Album Review: Algiers – There Is No Year

Posted on 29 Jan 2020 at 8:28am

If rock n’ roll’s pioneers were almost exclusively black – Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley – then as a movement their successors have by and large been poorly served by it, constricted by its gradual slide from relevance and pushed to the margins by a form of the art which has largely abandoned them.

Algiers’ Franklin Fisher is a black man fronting a band who play some of the most polemical rock n’ roll music sitting in the mainstream; the quartet are willing soldiers who, in an age where dissidents harass what is a corporate war machine in everything but name, are as outspoken and impassioned as anyone.

Purists may argue that rock n’ roll is the last descriptor which could apply to There Is No Year, the group’s third album which takes in variously post-punk, soul, gospel and techno amongst a shifting mix of styles, but as a chapter of a revolutionary movement, homing it here is where it makes most sense.
Much of its lyrical content is based on Fisher’s lengthy poem Misophonia, which arcs narratively across the band’s personal experiences and is named after the condition from which people develop a total aversion to certain sounds.

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Album Review: Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot

Posted on 28 Jan 2020 at 8:38am

He’s probably never lost much sleep about it, but there’s a certain sort of fascination in wondering whether or not the tuned in, acerbic Neil Tennant which edited Smash Hits so long ago would approve of the Neil Tennant of now.

In the early eighties the notion of global superstardom was in its infancy (Elvis aside), with the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson a long way off from their later excesses. Given that pop is meant to be such a transitory phenomenon for both stars and audience, is it right that Tennant and the ageing first generation of musical royalty he came up with are still so first hand?

The answer, of course, is who cares? Pop after all has never been about objectivity, and anyway Tennant and his permanent foil Chris Lowe have long since thankfully become national treasures, black belts in personifying a tolerant, culturally open Britain many wished it could be.

Hotspot is the final work in a trilogy whose preceding chapters were 2013’s Electric and Super, released three years later. Each were produced in conjunction with Stuart Price and have marked a deliberate shift back to a more familiar electronic ground. This latest has also been touched by the duo visiting Berghain, the legendary Berlin club which on a weekend rarely sleeps.

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Album Review: Ash – Teenage Wildlife

Posted on 27 Jan 2020 at 8:32am

When faced with growing up, some rock stars choose the Peter Pan route but for the evergreen Tim Wheeler, Ash has always been a vehicle that kept its options open.

Since emerging from Northern Ireland in the wake of grunge and the Gen-X sociopathy of Dookie, the trio/quartet/trio have dealt with the fallout of near bankruptcy, apathetic suits and ever-changing ripples in public taste with a stoic resilience, outliving their peers when the smart money wasn’t on it.

As you might expect from a band who once claimed that their motto was ‘fucked by rock’, Teenage Wildlife is more than just a generic hits, outtakes and filler package. Boasting fifty-four tracks – yes, you read that correctly – this meticulously curated project makes more sense when you remember that they once released a single per fortnight for a year and have so far clocked up eight albums.

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Album Review: Wire – Mind Hive

Posted on 23 Jan 2020 at 9:05am

Post punk.

Briefly scan through any article about a politically or socially charged band with guitars and the likelihood is this description will be there somewhere.

Wikipedia describes it as being ‘inspired by punk’s energy and DIY ethic but determined to break from rock clichés, artists experimented with sources including electronic music and styles like dub, funk and disco’. By definition therefore it’s meaningless, in that presumably anything recorded after 1976 can fit into that category (although it’s hard to imagine Coldplay ever choosing the term to describe themselves).

Yet most who choose the moniker would cite Wire as a key influence. Often labelled as the first post-punk band, the presently four-piece are a testament to longevity not stifling creativity. Despite having had several sabbaticals, Mind Hive is their seventeenth studio album and is as beguiling as the first.

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Album Review: Georgia – Seeking Thrills

Posted on 20 Jan 2020 at 8:35am

Of all the different things you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, being the son or daughter of a successful someone is probably the one with the most mileage. The precedents are mixed, but for Georgia Barnes – daughter of Leftfield’s Neil – it was obvious that the shadow cast would take something special to escape from.

Dad after all had been one of the first producers to introduce the stylings of Jamaican music’s sound system culture to European techno in the nineties, long before dubstep, but Georgia buckled up into the ride slowly at first, beginning as a session drummer for the likes of Kwes and Kate Tempest before releasing her debut album in 2015. Self-titled, this first outing seemed to be an equal contest between rhythm and melody, but on Seeking Thrills any doubts surrounding her club credentials are left behind like rave flyers blowing along an empty street.

Not to sound like an embarrassing uncle, but there are times when the apple doesn’t sound like it’s fallen far from the tree; the rumbling low end of Mellow nearly drowns out a Balearic sex jam fuelled by vodka jellies and amoretto, while the M.I.A-esque singsong skank of Ray Guns bops mightily, proof intriguingly of an inheritance far from totally spent.

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Album Review: Nicolas Godin – Concrete And Glass

Posted on 17 Jan 2020 at 8:33am

Summer, 2019: a crowd of muddy-legged fourty somethings are gathering in front of the main stage at the Bluedot festival, waiting patiently in the shadow of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope for a rare chance to see Kraftwerk, the ageing techno-Granddaddies who when playing live make up for in 3D effects what they lack these days in Teutonic twerking.

The album lullabying the crowd is Air’s Moon Safari, itself no spring chicken, but all around punters are wreathed in nostalgic smiles: stylish and effortless, French duo Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin had made their debut album like the soundtrack to an Alain Delon flick, filtered through a vintage analogue dream.

While it’s been eight years since the pair have released anything under the banner, both have been busy with solo careers. For Godin this began with the release in 2015 of Contrepoint, an offbeat collection of largely instrumentals inspired by the work of the classical composer Bach. If that suffered from the not uncommon fault of being better as an idea than a final product, on Concrete And Glass Godin has evidently decided to play it safer, reintroducing melody and bringing in a handful of guest vocalists. In the process, he’s evidently found Le Mojo.

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Album Review: Field Music – Making A New World

Posted on 16 Jan 2020 at 10:09am

Never ones to take the easy option, Field Music have always made a habit of standing apart from their peers.

Formed during the indie revival of the mid 2000s, brothers David and Peter Brewlis had close links with other inhabitants of Tyne and Wear (members of both The Futureheads and Maximo Park have featured in their ever-evolving line-up). And while mainstream success eluded them until a Mercury nomination in 2012 (for fourth album Plumb), they always seemed content to plough their own furrow.

Indeed, after second album Tones Of Town in 2007 the pair went on hiatus before it was fashionable. Over the last decade and a half since they’ve worked on numerous other projects but the mothership of Field Music was never far from either’s orbit, keeping relatively prolific since being endorsed by none other than Prince back in 2015.

Making A New World is their third album in four years and stems from a project the band undertook early last year for the Imperial War Museum. It’s quite convoluted, but the central theme comes down to imagining the long-lasting effects of the First World War and how they have shaped the world we live in today.

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Album Review: Kaytranada – Bubba

Posted on 13 Jan 2020 at 8:34am

House is one of those categories on streaming platforms suspiciously full of those made up artists who aren’t really artists: easy to do, it’s much more difficult to do well.

For Louis Keven Celestin however, it’s been much more of a way out that just holing up against the reality of being a jobbing musician. Born in Haiti, his parents moved to Canada when he was a baby, and after their divorce there were never the trust-funded luxuries of the performing arts school class. Starting out under the alias Kaytradamus, the big breakthrough came in 2012 with his sparkling, bass-heavy remix of Janet Jackson’s If, followed by a well-received debut album 99.9% four years later.

Not that the exposure has made Celestin any more willing to play the game: interviews are rare and in the past in them he’s focussed on that humble upbringing, some difficult school days and sharing a love of hip-hop divinity such as a Tribe Called Quest with his younger brother. Respect is earned not given though, and in the here and now Bubba’s star-studded roster of guest collaborators – including Tinashe, Pharrell, Kali Uchis and many more – speak eloquently of a producer whose reputation is assured enough to bring dance music’s glitterati to the yard.

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Album Review: The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do

Posted on 10 Jan 2020 at 7:53am

We all know, or at least have been told continuously, that genres are becoming a thing of the past.

Having easy access to an incomprehensible amount of music has swept the boundaries and stigmas away. Yet one classification defies the passing of time and technology: pop.

But what is ‘pop’? As a genre in and of itself it means to add a synth sheen, or expanded production, or the heinous crime of being catchy. That’s nonsense of course, in its purest sense it’s popular and therefore more encompassing.

The Big Moon, like Girl Ray before them, have been accused of ‘going pop.’ Their Mercury nominated debut, 2017’s Love In The 4th Dimension, was raucous indie fun, deceptively heavy and one for the indie purists. With a few more years’ experience (and therefore cynicism) under their belts, the four-piece have delivered the first big hitter of this new decade and have quite rightly developed their sound.

It’s true to say the guitars have been rolled back, but this new lightness of touch should not be mistaken for an abandonment of principles, more a willingness to enhance the sound. Introducing synth pads and layered harmonies is not always a red flag.

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Album Review: Beck – Hyperspace

Posted on 23 Dec 2019 at 8:36am

Such is the ambiguity surrounding most of Beck Hansen’s career it’s always been difficult to know whether he’s been running away from either the public or himself.

This profound dislocation(s) has meant that whenever he appears in preparation to reboot one of his past identities there’s a wave of overly nostalgic hype, so after the first few bars of Saw Lightning, on which he and producer Pharrell Williams ostensibly give the slacker-hop of Loser a makeover, those who always felt he’d meet himself coming back the other way will have cause to think themselves correct.

Hallelujah they may cry. After all the diversions and back roads – including the unconvincingly clean lines of 2017’s Colors – here was the Beck that the 120 minutes generation bought into, a maverick who never belonged in the straight world, even if it was cool enough with him.

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