Review: Sinead O’Brien – Drowning In Blessings EP

Posted on 16 Sep 2020 at 8:04am

Speedy Wunderground are really spoiling us.

Having helped to launch some of the most vital music over the last few years (Squid, black midi, The Lounge Society and Black Country, New Road to name a few), the label have now compiled one of Ireland’s hottest prospect’s recent singles onto one EP.

Yes, the Emerald Isle maintains its outstanding contemporary track record for music, although Sinead O’Brien hasn’t just relied on her heritage. Now based in London having spent time in Paris with Chanel (and now working for Vivienne Westwood), O’Brien found her calling when invited to perform at a spoken word gig at The Windmill in Brixton. Despite being unprepared, the buzz generated from the set caught the attention of no less a luminary than the legendary John Cooper Clarke.

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Album Review: Tricky – Fall To Pieces

Posted on 14 Sep 2020 at 8:05am

For whatever reason we’re in a new era, where the people we used to once recognise as untouchable (after all, we did call them stars) are three steps less removed, somehow in our hands. Not everybody treats fame like this, but Tricky has experienced anguish like few people have had to deal with, and he continues to face it down on his own terms.

It’s been twenty-five years since Maxinquaye redrew British music’s lay lines, driving a wedge into the dominance of American artists in hip-hop and beyond which would eventually become a fissure. Since then, he’s led a life he could barely have imagined when growing up on Bristol’s Knowle West estate, a story vividly chronicled in his 2019 autobiography Hell Is Around The Corner.

The book ends in a moment of acute devastation with the death of his twenty-four-year-old daughter Mazy; Fall To Pieces is his first album since the tragedy, and one on which he addresses grief but also the racism his good career fortune has both highlighted and shielded him from.

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Album Review: Doves – The Universal Want

Posted on 10 Sep 2020 at 7:54am

There’s naught more fraught than the comeback album. Despite the fact that Doves never officially broke up back in 2010 (their last appearances together were to promote the best of album The Places Between), the relief and excitement was palpable when they announced a series of gigs last year, and a new album felt inevitable.

The atmospheric opening to Carousels ably builds tension, with a shuffling drum-loop pilfered from the late, great Tony Allen and an overall hurdy-gurdy feel that befits the title. It’s vibrant and crisp, and as such sets the tone. Similarly, later on Mother Silver owes a debt to Afrobeat, all percussive energy and funk.

Back to the top, I Will Not Hide sustains the atmospheric start with swampy bass and the trademark guitar lines which form a structure around the melody. It was quite apparent when listening to the Jimi Goodwin solo and the Black Rivers albums (Jez and Andy Williams’ project) who contributed what to Doves, and the latter pair’s soundscapes sit better alongside Goodwin’s melancholy tones.

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Album Review: Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess

Posted on 08 Sep 2020 at 7:56am

Maybe a church is the best and worst place to write songs: if you’re saying a prayer they’re rarely heard, but if you’re making a confession then there’s just a chance you’ll pay down something that helps you find peace.

Angel Olsen recorded Whole New Mess in a converted church in the small town of Anacortes, Washington, with only engineer Michael Harris for company. Conceived as the heartbroken cousin to the theatrical, string laden All Mirrors which followed, in the process Olsen was both making demo material and mapping the wreckage of a relationship.

The St. Louis born singer had been releasing music for a decade, but All Mirrors had seemed to be a sort of full stop. This outing though comes laden with the suggestion that her output to-date has not so much been a natural progression as merely the next gas station on an unplanned emotional road trip.

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Album Review: Jamie Webster – We Get By

Posted on 28 Aug 2020 at 6:59am

If there’s something of the busker about Jamie Webster, it’s probably more by accident than design.

Many singer-songwriters begin like that, on the pavement, staring up at uncaring suits and black-shined shoes as the notes pour out and loose change explodes into a battered instrument case. Of those that make it, few choose to honour the hard lessons.

Better still to square the Liverpudlian and former electrician in the folk tradition, but only because he chooses the least complicated ways to connect with people; a strummed guitar, some welcoming chords and a proudly accented voice, basic tools made good by joy and artistry. Whatever the story, there’s much of the past in his music, a conscious anachronism in an era when the present is constantly trying to erase itself.

Webster cuts more to the chase than his forebears though, saying We Get By, ‘documents and asks questions of the struggles, joys and escapes of everyday working-class life. A few chords, a bit of passion and a lot of the truth’. These days, that’s a hard thing to find, as fooling ourselves has become a national sport, a blight the singer lays out on opener Down The Road, its scuffed-up indie rock immediate proof that this isn’t just another street corner urchin with a grab bag of hope.

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Album Review: The Killers – Imploding The Mirage

Posted on 21 Aug 2020 at 6:01am

On release one breathless critic declared The Killers’ Mr. Brightside as the greatest single in the history of pop, ever.

Even remembering that this was 2004, the idea still seemed more than a little far-fetched. After all, weren’t the Las Vegas quartet just decanting their love of New Order, The Cure, Duran Duran and dozens of other 80’s new wave bands through the lyrical cross hairs of The Breakfast Club, or Pretty In Pink? The very idea of this neo-tribute being the greatest single, ever, sounded ridiculous and wrong. But yet, you had to admit, also possible.

An incalculable amount of stuff has gone on since then of course, from absentee members/non-members (guitarist Dave Keuning seems determined to continue with a so-far modest solo career) to Brandon Flowers and family leaving the band’s alma mater Las Vegas for Utah. Less salubrious has been the emergence of as-yet-unproven allegations of sexual misconduct made against their touring party.

How have all these things affected the band who at one point in the late noughties seemed to have no natural predators? Simple. They’ve taken one sniff of rock’s angsty, downsized prevailing winds and performed a 180. Imploding The Mirage is a record designed to do the opposite to its title.

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Album Review: Secret Machines – Awake In The Brain Chamber

Posted on 20 Aug 2020 at 8:01am

Heralded as space rock pioneers a decade-and-a-half ago, Secret Machines – against all expectations and amidst a backdrop that has been beset by tragedy – are finally ready to release their fourth album.

Never mainstream rock in sound yet somehow granted a place at the top table by luminaries including U2, Oasis, Kings Of Leon and David Bowie (who even interviewed them), their progressive krautrock had no shortage of fans before the band was put on ice in 2010.

Brandon Curtis (guitarist and singer) joined Interpol, but sadly in 2013 his brother Benjamin passed away after a short battle with an aggressive form of lymphoma. After dalliances in various side-projects, Benjamin and drummer Josh Garza teased a return in 2018, but at the start of the following year Garza’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and so the reunion was understandably put on hold.

Indeed, it wasn’t guaranteed that this album would come out at all, but the stars have aligned and, with their shared experiences deepening their bond, Garza and Curtis bludgeon us into submission once more. Still in place are the dreamy harmonies, cacophonous drumming and ethereal soundscapes; recorded over the last decade, the inconsequential jams that were sprinkled over their first three albums have been jettisoned to make way for more discipline.

Album Review: Biffy Clyro – A Celebration Of Endings

Posted on 14 Aug 2020 at 6:16am

You don’t spend 25 years making music for a living without either collecting your share of the punches or having a strong instinct for self-preservation.

Biffy Clyro close their latest album with the words ‘fuck everybody’, a message deliberately left at the very frantic end of Cop Syrup. It’s a song on which otherwise Simon Neil sings about redemption, and contains a middle section with three-minutes-plus of gentle woodwind and acoustic guitar, as if the trio are about to subside into melancholy, happy just to be sad.

Far from it. A Celebration of Endings is meant, he’s said, to absolutely jar, to rattle our cages. After the vulnerability (his words) of 2016’s Ellipsis, the band – Neil and twin brothers James and Ben Johnston – have since been chastened by two acrimonious fallouts with members of their inner circle, a betrayal they felt as if it were the loss of family – which having met each other at the age of seven, they practically are.

As a consequence of that and many other things, 2020 is a very galvanised Biffy Clyro.

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Live4ever Interview: The Coral’s Ian Skelly talks new solo album Drifters Skyline

Posted on 11 Aug 2020 at 9:57am

For his day job, Ian Skelly drums and writes for Liverpudlian garage rock legends The Coral. His last solo album Cut From A Star was released eight years ago. Now back with Drifters Skyline, we talk to him about the inspirations for this heady mix of psychedelia, and seventies kitsch, the breakneck pace of recording it and how singing one way and feeling another inspired its contrasting moods.

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Album Review: Taylor Swift – folklore

Posted on 31 Jul 2020 at 7:58am

It’s not uncommon for many people to be skeptical when discussing Taylor Swift, an artist who has always sat in the pop world and one they argue has been too quick to bite the hand of the celebrity clickbait that’s sustained her fame as much as any music ever has.

And yet, despite grounds for cynicism, the ambitious songwriter who relocated from Pennsylvania to Nashville in her early teenage years and redrew what country music could achieve is definitively essential, the world’s most recognisable female artist and one with enough commercial heft to bend the likes of Spotify to her will.

To get here has taken some brave leaps, starting with 1989 – her fifth album on which she embraced modernity, and since then new directions have both refreshed and widened her appeal. Swift was even able to get away with Look What You Made Me Do, the precursor to 2017’s Reputation and a clumsy unsex jam which bordered on self-parody.
Reputation was followed only recently by the far less salty Lover, and with her personal life apparently now set to private, little activity this year was expected. But then ‘folklore’ arrived with zero build-up, along with a brief essay in which its creator described the characters as both real an imaginary, explaining that, ‘Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history and memory’.

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