Friday, 25 March 2016
It’s time to press pause on Breaking More Waves.
I’m off on holiday.
The laptop will be off, so there will be no blogging. I’ll even (for the most part) be hanging up the phone, although not fully, so there might be some tweets - follow me using this link if you enjoy thousands of narcissistic beach selfies showing what a fabulous time I’m having and lots of pictures of paella and tapas.*
(* Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. My Twitter bio states that 95% of my tweets are about music. I stick to that rule even when on holiday).
See you mid-April. Oh and talking of hanging up the phone, here’s the latest Kiiara tune. It’s another piece of computerised pop that absolutely captures the zeitgeist but still manages to sound oddly fresh at the same time. It's from her excellent 6 track low kii savage EP which you can hear on Spotify by clicking here.
Blog posts will restart sometime around mid April.
Kiiara - Hang Up Tha Phone
Just the other day I was talking to another music lover about new artist Betsy, a singer I’ve featured a couple of times (here and here). “She sounds a bit like Clare Maguire,” my friend said. “Whatever happened to her?” Now, I'm sure you'll all agree that it's somewhat of a compliment to an artist when others are compared with them, so that's one for Clare.
Maybe her ears were ringing too, because just a few days on from that conversation and she answering the whatever happened to question with not only a new song but news of a second album. Stranger Things Have Happened will be released on the 27th May.
If Elizabeth Taylor, the new track is anything to go by, the album is going to be a beauty. There’s a whole lot of Hometown Glory styled piano on the track, some gorgeous string sounds and (of course) Clare’s voice which goes in the flick of a switch from a docile restraint to punching the stars out of the sky.
The press blurb that arrived in my in box informs me that “Clare wrote the majority of this album at home on her piano, with her sausage dogs, on a diet of pizza and cups of tea.” Now that’s impressive – collaboration in pop music and in fact any creative art is not unusual, but I’ve never heard of sausage dogs taking such an active role. What’s not clear is if they just helped with the writing or they played on any of the instruments.
Clare plays a couple of shows in the UK on June 2nd at the Glee Club in Birmingham and the 6th at St Pancras Old Church in London. Clear your diaries for those.
Good to see she’s got a Pulp poster on her bedroom wall there as well. I’m giving her extra bonus points for that.
Clare Maguire - Elizabeth Taylor
I’m not sure if buzz artists or buzz bands are really a thing anymore. The internet and blogs seem to have moved on a little bit from that these days, but only a little bit. There are still some acts that get bloggers hyper ventilating and I’d like to suggest that this track, the debut proper from A.K Paul is one of those. Rev up your engines for a bit of Landcruisin’, which sounds a lot like Prince partying like its 2016 rather than 1999. That’s a very good thing in my book - pretty much any Prince from 1984 to around 1992 works at getting the hips grinding in these quarters.
If you’re none the wiser just why A.K Paul is hotter than lava, here's a quick catch up. First he’s the brother of Jai Paul one of the most elusive musicians out there. Jai destroyed the internet with his track BTSU, signed to XL Records in 2010 and had a collection of his early work leaked on Bandcamp. 6 years on he's still to release an album and has become an almost weirdly ghostly and legendary figure. It’s not just Jai's reputation that has given the leg up to A.K Paul though – A.K Paul's work on So Good with Nao was incredible and his production on Jones’ You was impressive as well.
Now A.K. Paul takes it up a gear with this solo work, which I assume is nothing to do with the 1995 Carl Craig album of the same title (without the apostrophe). What with Charlie XCX going Vroom Vroom and now A.K Paul hitting the highways, it seems that music is taking us for a ride again.
A.K. Paul - Landcruisin'
Wednesday, 23 March 2016
This is getting to the point of ridiculousness now.
I can’t remember when I first mentioned on the blog the growing trend for popstars / potential popstars and musicians to have a promo picture that shows them sitting in the bath, but certainly I was banging on about it as far back as the start of 2014. Ever since that time there seem to be more and more of these loons cropping up on my radar.
Yet I’m still no closer to understanding why.
Why musicians for god’s sake?
I mean, look at other professionals. Take a plumber. Now there’s a job that’s directly related to the world of baths. They fit them all the time. Taps, tubs, waste pipes, the lot. But do you see plumbers advertising their services by sitting in the tub amongst the suds? No.
This probably says an awful lot about the fundamental differences between musicians and plumbers.
Take new potential popstar Saya from Toronto for example. Look at that picture above then ask yourself would you trust her to come round and fix your faulty boiler? Or rod your blocked shower waste pipe for you? Or would you rather that she sang a tune called Wet Dreams to you? That title sounds a bit pervy sexual doesn’t it? But maybe, just maybe it’s about her longing for a leaky pipe above her bed ? If it is she clearly doesn’t understand the concept of staying dry does she? She’s holding an umbrella whilst sitting in a bath fully clothed for f*cks sake.
Popstars. You have to love them and their bonkers attention seeking (but very clean) ways. You just wouldn’t want to ask one to install your new ensuite would you?
Footnote: If you’re a pop star about to sit in the bath for a promo pic feel free to get in contact and explain to me WHY. Thank you.
Saya - Wet Dreams
Tuesday, 22 March 2016
Where does a band get its name from? I mean, take Night Games. Did they read Anna Krien’s book (Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark Heart of Sport) and take inspiration from that? Or was it some reference to past memories of childhood sleepover parties and things they did to entertain themselves there? Murder in the dark perhaps? Or is it some sort of reference to the atmosphere of their music, playful but dark sounding? Or was it just that The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Butthole Surfers and Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat had all already been taken and so they thought 'Night Games, that'll do.'
Whatever the reason, the London pairing (maybe they could have just called themselves Connie and Paul and kept it simple) have got a rather splendid synth-soft new song out called Faithless. “You’ve won me over with lies before,” Connie sings before admitting that she’s coming back for more. More of what we’re not quite sure. Maybe she’s singing about the UK voting public and their appetite for the Conservative party? Or maybe the name of the band gives us a saucy hint?
Night Games - Faithless
Monday, 21 March 2016
If you were on a night out with ex-fashion designer and Welsh singer / newcomer Betsy and she challenged you to a karaoke competition, beware; you stand absolutely no chance. This woman can sing. Of course if you've heard her debut track Fair you’d already know that, but just in case you missed it, here’s a second example. It’s called Time and it’s lifted from her debut EP which you can hear right now if you hop on over to Spotify or the like.
Whereas Fair took the sonic construction of a big dance tune and heightened the emotion with nothing but strings, ambient textures and keys, Time sticks to a more conventional route; it's a soul-gospel-pop tune that isn't afraid to throw in some beats. Oh, and there’s a budgie in the promo pic. I have absolutely no idea why, but it makes a change from pop stars and potential pop stars posing in the bath, even if it is still quite a silly idea.
Betsy - Time
Thursday, 17 March 2016
When I published my annual Ones to Watch list for 2016 last November, one name that I had down as being a definite for inclusion as far back as April 2015 was Declan McKenna. I was pretty sure Declan was going to crop up on a whole bunch of tips for 2016 lists, because he was taking the classic singer songwriter template and doing something bold, interesting and that little bit unique with it both musically and lyrically. His mini anthem Brazil took on corruption in football and its governing body FIFA, whilst Paracetamol deals with the misrepresentation of transgender teenagers. As it turned out, his name didn't feature on many lists, but maybe that’s a blessing, allowing him to develop his talents without the pressure and expectation that 'Sound of 2016' type predictions bring.
It’s artists like Declan that interest me the most; the ones who aren’t just following tired clichés (and there's an awful lot of them around in mainstream pop music right now). His new video for Paracetamol continues that direction of pushing a little harder. Shot in London and Brighton by Director Matt Lambert, it features a number of teenagers who live in Hackney (the video was also filmed in part in Brighton) using a variety of different media including the casts own phones. Watch out also for a cameo appearance by drag artist David Hoyle - his statement at the end of the piece that life is all about love and the rest is bullshit sums things up perfectly.
Declan plays this year’s Great Escape festival in Brighton. If you’re going take our tip – he’s one to watch.
Declan McKenna - Paracetamol (Video)
If 2016 has brought us anything, it is at least some quite amusing album titles.
Of course there’s The 1975’s rather creepy / pretentious / cooly artistic / beautiful /comical (delete as appropriate, depending on your opinion) I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It. My opinion of the record: Too much filler, too much referencing of bands from the past without adding anything new to the mix, but also some half decent tunes among the deluge, particularly the singles.
Then there’s Aurora’s All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, which is quite deep really isn’t it? My opinion of that one: Probably the best pop album to come out of Norway since A-Ha. A lot of melancholy for one so young.
Next up is Misty Miller. I like the title of her forthcoming album a lot. It’s going to be called The Whole Family Is Worried.
Thankfully, though there doesn’t appear to be much to worry about in terms of the music, which from the songs we’ve heard so far seems to be a right rollicking, scuzzy, punk pop affair. Much (OK, that's an overstatement - a bit) has been made over the last couple of years of Misty’s transition from sweet ukele playing folkie to her edgier style now, but really this doesn't concern me. If Misty decided that next she wanted to dress up in a gold sequinned disco dress and produce an album of hi-energy synth pop, all I’d care about are good tunes, good performances and it being something that grabbed me in some way. Good music eh? That's what I want (don't we all?), irrespective of style.
However, there’s no need to get out the neon coloured strip lighting and flashing disco floor quite yet (although that would be fun), because for now there’s a video for her song Girlfriend – which basically shows what a lot of fun her gigs can be.
The album is out on April 8th.
Footnote: Why the f*ck wasn’t Happy a bona fide hit? It really should have been.
Misty Miller - Girlfriend (Video)
Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Earlier this month you may recall I posted about the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition, an event I’ve been involved in helping judge for the last few years. Alongside 39 other music writers, I whittle down the thousands of entries to a long list of 120 that are then put forward to another panel to decide the final short list of 8. And yes, to answer the question I get asked a lot, every single act that enters gets listened to.
This year the long list was of exceptionally high quality and I’m sure that those involved on the second panel must have found it very difficult to choose who to put through.
Today the 8 artists who have been selected for the live final are announced. They will all play at Pilton Working Men’s Club (from the outside it looks like the most non rock ‘n’ roll venue you can imagine – see the picture above) on April 9th to an invite only audience. The winner is guaranteed a slot on a main stage at the festival as well as a £5,000 PRS Music Foundation Talent Development prize to help take their music to the next level.
The 8 finalists draw from a range of musical genres, styles and positions. There's the likes of Henry Green who after covering MGMT's Electric Feel found well known producer and chart hit maker Kygo remixing it in 2014, enabling Green to then get exposure for his songs Barcelona and Slow which went on to be Hype Machine blog hits. Barcelona currently has over 430,000 streams on Soundcloud.
At the other end of the scale there's acoustic artist Hattie Whitehead who currently has less than 500 plays on her Soundcloud for her song Confused and Untied as does Birmingham MC Lady Sanity, who quotes the likes of Missy Elliot and Lauryn Hill as inspirations. I'm also really pleased to see She Drew The Gun on the list - an act that I wrote / raved about just the other day after their song Poem absolutely floored me. It's a diverse list - the question now is which one of these acts can deliver the best live performance? From attending the competition final in previous years I can confirm that every time there seems to be one or two or three acts that just nail their performance on the night over everyone else, and they are the ones who always end up either winning or being runners up. So far every year I've agreed with the choices of the judges on the night.
The final 8 are listed below, together with a Soundcloud playlist for you to hear them all.
They are Bossy Love, Early Ghost, Gillbanks, Hattie Whitehead, Henry Green, Lady Sanity, Marcus McCoan, She Drew The Gun.
Tuesday, 15 March 2016
If the late great John Peel was still with us, I wonder what he would think of music today? In particular, as a champion of non-professional ‘bedroom musicians’, making music just for the pleasure of it, the highlight of their ‘careers’ being a play on his show, would he have been excited about the way that technology has enabled virtually anyone with a laptop to have a go? After all Peel always found the near amateurism of many of the acts he played charming – something that set him apart from all of his peers.
Somewhere back in the past that’s where Alex Crossan aka Mura Masa started. Just a kid with some technology, possibly in his bedroom, living on an island not particularly known for its huge musical heritage (Guernsey), working out what to do, what worked, what he liked and then developing it. Peel would have liked that part.
But now Mura Masa is way beyond that. He’s had over 20 million streams on Soundcloud, appeared on plenty of Ones To Watch 2016 lists including Breaking More Waves own, the BBC Sound of 2016 (5th place) and the Blog Sound of 2016 (1st place). Peel wouldn’t have been bothered about any of that for sure, but still I’d like to think that he liked where Mura Masa had come from.
Now here's a new tune from Alex. What If I Go? finds Mura Masa defining his sound further; it’s a track that skips, struts, jumps and then fully bounces its way across the dancefloor full of immediate cocksure goodness. Add in a neat soulful hook sung by Bonzai (who you’ll find on his own label Anchor Point) and you’ve got yourself a tune that’s good enough to satisfy the cool kids who want their music to have enough exotic interest for a deeper listening experience, but also for those who just want to get off their faces, have a good time and dance dance dance.
Mura Masa - What If I Go?
Wednesday, 9 March 2016
It’s not often that a song stops me completely in my tracks, but today, whilst listening to Steve Lamacq on BBC 6 Music on the way home from work, this did. I had to pull the car over and sit in a layby, listen and absorb. I think the last time that happened was Adele's Rolling In The Deep.
In a place where music becomes ever more banal lyrically (I simply can’t take any more songs about being ‘drunk in da club’ or ‘doing what we want’) Poem by Liverpool’s She Drew The Gun is the absolute antidote. It’s an outpouring of disbelief and anger, a song for those who want their pop music (and I use the term pop music in the broadest sense) to create a musical culture that is far more than just being about a narcissistic and hedonistic lifestyle.
With a hint of old-school Laura Marling, singer-songwriter Louisa Roach starts with an image of the ‘police getting busy cleaning up the streets’ as they ‘take the homeless man’s rags, no sleeping bags, no place to sleep’ because ‘we’re far to civilised around here to see an unkempt human being, a broken human being.’ From there she goes on to explore her concerns for our future: ‘How long until they build a wall and call it a private city?’ as well as the way that profit and so called efficient 'wealth creation' is ruining people's lives. It’s one of those rare songs that actually makes you think, not just about life, but your place in all of it. It's not all despondency though. Poem doesn't just spell out the problems, it offers some hope in its words as well.
This is a song for our times.
What’s more She Drew The Gun is on the longlist for this year’s Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition, which I helped judge (I would have undoubtedly selected the band if they had been on my judging list), will soon release their debut album (Memories Of The Future through Skeleton Key Records and produced by James Skelly of The Coral) and play a series of dates in late April.
She Drew The Gun - Poem
This week Claire Boucher aka Grimes hits UK shores for a tour and I’ll be attending a couple of her shows at pretty much opposite ends of the country. If you follow me on Twitter (here) you’ll be able to see all my deeply perceptive maximum 140 character journalistic reviews of the shows which will probably include tweets such as “Grimes was quite good,” or “Grimes was OK and I had a nice pint of cider.” Surely that’s worth following me for? If you're really lucky I might even tweet a picture of my evening meal before the show.*
What you might also get (but I can’t guarantee it – I might be enjoying the cider too much) are some tweets about support act Hana, who actually once lived in Montana. I wrote about her a couple of times last year - her sad but very pretty song Clay was particularly tender and divine. Now to coincide with the tour she’s just released a new tune called Underwater. Once again, in terms of thoughtful analysis, clever wordplay and weighty emotional journalism I think I’d describe this one as ‘quite good and gets better as it goes along’. And to add real insight I can also confirm that the sweet ‘like my father and my mother I will love you for forever’ hook gets under the skin. That’s all you really need to know isn’t it?
*This statement is probably a lie. After all that's what you do to become a well known journalist isn't it? Lie - not tweet food pics!
Hana - Underwater
Tuesday, 8 March 2016
You know all those clichés that music types (like me) use? Such as the ones about losing yourself in the music and letting it take you to somewhere else? Well sometimes those clichés are fine, if it says what you mean. For example the latest instalment from Welsh wonders The Golden Fable allows me to fully justify an overused expression over its five minutes of beauty. I have no fear of embarrassment. Just press play, shut your eyes and drift away.
Titled The Valley, it’s the sixth chapter of their one song a month release. This one is like a lily pond that slowly reveals its gentle ripples – it’s restful and calming without ever being flat. A beautiful and affecting piece of music and the equivalent of an out-of-body experience.
The Valley is available to purchase via this link.
Golden Fable - The Valley
Monday, 7 March 2016
In the first minute of The Harbour by ‘new’ duo Throws there’s some noodly indie guitar, some soft choral harmonies, some spacey synths, some squelchy ones, some marching glam rock drums and some vocals that might make you think you’re listening to the second Jungle album. If you think that experimental concoction sounds like it really shouldn’t and wouldn’t work, you’re wrong; it does.
With its lyrical call of wanting someone ‘just as you are’ and its admission that ‘it’s hard to be perfect, we are human,’ The Harbour is a song of acceptance and loving people for who they are, quirks and all.
A quick bit of digging around on the internet tells me that Throws is the British duo of Mike Lindsay (Tunng) and Sam Genders (The Accidental, Tunng). Judging by the promo pic above they’re either very camera shy, very ugly or need to employ a better photographer. Possibly all three. Their self-titled debut album was recorded in Iceland with special guests from múm and Sigur Rós and will be released later this year. The Harbour is the first track from it. It's slightly wonky, slightly brilliant, slightly experimental pop music.
Throws - The Harbour
Sunday, 6 March 2016
“I need a little more than consolation lately, I need a little more than words to stay all through the night,” sings Josh Carruthers as the chorus of Flawes’ new tune bursts forward amongst a wash of supermassive and alive electronics. As you can probably tell from those lyrics the song isn’t all about the joys of life and romance though. Instead it covers that time and feeling of being in a relationship, knowing it’s not right, and yet despite that both people seem trapped and unable to leave. Sad faces all round for the situation, smiley ones for the music.
Consolation is the follow up to the impressive debut Don’t Wait For Me (which I featured last year) which received airplay on Radio 1 and entered the Spotify UK Viral Chart at number 8. The band has a recent London Club NME show under their belt, a slot at Live at Leeds to follow and their first headline show at London’s Sebright Arms scheduled for April 14th.
Also worth checking out is their excellent cover version of Halsey’s Hold Me Down (here) recorded for Sofar London, which shows Flawes' talent off rather well.
Flawes - Consolation
Sometimes, because of the way the internet works, allowing us to just connect with people or places that share a commonality of thought or taste, certain new artists names appear regularly on my radar until it comes to a point where I think “OK, I need to check them out.”
Such is the way with Holly Macve, who was signed to Bella Union last year. The tipping point came last week when I noticed that this 20 year old from Yorkshire had been announced at the bottom of the bill of this year’s Latitude festival, having previously been announced for Great Escape, End of the Road and SXSW
As soon as you press play you’ll understand why Belle Union boss Simon Raymonde signed her after seeing her play in Brighton. “I had a tip-off to go to a basement bar where she was playing. In a room full of beery boys chatting across all the music beforehand, the minute Holly opened her mouth the room fell silent. Hers is a rare gift.”
You can listen (and watch) that gift below. Holly’s voice sounds as if it’s been dug up from the past, or if not the past certainly from across the Atlantic Ocean. It possesses a sad wavering country tone and an occasional hint of Laura Marling in its intonation. She sets it against a background of sparse simple acoustic plucks, and on her cover of Melanie Safka's tune of the journey of life, We Don't Know Where We're Going, confident piano keys. It all leaves space for reflection and thought, like the day after a lost weekend. The songs never sound as if they’re trying too hard – they don’t need to, they already know they’re great. They will probably have you in bits.
Holly Macve is one of my favourite discoveries of the year so far. I should have taken notice of the internet earlier.
Holly Macve - We Don't Know Where We're Going
Holly Macve - The Corner Of My Mind (Video)
Saturday, 5 March 2016
For the last few years I’ve been asked by Glastonbury Festival to act as one of the judges for the first round of the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition. The judging panel consists of 40 music writers from across the UK and their job is to whittle the thousands of entries down to a manageable long list of 120 artists who are put forward to a further round of judging which is carried out by a different panel, including the festival organisers. From the 120, 8 acts are chosen to compete in a live final, the winning act getting a slot on a main stage at the festival and £5,000 from PRS to help develop their music and take it to the next level.
Each of the 40 judges is sent a list of between 100 and 200 acts to listen to and watch a live performance video and has to choose 3 to put through to the next round. Every year I find that the 120 long list is of very high quality and there are usually a number of acts that I have already featured on the blog. This year current Breaking More Waves favourites Violet Skies and Glass have made the list as have previous Blog Sound of 2013 nominees Randolph’s Leap. You can listen to all nominated acts (apart from one who chose to enter a ‘private’ track) on a Soundcloud playlist on this link. (Here)
The three acts I chose for the longlist were Ajimal, 4th Project and AK/DK who you can listen to below.
Breathtakingly beautiful, haunting and reflective, Ajimal produces piano based songs of the highest order. An absolute must choose for me.
A trio who produce elegant understated chilled pop with soulful vocals from the Bristol area.
A Brighton based duo who bash two sets of drums and synths to make bonkers electronic noise.
Good luck to all the acts on the long list and I hope to see some of you at the live final in April as well as on a stage at Glastonbury this summer.
Thursday, 3 March 2016
I first came across Rosie Carney, originally from my home city of Portsmouth but currently based in Downings co Donegal, Ireland in 2013 when her name cropped up near the bottom of the bill at Bushstock festival. At the time I thought she had plenty of potential but the songs weren’t quite there yet. Now, three years on and still only at the age of 18, that lurking talent has turned into something rather wonderful.
Rosie’s song Antidote mixes a delicate country twang, an acoustic folk beauty and a soft voice that creates magic and musical kisses. Carney describes Antidote as a “plea to embrace and feel - rather than reject and mask - the heartbreak associated with loss,” but frankly she could be singing about shoving a chocolate bar in her mouth and I’d have been impressed. Then there’s Better Man, a song so awash with melancholy that it left me speechless and haunted. A word of advice, don’t as I did, watch the video for the first time at 2am after a very long day - it had me welling up. Another tune Winter (which you can find using this link or on Spotify) reminds me a little of first album Laura Marling (my favourite of Laura’s work)
With a guest vocal on Seafret’s song To The Sea, a slot at this year’s SXSW festival and a cover version of Cyndi Lauper’s party anthem Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (that sounds nothing like a party anthem - watch here), Rosie Carney is slowly getting her name out there. Having cast a spell on me, let her do the same for you.
Rosie Carney - Antidote
Rosie Carney - Better Man (Video)
Tuesday, 1 March 2016
Not so long ago it seemed that, for new musicians, internet statistics were everything in pop. How many followers you had on Twitter, how many views on You Tube and your total number of streams on Soundcloud became as important to your career as if your music was any good. Thankfully things appear to be changing recently, with music media types acknowledging that if something’s great, but it’s still early for the artist, they’re not going to have a huge fan base, and that like good cooking, the most important factors are quality ingredients and time.
I mention this because a quick look at Violet Skies Soundcloud profile will show you wildly different play counts for each of her songs. Yet what binds How The Mighty (66k plays), Patience (nearly 17k plays) and the recent brilliant One Day Three Autumns (just over 5k plays) is talent.
There’s a further demonstration of her ability on her latest song Jealousy. This one could easily be dismissed as being just another piece of silky smooth, well produced, soulful r’n’b electronic pop for hollow hipsters, but there’s a lot more class and emotion here than that. The key is the vocal – the delivery is never over powering. Believe me, when Violet lets rip she really can exercise the lungs, but here she keeps things relatively restrained. It all adds to a tune which, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s about the most insecure of emotions, I’d be putting into my ‘seduction selection’ mix tape if I had one. (Just for the record, I don’t).
Violet Skies - Jealousy