New Blood 2017

So concludes the end of another glorious year for music which has played host to exceptional records from the likes of Radiohead, Kanye West and a bitter-sweet departure from the one and only David Bowie. In the current climate of the music scene, artists are mauling over each other to dominate popularity with cutting edge precision, side projects and surprise albums galore. Therefore, it remains as important as ever to shine a light on the future fruit of intervention. Interested? Good. Here are 12 artists to hyperventilate over for the forthcoming year…

LOYLE CARNER

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First up is the man on everyone’s lips right now if you have your musical antenna directed in the right direction. Loyle Carner is the microphone wielding alias of South London born ‘Benjamin Coyle-Larner’ and when better to become a fan than the release week of his highly anticipated debut LP? Combining his fluidity as a rapper with the sensitivity of his personal life trauma’s, Carner lulls the listener into his story over Jazz infused instrumentals. He does this with absolute ease and a rawness that doesn’t surface very often within the literature of Hip Hop. At just 20 years of age, he’s been writing, rapping and freestyling since he was just 10 and has since propelled himself into finding a signature sound. His debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is released on the 20th of January. Until then, his releases so far deserve some serious attention. 

NILUFER YANYA

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With a name reminiscent of an exotic bird from Morocco and accompanying slicked back guitar licks, Meet Nilufer Yanya, the new darling of the indie world. Although actually from London, there is something very Shakira about the whole image that’s proving to be cool as fuck. The sound she captures within her music is a melancholic female interpretation of blues-y King Krule soundscapes with more sass than an episode of RuPaul’s drag race. With only 2 tracks released to date in the form of the anthemic ‘Keep On Calling’ and the delicate intrication’s of ‘Small Crimes’, Yanya is becoming a pretty exciting youngster to keep your eye’s on. Oh, and she’s also done an exceptional cover of ‘Hey’ by Pixies which you should definitely be checking out also. 

 HMLTD

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Fan of David Bowie? After 2016, of course you are. Well prick your ears Bowie fans, for this next band are doing something quite special, glitter in tow. Beginning life as ‘Happy Meal LTD’, this now abbreviated London outfit of kooky delinquents are stepping fresh out of a children’s dressing up box and straight into the UK’s list of most exciting new bands. Already renowned for their chaotic live shows and refusal to comply to any specific genre, HMLTD genuinely seem like a band that aren’t here to fuck around and that stand for something intriguing. Even if nobody is quite sure what that thing is yet, due to the elusive nature of the project. Boldly stating that “So far you have only seen our Shadow”, this could be the band the UK has been waiting for. Already earning comparisons to the likes of Fat White Family, it’s only guess work at this point that can define their sound. All we know at this point is that the debut single is an essential listen. 

JORJA SMITH

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Hailing from a suburb of Birmingham, Jorja Smith is living proof that you can find remarkable talent in the most unlikely of places. Walsall, to be specific. At just 19 years of age and already having released the masterpiece that is ‘Blue Lights’ when she was just 18, believe me, this is a girl set to to make a big impact over 2017. As a classically trained singer that has a miraculously soulful voice defying her years, Smith is a young Lauryn Hill in waiting. She has already managed to attract the attention of Drake and is currently working on the follow up to her ‘Project 11’ EP with Mark Ronson. To add to her accolades further, The BBC also acknowledged the incredible versatility of her voice by adding her to their ‘Sound of 2017’ list. She’s already the princess of UK Hip Hop, but it seems she has her heart set on becoming the Queen. 

 A2

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Potentially naming himself after his favourite size of paper, A2 is one of the many new faces contributing to the UK grime scene. Although little is known about the man behind the music, he is an artist with a whole back catalogue of tracks to his name that works as his own producer. The beauty of his work mostly consists of how sensational he is as a producer, crafting atmospheric textural beats with a lethargic hard hitting core. Despite that, he has a lyrical fluidity that is not to be shunned just because there’s better around. Although his instrumentals have a tendency to be bare boned and sparse, they are luxurious in quality and incorporate elements of trap music in all the right places. You can download his debut EP for free over at A2. Thank me later. 

 JADU HEART

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“Jadu? What the hell does that mean!?” I hear you cry with confusion. Well, i’m just as confused as you are . What I do know however is that this young duo consisting of synth wizard’s Dina & Faro are turning heads for a lot of justified reasons. Signed to Mura Masa’s label and being introduced to the world by him as “the most exciting musical thing I’ve ever heard” this is a project to get your heart racing over. They wear masks but strive for a polar opposite sound to anything Slipknot or Daft Punk may stand for. Blending moonlit ominous tones with sun kissed flurries of absolute bliss. Inspired by J Dilla but sounding more like Jai Paul, the ethereal experience the two-some are bringing to the masses is something quite spectacular. It’s sensual and has an organic earth quaking backbone despite it remaining as tranquil as it is monumental. There’s flourishes of R&B, soul, funk, hip hop and they conjured elements from all this and more to produce the 2 EP’s they treated us to last year. I urge you to check them out and visit their website

JESSE JAMES SOLOMON

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Next up is boy wonder and underground spitter more commonly known as ‘Jesse From SE’, another Londoner hoping to kick some air waves this year. Frequent collaborator with other rising talent Rejjie Snow and a core member of King Krule’s collective of miscreants, Jesse is an intelligent wordsmith that speaks with insightful wisdom. Typically reciting lyrics with impressive intellect over spacious sporadic beats, he is crafting a real name for himself amongst those in the know. The way he spills out such intimacy within his writing and the way in which it is delivered, tells the tale of his woe in a cool, calm and collected manner. There’s a balance of maturity and recklessness within the way he narrates situations he finds himself in, that paint him to be a sinister character with a story to tell. Something you always lust to find in a rap artist. Sharing his name with a famous American outlaw and similarly showing no sign of lowering his weaponry, this could be a deadly year for anyone in his path. 

LAUREL

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As stunning as she is in appearance, 22 year old Laurel Arnell-Cullen has a voice that stuns beyond words. However, for the sake of the article, I will try to translate just how good she is. Welsh roots, Southampton born and now based in London. This travelled song bird has been enormously fortunate in finding a voice as unique as she has. There’s a power to her song writing that is met with the fragility of her wavering vocals that blend to form a beautifully composed combination. She certainly isn’t shy of penning a ballad with roof raising orchestration allowing her to show of her vocal range. Tracks such as ‘Life Worth Living’ and ‘Memorials’ serve as infectious insights into her ear for melodic royalty and impressive vocal range. It’s in the delicacy of her writing that she also finds great comfort however, and songs such as ‘Goodbye’ from her recent ‘Park’ EP are an absolute delight to behold. 

 PUPPY

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Being the only typical band setup of the 12, Puppy’s music doesn’t leave much to the imagination and instead opts for a straight up no bullshit approach. Does this make them any less intriguing? absolutely not. In a generation with a shortage of new guitar driven music, This trio could be the solution to get us back to good old fashioned sloppy rock n’ roll. Hailing from London, this is a band with nostalgia at the core of their sound. They are riding on the high of previous bands that have come before, and are merely crafting their own material from the fabric of their influence. What they have that makes them special however, is the ability to write songs that feel like timeless classics in the current era. ‘The Great Beyond’ and ‘Warm’ are 2 prime examples of this. They sound like Nirvana thrown in a blender with Tom Delonge and an added pinch of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. Who Knows? They may just have a Smash Mouth sized hit in them yet. How could you possibly seek anything more for a mid-90’s high school disco revival? 

 S4U

s4uImage Credit / Lily Ann Galt McLoughin 

S4U (Something For You) are another London based outfit looking to cause some serious heat this year. A 90’s influenced female wolf pack led by the exceptionally named characters of Rosita Bonita and Prinz George. They produce all their own instrumentals as a collective and are exploring lo-fi territory with mesmerizing hooks that are nothing short of addictive. Although their paths strayed for a while, the duo fronting the pack are now cemented back together to form the S4U project which they put down to ‘Fate’ and ‘Cosmic Alignment’. Solely deriving their inspiration from the 90’s era and appearing as a female take on blazing squad, they act as a family and suit uniform’s even Flavor Flav would be proud of. Last year’s debut ‘Brazil’ hinted at the palette of sounds in S4U’s repertoire with a 4 track EP, although it didn’t reveal too much about what they are capable of just yet. They have stated they are set to explore new grounds with their music throughout future releases but so far that’s all they are giving away. Hang tight for info. 

COURAGE

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Courageous he may be, yet famous he is not. Courage is exciting young talent in the form of Lincoln born producer Joe Carson who is now based in, yep, you guessed it, London. He’s been stirring up quite the attention storm over the past year and has a lot of potential riding on his shoulders. Expressing his diversity in genre, Carson has showcased a lust for expanding his sound from abrasive bass heavy floor fillers to blissful Jamie XX like soothers. On the back of producing ‘My Hood’ for BBC sound of 2017 winner RAY BLK, it’s looking likely he’ll be hot property behind the mixing desk going in to the new year. It’s not often a producer comes a long that can provide the soundtrack to your weekend as well as a relaxed night in with such ease so early on in their career. I’d arguably state he’s the most talented new UK producer of the moment. 2016’s Debut EP ‘Get Some Courage Vol.1’ implies he has a few more volumes in his arsenal. Keep your ears pressed to this one.  

 BABEHEAVEN

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And last but not least, it’s another band from London, There must be something in the water right?… Being described as ‘The Durutti Column of the 21st Century’ and already earning compliments that have likened them to Portishead, the gorgeously named Babeheaven are a Jazz Quintet receiving a fuck load of buzz already. Developing from a durational friendship between vocalist Nancy and guitarist Jamie, the band formed around the duo and their mutual love for trip-hop, soul and ethereal electronics. The rest of the band were scouted out and the initial ideas conceived between the two were fleshed out to form the band before you now. Babeheaven have crafted an awe inducing sound that is ambitious in it’s aims and sonically vivid in it’s technicalities. There’s a real passion at the heart of the band that is married with rich all encompassing instrumentation. There’s an honesty and rawness that has the charm of Adele’s earlier work, but it’s met with such emotionally heavy soundscapes that the band could really be on to something unique here. 

The Black Wax – My Top 5 Albums of 2016 – VOL.1

As it’s a given now to do so, with the coming of the New Year and all, we’ll be looking at what our favourite albums of 2016 were, and we’ll also be attempting to wittle them down to just five. Let’s hope 2016 doesn’t smite us down for missing anyone off. The first volume of The Black Wax’s series “My Top 5 Albums of 2016”, curated by Sam Rye.

 

5. David Bowie – Blackstar

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It’s widely known to all of us now that “2016” has become synonymous with words such as: “terrible”, “awful”, “evil”, “joke”, and what better place to start than the first – and one of the worst – cruel jokes 2016 had to offer us: the passing of David Bowie himself.

The album offers as his last gift to the world: Lynchian jazz to lull you into wondrous stupor, tension-filled guitars that could cut to the core of planets, vocals all-knowing in their phrasing, other-worldy in their delivery, all wrapped in a little bow by the dying hands of the spaceman himself, as time took another cigarette…

At the time of recording, Bowie knew he was going to pass away at some point in the near future, and this seems to give the album it’s selfless, graceful complexion. David Bowie was a man completely dedicated to his art and his image, and it seems with “Blackstar”, even in death, Bowie wanted to take us on one last voyage into the stars.

 

4. Thomas Cohen – Bloom Forever

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Thomas Cohen’s debut album, “Bloom Forever”, creates a conflicting array of emotions upon first listen. Another album birthed from tragic circumstances, the album stems up and around the prospect of life without a loved one; in Cohen’s case, “Bloom Forever” deals in most parts, directly with the devestating death of his wife, Peaches Geldof.

For this reason alone, you can’t help but feel the album shouldn’t have existed to begin with. The album, as you may expect it to, doesn’t dwell in sorrow, however. “Bloom Forever” is actually, suprisingly, a joyous, almost jubilant album. Songs such as “Hazy Shades” and “New Morning Comes” are full of optimism, hope; teeming with the dim light that seeps through the cracks.

It’s for this reason, and the brilliant songcrafting from the young, promising Cohen, that the album blossoms and stands proudly on it’s own, amongst the rubble and debris of such a tragedy.

 

3. Hannah Peel – Awake But Always Dreaming

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Inpsired by her Grandmother’s battle with Dementia,  Hannah Peel’s “Awake But Always Dreaming” is like taking fragments of Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”, and splicing it with 21st century electronica.

There’s songs that dwell within heartbreak and failed romances, such as on “Don’t Take It Out On Me”, or moments of clarity on the exuberant “All That Matters”, to moments of claustrophobia. This constant dynamic shift in mood and feeling, through hook-filled reveries, creates a sense of wonder, and charming unease in other places.

Hannah Peel’s Elysian vocals, and her ability to compose electronic pop on the same level as the likes of Grimes, make her one to keep an eye on in the future. “Awake But Always Dreaming” is as bold a statement as any, and it would also seem a state of mind for the zealous Hannah Peel.

 

2. Exploded View – Exploded View

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Sharing the same label as the likes of Iceage and Marching Church, Exploded View’s self-titled album also possesses that similar, organic band sound that’s also found on their label-siblings’ albums; where technical prowess teeters constantly, and oh so effectively, on the edge of complete cacophony and disorder.

Lead single “Orlando”, with it’s dream-like disco beat, is the heart of the album, and sits nice and neatly within it’s own groove, as the rest of the albums veers and offshoots into other experimental and daring territories.

Exploded View’s debut album has a real modern beauty, a sheen to it on the surface; however, a peculiar kind of tension lives underneath, like a worm eating away within the core of an apple. A cause of wonderful nonplus, Exploded View is as weirdly disconcerting as it is absolutely fascinating.

 

1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

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An album with it’s own orbital gravity, “Skeleton Tree” is perhaps the heaviest of records in a year full of heart-rending au revoir’s. Whereas “Blackstar” and “You Want It Darker” deal with the acceptance of death for the artist themselves, Skeleton Tree sprouts up within the dense fog of emotional grief and trauma for the artist in relation to losing someone else; the coming to terms with the loss of a family member, in this case Nick Cave’s 15-year old son, Arthur Cave.

Supposedly 6 of the 8 songs on Skeleton Tree were completed before the tragic death of Arthur Cave, but still the cataclysmic events can be felt reverberating throughout the whole of the album. Although Nick directly adresses that he hates the almost “prophetic” fortelling life of it’s own the album took on, there’s no denying the chill one gets when hearing the opening lines of album opener “Jesus Alone”: ‘You fell from the sky/Crash landed in a field near the River Adur’. Lyrics written before the incident, Arthur fell to his death from a cliff in Brighton, with the River Adur being only miles away from the scene. The album, whether it wants to or not, becomes a time capsule for the pain and grief.

The songwriting itself is second to none, from the poerty-in-motion of “Rings of Saturn”, to the Korg-swept soundscapes of “I Need You”, the band don’t waste a single, devastating note. The skeletal frame of the album, built by Warren Ellis and the rest of the Bad Seeds, supports and upholds the fragility of Nick’s voice in a heart-wrenching, almost dutiful way. The frailing, ageing timbre of Nick Cave’s voice becomes an instrument in itself; a fine quality, rather than a hinderance. With Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave lays almost everything on the table, and the Bad Seeds ensure you’re all seated.

5 Artists to Dig Your Teeth Into This Halloween

With Halloween upon us, we give you five artists to sink those fake teeth into (along with all those leftover haribos) on this frightful October night. No tricks here, only treats.

Momus

An eclectic, sexual pop-provocateur, Scottish-born Momus is a musical force to behold, and one of the first true post-modern rock stars. His back-catlogue is almost as hard to pin down as the man himself, ranging from the biblical acoustic re-telling of sorts on “Circus Maximus”, to the synth-infused dramatism of “Tender Pervert”. He may have lost sight in one eye (resulting in his now iconic eyepatch), but the man’s never taken his sight off becoming the ultimate musical enigma.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

You may have first heard of The Brian Jonestown Massacre through their infamous (albeit unfairly edited) potrayal in 2004 music documentary “Dig!”, alongside The Dandy Warhols. The Brian Jonestown Massacre, regardless of their often rocky past, are now reknowned as psych-rock behemoths, their 26 year-long career traversing the underground depths and substance-induced heights of psych. Anton Newcombe, frontman of this now cult band, may have had an eye for danger and recklessness in the past, but he’s always had an ear for writing some of the best melodies in the world of music.

Fad Gadget

It’s a real mystery as to why Fad Gadget, aka Frank Tovey, has been so unjustly overlooked when it comes to his contribution to electronic music. First bursting onto the scene with the idiosyncratic single “Back To Nature” in 1979, he became a major influence for the likes of Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Trent Reznor and Boy George. Fad Gadget’s harsh electronic pop, fused with his biting social commentary, made many realise that you don’t need to dress up the truth behind a well-tuned six-string, when the truth sounded just as good bouncing between coarse synths and club-cut basslines. A fad gadget among tedious toys.

Warren Zevon

When Warren Zevon was diagnosed with a form of cancer in 2002, instead of undergoing treatments he believed may incapacitate him, Zevon instead went into the studio to record his final album, The Wind. Only two years earlier had Warren Zevon performed his song, “My Shit’s Fucked Up”, live on Jools Holland, unbeknown of the significance and irony of such a performance, and how his strong sense of self and his humour, in the end, became his legacy. This kind of bleak humour and self-awareness are threadlines that can be traced back all through his career and his songs, with Warren often found ruminating over his tumultuous life, or using his songs as vehicles to tell mini-stories, his tongue-in-cheek lyrical flamboyance his best weapon.

Rodriguez

The story of Sixto Rodriguez is as humbling a tale as ever. The focus of 2012 documentary “Searching For Sugar Man”, the film follows two South African fans search for the musician, who had disappeared off the face of the Earth after two albums, released in 1970 and 1971. It’s a heart warming story, as Rodriguez’s albums became more popular in South Africa than albums by the likes of Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. Rodriguez, hailing from America, was himself completely unaware of what was happening in South Africa. He became a cult figure to those people, and there were legends created about his apparent disappearance into oblivion; how he set himself on fire on stage and had died as a result. The conclusion of the documentary has a much happier (and a less mythical) outcome than the legends that had surmounted overtime, but his music itself will always remain a treasure for the people of South Africa, as it was once their own fabled lore, obscured from the rest of the world.

Talk Talk: The band who had the last word

The year is 1982. Punk is dead, or at least sleeping. In the meantime, other genres have stepped in to take the reigns and stimulate the youth of the time, albeit in a completely new, and different way. New-Wave, Synth Pop and New Romanticism; the new-found successors for the younger generations’ genres of choice. The contemporary incarnations of the spirit of Punk, with a bit less of the snarling this time around.

Sweeping the British Isles in particular, in the same way as Punk did before, the musical movement spawned the likes of Depeche Mode, The Human League, Adam and the Ants and The Cure, whilst in the States, it birthed bands like Talking Heads, Devo, Romeo Void and so on.

While all these bands are in their own right pioneers of the genres aforementioned, there’s always one band that strikes a perfectly placed chord for me; and that would be Talk Talk.

Hailing from London, England, at it’s inception, Talk Talk consisted of the self-contained Mark Hollis (vocals/songwriter/keyboards/guitar), Paul Webb (bass), Lee Harris (drums) and Simon Brenner (keyboards), with Tim Friese Greene playing a big part in the band’s sound after the first album, co-wrting a lot of the songs with Mark. The line-up over the years barely changed, just a few new names here and there to help out on studio recordings. What really did transform into something far greater over time, however, was the music itself.

Releasing their debut album, The Party’s Over, in 1982, the album showed promise but lacked the cohesiveness and the singular drive of Mark Hollis that would characterise their later albums. Spawning minor hits in the form of “Talk Talk” and “Today”, the album was far from a bad introductory mark, however it was far from original in the grand scheme of things, especially with the music being lumped into the same synth pop bracket as the likes of Duran Duran, which frustrated Mark Hollis and co, understandably. In an era where haircuts said more than words ever could, they found themselves masquerading as 80’s pop stars themselves. Deep down, however, they must’ve known that it wouldn’t last this way, caterpillars yearning for their metamorphosis. They certainly had something more to say, but hadn’t quite found their voice, or their wings, yet.

By 1984, they’d truly started the steady climb towards their musical utopia. The year saw them release It’s My Life (an apt title for future circumstances…). The album saw Talk Talk start to swing towards their desired sound, along the way producing even bigger hits, such as “Such A Shame”, and the mammoth title-track hit “It’s My Life” (later given a second wind in 2002 by No Doubt, with their cover). Instead of using synths as a means for only churning out poppy hooks, they also started to use them to add mulitple layers and depth to their songs, fusing synth pop with a progressive song-writing style. They didn’t stop at the synths though.

Their third album, and argubaly their most “popular” (it became the band’s highest-selling studio album), the resplendent Colour of Spring, released in 1986, saw the band head towards a fuller, more focused sound, with acoustic instruments, guitars, piano, organs and varied percussion playing more prominent roles, giving the songs a coherent, richer feel. Take for example “Life’s What You Make It”, with it’s agitated, gargantuan guitars and it’s persistent, enharmonic piano motif, “Give It Up”, with it’s use of flourishing organs and pianos, or “I Don’t Believe In You”, with it’s almost oriental-sounding acoustic guitar intro. If I were to suggest an album to someone wanting to start listening to Talk Talk, it would be this one. It’s their most accessible album dynamically, and you’ll find absolutely brilliant pop songs, but with a stimulating, audacious approach to them. To most critics and fans, Mark Hollis and co. seemed to have reached their peak here, somewhere at the summit of their musical ascent, and nobody would have batted an eyelid if they’d have picthed their tents here and churned out another two, or three albums of a similar essence. But Mark Hollis had other ideas, and had his sights on another mountain in the distance, with an even higher crest. I don’t think anybody at the time was prepared for the leap they were to take after Colour of Spring.

Talk Talk went on to birth two more gifts for the world; twins, so to speak. They were 1988’s Spirit of Eden, and 1991’s Laughing Stock. I’m going to talk about them as if they were releated; brothers and sisters concieved during a time of immense creative passion, their creators at the climax of their abilites during this period. We’ll start with Spirit of Eden, and it’s opening track, “The Rainbow”, the biggest statement of intent the band could ever have hoped to produce. The drop of the needle on the record feels like the musical equivalent of stepping onto a world other than Earth for the very first time, and within the first few bars you know you’ve stumbled across something special. The drone of strings, the calling horns, the foreboding feedback; it’s ambience and tone like nothing the band had ever attempted before. The chorus, with it’s sparse, thoughtful and impeccably-timed piano chords, offer a moment of musing; a glance at this new musical landscape they now walk upon. As is the album itself, it’s the soundtrack to a voyage across an alien landscape: beautiful, atmospheric, and enthralling.

Phil Brown, an engineer on the album, recalls in an interview an ‘endlessly blacked out studio, an oil projector in the room’ with ‘strobe lighting’ in effect. It was clear from the start that Mark wanted to create a certain mood in the studio, often avoiding any communication with musicians drafted in, wanting them to play whatever their surrondings and mood stirred them to play, with almost no concern or worry over structure during recording. In fact, musicians would often improvise hours of music, only to find that Mark wanted just a fragment of it, possibly only ten seconds or so, in the final mix. ‘Twelve hours a day in the dark listening to the same six songs for eight months became pretty intense.’ says Brown. This meticulous approach could have proved disastrous, but the end product is a spliced work of beauty; something even Frankenstein could never dream of piecing togther. It was the birth of “Post-Rock”, heavily influencing bands to come, like Radiohead and Mogwai.

“Spirit of Eden was definitely the album where I thought, ‘This is it. This is what we’ve been reaching for.'” – Mark Hollis

With the true nature of the album taking form, it was understood by all that it bared no immediate, cut-choice singles, which obviously sent thier record label EMI into a state of panic. They asked if they’d consider recording some more “radio-friendly” tracks, but Mark flat-out refused. In a last ditch attempt to market the album in any way they could, they released the track “I Believe In You” as a single, much to Mark’s disapproval. In turn, they left the label, freeing themselves from the shackles of contractual obligations. Hollis knew they were onto something, and wasn’t going to let anyone stand in the way of his creative vision.

Three years later, with their new record label, Verve, they released Lauging Stock. Laughing Stock, what would become Talk Talk’s final album, was not so different to it’s predecessor. Already a comparison can be drawn just by looking at both their album covers. The artwork (by brilliant artist James Marsh, who designed all of Talk Talk’s album art) featured on Spirit of Eden depicts a lone tree rising up out of the sea, with blossoming leaves and various froms of life decorating it, with a bird perched on it’s branches, and sea life draped everywhere. The cover for Laughing Stock is the exact opposite, with the tree standing on parched earth, the branches almost bare, and frail. The music still reaches the aforementioned dizzying heights of Spirit of Eden, containing the same ethereal, in essence almost spiritual songwriting, that was full of a life of it’s own. You only have to look at Mark’s abstract, sometimes philosophical and theological style of poetry within the songs here (take “New Grass” for example: ‘Seven sacraments to song/Versed in Christ/Should strength desert me/They’ll come/They come’), compared to his youthful, straight-to-the-point cries of ‘It’s my life!/Don’t you forget’ in the past, to get the sense that the music was orchestrating and dictating the band more than they were orchestrating it.

What we are left with is a body of work that is completely void of the stress and strain of recording under pressure from the outside, or just because it’s simply “time” to fork out another album. It’s free to grow into something much more than it’s sums, becoming simultaneously modern but archaic in feel; it’s untainted and pure, grandiose and proud, as it stands alone from the rest. Even now, to write about these albums in the highest of praise, is to not do them any justice. Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock have become almost mythological within the world of music, and the myth was only further enhanced with the subsequent disappearance of Talk Talk, and in particular Mark Hollis, after the release of Laughing Stock. Mark did re-surface with an eponymous solo album seven years later, which is almost as equally stunning as Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, however, he then again submerged himself below the waves of the media and prying eyes, with only one known photograph of him appearing in 2004, and him making only a handful of low-key guest appearances on other albums.

Although still largely unknown to lots of people, you can guarantee that many musicians will site these albums as having a massive or profound impact on them, such as Robert Plant, Charlotte Church and Guy Garvey, the latter once quoted as saying: ‘Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock have comforted me in my darkest times and inspired me to my brightest times. They are stunningly intricate works of breathtaking imagination, generosity of spirit and timeless art’. Why the albums are not revered and talked about on a grander scale can only be speculated. However, in this day and age, even The Bible finds it hard to be the topic of conversation. The albums evidently stay with those that hear them, becoming special to many, and are only spoken about in hushed voices full of respect and awe.

From miming their dainty pop hits on countless tv shows, to recording their jazz-influenced, post-rock behemoths in candle-lit rooms for months on end, the tracjectory of Talk Talk as a band is undeniably breathtaking. Their discography is a spectrum of learning and improvement, with the final two albums being pools of sheer musical perfection, a culmination of progressively honing their sound over the years, taking the best bits of all their previous efforts and mixing it with what they had learned and what they dared to ahcieve, to mould something new, exciting and truly wonderful.

Kurt Cobain was once quoted as saying ‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’. Mark Hollis and the music of Talk Talk would beg to differ, and with a sustained piano chord, they faded out for good; slowly, but surely.

Nick Cave – 10 of his best

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They say that writing about music is like ‘dancing about architecture’, and if there’s one artist who sums up this analogy, a man who consistently strives to avoid feeble attempts of interpretations and explanations for his music, it’s Nick Cave. Here goes nothing then. I won’t attempt too much to box-in an artist who thrives in the open air of the literary playground, but more or less showcase a songwriter that has refused to settle down into a comfortable musical easy chair, instead wandering endlessly down the corridors of song, looking for the next door to open. For me, no artist has changed and adapted to his surroundings whilst maintaining his core musical identity quite as well as Nick Cave has, writing some of the best melodies, and in particular, lyrics, of the last 30 or so years. We’ll be taking a look at some of the gems in his back catalogue, narrowing it down to ten songs (no easy feat) that best represent the man’s lyrical and song-crafting expertise.


10. –  Red Right Hand – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -(Let Love In)

Kicking off the list is one of Nick Cave’s most well known songs, “Red Right Hand”, recently given a second wind of popularity for it’s use on BBC’s Peaky Blinders. ‘Past the square/Past the bridge/Past the mills/Past the stacks’ lurks a tall handsome man in a dusty black coat, indicating peril is just around the corner, with organ stabs adding to the chilling undertones. Nick had also created a whole fictional town that existed outside the boundaries of the song, with characters and landmarks that didn’t feature in the song itself existing in his lyric notebooks. It just goes to show the detail and care that Cave puts into his alluring and stimulating fictional worlds.

9. No Pussy Blues – Grinderman (Grinderman)

Formed in 2006, Grinderman saw Nick and three other members of the Bad Seeds break off from the Bad Seeds and tackle songwriting with a more stripped back, raw garage-rock approach, with Cave donning the guitar for the first time in his career. “No Pussy Blues” sees Nick at his satirical best, with it’s mockery of man’s “Mr. Nice Guy” act that’s only in motion for one reason and one reason only. ‘I sent her every type of flower/I played her a guitar by the hour/I petted her revolting little Chihuahua/But still she just didn’t want to’ sings the incessant sex pest sycophant, the human embodiment of the archetypal man depicted in the SCUM Manifesto by Valarie Solanas. Now there’s a face-off i’d like to see.

8. Slowly Goes The Night – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Tender Prey)

We find Nick in his definition of a musical comfort zone here; bleeding dry his wronged heart into song. The master of rumination, Nick finds himself tossing and sweating over some long-gone lover, with melancholy piano from Roland Wolf and atmospheric guitar work from Blixa Bargeld adding to the almost desperate despair. The spoken word piece by Cave at the beginning of the song is a definite highlight.

7. (Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For? – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (The Boatman’s Call)

The Boatman’s Call is an album that follows the full trajectory of a relationship (or a few, in his case) right from their wonderful inceptions to their ragged end. This song depicts the former, with beautiful imagery and lyrics that yearn for the start of a romance with a new figure in his life, perfectly encapsulating the dizzying feelings of infatuation such a person brings to them: ‘So i’ve sat and i’ve watched an ice-age thaw/Are you the one that i’ve been waiting for?’. Full of striking couplets such as this, and a painstakingly-good chord structure, it could quite possibly be the quintessential Nick Cave love song.

6. Stagger Lee – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Murder Ballads)

1996’s “Murder Ballads” saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds score their first mainstream chart hit, a duet with Kylie Minogue. The album is full of tales of violence and death, and Nick reached a new level of balefulness on “Stagger Lee”, playing the part of Stagger Lee himself, bad mouthing his way out and into trouble, painting visuals in your head with the blood of his victims. The story of Stagger Lee is an old tale, but Nick makes this an original and exciting take on it. Brimming with controversial one-liners, the song’s become fabled in it’s own right, and has become a staple at a Bad Seeds gig.

5. Higgs Boson Blues – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Push The Sky Away)

A song from the Bad Seed’s most recent (and remarkable) album, 2013’s “Push The Sky Away”, “Higgs Boson Blues” paints an apocalyptic picture of a car ride down to Geneva, as ‘flame trees line the streets’ and Nick contemplates the meaning of existence behind the wheel, not caring for what the future has in store. In Nick Cave’s recent biopic “20,000 Days On Earth”, Nick is quoted as saying that songwriting is ‘all about counterpoint’, and what better example of this than making Hannah Montannah do the African Savannah as Miley Cyrus floats in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake. Trademark Nick Cave: contemporary, reflective and mood-inducing.

4. The Mercy Seat – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Tender Prey)

In his years living in Berlin during the mid-late 80’s, Nick found this period in time to be an immensely creative and productive time in his life. One key song from that time period, and now considered a Cave classic that’s been played at every show since it’s birth (as of 2014), is “The Mercy Seat”. Nick was heavily into the Old Testament at the time (he was also writing his first novel And the Ass Saw The Angel during 87 -89), so allusions to the bible heavily seeped their way into his work during this period. The song follows a prison inmates final moments on the electric chair, with the antagonist proclaiming to God and witnesses that he’s not afraid to die, until the final verse, where he confesses that he’s been lying all along.

3. Jubilee Street – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Push The Sky Away)

With Blixa Bargeld leaving the Bad Seeds in 2003, and Mick Harvey following suit in 2009, there was a huge dynamic shift within the band when it came to recording and playing live. Warren Ellis, who’d been in the band officially since 1995, really came into his own after proceedings, allowing the band to mature in the best way possible and avoiding any form of stagnation. “Jubilee Street” features enthralling strings by Warren, as they propel the song towards it’s crescendo with Warrens’ incredible work on the violin. ‘I’m transforming/I’m vibrating/I’m glowing/I’m flying/Look at me now’ sings Cave, oozing with aplomb; never has the man been more assured of himself than here.

2. Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Henry’s Dream)

It doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to album openers. Conjuring up scenes of a violent barren landscape in the Gothic Deep South, with it’s ‘lynch-mobs, death squads, babies being born without brains’ and it’s ‘mad heat and relentless rains’, it literally feels like a grotesque, disturbing novel is unfolding right in front of you, with each subsequent verse growing more and more unhinged and ferocious. Nick had been inspired at the time by buskers he’d seen playing ‘violent acoustic’ songs on two-stringed guitars on the streets of São Paulo in Brazil, where he had lived momentarily. A tour-de-force of wordplay and compositional prowess, the song is regarded by many fans as perhaps Nick’s best lyrically, it’s lyrical vibrancy almost unmatched within The Bad Seeds canon.

1. More News From Nowhere – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!)

The closing track on 2008’s “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!”, “More News From Nowhere” is a 7-minute magnum-opus that starts off with one of Nick’s best opening lines: ‘I walk in to the corner of my room/See my friends in high places/Don’t know which is which or whom is whom/They’ve stolen each other’s faces’. Full to the brim with brilliant wordplay, literary references, and references to his own musical career along the way, it’s a roller coaster of a song that demands to be ridden again and again, with it’s relentless yet measured rhythm. Each verse unfolds like a miniature play where Cave stars in all three of the main roles: the actor, writer and director of this cabaret of past, present and the absurd. All the proof you need that no one has aged as well as Nick Cave in the game of song; a man never certain where his feet will land next, but the music all the more certain for it.

‘Well I gotta say, yeah I gotta say, goodbye.’

 

 

Are Liss The Future Of Pop Music?

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The phrase ‘the future of’ is an idea that gets thrown about a lot when it comes to new music nowadays. Be it indie music or hip-hop, there always seems to be a constant stream of acts that get labelled as the future of their respective genre. However most of the time these artists never reach their once promised heights and are forgotten about when the next ‘the future of’ brigade rolls around.

Well here at The Black Wax, we’re going to use said cliché term and say that Liss are the future of pop music. But before we start, we’re not referring to pop as in you’ll see them in the Top 40 in the next couple of weeks. We’re grouping them in the side of pop where artists like Grimes reside. It’s the music we should be hearing when Marvin Humes introduces the Top 40 on Heart Radio, but sadly probably never will.

But first, who actually are Liss? Hailing from Denmark, Liss are signed to XL Recordings. Currently based in Aarhus, the four piece consists of Søren Holm (Vocalist), Vilhelm Strange (Guitarist), Villads Tyrrestrup (Bassist) and Tobias Laust (Drummer). Revealed in the NME, their parents raised them listening to Stevie Wonder, Björk, Hendrix and Massive Attack. These influences certainly feed into their music, with their first two released tracks Try and Always being packed with lavish instrumentation and production.

Liss themselves know they have something special about them. When performing live, they have an aura that you can’t help but feel and tap into. They play like a band that have been doing it for over 10 years, yet they’ve only been around since 2015. They’ve even got Jamie xx’s endorsement, who was recently spotted at one of their gigs in Copenhagen.

Since the release of their debut tracks, Liss have gone even further to bolster their pop prowess. This year they released their debut EP, titled First. Here they explored their sound even more, with the four track project outshining their already stunning material.

Single Sorry leads the EP, whilst follow up track Good Enough funks its way into your consciousness. Stand out track Miles Apart is easily one of this year’s best tracks and really shows how Liss can make a truly infectious pop hit. Finishing on Without Me, this slow jam ends the EP with stellar execution.

That fact of the matter is, there is nobody making pop music as good as Liss right now. So by the time the next batch of ‘the future of music’ comes around, Liss won’t have been forgotten about and no doubt will be even better than they are now.

Glastonbury: A Preview

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Glastonbury festival 2015. Photo by Luke Liddle.

With the biggest music festival in the world rapidly approaching, The Black Wax writers take a look at the vast line-up and give our picks for which acts to fit into your packed festival/BBC iplayer schedule.

Friday:

Skepta – Pyramid Stage – 13:45 – chosen by Matthew Fowler

Tottenham Grime kingpin and Boy Better Know co-founder hits the Pyramid Stage on Friday afternoon, a huge step up from the moderate sized stage he played last year. Expect Skepta to bring a full span of biggest hits, as playing the Pyramid Stage is no small feat, it’s highly likely there will be an accompaniment of Boy Better Know members too, with the chance of hopefully getting ‘Serious’ (crossing our fingers for that last part). No matter who he brings out though, this is a killer way to kick off Glastonbury and also refreshing to see Grime getting acknowledged, be prepared for black tracksuits galore, an array of ‘That’s Not Me’ chants and the possibility that the festival might get ‘Shutdown’ on the first day.

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Skepta performing live. Photo by Ollie Millington.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Park Stage – 15:30 – chosen by Chris Herbert

As a significantly less hyped up alternative to Tame Impala, this year at Glastonbury you could also go and see UMO fly the flag for New Zealand on the Park stage. This is a band with the obscure musical talents of Ruban Nielson at it’s core and they are also set to make their Glastonbury debut this year. Lo-Fi beginnings attracted the attention of independent music blogs globally including Pitchfork Media with strangely enticing melody’s supplied by ‘FFunny Friends’ as a track that gave them a respectable platform for their output. Since then the band has grown massively in popularity with 2 more albums under their belts as well as recently stepping into much more of a commercially accessible sound with last year’s full length Multi-Love and it’s distorted take on disco. It seems at this point in time the production wizard and company are more than ready to storm Worthy Farm with material such as ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’, ‘Multi-Love’ and of course the floor filler that is ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’.

Savages – Park Stage – 21:30 – chosen by Luke Liddle

The London-based outfit are sure to bring an all-black aesthetic and a set full of atmospheric, post-punk influenced songs to their appearance on the Park stage. Led by the slightly menacing Jenny Beth (who is not averse to walking across the top of an assembled crowd, Iggy Pop style), Savages have established themselves as one of the most intense and compelling live acts in the country. With two albums worth of empowering and at times emotional music, including standouts such as Adore and The Answer, this has the potential to be one of the most cathartic sets of the whole weekend.

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Jenny Beth of Savages. Photo by TIM.

Saturday:

Tame Impala – Pyramid Stage – 20:00 – chosen by Sam Rye

It’s been an amazing couple of years for Kevin Parker and Tame Impala. 2015 saw them release their 3rd studio album, ‘Currents’, which quickly garnered many accolades after it’s release, winning ‘Album Of The Year’ at the ARIA Music Awards, where Tame Impala were also named ‘Best Group’. It’s not hard to see why the album received universal acclaim, as ‘Currents’ is one of the strongest pop albums of recent times, with synth hooks and vocal melodies to die for, Kevin Parker showed us that not only can he perfect loner psych rock a la Solitude is Bliss and Why Won’t They Talk To Me?, but is also a dab hand at writing euphoric pop songs such as Let It Happen, The Moment and Yes I’m Changing. A penultimate Saturday evening slot before Adele is the perfect setting to give these Australian sun-soaked moments of pop bliss their deserving stage.

New Order –Other Stage – 22:30 – chosen by Luke Liddle

Manchester legends New Order will bring a touch of the Hacienda to the Other stage on Saturday, their first Glastonbury appearance in over a decade and their first without former bassist, Peter Hook. Even without the truculent Hooky’s irreplaceable stage presence, New Order have crafted a reputation as a premier festival attraction and can be expected to deliver a set packed with generation-defining anthems. Along with the hits and Joy Division material, last year’s disco-heavy comeback Music Complete is likely to be well represented. No word yet on whether they will accede to the demands of a recent petition and invite John Barnes on stage for a rendition of World in Motion in honour of the ongoing Euros.

Sunday:

Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Pyramid Stage – 16:00 – chosen by Chris Herbert

This year’s Sunday afternoon slot plays host to Birmingham brilliance in the form of Electric Light Orchestra, a legendary act that have never played the festival in the history of its existence. Frontman, multi-instrumentalist, producer and notable genius Jeff Lynne will guide his collective to the Pyramid Stage for a career spanning spectacle set to rival the performances of Dolly Parton and Lionel Richie that have played the same slot in recent years. With their unique blend of classical music infused with massive riffs and groove ladened baselines still oozing with 70’s nostalgia, this is going to be a truly unmissable slice of the weekend at Glastonbury this year. With stadium approved hits such as Ma-Ma-Belle, Livin’ Thing, Turn To Stone and Evil Woman to name just a few, ELO’s set will showcase just how many anthems they have in their arsenal. Let’s just hope the rain stay’s away for the beautiful moment in which Mr. Blue Sky finally gets played on the almighty Pyramid Stage.

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Electric Light Orchestra. Photo by David Miller.

PJ Harvey – Other Stage – 19:50 – chosen by Sam Rye

Making her first appearance at Glastonbury in over a decade, PJ Harvey will take to the stage on the Sunday night to showcase songs from her latest output, “The Hope Six Demolition Project”. Expect a set that ranges from the reflective, ethereal arrangements that document her recent visits to poverty-stricken countries still reeling from the aftermath of civil wars, to the brooding garage rock blues of earlier albums ‘Rid of Me’ and ‘To Bring You My Love’ that represent the fundamental blueprints of her musical identity. With each subsequent album release comes a juncture for PJ, as she treats us to an aesthetic shift in direction, often changing her on-stage look to fit the theme of said album, making each performance a unique snapshot of her musical pilgrimage. With 9 albums under her belt now, we’re hoping for a career-wide set that takes each of these multiple album personas into account and melds them together, culminating for the special Sunday night spectacle. Here’s to the performance being exactly like eating a good old bag of pic ‘n’ mix (minus the liquorice).

Mac Demarco – John Peel – 20:30 – chosen by Matthew Fowler

Everyone’s favourite cigarette smoking Canadian will be bringing some hazy jangle pop madness to the John Peel tent on Sunday evening. Mac Demarco and his band of ruffians will be sure to lighten any mood and give you the pick-me-up you need as the last day depression sets in. The prestigiously crowned goofball prince of indie rock will be bringing a vast array hits from his four albums, with maybe a surprise cover here and there (Enter Sandman, hopefully). Make sure you haven’t smoked all your cigarettes and you can ‘Ode To Viceroy’ right along with him.

Earth, Wind & Fire – West Holts Stage – 21:45 – chosen by Sam Rye

Closing the Sunday night on the Other Stage, Earth, Wind & Fire offer an exuberant alternative to the safe humdrum of neighbours Coldplay who headline the Pyramid Stage. Put on your best pair of wellies and groove to some of the greatest funk pop to grace the airwaves in the heydays of the late 70′s/early 80′s. Hits such as Shining Star, Let’s Groove and September are sure to induce a jovial, celebratory reply from the crowd, trying their best to counter the looming last night, end-of-festival blues. It may not be all song and dance though, as the big occasion could present an opportunity for the band to remember the late Maurice White, former singer/songwriter and bandleader for Earth, Wind & Fire, who sadly passed away in February of this year. However, i’m sure Maurice himself (and the band) would want his memory to be honoured the only way Earth, Wind & Fire know how; a get down of the highest caliber.

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Members of Earth, Wind and Fire, including the late Maurice White performing live in the 80s. Photo by Tony Barnard.

More sets not to miss: Adele, Grimes, Underworld, Sigur Ros, Cat’s Eyes, Foals, Kurt Vile, Craig Charles Funk ‘n’ Soul DJ set, Desperate Soundsystem with Jarvis Cocker + Steve Mackey, Jagwar Ma, Art Garfunkel, Beck, Fatboy Slim, Wolf Alice, The Last Shadow Puppets, Disclosure, Mark Ronson & Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker.

Others to watch out for: Yak, Night Beats, Blaenavon, Floating Points, Oscar, The Big Moon, Vant, The Parrots, Bugzy Malone, Maceo Plex, Palace, Shura, Bad Sounds,  Four Tet, Stormzy, Hot Chip Remembers Prince.

Beginning Endlessly: Prince beyond the hits

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Just over a week after the untimely death of Prince, music fans around the world are still reeling from the loss of one of the most innovative, exciting and talented pop artists in history. As with the death of any beloved musician, one of the effects of this is that interest in Prince’s vast oeuvre has sky-rocketed, with his music proliferation on YouTube, a place it was banned in his lifetime. Prince released music regularly from 1978 until his death (The Black Wax reviewed his live Little Red Corvette/Dirty mind single only a few weeks ago) and as such, it can be hard for non-hardcore fans to know where to listen, beyond the obvious choices of Purple Rain and Sign o’ The Times. With 39 studio albums to his credit (to say nothing of live albums, side project releases and bootlegs), there are some parts of his career that are less discussed than the classic albums, but still deserve attention. Here is a small selection of those lesser-known albums.

The Gold Experience (1995)

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Key tracks: Endorphinmachine, Dolphin, Eye Hate U, Gold

The first album credited to the unpronounceable symbol by which Prince was known as for much of the 1990s, The Gold Experience came out in 1995, after a year or so of Prince declaring that it would never be released. Upon its release, The Gold Experience was overshadowed by Prince’s record label troubles and the runaway success of lead single, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. Now out of print, it is worth hunting down a copy, if only for the brilliantly ridiculous opener, P(ussy) Control. The usual concerns of love and sex are dealt with in the usual detail, with Prince’s falsetto on the voyeuristic 319 making the listener feel nasty just by hearing it. The moody Dolphin, concerning reincarnation, takes on a new meaning following Prince’s death, as does the stadium-sized closer, Gold. The latter was envisioned as a ‘Purple Rain for the 90s’ and while it falls short of this lofty goal, it is a suitably anthemic ending to Prince’s best album of that decade.

 

Emancipation (1996)

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Key tracks: Jam of the Year, My Computer, The Love We Make, The Holy River, Somebody’s Somebody

Not for the faint hearted, Emancipation’s 36 songs sprawl across three discs of exactly one hour each, a symbolic arrangement apparently connected to the Pyramids. Emancipation finds Prince freed from his recording deal with Warner Brothers, in love with his then-wife (dancer Mayte Garcia) and in celebratory form, as evidenced by upbeat funk such as Jam of the Year and the infectious title track. Off-putting to casual listeners, this vast collection yields a surprising amount of genuinely brilliant tracks, although the format means that some songs are unnecessarily extended (Sleep Around being a prime example). Gems from Emancipation include My Computer, featuring a little-known cameo from Kate Bush and The Love We Make, a ballad dedicated to Jonathan Melvoin, the musician brother of Wendy Melvoin (of The Revolution), who died from an overdose in 1996. Emancipation is notable for being the first Prince album to feature covers of songs by other artists, the best of which is his interpretation of Joan Osborne’s One of Us.

The Rainbow Children (2001)

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Key tracks: The Work, pt.1, The Everlasting Now, Last December.

 Considering how much mainstream news coverage has been given to Prince’s passing and the amount of discussion of his life and work in the last week, it’s hard to fathom that only fifteen years ago, he had slipped into obscurity, releasing music almost exclusively via the internet to his New Power Generation Music Club (NPGMC) subscribers. The Rainbow Children came at a time of great personal change for Prince. In 2000, he reclaimed his birth name following a conversion to the Jehova’s Witnesses, a conversion which amplified the ever present spirituality in his work into out-and-out religiousness. The lyrics are largely gnomic, with references to ‘theocratic order’, ‘the banished ones’ and the ‘digital garden’ made in pitch shifted voices reminiscent of ‘Bob George’ from The Black Album. This may put off those who aren’t hardcore Prince fans and who want to hear variations on his Minneapolis sound and usual lyrical themes, but the album is worth sticking with for its musicality. Eschewing his usual synths and drum machines, Prince instead favours live drums, plenty of horns and an organic jazz-funk sound.

 

Art Official Age (2014)

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Key tracks: Clouds, Breakdown, The Gold Standard, Way Back Home

Following a four year gap in album releases (the longest of his career), Art Official Age was released alongside its sister album, PLECTRUMELECTRUM, the straightforward rock album credited to Prince’s group, 3rdEyeGirl. Whereas PLECTRUMELECTRUM rocked, Art Official Age, a solo Prince release, tended towards futuristic R&B and soul. Art Official Age has a loose storyline about Prince waking up from suspended animation, with interludes featuring Lianne La Havas and London singer Delilah. All the classic Prince ingredients are to be found here: funky party jams (The Gold Standard, FunknRoll), seductive falsetto come ons (Breakfast Can Wait) and glass-shattering vocals (Breakdown). The latter half of the album is more introspective than much of his previous work, a mood exemplified best by the gorgeous Way Back Home. Much more than PLECTRUMELECTRUM, Art Official Age proved that even almost forty years into his career, Prince could still pull a strong, cohesive album out of his flared sleeves.

HitnRun Phase Two (2015)

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Key tracks: Stare, RocknRoll Love Affair, Xtraloveable, Big City

The 39th and final studio album to be released in Prince’s lifetime. Released mere months after the failed EDM experiments of Phase One, Phase Two was a surprisingly consistent effort considering that it is comprised of a mixture of new songs, re-recorded singles and updated tracks from the fabled Vault. This made it slightly stale for Prince aficionados upon release, but for those seeking an overview of the last few years of his life, this is more than adequate. Posthumous stories of Prince’s humanitarianism and the ongoing struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement render opener Baltimore (written after the death of Freddie Gray in that city) even more poignant. The mood soon shifts to a more classic Princely tone however, through the tightly-wound funk of Stare and the exuberant pop of Xtraloveable to the Dirty Mind-esque layered vocals of Screwdriver. Phase One featured a co-producer for the first time in Prince’s career, but his last album finds him taking back the reigns. That isn’t to say that Prince was alone however, his NPG Hornz section pepper the album with brass, giving the whole thing a big-band feeling. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the closer, Big City, a charmingly retro love song. The final words on the final Prince album?

‘That’s it!’

 

Why Sony Music making a quick buck out of Jeff Buckley is completely wrong

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When I think about Jeff Buckley and his music there’s one word that comes to mind. Untainted. His only gift to us (not counting posthumous album Sketches For My Sweetheart the Drunk) was 1994’s Grace, a collection of some of the most ethereal recordings the world has ever had the pleasure of hearing. He was renowned for being a gentle and warm person, effortlessly caring and loving for all those that surrounded him in his life. However, he was taken from us all too prematurely in a freak drowning incident at the tragic age of 30. So why, 19 years on from his death, are people trying to make money out of his name?

The culprits behind all this are Legacy Recordings (Or a catalog division of the more recognisable name Sony Music Entertainment), who recently released a ‘new’ Jeff Buckley compilation entitled ‘You and I’, featuring, and I quote, “10 previously unreleased and virtually unheard studio recordings”. An odd statement, considering that literally every track on this album has found it’s way onto the internet and various unofficial Jeff Buckley compilations numerous times over the years. It’s kind of an insult to devote Jeff Buckley fans, who i’m sure are all growing horribly tired of these people trying to profit from everything the Buckley name has to offer.

As far as releasing albums goes, it’s usually a given for a band or an artist to release music videos to accompany certain tracks on the album. Not really commonplace for compilation albums though, especially when they’re full of covers and not original material…oh, and when the artist behind the music is, well, dead, and therefore has no creative say in said videos. Yet Legacy Recordings were clearly insistent on making videos to coincide with the release. Modern, cool, ‘interactive’ videos, should I say. These videos were released for people to see on Jeff Buckley’s official Facebook page, and it’s safe to say that the fans caught wind of the phony attempts at credible, accompanying videos.

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Fan’s reactions to the video for Just Like a Woman’ on Jeff Buckley’s official Facebook page

It’s also apparent, just by being on Facebook and the internet, how much Sony Music are trying to promote the album. Yes, this is obviously what any label or company would try and do during the release of an album, however given the circumstances and the actual quality of the album, it just makes them seem even more desperate and slimy than they initially come across as.

Not only is all this insulting to his fans, but I think it’s not allowing him, to a certain extent, to truly rest in peace. People need to move on and stop discrediting his name by trying to flog a (literal) dead horse. Let the man rest and let his music be remembered for what it really is, honest and pure, and not some gimmick. I’m not saying let’s stop talking about him, or let’s stop listening to his music, i’m saying that big labels and companies need to stop trying to squeeze every last bit of money out of a big artists’ name when they pass, especially when the actual release from the label is a lying, distasteful and generally poor piece of art that i’m sure Jeff would not have wanted to be released in such a tacky way.

Sony Music could offer up a half-baked response to these accusations if they wanted to. For example, they might say that the aim of this album was to introduce new people to Jeff’s music, who maybe haven’t heard any of these recordings. It would be a fair point, but we all know that it wouldn’t be genuine and would have been the last thing on their mind during the making of the album. It would be a fairly short-lived, shallow counter-argument.

Jeff Buckley isn’t the only victim of this kind of treatment, with other former artists’ music being re-heated and served to the public after passing, such as Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley, with an endless amount of posthumous albums being released under their names. However, things like this aren’t going to stop happening anytime soon as long as there’s still money to be made from it. It seems cash truly does rule everything, even after death.

On a more serious, final note, let’s also not forget that the same Sony Music behind all this has recently been in the news regarding Kesha’s allegations of sexual assault by Dr. Luke, Kesha’s producer and employee of Sony Music. Kesha has since said on Instagram that Sony Music offered to release her from her contract with them, if she apologised publicly and said that she was never sexually assaulted by Dr. Luke, which we all can tell would be a lie. It would be an injustice and an insult to not only Kesha, but victims of sexual assault worldwide. Don’t let corporate monsters get away with stuff like this. Name and shame.

 

 

The exciting and satisfying allure of The Moonlandingz

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Ziggy Stardust. Gorillaz. Hannah Montana. The Moonlandingz. What do all these artists have in common? Well apart from making great music, all these names are pseudonyms for the artists behind the music, fictitious alter-egos created to give themselves some creative leg-room, or to just get away with things that their normal selves wouldn’t be able to.

The Moonlandingz are one of these creations, billed as a ‘fictional Ouija Psych Pop Super group’ by the band themselves, they’re fronted by  the eccentric ‘Johnny Rocket’ (or Lias Saoudi of Fat White Family), backed by his band of devils’ advocates, with the marvelous Saul Adamczewski (also of Fat White Family) on guitar duties and electronic synth wizards Dean Honer and Adrian Flanagan (both of Eccentronic Research Council) on keys, with various other members fleshing out the sound during live shows.

Formed only last year, they came out of nowhere with ‘Sweet Saturn Mine’, their first single and an absolute gem of a pop song, laden with glittering synth leads, wonderfully sleazy lyrics from Lias and a melody/chorus that will nest itself deep inside your head for days/weeks/months after you first hear it. That few and far between feeling you get when a song immediately punches through the musical wasteland of your subconscious and stands at the forefront waving a big banner that says “I AM HERE” is ultimately what every devoted fan of music searches for, that one song that reminds you just why you love this art form so much, and this one for me had it all. It’s no wonder then that it received a lot of airplay throughout 2015, especially on Radio 6 Music, and in particular on Marc Riley’s show.

Following the success of the single, the band entered the studio to record their brilliant eponymous 4-track EP, which was well received among listeners and critics, especially those already well enamoured with Fat White Family and Eccentronic Research Council’s respective outputs. Whilst in the studio the band decided to make themselves a little less fictitious and take the songs they’d been writing and rehearsing on the road. It’s in a bar in Yorkshire, on a murky lit stage with no fire exit in sight, where this band really comes together.

UK crowds jumped at the chance to catch The Moonlandingz in their real-life skin suits, and so tickets were snapped up quickly, small venues were packed out and the crowds knew the songs inside and out instantaneously, which is a real testament to their quality. The bands’ performances are not for the faint of heart, or for anyone that’s averse to the idea of moving an inch during the whole set, with sweating lunatic Lias’ on stage exorcisms a la Lux Interior of The Cramps, and the band’s harsh yet dance-able electronic onslaught reminiscent of bands such as Suicide and some of The Fall’s discography. These are the kind of bands we need though, ones that make you feel a little uncomfortable, make you feel something. We only need to look at the past.

Their feral yet sleek Tory-condemning pop really resonates with the disillusioned youth of today that are living in Cameron’s Britain (see their song 40,000 Years of Ian Duncan Smith as an example). With an almost primal-like energy and liberal leanings, what’s not to love? They stand out like a sore thumb in an endless sea of terribly-drab psych bands with almost nothing to say. You know the ones, where each member probably has a god-awful 60’s tapestry hung up on their bedroom wall above their bed (please, can we just burn them all and move on?).

They’re modern, fresh, fierce and ready for blood, whether it be the blood of George Osborne, or your blood, scooped up off the floor of the venue. We need bands like this because they are the ones that give other musicians a kick up the arse, and lend a voice to those dismayed with the people in power. They also know how to make everyone have a bloody good time whilst doing it, which helps.

With a full-length album being recorded with the one and only Sean Lennon in his studio in New York, and hopefully being released at some point in the next few months, we should be seeing a lot more of them soon. I’ll be catching them at Liverpool Psych Fest later on in the year, and then on their UK tour dates when they eventually release the album. Be sure not to miss out on these guys. You never know when the next ones will come along.