Friday, 26 October 2012

Live - in pictures & videos: alt-J / Michael Kiwanuka / The Maccabees at LSO St. Lukes, London 24/10/12

LSO St Lukes, bathed in Mercury Prize spotlights
Wednesday night in London saw us heading to LSO St Lukes for an intimate gig by three of this year's Mercury Prize nominees, hosted by Nick Grimshaw.

alt-J at LSO St Lukes, 24/10/12
First on the bill were alt-J. It's no secret that 'An Awesome Wave' is my favourite album of the year, and it was great to be able to see them perform it live in such an intimate venue.

They played pretty much everything off the album, and the songs came across really well live. It will be great to see them develop as they get bigger and release their next album.
Next up was Michael Kiwanuka who, as well as being nominated for the Mercury, also won the BBC's Sound of 2012.

Michael Kiwanuka, LSO St Lukes 24/10/12
There's no denying that both Michael and his band are talented musicians, and a couple of the tracks in particular were brilliant, but for me there's nothing new or cutting edge about it. I'm sure it would've sounded awesome in the late sixties or early 70s though...

Orlando Weeks from The Maccabees
Last up were The Maccabees. I think their latest album 'Given To The Wild' is a real step forward in terms of songwriting and maturity. The band are used to playing in bigger venues than this these days, so this was a rare chance to get up close to them. There was an intensity to their live show that I wasn't expecting, and overall I was really impressed by them.
Channel 4 will be showing highlights from the gig next Wednesday night (31st October), and the winner of the Mercury Prize 2012 is announced on November 1st.

The Maccabbes, LSO St Lukes 24/10/12

Friday, 19 October 2012

New Music Mix - 19/10/12

A bit of a dark and moody mix for the dark and moody autumnal evenings. Click on the play button above to listen, the track listing is below.
  1. Halls - Ark
  2. Kelpe - City
  3. Night Works - I Tried So Hard (Extended Mix)
  4. Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man
  5. Chrome Canyon - Cave of Light
  6. Ultraista - Smalltalk (Four Tet Remix)
  7. Dam Mantle - Brothers Fowl
  8. Kidsuke - Tiny Concrete Block
  9. Flying Lotus - Tiny Tortures
  10. Jack Hayter - O Dreamland!
  11. Halls - Holy Communium
  12. Total Control - Scene From A Marriage

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Recommended music: 'Ark' by Halls

From its biblically-themed name, through most of the song titles, and on to the church organ on some of the tracks, this is an album that seems steeped in religious imagery. The overall effect is a bit like stumbling into a dark, old church after being outside in the hot sunshine - that sensation of a cool stillness together with the weight of history that descends on you. The tracks are so atmospheric that you could imagine the whole album having been recorded in somewhere like the Union Chapel in London (it would be great to see it performed live there). It's a record where the gaps in the music are as important as the music itself - there are whole seconds of nothingness where you can almost hear yourself breathing.

The reworking of a melody by Handel on 'White Chalk' tuns what could be a fairly average song into a tour de force of hope and loss. The choir from that track gives way to the haunting 'I'm Not There' - with lyrics like "Father I've gone away, left my shoes behind in the sand" it could as easily be a confession to a priest as a suicide letter to his family. The James Blake comparisons are likely to be wheeled out for this one and a few other tracks on the album, although there is a more natural, earthy and organic feel to the songs on Ark than there were on Blake's debut.

'Roses For The Dead' has an upbeat musical track for a song with such a downbeat title. Like a lot of the tracks on display here it's a complex one, with a break in the middle that seems designed to disconcert you, and various electronic and atmospheric noises coming into and out of focus as it progresses. The title track is a mix of plaintive solo piano and the sounds of someone playing it (breathing, creaking) which fades into 'Funeral'. Another surprisingly upbeat track for one that continues the theme of loss, you could easily find yourself nodding your head along to this one.

'Shadow of the Colossus' is the first track to feature 'real' (analogue) drums, which emerge as the track progresses and give it some real weight. It gives way to the choral piece 'Arc', just a series of 'oohs' really but which forms a break before 'Reverie'. Starting with an acoustic guitar, this is the most conventional song on the album, and as a result probably the least successful. Drums and bass guitar give it a 'band' feel but there's still a few tricks in the background  with highly echoed background vocals and a quiet instrumental break in the middle. 'Holy Communion' effectively wraps things up with a combination of all the sounds that have preceded it. There's melancholy piano, a choir in the background, some ticking percussion and some pretty low-down bass, before some frantic drumming closes the song out. This just leaves 'Winter Prayer' to shut things down with quiet, chiming keys and what may well be the sound of someone leaving the room at the end.

This is an astonishingly accomplished and mature début for one so young as 21 year old Sam Howard, and certainly marks him out as an artist to watch out for in the future. You can listen to the whole album and buy it from label No Pain In Pop below.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Recommended music: 'Lonerism' by Tame Impala

It's going to be difficult to review this album without mentioning The Beatles, so let's get it out of the way now - 'Lonerism' sounds a lot like the post 1966 psychedelic era Fab Four i.e. when they were at their most interesting. But that's not its only influence - from The Flaming Lips to glam rock there's a bag full of references here that never overwhelm the songs that Kevin Parker has created here. Instead they combine to create something that feels warmly familiar that you can luxuriate in, as the trippy guitars, harmonies and melodies dive out of your speakers and into your cerebral cortex. Don't get me wrong - this is not a record that sounds nostalgic - it's forward thinking and of its time. 'Lonerism' doesn't sound like a record that was made in the late '60s or early '70s - it's more like Parker has brought all of his favourite musicians from that era forward in time to see what they kind of songs they would make in 2012.

So what if 'Why Won't They Talk To Me' sounds like it was produced by Jeff Lynne (of E.L.O. fame)? Or if 'Elephant' matches the Super Furry Animals 'Golden Retriever' spliced with the instrumental section of Pink Floyd's 'Money' with some stuff off 'Animals' thrown in for good measure? Wonder instead at how one man in a studio in Perth, Australia, has made such a brilliant record, which matches fantastic music with lyrics about failed love, failed lives, and the general hopelessness of living. If 'Lonerism' is a lifestyle choice then expect many more people to be sucked into its cult of solo living if it results in this much creativity.

Possibly the best album ever to come out of Australia (can you suggest anything better?) and certain to feature on the end of year 'Top 10' lists of most discerning music critics - make sure it's on yours too.

You can listen to a couple of tracks from the album below.

Recommended music: 'Brothers Fowl' by Dam Mantle

Dam Mantle's musical development continues on this, his first full length album (released on Gold Panda's Notown record label). If all you've heard of Tom Marshallsay is the 'We' EP then you might be in for a surprise, as this release certainly showcases a more reflective and, dare I say it, more jazz-influenced side.

The opening 2 parts of Canterbury are bright, chiming and mellow, and put me in mind of some of the more electronic stuff that James Lavelle used to put out on Mo Wax back in the day. The rising and falling melodies are mildly hypnotic, and the second part works well as it reinforces the melodies of part 1 but also wanders off in new directions with a very jazzy bassline.

Next up the appropriately titled 'Lifting' lifts a saxophone line and loops it round, paired with some airy female vocals that sound a bit like Little Dragon.This brings us to my 2 favourite tracks on the record. First up is 'RGB', which features Raven Bush (nephew of Kate Bush) on strings and djembe. The mellow vibes of this track hide some pretty frantic rhythms as Tom builds up some spiky drum tracks from the djembe underneath the swooping strings. The title track 'Brothers Fowl' is even better, the perfect marriage of Marshallsay's earlier vocal-looping releases with the jazz feel of this one. A downbeat piano riff is matched with a hummed melody and some skittery drums to create a warm track that sounds almost improvised.

'Blueberry' samples 80s French underground musician Luc Marianni in a solid, rhythmic track, and then 'Ish' samples some slightly dischordant jazz horns and feeds them through Tom's electronic brain to create a constantly evolving track that gets better as it goes along.

Closer 'Spirit' takes a simple piano loop and creates the jazziest thing on display here - a great mix of electronic blips, hi-hats and snares, with a disembodied voice thrown in for good measure.

The vinyl comes with a full download of the album plus a couple of bonus tracks which are both worth hearing. 'Dublin' is probably the best of the two, a bass driven upbeat track with snatched vocals that mellows as it progresses. 'Full Moon & Moth' picks up the BPMs but still manages to fit in a double bass  and possibly even a clarinet as it bring the curtain down on the set.

With both this album and the new one from Flying Lotus displaying distinct jazz tendencies, maybe jazztronica will be the next big genre. You heard it here first!

Listen to the whole album below:

Friday, 12 October 2012

Track of the Day: 'Tiny Concrete Block' by Kidsuke

Just one of those tracks that buries into your head and you want to play over and over and over again. The tiny chiming sounds, the clicky percussion and the mega sub-bass combine to create a fairly massive tune.

Kidsuke are in fact 2 artists - Kidkanevil and Daisuke Tanabe. The track is taken from the album 'Brownswood electr*c 3' which is out now on Gilles Peterson's Brownswood label - click here for more information on it. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Recommended music: 'Elemental Themes' by Chrome Canyon

Not what you might be expecting from the Stones Throw label, and I must admit that having heard a couple of snatches of this before I got the album I thought I was going to hate it. But after the first play of the whole album end to end I loved it so much that I wanted to put it straight back on again.It's one of those rarities these days where listening to the album in one go really pays dividends - the more you sink into the mood and atmosphere of the record the better it gets.

So what does it sound like? Imagine the soundtrack to the best film Ridley Scott or John Carpenter never made. Imagine a record that sounds like electronic musical equipment had stopped being developed after about 1985. Imagine influences from Giorgio Moroder, Vangelis and Pink Floyd. Yes, that's a lot of imagining to do, but that's what this record encourages. As the tracks unfold you'll be picturing the scenes from a non-existent film, seeing the action played out in front of you as the music plays on. It's like Morgan Z (for he is Chrome Canyon) really did go back to the future to create a vision of the future that's welded to the past.

The title track even throws in some dialogue, as does 'Carfire on the Highway'. And as that staple of early 80s soundtracks, the saxophone, slowly drawls its way through an appearance on the fifth track, before making way for an evolution into something from A Clockwork Orange, you really will feel like you're in a cinematic time warp.

This is much more than a pastiche, or a homage to the past. There are some great melodies in here, some brilliant atmospherics, and hopefully the fact that Morgan's chosen specialist subject on Mastermind would appear to be 'classic electronic soundtracks' won't stop this record getting the exposure it deserves.

Right, I'm off to write a film called 'Elemental' so I can use this as the soundtrack, but in the meantime I'll leave you with this quote from 'Carfire On A Highway' which stands as a pretty good epitaph for the album:- "...a scorched reminder of what we saw ourselves as, and how far from it we still were...".

You can grab a free track from the album below.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Live - in pictures and video: Radiohead at The O2, London 8/10/2012

In a night potentially full of surprises, the first was that the ticketless system designed to foil the touts wasn't actually as laborious as it might have been, and 40 minutes after leaving the tube we were inside the arena.
Caribou on stage at The O2
Caribou were first, arriving bang on 7.30 and launching straight into what sounded like a new track. They followed this with a selection of highlights from 'Swim' which gradually pulled in more of the audience, finishing with a storming version of 'Sun'.

As they cleared the stage the questions began to be asked - what would Radiohead start with? Would they play anything brand new? What about Paranoid Android? For the answers to those see the set list below, but they came out of the blocks powerfully and managed to keep the energy level high all night.

Radiohead live at The O2
Another question formed - how and why had they cloned Phil Selway? The doppelgänger didn't seem to add much to the sound when he was onstage and it seemed to add a slight awkwardness to the stage set up. Meanwhile Radiohead continued to work their way through a set that seemed designed to keem them interested as much as us.

Radiohead live 8/10/12
Highlights? The fantastic stage set, with moving screens creating a constantly moving scene. New song 'Identikit', which was full of melody and hooks. The brilliant version of 'Give Up The Ghost' performed just by Thom and Jonny, as Thom's vocals were looped and built up into a choir of his own voice. The way 'Staircase', 'Feral' and 'Bloom' worked live, along with great versions of 'Myxomatosis' and 'Weird Fishes'. And Thom singing R.E.M's 'The One I Love' before starting 'Everything...'

Lowlights? 'Climbing Up The Walls', which for its first half seemed ill at ease and a bit out of tune. The way 'These Are My Wicked Words' really didn't work live. The lack of any songs at all from 'The Bends'. And a nagging feeling that something was missing, that there was no emotional engagement with the audience.

Don't get me wrong, it was really good, as Radiohead shows always will be. But maybe, now that Thom's got a certain swagger rather than his old timidness, and now that the band are driven by a desire to constantly explore and make music that keeps evolving, maybe it'll never be quite like it was.

Radiohead played:

  • Lotus Flower
  • 15 Step
  • Bloom
  • Kid A
  • The Daily Mail
  • Myxomatosis
  • Climbing Up The Walls
  • The Gloaming
  • Separator
  • These Are My Twisted Words
  • Like Spinning Plates
  • Nude
  • Identikit 
  • Karma Police
  • Feral
  • Idioteque
  • Pyramid Song
  • Staircase
  • Morning Mr Magpie
  • Weird Fishes / Arpeggi
  • Reckoner
  • Give Up The Ghost
  • There There
  • Everything In Its Right Place