Thursday, 8 December 2016

Albums of the year - 2016 we are again. I won't beat around the bush here, 2016 has been a steaming pile of shit through-and-through, from beginning to end (probably). The ONE saving grace has been the amount of great music we were gifted with to help us through it. 

I'm gonna keep it simple and just post my top 40 albums, with a few lines about the top 10. I hope to start a fresh in 2017 and post regularly like I used to (in addition to a new blog-related project). So stay tuned!

40. Tim Hecker - Love Streams
39. Glass Animals - How to Be a Human Being
38. Animal Collective - Painting With
37. Lone - Levitate
36. Bracken - High Passes
35. Frankie Cosmos - Next Thing
34. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
33. Xenia Rubinos - Black Terry Cat
32. Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial
31. Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter

30. Banks - The Alter
29. Basia Bulat - Good Advice
28. Quilt - Plaza
27. Yeasayer - Amen & Goodbye
26. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
25. Lambchop - FLOTUS
24. Exploded View - Exploded View
23. Goat - Requim
22. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition
21. Rihanna - ANTi

20. Charlie Hilton - Palana
19. Chairlift - Moth
18. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
17. NAO - For All We Know
16. Warpaint - Heads Up
15. Tegan and Sara - Love You To Death
14. Andrew Bird - Are You Serious
13. ANOHNI - Hopelessness
12. Amber Arcades - Fading Lines
11. Carly Rae Jepsen - Side B

10. Blood Orange - Freetown Sound

My summer soundtrack; Dev gave me everything I wanted/expected from Blonde (the underwhelming Frank Ocean record) - from the airy pop of Best To You and Augustine to the more reflective cuts like 'Hadron Collider' and 'EVP', this record really does have it all. 

9. Shura - Nothing's Real

Perhaps my LEAST favourite thing about the instant gratification culture is the way new artists release half of the tracks from their (often delayed) debut albums in the form of buzz-singles, leaving very little excitement when the (often mediocre) album actually does drop. Thankfully, Shura broke this pattern with this exhilarating synth-pop masterpiece. 

8. Jessy Lanza - Oh No

Though not quite as incredible as Pull My Hair Back, Oh No! still features some of the best production I heard on any record this year. From the jittery synth-pop of 'VV Violence' to liquid gold shimmer of closing track 'Could Be U', I still cannot get enough of this one.

7. Solange - A Seat At The Table

Solange has had a special place in my heart ever since she dropped the BOP that was 'I Decided' all the way back in 2008. Suffice to say, her artistry has come a long way since then. I don't believe another album has quite captured the identity discussions that swept social media in 2016 quite like this one did. The production is flawless too (well of course, have you heard Losing You??).

6. Beyoncé - Lemonade

Shocker! Solange's big sis has grabbed a seat at the table (ha) right next to her! I know a lot of Beyoncé haters (unfortunately) so this one is ESPECIALLY for you lot. This is hands-down the post powerful release of this year; every track is a MOMENT, especially Formation, Don't Hurt Yourself and All Night. I highly recommend watching  the accompanying film, but be warned, you will be slayed. Beyoncé has now cemented herself as a cultural icon and you haters can seethe at this fact.

5. case/lang/veirs - case/lang/veirs

It is at this point where the list enters the 'intimate, warm and personal singer-songwriter' phase; I'm sure this will come to no shock to anyone who reads my blog regularly. I'm usually very fussy when it comes to folk music, but when it came to this glorious collection of songs from three of the most incredible songwriters of all time, it was truly love at first listen. This record really comes into its own in these cozy winter months. 

4. Angel Olsen - My Woman

This right here is an album of two halves; the first half consists of more experimental, more pop-rock moments such as the fantastic 'Shut Up Kiss Me' and 'Not Gonna Kill You'. But then a shift occurs mid-way through, which sees Angel revert back to the sullen and reflective chanteuse we know and love. That's not to say that this was a regressive step; Angel's artistry is still growing with every release and it's so exciting to watch.

3. Weyes Blood - Front Row Seat To Earth

I'll be honest here, I've had a spot reserved on this list ever since I heard the single 'Seven Words', which is possibly my song of the year 2016 (I can't be bothered to post a full list because I haven't been able to keep up with all the songs I've loved this year). From the dream-like euphoria of the production to the warmth of the vocal melodies, this album is very much ~me in 2016~...and probably next year also - forever in a daze. 

2. Cate Le Bon - Crab Day

Again, if you're a regular reader, you'll know that I was obsessed with Cate Le Bon's Mug Museum album back in 2013 (and still very much am to this day). I'm still not quite sure if it was the strength of the songwriting, the nostalgic production values or the fact that I'm just an utter pottery nerd, but I just could not get enough of that record. With this in mind, Cate had a lot to live up to when she announced Crab Day, but thankfully she managed to meet my impossibly high expectations. From the catchy and raw guitar pop charm of 'Wonderful' to the sprawling and wacky closing track 'What's Not Mine', this has secured Cate's position on my heavy rotation list for the next few years I reckon. Bonus good news, there's a follow-up EP dropping next year!

1. Mitski - Puberty 2

I'm sure this will come as NO surprise to any of you, because I just cannot stop talking about this record. It struck a chord with me like no other record could and for that reason it HAD to be number one on this list. Puberty 2 came at a time where I was at a crossroads in my life; I was about to take my A level exams, but despite being fully aware of their importance, I just couldn't find it in my to put petulant bullshit aside to prioritise my work (/my future). But thankfully, upon just one listen of this, I was sobered, I was transfixed and I was overcome with a sense of calm.

I'm sure everyone has that one album that resonates with them more than any other, to the point where it forms a snapshot of that time in your life...well this is mine. Whether it is my fears and concerns about my identity, longing for validation from academics and future employers or my frustration with how happiness comes and goes so rapidly, Puberty 2 makes me feel supported in my journey of self-discovery (yuck) and personal development.

So there you have it folks, bye 2016!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Warpaint - Heads Up review

It’s no secret that Warpaint are one of my favourite bands of all time, and I’m flakey as hell when it comes to bands, so that says A LOT. Unlike with many bands, I was hooked from the very start; their debut EP Exquisite Corpse blew me away (especially the track Elephant<3), The Fool is one of my favourite albums ever released and their self-titled LP was my album of 2014 and soundtracked my entire year, and helped make that year remarkably less shitty. 'I’ll Stop Believing', which turned out to be a mere ~bridge single~ between album cycles, was one of the band's best songs yet, so naturally my excitement levels for their third record were immense. Thankfully, the girls have come through with yet another smart, intricate and bold release to add to my collection in the form of Heads Up.

The lead single ‘New Song’ was perhaps the most divisive track they’ve released thus far, but that’s exactly what artistic growth is about – when they were fairly ~underground~, they appeased their small fanbase with a very niche and distinct style, but as they progress and attract a larger crowd, naturally they’re gonna alienate the more uptight and rigid listeners. I, as a long-term Warpaint fan as well as a fan of pop music in general, happen to adore this radio-friendly sound they’re toying with. The repetition of the hook creates a hypnotic effect, which along with the light and breezy production makes it possibly their catchiest song to date. 

The staggering thing to me about Heads Up is the number of tracks that strike me as ‘instant classics’ at first listen, which three albums in is highly exciting. Maintaining their track record for strong opening tracks, ‘By Your Side’ is Warpaint at their most menacing and for that I adore it; they are experimenting with tension like never before. The line ‘But I won’t give up on you’ from ‘The Stall’ is a refrain that sticks with me for hours after; with the earworm of a chorus this is an instant favourite from their discography for me. I predict that this will also be a highlight in their live shows in the future. On ‘Don’t Let Go’ the haunting, jagged and skeletal intro explodes into one of Stella’s best drum performances yet, giving the track an almost visceral quality. This track, to me, is a beautiful tribute The Fool's sound palette. Another standout is the excellently-titled ‘Dre’, with production so ethereal that it’s almost other-worldly, a term I'd use to describe Warpaint at their very best.

In brief, Warpaint keep getting better as they expand their sound whilst delving deeper into the palettes they’ve dabbled in before. Despite Jenny Lee’s recent solo venue and Theresa working on material of her own (hopefully to be released next year), Warpaint is still a cohesive unit of four of the most talented musicians around and seeing them continue to thrive and experiment is an absolute thrill for me to see. I cannot recommend this, and their discography as a whole, enough.  

Friday, 23 September 2016

Angel Olsen - My Woman review

The first time I encountered the wonder that is Angel Olsen’s ethereal coo was when I stumbled upon her (proper) debut album Half Way Home whilst scrolling through some random Spotify recommendations. From the moment I heard the devastating bleakness of ‘Waiting’ and ‘Safe in The Womb’ I was HOOKED, especially being the ever-so-slightly morbid teenager that I was at the time (and still kinda am). Fast forward to 2014, Angel, newly signed to Jagjaguar, burst into to the forefront of the ~indie scene~ with ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’, an angst-ridden, amped-up and fuzzy slice of folk-rock, which she later followed with one of my favourite albums of that year in the form of Burn Your Fire For No Witness. What was so special about Burn… was how Olsen balanced out the storming indie rock tracks like ‘Hi-Five’ with softer deep-cuts which recalled her earlier work, in particular the track ‘Windows’; despite being a melancholic and majestic closing ballad, there was an undertone of optimism as she gazed into the future which left me with a cheesy, almost Disney-esque sense of joy and fulfillment whenever I listened to the album. Like Burn…, My Woman is yet another stellar addition to Olsen’s discography that cements her status as one of our generation’s greatest singer/songwriters.

My Woman is a record that is best dissected when divided into two (especially helpful since it consists of 10 tracks), the first half being more uptempo and light (sonically speaking). The album opens with ‘Intern’, the first taste we got of the album accompanied with a sleek and brooding visual featuring Olsen donning a silver tinsel wig. This aesthetic was continued by the video for standout track ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, easily the most accessible and instant song on the record and possibly in her discography thus far. In both the video and the track itself Angel is giving an unprecedented level of attitude and confidence, which is wonderful to see, especially since she’s on skates for the majority of the video – now that’s talent. ‘Give It Up’ is similarly urgent, especially with the gritty, almost Nirvana-esque guitars which kick in during the latter half of the track.  Rounding off the first half of the record, ‘Not Gonna Kill You’ acts almost as a sequel to Windows – to me, the ‘I’ll let the light shine in’ refrain reads as an ode to ‘what’s so wrong with the light?’, despite the styles of the two respective tracks being vastly different.

The latter half sees Olsen return to a more solemn and reflective palette; the amps get turned down, the themes become more nostalgic and the lyrics become more prominent over the production flourishes. That’s not to suggest that the quality, nor the energy, dip in the slightest, in fact, tracks such as ‘Never Be Mine’ are among her very best. The transitional moment on the album comes in the form of ‘Heart Shaped Face’ a soothing and warm tribute to aging – the process of becoming more mature and wise as you go through life. Despite its length, the track ‘Sister’ acts as one of the most enthralling and gripping moments on an album full of them; starting of skeletal and unassuming, the track later comes alive as she launches her distinctive coo over a chorus of roaring guitars. Similarly, the track ‘Woman’ utilizes it’s 7-minute-exceeding running time to create the most dynamic and complex ~pieces~ in her discography, ranging from haunting organ-led soundscapes at the start to an array of psychedelic guitars towards the end. 

After a period of silence, Olsen threw us a curveball in the form of Intern, which inferred that her new project would be a synth-heavy plunge into the unknown…which turned out to not be the case in the slightest. Regardless of that, what we ended up with was a fully-realized sound showcased in a consistent and cohesive collection of songs in which we see her at her most confident and comfortable, which is an absolute joy to witness. The best part is that she will only continue to get better as her career progresses, which is an incredibly exciting prospect.

Best tracks: All of them, basically.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

My favourite albums of the year so far


It's been a while...

I mentioned wayyy back in February that I would be taking a break from blogging in order to focus on my A-levels...which incidentally ended over 3 months ago now...oops. So yeah, I've been kinda shit at this and I apologise...

Anyway, now that I've archived that chapter of my life (how profound), I have decided to return to ~the blogosphere~ bigger and better than ever, promising weekly updates and new content, starting with my favourite albums of the year so far.

In my drafts I have a list of about 30 or so records that I wanted to talk about, but I've decided to keep it minimal and focus on the ones that have really blown me away this year. The first of these is Puberty 2 by Mitski, my album of the year so far, which combines crushing guitars, impassioned vocals and incredible lyrical prowess to create a truly special body of work. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know how much I adore Mitski (and her twitter account, which I also highly recommend). The latest album by Cate Le Bon (one of my favourite songwriters), Crab Day, has also been on heavy rotation lately and features some of the best instrumentation you'll hear this year, especially if you're a fan of horns. On that note, I highly recommend the self-titled record from folk super-group case/lang/veirs, especially if you're in the mood for grand and melodic songwriting, as inferred by the beautiful artwork that accompanies it.

In terms of the more ~major~ releases that have been released so far this year; Beyoncé's Lemonade is leaps and bounds above everything else I've heard; Lemonade is an immaculately-composed, dynamic and honest effort from the reigning queen of popular culture - virtually every track is a 10/10, with visuals to match. 

In regards to indie pop, Amber Arcade's debut Fading Lines is fun of shimmering and catchy indie-pop - my album of the summer, along with Jessy Lanza's Oh No, which had a lot to live up to since her debut is one of my favourite albums of all time. Special mention also goes to For All We Know, the debut album from BBC Sound Of... nominee NAO, which is easily the most interesting and innovative debut I've heard from a major label artist in 2016.  

Rather than just babble on endlessly, here's the full list:

1. Mitski - Puberty 2 
2. Cate Le Bon - Crab Day
3. case/lang/veirs - case/lang/veirs
4. Beyoncé - Lemonade
5. Jessy Lanza - Oh No
6. Amber Arcades - Fading Lines
7. Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial
8. Andrew Bird - Are You Serious 
9. Glass Animals - How to Be a Human Being
10. Nao - For All We Know
11. Chairlift - Moth
12. Charlie Hilton - Palana
13. Exploded View - Exploded View
14. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
15. Yeasayer - Amen & Goodbye
16. Quilt - Plaza
17. Basia Bulat - Good Advice
18. Shura - Nothing's Real
19. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
20. Frankie Cosmos - Next Thing
21. Tegan and Sara - Love You to Death
22. Tim Hecker - Love Streams
23. Animal Collective - Painting With
24. Lone - Levitate
25. Bracken - High Passes

And here's a handy Spotify playlist (minus a track from Lemonade because of all that TIDAL bullshit):

Monday, 8 February 2016

January 2016

If you cast your mind back to late last year, you might remember me talking about how I wanted to diversify the content of the blog in the new year. This post will hopefully be the start of that; a run-down of all the things I heard AND saw in the month of January that made it...a little less shitty than January usually is.

The music

Usually, January isn't really up to much on the new music front, perhaps with the exception of 1 or two records...but not this year. Last month saw the release of 5 great records, all of which I expect to see on my year-end list. Chairlift's Moth is without a doubt the best pop record I've heard since Grimes' Art Angels, in fact I'd consider the two records to be on-par with each other at this point. Moth contains the perfect balance of hook-laden uptempos (Moth to the Flame, Romeo, Ch-Ching, Show U Off) and shimmering ballads (Crying In Public, Unfinished Business). An absolute stunner of a record. 

Blouse frontwoman Charlie Hilton also released her debut solo album last month, the beautifully-titled Palana. The album is packed with gorgeous indie-pop with bubbling synth-led production, the track 'Pony' is my personal favourite. Extra props to Charlie for her epic twitter handle (@Palanadelrey), and of course the gorgeous artwork. Speaking of which, I also enjoyed the new Daughter album Not To Disappear, although not as much as their debut.

Another sophomore album that was released last month was Savages' Adore Life, which saw a more uplifted and optimistic side of the band, but with all the stoicism and badassery that I've come to expect from them. And finally, the long-awaited debut album from Spanish four-piece Hinds also impressed me, but something tells me that I won't truly appreciate it until the summer. 

The tribute

(Image courtesy of Orla Dunlop)

For many music fans across the world, January was a month of sadness and mourning, for we lost one of the greatest artists of all time - David Bowie. As a South Londoner myself, I had the privilege of hoping on the bus into Brixton in order to view the magnificent mural in person. I could not think of a better tribute for the legend than that, it's a must-see if you're ever in the area. 

The social enterprise

Also last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Top Drawer exhibition at London's Kensington Olympia. For those of you who don't know, Top Drawer is a trade show which showcases brand new and exclusive products to buyers and retailers before anyone else, and has become somewhat of a nerdy family tradition for me. 

As a lover of the arts, I found it highly encouraging to see so many upcoming designer-makers all in one space. The stall I was most impressed by was the Turner Prize-winning collective Assemble, who recently gained traction for their Granby Workshop project on Liverpool. What was unique about their products was the incredible backstory behind them; the Granby Workshop is a social enterprise in which high-quality home wares are designed and sold to fund the restoration of homes in Granby, Liverpool. As a budding social entrepreneur myself, seeing two of my greatest passions combined in such an innovative way was inspiring. I also loved how they were conscious to train and employ local young people, something I feel a lot of social enterprises fail to do.

Find out more about the workshop here:

Stay tuned for more reviews and another monthly round-up!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Daughter - Not To Disappear review

Back in the spring of 2013, following a string of critically acclaimed EPs, British three-piece Daughter swept us all up in their torrent on melancholic indie-folk with their excellent debut album If You Leave. The track 'Youth' not only became the go-to soundtrack for a host of melodramatic adverts and TV dramas, but also gained a fair amount of mainstream radio play and exposure. The concept of 'crushing sadness' is not initially that appealing when looking for new music, but somehow Daughter made it work. Each of the tracks on If You Leave were dramatic, emotive and well-crafted, so much so that the album felt far more accomplished than what you'd normally expect from a band's debut album. Nearly 3 years on, the time has come for the band to rise the bar and build on these foundations in order to establish themselves as more than just a one-album-wonder. I would say that the band largely succeeded in this challenge and came through with a cohesive and grand follow-up.

Before I heard Not To Disappear, the words 'devastating' and 'crushing' were the first words that I would have associated with the band's music. Naturally, I expected this to remain the same once I heard their new record, especially when both early reviews and pre-release singles suggested that Not To Disappear would be sonically similar to its predecessor. I would now argue that the band's sound has progressed far beyond the parameters of 'sadness' and into something a lot more open and dynamic. Tracks like 'No Care' show an exciting change of pace and mindset, upping both the tempo and the mood of the record as Elena Tonra proclaims "no care, no care in the world/I don't care, don't care anymore"; a stark contrast to the heavier and denser themes of the band's earlier work.

A highlight in both the record and the band's discography as a whole; 'Fossa' brings an exciting level of energy and melody to the record as it nears its end. The longest track on the album by some margin; Fossa makes good use of its running time with a dynamic range of concepts and sounds, ending in a blaze of indie-rock glory. The crowning moment on the record however is the stunning track 'Numbers', which despite being a pre-release only truly resonated with me when I heard it within the context of the album. It was impossible for me not to be swept up in the lush, intoxicating soundscapes, garnished with Tonra's feather-light coos amongst intricate guitar riffs. This is by far the ~moment~ of the record, just as 'Youth' was the moment of If You Leave.

Overall, this album was a strong way to kick off what is already looking to be yet another fantastic year for music. I have never been someone who expects an artist to radically change their sound from one album to the next; this approach may have worked for the late and great David Bowie, but it doesn't work for everyone. Not To Disappear features many gems that assure Daughter's healthy musical progression into the future; from the sweeping soundscapes of Numbers to the epic instrumental moments that line the track 'Fossa', it is clear that Daughter still have many tricks up their sleeves to keep us engaged with their future output.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Savages - Adore Life review

First post of 2016 y'all!

It is no secret that the punk scene is one of the most male-dominated in the music world, both past and present. Even with the incredibly refreshing and revolutionary Riot Grrrl movement in the 1990’s, one can’t help but feel disheartened by the lack of female-fronted punk bands making it ‘big’ compared to their male counterparts. The issue isn’t just representation; however, it takes very little research to find a heap of tweets, blog posts and articles about women of all ages, races, shapes and sizes feeling unsafe and/or uncomfortable at punk shows. Despite my rather limited life experience, even I am not naive enough to think that this issue is exclusive to the punk scene, but the point still stands that change needs to happen. In the metal scene for example, on the rare occasion when a female artist breaks out like Myrkur, her videos are swamped with comments about her only getting noticed because of her gender. As far as I’m concerned, good music is good music and gender is irrelevant when I’m listening to it.

This is why Savages are such an important band to have around in 2016. Even in an age where gender and identity is such a ‘hot topic’, no one gives a fuck about their gender because they are just objectively brilliant. Fronted by Jehnny Beth, their brand of noir post-punk gained universal acclaim when the band dropped their phenomenal debut Silence Yourself back in 2013. But what truly made me fall for this band was their electrifying live performances; even through my laptop screen, the band’s ferocity and unquestionable chemistry captivated me like very few other acts can. While their debut was a dark and icy affair, Adore Life, like the title suggests, is triumphant in every sense of the word.

Rather than opening with  a whisper, Adore Life kicks off with a bang in the form of “The Answer” — the gritty and erratic guitar hook lets you know exactly what you’re in for — a thrill ride. This is reflected by the blunt and urgent lyrics which swirl around a whirlpool of instrumental fire. The repetition of “I’ll go insane” among bursts of optimism (“Love is the answer”) only adds to the sense of confusion and the hysteria that engulf the track. On the other end of the scale (and the track listing for that matter); penultimate track “Surrender” is a more low-key and brooding affair, with Ayşe Hassan’s soul-crushing bassline taking center stage, with Gemma Thompson’s blade-like guitar riffs creating additional texture as the track builds.

Between these two contrasts, Adore Life is held together by the centerpiece that is “Adore”, which also marks a stunning turn in the band’s signature sound. I use the term ‘signature’ lightly, especially considering that the band only have two full-lengths under their belts. The first half of the track has a sense of restraint that feels almost alien; the guitars are reduced to soft licks, Fay Milton’s drums aren’t ‘crashing’ by any means and Beth’s vocals are almost…soft and inviting. These ‘restrained’ elements eventually cumulative into a stunning and majestic climax in which Beth reaches a sense of enlightenment – after years of searching and longing, she is finally able to say “I adore life”. It is at this moment where the record as a whole falls into place like an intricate post-punk puzzle.

Although Adore Life is far from a sonic leap for Savages, it is still a remarkable follow up to a magnetic and confident debut. The band’s four key elements are as respectively strong as ever. Jehnny Beth’s commanding vocals, Ayşe Hassan’s crunchy bass, the sharpness of Gemma Thompson’s guitar riffs and the military precision in Fay Milton’s drumming make every track on Adore Life a sonic delight. For me, “Adore” is a complete turning-point in the band’s sound and Beth’s writing, one which I hope will continue to take the band down a new path of discovery and sonic exploration. In an age where so many people are forced to shout twice as hard just to be heard, one thing is for certain; Jehnny Beth’s commanding growl is one that cannot be ignored. Long live Savages!