Thursday, 1 December 2016

New Music: Jain - Makeba (Video)

French pop has had a quite brilliant year hasn’t it?

Christine & The Queens wowed a lot of people in the UK; of all the shows I’ve witnessed in 2017, the crowd reaction (at Latitude) was one of the most overwhelming - the applause just wouldn’t stop. Petite Meller put out a very good, if somewhat overlooked pop album and Jain, whilst still relatively under the radar in the UK was one of the surprise highlights of this year’s Great Escape festival, turning a motionless crowd into a hard-bouncing party of happiness. 

There’s some connections between all of these artists as well, particularly Meller and Jain, who both take musical influences, particularly rhythm, from far flung places and weave it into a pop format, as well as both putting a giraffe in their videos. You can see that giraffe (and a zebra) in Jain’s new video for single Makeba – her tribute to Miriam Makeba, the South African singer and human rights activist. 

Let’s be clear – I’m quite a lot in love with what Jain is doing. Her music makes me feel alive. If you want to fall in love as well, watch the video and then if you get the chance go and see her and her box of beats on Monday 5th at London’s Garage.

Jain - Makeba (Video)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Playlist: Everything From November On Breaking More Waves

It does what it says in the title really. Virtually everything from the last month of the blog, including my selections of Ones to Watch for 2017. This playlist is updated once a month at the end of the month. If and when the blog picks up speed I might do it each week, but not yet. Some big names, some possible future stars and a handful of relative unknowns / newcomers. Feel free to follow on Spotify and then you never need read the blog again - although you'll miss out on all those pictures of musicians in the bath and 'context' which is basically me spouting the first thing that comes into my head. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

New Music: Hollow Coves - Coastline

The general consensus amongst much of my peer group has been that 2016 has been a pretty crap year. From the deaths of Bowie, Prince and Viola Beach through to terror attacks, police shootings, Brexit and Trump, there’s a sense of sadness and despondency amongst many of those that I associate with. Whether this really is a bad year or just that we notice events that we perceive to be negative more easily due to our greater connectivity is something that’s open to debate - only history will be able to fully judge. However, irrespective of future looking back, right now there are certainly people in my world who feel that life is pretty crap. Another fairly common theme amongst them is that to counteract their mood they are turning to escapism. The need to get away from it all seems more apparent than ever.

If you feel a bit like that, this song might just do the trick. Coastline’s soft acoustic touches and glowing imagery are immediately seductive, as with a relaxed gait Brisbane’s Hollow Coves sing of moving far away to a warmer place. This is a song for dreamers, for those who need to take some of the harshness away, for those who want to drift and feel some comfort. Sometimes simple stuff like this can help for a few minutes.

Hollow Coves - Coastline

Monday, 28 November 2016

Old Music: Astronaut - One In A Million / Just Can't Take It / Three / What You Gonna Do

Here's another one of those occasional posts where I delve into the past and unearth either some forgotten or unknown hidden treasure or popular classic that means (or did mean) a lot to me. Today is the turn of indie off kilter pop band Astronaut, who like Buzz Aldrin instigated the great Astronaut tradition of partial success.

I first came across Astronaut on what, if I remember correctly, was a Sunday afternoon in January at Dingwalls in Camden in 1998. Althought it might have been a Saturday. It was a long time ago and I didn't have a blog or social media then to look at, check back and remind me. However, I did have a fanzine, a proper old school paper one, stuck together and formed with scissors, glue, staples, an old photocopier and love...more of that towards the end of this piece. 

Anyway, back to Camden and Dingwalls. The NME was sponsoring an unsigned bands competition and I’d spent most of my time nursing a pint and becoming slowly irritable at the fact that every act playing was shockingly average. That was until Astronaut took to the stage. They were a cocky looking four piece who, within seconds, transformed a non-event into something worth being at. The lead singer (Alex Eckford) was a natural front man – that perfect blend of swagger, charm and good looks – and behind him was a bunch of lads who had the songs. 

Four cuts stood out immediately. A stomping energetic hook laden anthem called What You Gonna Do, the euphoric and relentlessly enjoyable Just Can’t Take It, a driving, sneering, lip curling repetitive brute called Three and best of all a perfect pop tune named One In A Million. “Yeah ‘cos I’m synesthetic and my teeth are magnetic, blind ambition and malnutrition will take me there,” Alex sang on this song, the chorus immediately lodging in my brain for not just the train journey home, but the next month. There was no doubt they were the best band of the day.

Having won the competition, I was pretty certain that Astronaut was bound for next big thing glory. If the BBC Sound of list had existed then, I would have been convinced they were a cert for that.

It didn’t happen. 

(I wrote and thought something very similar about the band Thrum, which you can see here)

A deal with indie label Fierce Panda and a John Peel Session was followed by the release of What You Gonna Do, which the NME unsurprisingly called 'a work of genius.' This was followed by another single Stone Cold Sober (which neither myself or the NME were as keen on) and a mini album called Preview all via Fierce Panda. And whilst these records had the tunes, something was lacking. For whatever reason the recordings didn’t have the full-bodied brilliance of the bands live performance. Further singles followed (Just Can’t Take It and Three, but sadly never One In A Million) and a full album The Curse Of in 2001, but by then it felt like it wasn’t going to happen for Astronaut.

In an interview with Rockbite website Alex explained: “We’ve decided to er... retire from live performance, bringing to a close what has essentially been a five year tour of Camden. We’re not splitting up, but now it’s time to do things a bit differently. Who knows, perhaps we’ll turn into a nine-piece clog-dancing outfit. Touring has always been a bit of an impossibility for us, as we all have jobs. Actually, considering the amount of weight we’ve put on, and how much our hairlines have receded, the less we appear in public, the better.” According to Liquisearch the band’s final show was at The Borderline in 2007.

Since the end of Astronaut (it's not clear exactly when the end was) it seems that three members of the band continued in another group called Slipside (who released their own albums) and Alex also has continued to produce music. In fact, he's done rather well with it - you'll have heard his work if you have ever watched award winning comedy Miranda, you can hear the Astronaut influence buried in there (watch and listen by clicking here). You can also hear his instrumental work on Soundcloud by clicking this link. Alex also works in VR design, cinema, photography and has worked with the likes of Sigur Ros on their 2016 world tour creating photogrammetry of 3D scenes and real-time integration of live data taken during the show. It’s certainly a long way from dingy clubs in Camden.

Take a listen to the songs that blew me away the first time I heard them live, even if these recordings don’t quite hit the mark as powerfully as, given the right production, they could have done and ponder why wasn’t One In A Million ever given a release as a single? “You already know, you’ve got what it takes….”

Oh and before you do, remember at the start of this piece I mentioned that I had a fanzine? It was called Breaking Waves (nice name huh?). I published it under the moniker 'The Ex Boy On The Boat' and it was subtitled 'Certainly Slough's Smallest Fanzine'. Issue 4 included an interview with the drummer from Idlewild, a big feature on a band called Agnes (who were a bit like Curve or Garbage) and also an interview with...guess who? Of course, Astronaut. The highlight was a huge essay by one of the band on his favourite albums and amongst its revealing facts contained the useful information that another member of the group , if he could be anywhere in the world, would like to be in his bath. Which just goes to show to regular readers of this blog that my theory on musicians in the bath (here) is long standing. Now...take a listen...

Astronaut - A 4 Song Playlist