Wednesday, 31 May 2017

New Music Review #59

Ten more songs that you must hear!

The Alibi - No Solution

'No Solution' is a hefty rock number but with enough of an ear for the radio to give it some more memorable moments to listen back to. (6/10)

Ayo Beatz - Make It Right

Summer is always the time when we want to hear from ska and reggae-infused songs and this is one of those, mixed in with an urban feel. It perhaps doesn't get to the big chorus that you'd expect but is fun, clubby summer number. (6.5/10)

foreverandever<3 w. Sameblod - feel smthn

I'm not sure what it is about the song that I like but its quirky production values, reluctance to fit into a box and a vocalist that sounds like Justin Bieber if he was interested in what he was singing, make for a heady mix. (7/10)

The Ghibertins - Breathe For Me

With hints of Ronan Keating in the vocal style, this is a touching, on-point indie-soft-rock number with a strong central heart to its lyrics and a dramatic build up of strings that give it a haunting quality. (7/10)

Hanson - I Was Born

Back to celebrate their 25th anniversary (!!) this is a great pop-indie comeback song with a Bryan Adams-esque soaring chorus. Quickly catchy and bouncy - love it! (7.5/10)

Jonas Blue feat. William Singe - Mama

It might embrace more music cliches than I could list but it's a poppy, summery number with a catchy enough chorus and not too many club-music tropes to drown it in familiarity. Singe's vocals help lots. (6.5/10)

Mike & The Mechanics - The Best Is Yet To Come

Mike and the Mechanics' comeback continues well. Though this isn't quite as great as the last song - it's pretty subdued and low-key - it has a strong enough production and chorus to keep you interested. (6.5/10)

Miley Cyrus - Malibu

After the headline grabbing wrecking ball-era, 'Malibu' goes in the completely opposite direction as a mid-tempo, subdued, stripped-back indie-song that has its moments of pop amongst some quite somberly delivered moments. Something different from her. (6.5/10)

Steve Rodgers - I Will Grow

'I Will Grow' is a smooth, atmospheric, dark number with hints of Richard Marx in its slow, building delivery and gentle, stripped-back, outlook. (6.5/10)

Tuxedo - Thank You

I keep hearing more from Tuxedo and enjoying everything they put out. 'Thank You' is perhaps not as immediately great as the others but it's 70s-throwback Chromeo feel will put a smile on your face and get you moving. (6.5/10)

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

New Music Review #58

Ten more songs you need to hear!

ARTAN - Opposite Interests

A cooler, more interestingly produced track than the usual entries in the genre, this is a catchy, calm song with a stronger lyrical focus than you'd expect and a production style that reminds me a little of Enigma at their height. (6.5/10)

Father John Misty - Total Entertainment Forever

The best song off Misty's latest album, 'Total Entertainment Forever' doesn't quite live up to its opening lines and flatly avoids anything commercial but it is fun in a quirky way. (6/10)

Jerry Williams - I’m Not in Love With You

With hints of Lily Allen in her vocal style, this is a sweet little stripped back number with an emotional heart and hints of ballsy attitude. (7/10)

JP Cooper - Passport Home

Another great little indie-pop number from Cooper that mixes gentle music, a sweet voice, touching lyrics, gospel-feel and little sparks of interest based around the whistling sections and other neat little tricks. (7.5/10)

Keith Urban feat. Carrie Underwood - The Fighter

Less country than you'd expect from the pair, this is a bouncy, call-and-response focussed pop number with heart. Nice! (7/10)

Linkin Park - Invisible

Linkin Park may have gone a bit more pop recently and - whisper it - a little blander with tracks like this, but it plays out nicely even if the chorus is too repetitive and I miss the louder, rappier band. (6/10)

Sparks - What The Hell Is It This Time?

It might not be as musically different as you'd expect from the ever-changing duo, sounding as it does like 'This is the Renaissance' and songs from that era, but it's another quirky and eccentric pop-electronic number from the musical veterans with an intriguing topic tackled with their usual wit. (7.5/10)

Steps - Story Of A Heart 

A cover of a song by 50% of Abba, some of the lyrics may be a little bland ("staring at the back of a bus??") but it's a touching heart-felt ballad delivered well. (7/10)

Two4Kay - 2 2 Badmind

It may revel in a few genre cliches but it's actually a pretty fun summer-friendly club number with a mixture of rnb and urban styles. (6/10)

The Vamps and Martin Jensen - Middle Of The Night

The Vamps border on sell-out with this club-focussed number but it has a certain amount of catchiness amongst its familiarity. (6.5/10)

Monday, 29 May 2017

[Album Review] The Mavericks - Brand New Day

American country-band the Mavericks return with their 9th studio album, a joyous pop-country number that, though lacking the big hitters of some of their earlier albums, is a fun and happy LP that actually deviates away from the standard country formula with hints of Elvis Costello in parts.

'Brand New Day', with its references to Willie Nelson and folky-country hoe-down style is a joyous opener and though it shares plenty of DNA with Kacey Musgraves 'Family is Family' is a clap-a-long line-dancing perky opener. Track two is the title song and is another uplifting number about settling down with "the one" and though some of the lyrics dart around some cliches it's a smooth little number. 'Easy As It Seems' is a funky almost jazzy number with layered production and a retro sound. It sounds nothing like a Mavericks song, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does lack a strong structure, but offers something fresh early on. It's a similar vibe to the brass-heavy swagger of 'I Think Of You' which is more swing than country, but a fun sweet number.

'Goodnight Waltz' is the longest song on the album, boasting an opening 90-second instrumental, and also the slowest. It's gentle and touching with hints of romance, but is not the most gripping of tracks. 'Damned (If You Do)', which kicks off the second half, is the most interesting song in a while though still feels quite subdued for the band, but the mariachi-style is fun and adds some spark. 'I Will Be Yours' continues the gentle vibe whilst there's a rock-and-roll style to 'Ride With Me' with hints of country more in the lyrics than the music, which skirts around an assortment of genres and fades out after bumbling along nicely. 'I Wish You Well', with its further French-feeling use of accordion, again comes and goes and leaves minimal impact, and though 'For the Ages' is musically similar it has more of an identity and bounces along well, with Raul Molo's likeable vocals again on top form, but it feels like a rather low-key conclusion even if it does have a nice sing-a-long vibe and the chanting end feels like the most different part of the whole record, and suggests it could be a good live number.

'Brand New Day' is an enjoyable enough album from the Mavericks with plenty of enjoyable little songs that play out well but for those looking for their musical heights of 'Trampoline' and its ilk will find this lacking in big hitters. (6/10)

Sunday, 28 May 2017

[Album Review] Blondie - Pollinator

Classic American rock band Blonde, fronted by Debbie Harry, return with their eleventh studio album and their fifth since their reunion almost twenty years ago. Seeing the band collaborate with more writers than on their usual records including Johnny Marr and Sia, this feels like their freshest album in a while with more big hitters on one LP than some of their more recent ones. With a consistent electronic theme tied up with their usual sound, it's another slight tweak on the Blondie formula for this album.

The album opens with 'Doom or Destiny' which introduces itself with a crash of drums that echoes back to their final release of the 20th century (No Exit) before following with a catchy chorus and a fun soft-rock rhythm. It even features Joan Jett on backing vocals. Second track and second single, is one of the best on the record with a great electronic feel and a memorable bridge and chorus, and certainly feels like classic Blondie.

'Already Naked' doesn't quite hit the heights of the opening two tracks but has a strong enough chorus to keep you interested. Track four and lead single 'Fun', however, feels like the Blondie song that stands out in the vein of 'Maria', 'Good Boys' or 'Mother' from previous recent LPs. Boasting a poppy radio-friendly chorus, this is a highlight of the album and instantly memorable.

The strong opening to the record continues with a personal favourite, the driving-forward 'My Monster' whose quirky yet catchy 'heart of darkness'-themed chorus labels this as potential single number 3 for me, and its a credit to writer Johnny Marr who once more shows off his musicman-ship even for other people.

The album takes a little turn into averageness through songs like 'Best Day Ever', which is perfectly good but feels like something Sia must have had lying around in a drawer somewhere with electronic elements that sound like a cross between something from the 80s and the TARDIS failing to lift off, and the distorted production of 'Gravity' which is distracting more than appealing and again doesn't echo the usual great material of Charlotte "Charli XCX" Aitchison but some of that can be aimed squarely at the awkward production decisions which masks what could be quite a fun chorus in audio mud.

It's a similar story for 'When I Gave Up On You' which is both the album's slowest number and also the biggest contender for the more average filler. Thankfully things improve with the John Roberts-featuring, brass-triggering track nine 'Love Level', with its cool lyrical hooks and mix of vocals that freshens things up a bit at a key point, though it could do with a bit more structure. That said, the building layers of the ending bring in some valuable energy and pizzazz.

Approaching the end of the album we get 'Too Much' which is potentially the contender for my favourite song on the album outside of the singles we've heard so far. With crisp production, a fun build up to the chorus, and a chorus that has a fast-paced singable vibe, this perks things up considerably and feels like one of the tracks that will stay with you after the record.

As things conclude we get the slower 'Fragments' which drops the tempo quite considerably and has lyrics that feels like they are saying something, though it's all wrapped in a rather somber and plodding start, but with a simple chorus that feels better. But when the track finally gets going the energy of a much faster delivery makes it more worthy of the album's conclusion and has some hints towards the operatic style of Meat Loaf, but seven minutes feels a little bloated and the f-bomb Harry drops in has no conviction. Fans of hidden tracks will wait for 'Tonight' featuring Laurie Anderson though, to be honest, it's not really worth the wait and is pretty ponderous and feels unnecessary.

Blondie's 'Pollinator' has as many high-points as their come-back albums and there are a good four or five strong songs and plenty more that are enjoyable, though weirdly contributions from usually reliable acts like Sia and Charli XCX are not among the best, with Johnny Marr and Blondie themselves offering more interesting tracks. If you've enjoyed Blondie's last four albums you'll enjoy this one. (6.5/10)

Saturday, 27 May 2017

KBPS Interview: The Pocket Gods

The first single from The Pocket Gods’ forthcoming album ‘The Jesus and Mary Chain’, “The Perfect Blue” is a punk pop summer anthem - think the Ramones meets Teenage Fanclub.  They were discovered by the late John Peel and have been championed by the likes of Huw Stephens and Tom Robinson.   They are also featured in the current Guinness Book Of Records alongside Justin Bieber for their 100x30 album which holds the record for most tracks on a digital album and was featured in Billboard, TV, and BBC Radio 6.

We spoke to Mark Christopher Lee about their new single, his world record and ghostly encounters…

So you’re the 3rd biggest band in your village. Is it great to have such musical heritage?

Yeah! I used to think that I was in the most famous band! It’s a small rural village I live in in Hertfordshire and I thought, as John Peel discovered us, we must be the most famous band in our village. Then I found out that the drummer and the bass player from sixties band The Zombies live here and then up the road, around the corner, is our neighbour, a guy called Dappy who when he’s not being arrested is making music! He’s actually my neighbour [but] I don’t see him much!

Is there something in the water where you live then?

It’s just quite a nice play to do music as you’re on the outskirts of London but it’s quite a nice place to live. There’s woods, and fields, and stuff like that. I’ve got my studio in the garage. But London is only half an hour away to do music.

Your new single is ‘The Perfect Blue’. How would you describe it?

It’s like summery, punky pop, like the Ramones meets Teenage Fan club. It’s a feel-good song with loads of energy. It’s got a lo-fi vibe to it. We think it’s one of our best and poppiest track, which is why we chose it. It’s coming off our album which is out in July, our first one through a major label – Warner Music. We’re actually pressing vinyl for this one, which is interesting and the first time we’ve done vinyl.

Are you a fan of vinyl?

I have a couple of record players. It’ll be really good to have something that we’ve done on vinyl. It does have a different kind of sound. It’s nice having the artwork and looking at the credits, things like that. It’s nice to have instead of mp3s or streaming.

Your new album is ‘The Jesus and Mary Chain’. How was that like to record?

It’s a collection of songs; some old, some new. It’s all recorded by myself and David Goodall at my own studio. We’ve got some great musicians in the band. We’ve got Noel Storey who’s been in the band since the beginning 20 years ago; our drummer Scott Ottaway who, as well as playing with us, plays in sixties band the Searchers so he’s obviously quite busy a lot of the time, so getting him to come and record and play gigs [is great]! On the single ‘The Perfect Blue’ my wife Claire plays the bass; she’s a one-time Pocket God as well. And her cousin sings backing vocals. On the album we even have pedal steel; there’s a country twang as well if there are any country fans about!

How did the title of the album come about?

It’s a long story. I wrote a song about my experience as I played bass briefly in the Scottish morose indie band ‘The Jesus and Mary Chain’ and the song I wrote is about my experience, and is an epic six minute song, and tied together everything really: the history of the Pocket Gods, me doing music. One of the songs was about how I wanted to give up but I’d got this far, and then don’t get any further, then John Peel discovering us then dying a couple of months later.  It was strange goings on and the album kind of reflects that.

A track on it details the never-ending love affair with the paranormal and esoteric matters. Have you ever seen a ghost or had a close encounter?

We have had paranormal experiences in the houses that we’ve lived in! Things have moved and coins have appeared. There was an incident where we wife had her hand on the bed and three coins just appeared from nowhere, and something like that couldn’t just be contrived or faked or anything like that. We’ve seen strange apparitions in the house and things like that. There’s definitely something out there. I don’t know what it is or how to describe it, but it’s probably something not known to conventional science but it’s yet to be discovered. I’m a researcher into UFOs and things like that. I guess most UFOs can be identified but there are certain ones…

West Yorkshire has got a big history of UFO sightings especially down over Todmorden and Hebden Bridge way.

I have to admit I dabble myself and I am a subscriber to the Fortean Times…

Oh I love the Fortean Times. I’ve written quite a few songs about articles I’ve seen in the Fortean Times; things like that inspire me.

You also hold a Guinness World Record?

Yeah, we did an album that was a statement against the lack of decent royalties from music streaming services for artists, for instance services like Spotify or Google Play who pay out a royalty of 0.07p every time someone streams a song, and they pay out the money when the track hits 30 seconds and then no more. The track could be 30 seconds long or 13 minutes long – a prog-rock epic – but you’d still get the same rubbish royalties.

Then I had an idea! Why not write 30-secnds songs; why make them any longer? Let’s change the way we write songs and make them shorter, and then I thought – best of all, why not put 100 of them on an album, and maximise the royalty rates, and then when someone goes on Spotify and plays your album it just goes through the 100 tracks at 30 seconds each. I didn’t know at the time it was a world record. I got a call from the Guinness World Records asking us to send in a picture and details – as we’d just broken the number of tracks on an album. I said ‘oh wow, thank you’. So we’re actually in this year’s edition. If you check it out you’ll see a picture of Justin Bieber and then underneath is the Pocket God’s album, so hopefully all the Bieber fans are picking up on the Pocket Gods!

I do see both sides of the argument. What Spotify and people will say is whereas, in the past, someone can play a CD or a record over and over again, and have only paid one fee at the beginning, whereas with streaming if someone plays a song 100 times you get royalties each time. There are arguments for and against, and Spotify and all the others are great tools in finding new music, but the way it’s funded and operated is not great for artists. It’s OK if you’re in the charts and you’re getting two-million streams; you might get some money back from it. But for undiscovered or up-and-coming new artists it’s quite hard to break through.

And it’s much nicer to own a record…

Yeah, absolutely. It’s physical and tangible. I know you can’t stop progress, I’m not a Luddite. This is the way it’s going. And it’s good that vinyl is having a resurgence, and the fact is, you’ve got kids now going to record shops to buy vinyl. They might be getting One Direction or whatever but they’re still going into independent shops, which is great!

Have you got any live gigs coming up?

Yes, we have a few. Every fortnight we play an acoustic gig in the village we live in, so we’re doing that [next] on the 30th May. Maybe one day we’ll get back up to Yorkshire. We’re originally from Huddersfield but we haven’t played there in a while. It’d be good to come back up and play some venues. We used to play in Leeds a lot, places like Joseph’s Well and the Cockpit. Huddersfield had a good few venues as well.

Finally what are your ambitions for the rest of the year?

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Pocket Gods. I’m just hoping we get the next big breakthrough and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. We’re a great band, have some great songs and we put on a good show live! Live we do a mixture of 30-second songs and full-length songs. I think we deserve a bigger platform, and thanks to people like Seymour Stein, who’s President of Warner Music. He’s the man who signed Madonna and the Ramones, who are one of my favourite bands, and thanks to him we have this deal and we go through distribution of ADA, so hopefully that will give us a bigger reach. We’ll see what happens!

Friday, 26 May 2017

[Album Review] Paramore - After Laughter

Paramore return with their fifth studio album, a catchy, quirky, perky album that showcases a much more fun side to the band, wrapping up darker more personal lyrics in a relentless bubblegum-rock fun.

The 42-minute 12-track album begins with one of my favourite songs of the year, the relentlessly poppy and hook-filled 'Hard Times' which feels like the best tune on the radio at the moment, taking lyrics about dealing with depression and setting them against such an optimistic backing. If this song doesn't have you singing along then you're not listening properly.

Track two channels Alphabeat in another bouncy pop-rock hit. 'Rose-Coloured Boy' has echoes of 'Hard Times' but also stands on its own feet with its chant-along bridge ("Low-key, no pressure, just hang with me and my weather"), singable teen-angst chorus, Daft Punk-lite electronic riffs and more joyful optimism.

'Told You So', single two, continues with the same production feel and electronic vibe with the occasional vocal effect, beat drop and xylophone sound to add to a more stripped back feel that sounds a bit closer to the older Paramore sound whilst still offering something poppier, again focusing on surprisingly introspective lyrics. 

'Forgiveness', track four, is a slower number that is in sharp contrast to the poppiness of what's come before it but is a refreshing shift though it feels a little more by-numbers. 'Fake Happy', with its maudlin opening, makes more of an impact. Slipping back into its 80s synth pop style, this is a track with more of a darker swagger and the stripped back production makes the more personal lyrics time to stand out and you feel for her on this personal song, with its smacks of young-angst, and it feels like it could be the soundtrack to some American teen drama. There's still time to slot in a catchy chorus though, and this feels like single #3.

Bringing us up to the half-way point '26' is potentially an Adele / Taylor Swift reflection on age (even though Hayley is now 28) and is a much slower number, with a low-tempo pace and a quieter production that feels a bit odd compared to the rest of the album but is a nice enough breather, though isn't one of the best tracks. 'Pool' up next feels more like a hard-reset to the second half with the funky bass moments returning and the bridge building up to another radio-friendly chorus. 'Grudges' feels more like older Paramore but has enough hooks to keep your interest; 'Caught in the Middle' is a slower song but it develops well with a sunny feel in contrast to its more downbeat lyrics and its repeating of its hook at the end works well; and 'Idle Worship' fits in well again but doesn't have the energy of the earlier parts of the album though still sounds great.

'No Friend' is probably the most different track on the album with a monologue by someone lying down low in the mix turning it into practically an instrumental, and it feels like a waste of three minutes. As an interlude it works but at three minutes it sort of outstays its welcome, though weirdly doesn't drag too much. At least closer 'Tell Me Now' improves things at the end but the slower inward-looking number feels at odds musically, if not lyrically, to the album opening.

Overall I really enjoyed the bouncy 80-feel of 'After Laughter' and though the lyrics are perhaps more teen angst than profound witticisms it's all wrapped up in such a great production and music style, even if the first third of the album out-paces the rest of the album. With the earlier Paramore sound mixed with something more Alphabeat, it's a great sunny LP with hints at darker times in the wording. (7/10)

Thursday, 25 May 2017

New Music Review #57

Another ten songs you'll want to hear from all of us at KBPS!

Coco feat. Scrufizzer - Ingredients

A quirky, intriguingly produced grime track which sounds like it shouldn't work from its weird switches in pace and style, but does. (6/10)

Coucheron feat. Ary - High By The Riverside

I keep getting impressed by the work of Coucheron and though the bigger focus on electronic club sounds rather than a catchy chorus works against this particular track, there's enough fun and hooks in the verse to keep things interesting. (7/10)

Double S feat. Wiley - Get Paid

Another grime-pop cross over from Double S that again proves a successful merging of styles, with strong crisp production, fast verses and a commercial ear. (7/10)

HAIM - Want You Back

HAIM release another quirky, catchy indie-pop number with solid harmonies. It's not ground breaking but makes for a pleasing listen. (6.5/10)

J & The Rest - 4 a.m. Again

'4 a.m. Again' is an upbeat, poppy track with a building funky rhythm and hints at a more clubby production style that bounce well of each other. (7/10)

K.I.D - Taker

In definite need of a replay, this is a catchy, poppy, punky number with an instantly catchy chorus and a joyous fast-paced rhythm, though the lyrics are a little NSFW. Brilliant! (7.5/10)

Lina - Can’t Keep Falling

'Can't Keep Falling' us an upbeat quirky little pop song with electronic undertones that keeps your feet-tapping. (7/10)

Marshmello - Moving On

It might have two many dance-club tropes including being over-produced for my liking but there's something about the energy in it that I like. (6.5/10)

Nasher - XO

With hints of Gary Barlow in his vocal sound, this is a summery, catchy indie hit with a simple yet memorable chorus and an optimistic outlook that reminds you of the Boo Radleys at their peak. (7.5/10)

The Pocket Gods - The Perfect Blue

'The Perfect Blue' is a really bouncy, upbeat pop song with crunching guitars, a toe-tapping vibe and a relentless optimism. Great. (7.5/10)

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

KBPS Interview: Nasher

Brian "Nasher" Nash was the guitarist for the 1980s band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The bands worldwide smash hit Relax reached No 1 on the UK Singles Chart in 1984.  His new album 432-1 Open the Vein is released in June via Babylon Pink Recordings and we got a chance to speak to him about the single, album and his thoughts on how the tuning of music can really make a difference.

How would you describe your new single ‘XO’?
It’s a jaunty pop tune written about a friend of mine who’s no longer with us.

Did that make it a difficult song to write?
No. It was a celebration of my time spent with the guy who lived next door but one from me called Amit. We used to go out occasionally to watch the football and it would inevitably get messy when we hit the Hennessey XO. That’s where title came from. “Come on, let’s have one more before we stagger down that road!”

The single is taken from your new album which is out in June. What was that like to record?
It was great! I hadn’t recorded anything in a couple of years as I’d been involved in other projects and I spent a long time recording an audio version of my autobiography which has absolute hell! I went into the recording studio with a mobile phone full of ideas and bits of recordings and started from there, sitting in a windowless room until the early hours of the morning!

Did you find that a good way to get the creative juices flowing or was that a struggle for you?
No, it wasn’t. Once I started it was like the dam had burst. I’d been waiting to do this for a long time and as soon as I started the gates were open and the tunes came quite easily, as did the lyrics. The album is the sound of a man in his fifties looking at the world and not being happy with what he’s seeing.

Do you find your experiences or politics have helped shape this music?
It’s not really political. It’s just a view, seeing how the media report things [like] the migrant crisis. You have people like Katie Hopkins – ‘Show me the bodies, and I still won’t care’. Who in their right mind wants that message put out on their airwaves? Yet we still are bombarded by her and her ilk sending this message when we should have a bit of compassion for people.

With the election ongoing that must lead to a lot of material?
I find the whole thing utterly depressing to be honest, and I’ve tried to steer away from it. I know where my opinions lie and they’re personal to me, and they’re outside of any political party really. All we want in the world is a bit of equality, fairness and compassion. In my eyes there’s only one party who I believe can deliver that [but] other people will beg to differ. I’ve got three kids myself in their mid to late twenties. We’ve got to stand up for them and they’ve got to stand up for themselves because they’re the ones who are going to be following on after.

I’ve got a lot of faith in the youth. I don’t believe the rubbish in the papers that they’re all hooded youths who are coming to mug me. They’re literature and media savvy. I’m hoping they’ll bring the revolution, maybe one day! “They say I’m a dreamer, maybe I’m not the only one.”

You did an audio book of your autobiography. What was that like?
Recording it was absolutely horrible. You’ve already done the creative part when you’ve written it, and reading it out was like knitting. [It was] hours on end sitting in a windowless room talking to yourself. All the lovely bits of alliteration look great on the page but when you come to speak them it’s like you’ve got Cilla’s teeth in! It’s very difficult and frustrating but once I started in and I was committed to it I had to get to the end, but it’s not something I’ll be repeating!

But writing the book was more interesting?
Writing the book was fantastic! I’ve got some friends who I’ve known from back in the Frankie days who run a hotel in Jersey and it was closed during the winter so I got the opportunity to visit Jersey and sit in the dining room of this hotel with me being the only person staying there. It was like The Shining only nobody died! It was a fantastic experience. It required solitude to get it done; there’s no way I would have done it at home – there’s always something to do. You have to get a loaf, or get the car fixed, or the garden needs doing. There’s always these countless distractions to get you away from it. Sitting in a hotel dining room looking out at the majesty of St. Brelade’s Bay every day was inspiring.

You’ve had a great history of working in bands, such as Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Was it fun looking back at those times?
Yeah. For every experience there’s downsides to everything, but the positives easily outweigh the negatives. I’d describe it as going out to a party in 1984 and coming home three years later! It was a whirlwind, but an experience I wouldn’t change, even for the downsides of it. Coming to write about it, there were times where I was crying laughing remembering the stuff that occurred. I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy so I’m always going to look at the up-side rather than the down.

You have a live date this month so how would you describe your live sound?
Preaching to the converted! I’m quite aware from going to a lot of gigs myself that a guy with an acoustic guitar playing his own tunes can only be as interesting as you make it. You can have the greatest songs in the world but sometimes that’s not enough to keep everybody on board. I’ve started talking about what the songs are written about and having a bit of banter with the audience, and his has developed. I tried it a couple of times and people would come up to me afterwards and say ‘the stories are great, and that’s what makes it with the songs’. It’s developing; it’s like ‘an evening with’ for want of a better phrase!

Do you have any more gigs coming up?
There’s a few up there; they’re coming in all the time. I’m playing in London on my birthday, one in Brighton and a couple in Wales.

Which album would you pick as a good introduction to you?
I’d say the new one. It’s miles ahead ahead of anything I’ve done before. The title is ‘432-1 Open the Vein’ and the 432 refers to the tuning reference. Musicians will know that everyone will tune to A440. For this record I went for A432 which was what people referred to as natural tuning. I think there’s something in that. It’s supposed to bring out a more emotive response in the listener. If you Google 432 v 440 it’s a never ending rabbit hole that you can go down, to things like Goebbels who during the Second World War insisted that propaganda music was in 440 as it was a more grating experience and an external experience rather than internal. Apparently Hendrix played in 432, as did Mozart, and 440 has only been an international standard since 1959. I’m convinced just because of the resonance of the instruments and the sympathetic harmonies. The reason for the 432 is at 432 middle C is 256 Hz which divides down to itself. At no other pitching will that happen, and you think that all these musical instruments were once living things, and all living things have cycles, and the earth revolves at 8 Hz and it goes on. I’m convinced that by playing things like autoharp and plucking the strings, [with] the amount of sympathetic frequencies you get coming up from the instrument. It’s something about nature. I’m convinced and I’m staying there. 432 rebels! 440 – you can keep it!

You release material on your own label ‘Babylon Pink’?
I got ‘Babylon Pink’ from a Bill Hicks sketch. I’m a huge fan. It was one of his sketches about him and his 16-year-old mate trying to bunk into a porno and the film was called ‘Babylon Pink’. It sounds kind of groovy, like the name of a popstar.

Finally what are your big ambitions for the rest of the year?

There’s too much! I haven’t got a bucket list but I just hope that people will get into the music and enjoy it, and enough to come out and see me live, and expand from there. It’s an infinite experience. You’ll enjoy it. Out of the people that see me play, not many people walk out, even though ‘oh not another guy with an acoustic guitar!!’

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Emma Stevens - To My Roots

Singer-songwriter Emma Stevens has released her third studio album to those who supported the songs via Pledge Music ahead of its official release on the 21st July 2017 and for those eagerly awaiting her latest long player will be happy to know it's another triumphant feel-good mix of well written, sung and produced pop-folk tunes.

Coming in at a running time somewhere between her debut and follow-up 'Waves', 'To My Roots' doesn't really divert from her familiar sound but when it's as fun and welcoming as this that isn't a problem, and it feels like this record could be the first album to herald the warmth and joy of summer for 2017.

Coming in at twelve original tracks and a cover (more on that later), there's much to enjoy here and aside from a fewer slower numbers 'To My Roots' is a relentlessly enthusiastic and energetic ride and one that boasts a bigger more confident production sound than her earlier works. Opener 'Sing Out (Hey La Hey Lo)' feels like a live favourite in the making and the ode to 'sing out' is matched by the fun chorus. Second track 'Money Can't Buy Me' with its name-checking of Marilyn Monroe and Madonna feels like a single-contender thanks to its energy and sunniness.

The title track comes in at position number three and is another bouncy pop number with a strong focus on nature woven into its four-minutes. 'Brave' is the first of the slower numbers and though it's not Stevens' best ballad it's a definite grower and the lyrics are well observed.

'Achilles Heel' is the freshest sounding song on the record and a personal favourite thanks to its big chorus, catchy bridge and relentless energy. 'Loyalty' is another single contender with its uplifting and motivational lyrics all wrapped up in another catchy pop number.

Hitting the half way point, 'Song and Dance' slows things down for the verses before kicking up the pace for the chorus, once more marrying some touching lyrics with a jaunty multi-instrumental tune. 'Slow' which follows, with its 'stop the clock'-led hook, is a smooth song with subtle country elements and feels like another core part of the album, the sea-references painting a perfect picture.

With its vinyl-scratching open and rock and roll vibe, 'Shoot the Breeze With Me' feels like the most distinctive track on the LP that balances Stevens' familiar sound with a few more production tricks and instrument licks. 'Written in the Stars' is the album's lighter-out moment, beautifully written and sung, and 'With You' is another more gentle, heartfelt track. 'Let in the Good', as expected, is an uplifting and inspiring end to the main album and will leave you with a smile on your face.

But that's not the end. Fitting for someone who recently was on the UK judging panel for Eurovision, we get a slowed down, more thoughtful, piano-focussed version of Katrina and the Waves' winning entry from two decades ago - 'Walking on Sunshine'. Offering a refreshingly more subdued take on it, this is a great cover to end on.

For fans of Emma Stevens this fits in nicely with the last two albums. It's not a huge departure from her sound and a couple of songs are perhaps a little close to some of her older material in feel and sound but overall this is a perky, happy pop-number that will lift your spirits. Delightful! (7.5/10)

Monday, 22 May 2017

Album Reviews #2

Ten albums that you should take the chance to listen to!

Callaghan - The Other Side (EP)

This five-track EP sees the return of the wonderful Callaghan to recorded music. Consisting of four songs and an intro to the titular song, it's that tune that lends its title to the full EP that scores the highest marks, formed as a dramatically produced and sung ballad with bite that kicks it up a gear and delivers a real gut punch. 'Solid Ground' is a strong opener to the collection and moves along nicely, whilst 'Surrender' strips things back to a quiet piano-led ballad. ' I Don't Know How To Lose You' as the middle track lays on the emotion as well whilst keeping the production simple and clean, contributing to an EP that tugs on the heart-strings thanks to Callaghan's songwriting and pure voice. (6.5/10)

Erin K - Little Torch

Erin K's 10-track strong album 'Little Torch' is a mixed bag of weird and wacky tracks that oscillate from catchy summer-friendly pop-indie numbers like opener 'No Control' and country-tinged 'Dum Da Dum' to the awkward yet memorable 'Assholio' to the frankly weird and irritating potty-mouthed and pointless 'I Just Ate Shit' which stands out like a sore thumb on an otherwise fun album; it's a joke track that is musically poor and lyrically tedious and as the longest track on the LP feels like a mis-fire. Dismissing that the rest of the tracks are rather joyous fun little snippets with catchy warmth. Nice and relaxing, with some toe-tapping moments. (6.5/10)

Jerry Harmon - Walk Softly

Familiar sounding country songs are the order of the day with this set of ten songs from Jerry Harmon, ranging from the banjo hefty opener 'Walking to Cleveland' which mixes up the catchy titular hook and a proper hoe-down backline, to the slower lighters-out curiously titled 'Daddy's Was Purple' covering family in a touching way. Along the way we get mid-tempo movements like 'Made of Time', 'Man Who Used To Be' and 'Walk Softly' and the speedy 'Whose Mind Was Made'. The highlight of the album is the western-heavy 'Back to the Country' with the poppiest and most radio friendly album whilst 'Grandma's Are Sexy Too' can be left to your own imagination. With 'Love In The House' completing the autobiographical themed tracks, you'll enjoy 'Walk Softly' with its traditional bouncy country sound and it's occasional eccentricity. It slips neatly into the cliches of the genre but that's not always a bad thing. (7/10)

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Damage and Joy

With an album name translated from the famous German word Schadenfreude, ‘Damage and Joy’ is a darkly indie-rock album of fourteen songs with a surprisingly poppy heart, whether it’s in the gritty ‘War and Peace’ which enjoys a pacey-refurbishment mid-song or a newer re-imagining of ‘All Things Pass’. The gentler, more harmonised ‘Song For A Secret’ changes things up a little even if the production is a bit muddier; the indie-heft of ‘The Two of Us’ plays out nicely ; and moving on into the second half of the album ‘Presidici’ perks things up with a faster pace, though still a little dark and gloomy in terms of production. Closing numbers like ‘Simian Split’ and ‘Black and Blues’ bring the album to a nice closer, before the Beatles-esque finale of ‘Can’t Stop the Rock’ (nicely ironic final track name) boasts some well designed harmonies and a keen ear for tying up loose ends. Overall a comeback album after twenty-years I can get behind. (6.5/10)

Karen Elson - Double Roses

Elson's ten-song strong LP is a slow, downbeat ode to lost love, personal relationships and the ilk that's both surprisingly downbeat as well as very gentle, listenable and relaxing. With her beautiful and delicate voice accompanied for much of the record by equally fragile strings and timpani, what we get is a treat for the ears and a calming 46-minutes in her company.

Opener 'Wonder Blind' is an evocative number and the perfect early showcase for her voice, alongside a sweet cacophany of instrumentation including some marvellous flute work forming a strong soundscape. The titular second son is a smooth mid-tempo number with much of the same qualities whilst 'Call Your Name' has a little more energy and could be described as soaring.

'Come Hell and High Water' is once again delightful and the most distinctive song on the piece whilst the deeply personal and emotional lyrics continue on 'The End'. The metaphor-heavy 'Raven' is a pleasure and the clock ticking and dramatic building of 'Why Am I Waiting' succeeds with its noteworthy lyrics and the hook of references of shoes to fill and bridges to burn.

The LP continues to take a darker introspective turn on 'A Million Stars', an emotive and personal ballad with many heartfelt messages, with the theme of love continuing in 'Wolf' with phrases such as 'fatal mistake' adding to the poetry of the piece, a feeling that continues and concludes with album closer 'Distant Shore'.

'Double Roses' is a dark and personal piece but something that doesn't feel too much like an intrusion into Elson's psyche as you listen. Beautiful. (7.5/10)

Neil - Black Flowers

'Black Flowers' by Neil is an 11-track album that begins and ends with tracks entitled 'Spleen'. Coming across as a series of rock tracks of various depths and levels with hints of country and rock-a-billy in parts, such as on 'My Tired Heart', it's quite a downbeat album of songs with a gloomy outlook both lyrically and musically, though with moments that express more positivity. Occasionally angry and a little sweary, it's at its best on 'Not A Love Song' with its crisp guitar and 'Queens of the Stone Age'-rhythm. (6/10)

Rodina - You Got Soul

'You Got Soul' is a funky, retro-sounding, cool eleven-track LP of jazzy and funky songs, like a cross between Imelda May and Tracy Kashi. From the big band swagger of the confident empowering 'Only Girl' to the slower and more introspective 'Later', the album is great and involving with only the occasional track - 'You Got Soul' - being a little too experimental for my taste. Lead single 'What If' with its slow build to its radio friendly chorus still impresses; 'Black Crow' is as sultry a track as you'd long for; 'Outside Your Door' is a smooth slow-dance; 'Flame' is a Caribbean-tinged delight; 'Something That You Said' full of bounce and joyful summery piano; and 'Rise Like The Sun' a slower, more sombre number. 'On To Me' switches things up with a more quirky style and breakdowns with a modern flavour, whilst penultimate song 'This Place' has all the funk of a jazz club. 'You Got Soul' certainly lives up to its title and keeps things fresh with lots of different styles and pace, and keeps a smile on your face. (7/10)

Rory Lavelle - Waves

'Waves' is an atmospheric ten track album that opens with the Richard Marx / David Gray-esque 'All These Horrors', a dark guitar-led number with the catchy 'Say Something' hook of its chorus and a strong, involving production feel. Follow-up 'Sonny' continues the atmospheric, guitar-driven soft-rock numbers with crisp production and strong progression. 'Poor Pride' continues with the hooky-lyrical structure that keeps the gentle numbers moving along, whilst 'When the Crazies Come Out' with its Sparks-like classical stabs and repetitive vocal hook is the most distinctive and intriguing of the tracks so far though it does perhaps run out of fresh ideas by the time it goes a little Moby next to its constant repeating on the title. 

'Somewhere Along the Line' continues the optimistic, low-key songs that maybe wash over you musically more than make a huge impact, but they're likable, calming little compositions which is quite appropriate considering the album's title. 'Alive Now' perks things up with a Bob Dylan-like harmonica enthused play out, whilst 'Waiting for the Reverie' contradicts the title with a rather slow, and a little maudlin, ballad number that works well with the instrument but is a bit too gloomy and rambling for my tastes. 'A Thousand Kinds of Pain' which comes next is a much more bombastic piece with hints of Richard Ashcroft, the strings and vocals working together to cement the drama of the piece.

The album continues on strong form with the emotive 'These', with a frantic, almost panicky vocal which adds energy. Finale 'Sleepy' comes in at five minutes and gently wraps up 'Waves', a delightfully evocative and sweeping album that mixes Richard Ashcroft and Bob Dylan into a relaxing emotive piece. (7/10)

Sam Gleaves and Tyler Hughes - Sam Gleaves and Tyler Hughes

This self-titled duet album from Gleaves and Hughes boasts fourteen tracks from various sources, the opening two written by the two leads then more composed by others, and some from traditional origins. The sprightly and delightfully produced LP begins with the memory-filled 'Stockyard Hill' before kicking up a gear with the subtly politically charged 'When We Love' which feels like the understated theme song for 2017 America. 'Georgia Row' is a more traditionally sounding country song that is 50% scratchy instrumental and 50% campfire sing-a-long. 

'Mister Rabbit' is a new take on a traditional ode to the titular animal that will bring a smile on your face whilst 'I Can't Sit Down' feels quickly catchy thanks to the singers' call-and-response vocals and the upbeat and toe-tapping music. The well matched harmonies continue through songs like 'Bread and Roses' alongside the jaunty and relentless perky numbers with eccentric titles like 'I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew'. 'Lonesome Homesick Blues' feels like a generic blues number but you can't help tapping your foot to it whilst 'Well I Guess I Told You Off' is a tongue-in-cheek number about anger management and dealing with people you don't like. 'Living with Memories' is a gentle but touching track whilst the closer 'Tear Down the Fences' wraps things up with some strong reflectiveness and thoughtful lyrics.

This album by the duo is a joy to hear, nailing the style of the region with a series of catchy, toe-tapping tracks well sung and composed with a mixture of messages and feelings. (7.5/10)

Three Minute Heroes #HearMeOut 

Inspired by Hull's appointment as Capital of Culture comes this compilation album of fifteen acts from the city. It opens with Fronteers and their song 'Mamma's Boy' which is a bouncy, upbeat and quickly catchy indie-pop number with plenty of energy and a real radio-friendly head-nodding sound. Things become a little heavier with Black Lime's rocky 'Famous' which takes a bit to grow on you but settles in eventually but it's a bit too much in its gruffer bits for my tastes. La BĂȘte Blooms & EMBRS join forces for 'Stingray (I Still Dream)' at track three and though the guitars are a bit heftier than the opening track the hook of the chorus and the battle of the vocals work well, it's just a shame the track gets a bit screamy as it reaches its conclusion.

'Home' by 'The Mighty And The Moon' is more to my tastes, a mid-tempo indie number with two well harmonised vocals and a smooth progression. It may lack a big chorus but it has plenty of emotion woven into the vocals and lyrics, and sways nicely for five minutes, which perhaps makes a little bit of a mockery of the album title. 'Paint A New Picture' from singer-songwriter Ruth Scott, featuring Kristian Eastwood is a much more stripped back piece and this helps the powerful vocals to shine, lifting them up to where they need to be in the mix. 

'It's Been A While' from False Advertising brings us hints of grunge to the varied composition and though it's not one of my favourites on the album the Paramore-like lead vocals of the lead singer work well and there's attitude by the bucket-load, but some of the higher notes don't quite hit home and the music is a bit too muddy for my tastes but by the end of the song I have to say I was won over.

The post-punk 'Bed Mood' by Serial Chiller has plenty of attitude and crunching guitars and a punchy, fast-paced rhythm with crisp production, and at under two minutes does what it needs to do. Taking us up to the half-way point the clap-heavy 'I Want To be Human' by 'The Quicksilver Kings' has plenty of poppiness in its fun rhythm and the spoken breakdown keeps it fresh between its catchy chorus. 

El Whaeko's 'Over Think' is a more experimental affair throwing in a less formulaic structure, some harmonica and a darker drum riff into a track that freshens things up a little. Not my favourite song on the compilation but a definite grower and the repeating of the hook at the end really works. 'Dead Langer' from the 'Hillbilly Troupe' which follows has hints of 'Rawhide' in its rhythm and tone and is a short and punchy distraction between tracks, with fun folk-influences woven in, and a catch'ness from the 'woman in the shadows' lyrics.

'See, Hear, Speak' from 'The Dyr Sister' is possibly the most unusual song on the compilation, mixing in Bjork-sounding vocals with an electronic-tinged vocal hook of the title that runs through the piece with hints of that famous song from musical Chicago. Certainly more experimental in nature this creates a strong soundscape that won't be to everyone's tastes but I really like the flavours created.

'Dance: Happy Dance' from 'Waste of Paint' is maybe not as happy as the title would suggest but it has plenty of bounce and energy, though the production masks the vocals a little too much in the mix. Sometimes less is more, but it's a fun and quirky little number with an enjoyable, if a little murky, choral hook but it does go a little crazy in its final sixty seconds.

'Crooked Weather' with track 'Skeletons' brings us into the final three tracks and is a more ponderous, subdued number that sounds like Lana Del Rey if she was a little bit gloomier. It's atmospheric but a little too ethereal, murky and wishy-washy for my personal tastes and the only track that is skippable.

'Egg'  from 'The Froot '67' is more like it, a more laid back number, and though it doesn't reach the heights of some of the earlier numbers is pleasing enough with its laid-back vibes and sixties-sounding set-up, with hints of psychedelia and it plays out nicely.

The impressive compilations concludes with 'December' by 'Chambers' which sounds like a muddier Arctic Monkeys song, it's heavier rockier tones bringing things to a slower conclusion, tying things together nicely.

'Three Minute Heroes' is a top-drawer compilation that may be a little front-heavy in terms of the better more accessible tracks but there's much to enjoy here and very little to skip, with plenty of genres and styles on showcase. The opening track is definitely the highlight but the curator of the compilation should be proud about assembling fifteen songs that show the music scene of Hull in a great light. (7.5/10)