's self titled lead single is a good clue if where they're headed. It's a state of the nation address. The most explicitly political and straight up metal song they've produced so far. The slightly surreal production style of the earlier tracks seems to have given way to something much more straight forward and stripped back. As usual their set was marked by Joey Sniper climbing on every available surface to scream his throat out and roll around on the floor. Dan now has to rap both his and Glitch's old bars and has managed to do pretty well, even switching his own flow to suit Glitch's style. The addition of Sam on drums is also proving to work in their favour as many of their tracks now sound as if they'd been written with drums rather than just laptop beats. Another highlight was their cover of The Weeknd's 'The Hills' who "Joey thought was a band".
The whiny vocals of the original have been replaced by Joey's screaming and Dan's bars. CPK have done a good job of making it their own and I prefer their version to the original. While the novelty cover and stage banter gave out good vibes, the closing domestic violence tale 'Storms' brought the mood down massively. But still, respect to CPK for being as uncompromising and dark as they can be.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Whitney + Girl Ray. Live at Mama Roux's 21/6/17 Review.

Mama Roux's is an old warehouse that through painstaking attention to detail been transformed into a 1930's speak-easy. With fake buildings, lights that don't really work and a balcony where audience members can watch bands while sat at a table. The current heatwave made the illusion feel even more realistic, the only things missing were the moonshine and the 1930's jazz soundtrack.

London's 'estrogen pop' group Girl Ray (6.4/10) kicked things off with their summery lo-fi indie rock. Drawing on the washed out sounds of Beach Coast with a Nico-ish style of vocals. While they've got the knack for washed out indie rock, a highlight of their set was a 'new song' simply titled 'rock out' that already hints at a grungy change of direction.

Whitney's Début album 'Light upon the lake' was one of 2016's best. A gorgeous album of bitter-sweet breakup songs which already stands as a classic example of Americana.
They may play sad songs but Whitney like to have fun. Even before they'd officially started playing two of them were messing around with the bongos. Once Mama Roux's had filled up the heat was almost unbearable. Whitney had the difficult task of playing an hour's set despite only having a 30 minute long album.
Right from 'The Falls' providing a lively start to the set. Whitney had the whole crowd singing along to every world. The only problem Whitney had was getting people to stay quiet for the delicate ballad 'Light upon the lake'. While they may sound understated on record Whitney are experienced virtuoso musicians, who've played in a variety of indie bands. Many of their songs were fleshed out and livened up through added guitar solos and drum fills. There's nowhere Whitney sound better than on a stage. Julien Ehrlich provides more than just his unique vocal style he effortlessly mixes playing drums while singing and he is consistently witty. He introduced 'golden days' by saying that it's about being unhappy in a relationship and that "even if you don't divorce you're still gonna hate each other".
A surprise kiss between Julien and Whitney's bassist was shrugged off with Julien saying that they've kissed on-stage about two hundred times but "that one was a bit gross to me as it was at a different angle" than usual. Whitney padded out the set with their recent cover and single 'You've got a Woman'. Julien requested that the audience not take any photos for this one as it was a newer song and the audience obliged. Yet Whitney played so perfectly they needn't have bothered. Despite being an American band Whitney were struggling with the heat (to which a bottle of water got thrown at him in reply), and the drunken heckles. 'I can't understand a word your saying' admitted Julien. After a quick "sweat break" encore Whitney were back on-stage. They played a fantastic new song which is about The "D-Word" (depression). And strangely enough, a quick cover of the 'Gilmore Girls' theme tune, "We don't like the show but we like the song". Whitney saved the best for last with a fantastic jam session that showed off their musical abilities and the song that started everybody's love affair with the band, 'No Woman' which inspired a mass sing-along and a fitting end to a genuinely special night.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Krafterwerk 3D Live at the Symphony Hall Birmingham 13/6/17 review.

How do you update the future? Or rather how do you modernise a band who for the past 40 years with their style, sound, music and overall aesthetic have defined what the the future looks and sounds like? This is is a question which must have been playing on Kraftwerk's minds for a long time.
The idea of mixing Kraftwerk's famous visuals in state of the art 3D is so obvious. Yet it could only be done now. Now that the technology is so much more advanced than it has ever been before. Every single person in the Symphony hall had been given a pair of white 3D specs.
Kraftwerk came on-stage with light up clothes and keyboards and started the set with 'Numbers'. In which the numbers behind the band seemed to fly right off the screen. Throughout the show the 3D effect was stunning. Whether simply adding more depth to the black and white footage used for 'The Model' and 'Tour De France' or giving the illusion of a space craft being inches from your face for 'Spacelab'. Kraftwerk's visuals gave me some idea of what it must have felt like seeing a cinema screen for the first time and being convinced that the train on screen was going to burst though into the theatre.
It's not just the visual aspect of Kraftwerk's music that has been bought straight back up to date however. The minimalist feel of many of their 70's classics has been replaced with a heavy, groovier sound. The simple kick drum effects have been replaced with a heavier bass sound that shook the entire auditorium.
'The Robot's saw Kraftwerk temporarily replaced with actual robot versions of themselves, and 'Spacelab' concluded with a 3D UFO landing directly outside the Symphony Hall itself. Despite being on stage for 28 songs there was hardly a song which felt out of place or a hit that wasn't played*. Kraftwerk's set-list spanned all their albums from 'Autobahn' to 'Tour De France'. The extended medley of songs from 2003's Tour De France proved that it's easily their most underrated album. The pulsating rhythms mixed with the footage of hundreds of cyclists racing made the 'Tour De France' medley the most exhilarating section of the show.

Surprisingly for a band who've made a career out of being isolated from their audience. The Birmingham crowd could almost be considered rowdy. Kraftwerk's remaining founder member Ralph Hutter had to ignore several cheers of his name. Coincidentally the last song of the set was 'Music Non Stop' which had been loudly requested minutes earlier. At the end of 'music non stop' each member of Kraftwerk each member in turn took a bow and left the stage, after two encores and a set-list spanning 40 years.

*except for Showroom Dummies and Pocket Calculator. But I can live without those

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Best albums of the year (so far...)

1. Formation - Look at the powerful people
In the numerous trips to my girlfriend's house and back the album playing in my car has been the début from Formation. In many ways Formation seem like the perfect band for 2017. While not explicitly political, they express the frustrations and anger that many of my generation feel. What makes them special is that they channel this into a hedonistic Happy Monday's via LCD Soundsystem blast of indie disco bangers. It's an exhilarating listen from start to finish that might still be at the top of this list in 6 months time.

2. 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 2007 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.

3. Wiley - Godfather
To put it in his own idiosyncratic way, Wiley's got more bangers than a butchers. The sole exception on Godfather being a slightly disappointing slow jam 'U were always part 2'. Other than that it's 16 tracks of hard-hitting pure grime. To Wiley's credit he bring out the best in all his collaborators. Newcomers and fellow grime legends such as Ghetts, Jme and Frisco alike bring out their best flows and verses while Wiley is frank, funnuThe production and beats are solid and all have that old school grime feel to them which has never really aged. On 'Godfather' Wiley lives up to his title.

4. Father John Misty - Pure comedy
If there is one main critisism of this album is that it is 80, minutes long and it needs to be listened to carefully. It's not an album that can be put on in the background. 'pure comedy is Josh Gill and at his witty sardonic best. Looking at himself and the world at large with a satirical eye. Whether that be his own career on 'leaving LA' or painting visions of a dystopian future on 'total entertainment forever'. Pure comedy is a true masterpiece of an album.

5. Kendrick Lamar - Damn
After scoring a hat trick with three classic hip hop records kendrick had his work cut out for him. 'Damn' in some ways a return to kendrick earlier sound, ditching the jazz-funk of 'TPAB' for washed out Psychedelica. On 'Damn' kendrick comes to terms with his own psyche and tackles religion as well as his status as a hip hop legend.

And in no particular order...

Sampha - Process
Perfume Genius - No Shape.
Hoops - Routines
Luke Rainsford - I feel at home with you
Elbow - Little Fictions
The XX -  I see you
Brockhampton - Saturation
Mac Demarco- This Old Dog
Gorillaz - Humanz
Slowdive - Slowdive
Pumarosa - The Witch
Paramore - After Laughter
Kasabian - For Crying Out Loud
Ibibio Sound Machine -Uyai
Lowly - Heba
Blondie - Polinator
Sylvan Esso - What now?
King Gizzard and the Lizard wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana
Spoon - Hot Thoughts
Alex G - Rocket

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn visits Birmingham! (6/6/17)

In few places does Labour's current slogan 'for the many not the few seem to apply more than at one of Jeremy Corbyn's rallies. People of all races and ages came down to watch him talk in Birmingham. Jeremy Corbyn is a true man of the people. The size and variety of the crowd that came down to watch him speak reflects that. The atmosphere reminded me more of a music festival than a political rally. As groups of people danced together waving 'Vote Labour' placards to hits by The Jam, Blur, Cypress Hill and even Rage against the Machine's 'Killing in the name'.
The compère for this event was the actor and comedian Steve Coogan. Who gave a passionate speech backing Labour's manifesto when not introducing the other speakers and performers. He managed to be funny and serious in equal measure, gaining laughs from the crowd from his jabs at the conservative party. He pointed out that "we all want young people to go out and vote, but you won't read anything about it on the Conservative website... because they know there's nothing in the manifesto for them... they want to to take the houses of old people and they want to saddle the young people with debt". He also joked that Theresa May is not "Margaret Thatcher mark 2, she has the charisma of a pancake" and branded Boris Johnson as "the Tories clown, except he's not that funny"
Of all the bands I would have expected to back Labour the last I would have expected was Clean Bandit. Personally I've always disliked Clean Bandit and found their music both boring and annoying in equal measure. Yet they've won my respect by playing a short set of their three biggest hits, Real Love, Rather be and Rockabye. Clean Bandit's cellist Grace Chatto explained that rather than just being a huge pop smash 'Rockabye' is also a song about "single mothers who are struggling to make ends meet... it tells the story of one woman who is forced to take desperate measures in order to feed her child". "We believe in the basic principle that every child deserves a shot at a good life".
The next guest speaker to be introduced by Steve Coogan was local hero Saffiyah Khan. A photo of the student staring down a member of the EDL by The Birmingham Library has been shared around the world, making her an unlikely symbol in the fight against racism. Saffiyah is voting for the very first time on Thursday and she has decided to vote Labour. She might not be the best at public speaking but her reasons for supporting Labour wre met with cheers from the already converted crowd. "We reject the idea that we should set one generation against the other, we don't need to have grandparents and grandchildren competing for resources".
Jeremy Corbyn's appearance was met with a rockstars welcome. Unlike the carefully prepared speeches from other parties Jeremy's speech came completely from the heart, seemingly unscripted, with all the pauses and breaks of normal conversation but with fiery passion and a deep echo on his voice that gave the impression of a canyon like space. His opening lines were thanking the other guest speakers and everyone for being there, while stirring up cheers for all the other Labour rallies happening simultaneously over the country. Jeremy paints a bleak vision of poverty and inequality over the next five years if the Conservative party is elected. Citing homelessness, over crowded class rooms and NHS waiting lists as problems that all need to be solved before they can get any worse.
He countered this by pledging to give 30 hours a week free childcare for parents every week, and that "A Labour government will properly fund our primary schools so the headteachers wont have to have collections at the school gate". He argues his plan to allow every child to learn a musical instrument by saying "In children there is the most wonderful sense of imagination, and creativity, lets let that imagination flow". Jeremy believes that we can all benefit from his plans to aid young people who want to learn and study at university, "When you invest in young people you invest for the future of all of us". He pledges to run the "fundamental free right for all" NHS properly, "We won't leave a million people waiting for social care".
Jeremy also has an answer for his critics. "People say to me that all this is a wish-list, no, it's not. it's a program, its an agenda, and you know what? we are going to carry it out out". His speech was so full of highlights that it can hardly be fit into a blog so I urge you to watch the video of the event below. While the sun may have been out for Clean Bandit's pop tunes the weather changed to cold and wet for Jeremy's speech. He hardly seemed to notice as the rain formed a double rainbow by the stage. after Jeremy had finished talking the crowd chanted his name as if demanding an encore. Instead we got 90's britpop band The Farm playing their hit "all together now" as the festival feeling returned and the crowd dissipated and those who stayed, danced to The Farm and the follow up DJ set of more 90's tunes.

Watch  the full video at

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hawkwind. Live at the Instutute review. (16/5/17)

In an unexpected twist, Hawkwind's current support on tour is Hawkwind (8.4/10). Their set at the Institute began with a short half hour acoustic set. Taking a break from interstellar travel to play some tunes around the camp-fire. Unlike Staus Quo these acoustic sets are not a way of covering up a lack of new ideas or ability to play at full volume but more of a chance for Hawkwind to communicate with each other and their fans more openly. The acoustic set gave Hawkwind's ship captain Dave Brock a rare chance to enjoy some nostalgia and relive his busking days. During this set Hawkwind nearly delved into some old jazz standards and Chuck Berry covers. the band and crowd did enjoy some light hearted banter about 'getting yourself together' and the recently detonated Aston Bomb, "did he say bong or bomb?" before Dave decided that the band should get back to playing some Hawkwind classics, "I mean I'm a Hawkwind classic!"
If the little acoustic set found a band nearing their 50th anniversary relaxing and looking back on their past then the second set was anything but. While the topless dancers may have left, the brain melting graphics have not. Hawkwind have been boosted by the addition of new(ish) members, such as their a young(ish) bass player who channels the spirit of Lemmy through his Rickenbacker bass guitar. Hawkwind's current singer is the formidable 'Mr Dibs', who has the task of singing tracks originally sung by a multitude of legendary frontmen.
The setlist was made up of deep cuts from their career such as overlooked 80's gems Psy-Power, 70's classics Warrior on the edge of time and recent tunes from the last two albums who Mr Dibs thanked us for helping chart for two years in a row. But sadly not the interplanetary hoedown of Spaceship Blues. The second set flew by despite almost every song being stretched out over ten minutes.
Mr Dibs thanked the crowd again for coming out year after year to see these "obscure cult motherfuckers", and took photos of everyone in the front rows.
After Hawkwind left the stage an encore was inevitable, yet the demand for one was still amazing, the bands name was chanted over and over while the stomping of feet shook the floor. When Hawkwind did come on stage it was to play their biggest hit 'Silver Machine', with probably the strangest part of the stage show - a dancing badger, and after two and a half hours Hawkwind left the stage.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lowly + Hoopla Blue. Live at the Hare and Hounds review (15/5/17)

 When Chartreuse pulled out due to their guitarist and driver breaking his foot it was up to Hoopla Blue to step in and save the day. As it turns out Hoopla Blue (7.2/10) were a perfect support act for Lowly. Having seen them a few times now I still can't accurately describe their music. They're the kind of band who could only have come out of this decade. They mix odd time signatures, with shimmering guitars, keyboards and some elements of sampling to add to the overall atmosphere. They can go from frantic Battles style math-rock to Wild Beats style grandeur in the space of a song.   Despite making such odd music Hoopla Blue could hardly be described as experimental, as they've honed their sound and they play with a quiet brooding confidence. Hoopla blue seem to get better with each performance.

A few years ago no one would have predicted that Denmark would have produced so many influential artists. Iceage, Communions, Marching Church, Lust For Youth, Liss, and Mo have all helped make a huge impact recently. Lowly (8) are the latest Danish band to break through, having recently released their début album Heba on Bella Union records. Their show at The Hare And Hounds was their very first in Birmingham and Lowly were clearly humbled to be there, saying "What a big crowd you are, so great!" early on. Like many of their Danish contemporaries Lowly are still a pop group at heart, no matter how experimental or avant-garde they get. Much like Mercury Rev, Lowly may sound mellow and dreamy on record, yet their songs are far more powerful when performed live. They bought an array of keyboards with them to help build a huge wall of sound, most of which were mixed and multi-tasked by the keyboard wizard Kasper Staub. Lowly can go from sounding overwhelmingly huge to bringing a whole room to absolute silence. One of these incidents was when one piece of kit seemed to break. The crowd stood in absolute silence before joining the band in awkward laughter. Lowly's vocals were split between Soffie Viemose and Nanna Schannong. While Nanna lent gentle melodies to their sound with her guitar. Soffie stood out with her fantastic voice and nonchalant dancing as being the front-woman of the band. Simply tossing aside a request for their breakthrough single 'Daydreamers' with a simple 'haha no'. While Nanna invited the audience to come over and say hi, and that they didn't have to buy anything, Lowly seem like genuinely nice people. Despite being such a new band Lowly have created a unique sound. That they've managed to do this while still making memorable pop songs and without being over pretentious seems to have been important to their success so far.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hoops + Cymbals. Live at The Hare and Hounds review (7/5/17)

Having rediscovered Cymbals (7.2/10) excellent second album 'The Age of fracture' it still seems strange to me that the band aren't better known. Cymbals refreshingly eclectic update of 80's pop, still sounds fantastic 3 years on. Since then the band seemed to have spawned several more successful and less vibrant imitators. So I was glad to finally get a chance to see them live ahead of the release of their third album 'light in your mind'. Unfortunately the giddy joys of the last album seem to have given way to a more sombre violin led sound. Taking in elements of post-punk and and toning down the exuberance of the earlier material, of the newer songs it was 'fully automated luxury' which stood out as the strongest. Despite being less keen on the newer material, I'm glad that I've finally had the chance to see brilliant songs such as 'the natural age', 'empty space' and 'like an animal' played live.
While the vast majority had come along to see Los Campesinos in the bigger room next door, an admirably candid Hoops (7.6) said 'thanks for coming to our show and not *points at other room*'. . Hoops hail from Bloomington, Illinois. Despite only playing to a relatively small crowd, Hoops were having the time of their lives. Saying that Birmingham is a 'beautiful city' and that 'if you've not been to Illinois then you're not missing much'. Hoops have a slacker charm and a dry sense of humour. 
They don't have a front-man, yet the constantly smiling guitarist Drew, seemed to be the mouthpiece of the band, saying 'I like this song' before almost every song and just shrugging off their keyboards joke that all their songs are shit. Hoops play the sort of hazy, lazy indie rock that used to be associated with Mac Demarco. Despite looking and sounding like slackers, Hoops musical ability sets them apart from most. Many of the songs off their début album are bursting with energy and melody. While they have only just released a record hoops are a fantastically tight live band who've been honing their craft for 6 years. The vintage keyboards and lo-fi guitars give their music a washed out sound, as if it's been warped on an old VHS. The only real fault with Hoops is that despite having three vocalists, none of them are very good at singing. The flat mono-tonal singing suits their sound, but it robs the songs of any real emotional connection. Hoops début album 'Routines' came out last Friday on Fat Possum records and I highly recommend you give it a listen.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Table Scraps & Black Mekon Split 7" Single Launch! (Live at the Hare and hounds review, 27/4/17)

Since the whole 'B-town' thing fell through it feels more like the Birmingham scene has splintered into a few separate scenes. Where Grime, Hip-hop, Grunge, Jazz, Pop-Punk, Metal and Rock all co-exist but rarely come into contact with each other. My favourite of these 'mini scenes' is the tiny garage rock revival that has spawned Table scraps and Black Mekon. Who've just released a split 7" as part of Black Mekon's ongoing 45 consortium project. It was inevitable, as the two bands already share a lock up and live on the same street. The single comes with it's own pair of 3D glasses to view the cover, and the new Table Scraps 3D video (clever marketing that). The stage was projected upon with 3D graphics and lit in red and green.
As I may have pointed out before, Black Mekon (8/10) are about as cool as it gets. 3 dudes in sharp suits and Kato masks playing the blues raw and dirty. Black Mekon have no bassist, only two guitars, but make up with it by frequently blasting out harmonica solos like the bastard child of Elvis Presely and Bob Dylan, and using their own special drum cymbal, which has been named 'The Bomb'. As I've come to expect from a band who only release music on spilt 7"s, Black Mekon's set was full of short sharp blasts of rock 'n roll which rarely last over two minutes. Of all the times I've see them, this show was probably the best. Some highlights of their set were their guitarist jumping about in the crowd while the other guy blasted his harmonica, and the last song, marked on the set-list as "CUNT".  A slower ballad where their singer dropped to his knees and pleaded forgiveness from the woman he had wronged.
Table Scraps (8) have changed a lot since I last saw them. No longer a scrappy punk duo, they've evolved into a swaggering rock' n roll trio. Poppy Twist now has a full drum kit (as well as an art installation at the Waterhall Gallery, but that's not strictly relevant). Scott has upgraded to a 12 string guitar, and Table scraps now have a bass player named TJ (who at one point jumped into the crowd). They've also got a new Theremin, which TJ can use while playing his bass. Table Scraps have gotten bigger and better. Scott in particular has improved hugely as both a guitarist and singer. A lot of the songs now come new and improved with guitar solos and he no  longer screams until he's out of breath. They even felt confident enough to incorporate parts of Led Zeppelin's 'Communication Breakdown' into their own already great 'Motorcycle (straight to hell). Few of the songs on the set-list were from Table scraps début album 'more time for strangers', yet the new songs are all equally as strong as older fan favourites such as the set's opener 'Electricity'. Despite this show only having two bands and short sets, both bands delivered in spades, and showed why brum's garage rock revival is worth caring about.