Friday, 29 January 2016

Recommended music: 'Curve of the Earth' by Mystery Jets

Curve Of The Earth

I must admit that I was ready to write off Mystery Jets as a spent force. A few minor hits a few years ago, then doomed forever to play mid-afternoon festival slots and gradually decreasing venues. Boy was I wrong! This is their magnum opus and one which should put to bed any notions of them being a trivial, lightweight band.

Not wishing to pigeonhole the music, I won't use words like 'psychedelia', 'prog', or even 'adult rock'. Suffice to say that this is a mature, polished, classic sounding record, whatever genre you think if fits. The band have talked of feeling like 'a gang again', like when they first formed, and the music certainly feels like it's been made by a group that are fully aware of and comfortable with each other. You feel that any of the tracks could go off into an improvisation and however loose it got they'd never lose control.

There's a depth and breadth to these tunes that really fits the expansiveness of the album's title. Take 'Midnight's Mirror', one of the stand-out tracks for me, which over the course of 6 minutes fits a couple of different choruses, a bridge, some twinkling acoustic guitar and some jangly electric, a synth bass and all sorts of drum rhythms into a song that could go on twice as long and I still wouldn't be bored with it. It's followed immediately by '1985', which isn't a prologue to anything Taylor Swift might have written, but is instead a piano-led ballad about the planets aligning with human emotions that explodes halfway through with a Coldplay-esque (in a good way) guitar riff. Meanwhile the next track 'Blood Red Balloon' has a vocal not dissimilar to 'Echoes' by Pink Floyd, a guitar riff that reminds me of Genesis, and all sorts of other stuff going on.

Although I've listened to this album loads of times since it came out a couple of weeks ago I get the feeling that it's still got a lot more to give and that I won't be removing it from my headphones any time soon. An essential purchase.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Recommended music: 'Global Underground #41: James Lavelle presents UNKLE Sounds - Naples'

Global Underground #41: James Lavelle Presents Unkle Sounds - Naples

I must confess to being more than a bit disappointed with this when I first got it last year. This was mainly because, having paid £35 to buy the deluxe edition direct from Global Underground, I discovered that only got you the 2 full length mixes on the cd, and not the full individual tracks as well (I'm sure that wasn't what it said when I ordered it, and I'll come on to why I wanted them a bit later). And to be honest, the mixing on it isn't even all that great - there are some rather clunky transitions, the track ordering is a bit jarring in places, and overall I don't think it really works all that well as a DJ mix. So all that being said - why am I recommending it?

The truth is, you have to come at this from a different angle. It may not be a great mix cd, but what it is instead is a great document of James Lavelle, the records he's made, his collaborators and his remixes. At the start of this year I caved in and bought the download from Amazon, where for £9.99 you get 32 full length tracks and the 2 mixes. Even without the mixes that's 3 hours and 42 minutes of music, most of which Lavelle has at least a finger in, if not a whole hand. There are hard to find remixes, in particular 2 from the last Queens of the Stone Age album. There are tracks recorded live at UNKLE's Redux show at the Southbank in 2014. And there's a whole raft of UNKLE classics (which of course I've already got but are great to hear again). If you think you're not familiar with Lavelle's band then give this a listen and you'll realise that you know more than a few tracks. It's the closest thing there's been to an UNKLE greatest hits.

So ditch the deluxe edition, download the digital, and take a trip with UNKLE Sounds.

Recommended music: 'Infinite Summer' by NZCA Lines

Infinite Summer

The first essential album of the summer is here - and it's still only January! (I'm sure there must me some kind of marketing reason for releasing a summery-named and sounding album in the middle of winter, but it certainly escapes me.). Ostensibly the solo project of Michael Lovett, who's joined on this release by Sarah Jones (Hot Chip) and Charlotte Hatherley (Ash), the record melds sci-fi concepts with European electronica, resulting in a gloriously bright and warm sound. Themed around a vision of a future earth threatened with extinction by a sun that's expanded to a red dwarf. While one half of the Earth is embracing the destruction the other half is trying to build something new, but generally they're all having a good time because of the warmth of the sun - essentially they're partying like it's 1999, a track that's clearly been some inspiration for Lovett.

Musically it sounds a bit like Hot Chip, and a lot like Metronomy ('Dark Horizon' has a synth line like a slowed-down version of the one in 'The Look'), while the likes of Daft Punk and Ratatat can also be felt in the background.

My favourite thing on the record is the dual guitars of 'Persephone' which are an aural delight and something that deserves to be preserved in a time capsule for all eternity should the end of the world actually come upon us.

Anyone who's booking a summer festival should be putting NZCA Lines on the top of their booking list - I can just imagine how great this would sound in the sunshine at Glastonbury. If you're feeling the winter chill then buy this record, it'll warm your soul.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Snow storm song of the day: 'In-Between' by Chet Faker

For a song made in the middle of the biggest blizzard in living memory this is a remarkably upbeat, almost tropical-sounding track. Kicking off with some great drums, it mixes some Balearic-type guitar and bass with the voice of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio giving his speech about the emergency situation in New York. You can grab the track for free below.

Track of the Day: 'Pilgrim (feat. Brolin)' by Saturday, Monday

The unmistakeable vocal of Brolin are heavily featured on this track, which he co-wrote with Swedish producer Saturday, Monday. Undercutting the smooth vocals are stabs of dark electronica, glitchy strings and a ticking beat. Somehow the whole things gels to become a slick if slightly disconcerting modern r'n'b track, one that hints at the dark corners and forgotten encounters of the night club.

The track of out now on Playground Music.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Surprising cover version of the day - The Hackney Colliery Band do David Bowie

There'll probably be a lot of Bowie cover versions over the coming months. This week alone Greg Dulli has released his version of 'Modern Love' (you can get that here) and rumours have emerged of a certain Mr K West planning an album's worth of covers (which could be genius). But you'll have to go a long way to find one that celebrates the life of the former David Jones with as much fun and enjoyment as this. Ironically they were planning to put this out to celebrate the release of 'Blackstar', but instead it's become a way to celebrate his whole life. This would've sounded great at that street parade Arcade Fire arranged in New York for Bowie this week.

Anyway, play it & download it - it's free in return for a donation to Cancer Research UK or Macmillan Cancer Support.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Track of the Day: 'Passive Passive' by Hot Cops

This new track from the best new band from Belfast manages to be interesting while sounding disinterested - a clever trick of you can manage it. Mora than a bit reminiscent of 'Nancy Boy' by Placebo, it has a casual swagger that fits nicely with the slightly shonky guitar solo in the middle. The single is out next month on Paper Trail Records, and they're definitely a band to watch out for in 2016.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Track of the Day: 'Everything' by Chalk

2015-02-21 Chalk-6801

Recorded for Converse Rubber Tracks, this new song from the London-based duo mixes gentle bleeps and acoustic drums with some pretty soulful vocals. They've clearly got an ear for an 80s-style melody (say what you like about the shoulder pads & Yuppies, but the 80s had some killer hooks) but have brought things up to date by listening to the likes of James Blake and Chet Faker.

You can download the track for free via Soundcloud below.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Recommended music: 'Sketchy EP' by Star Slinger

Ahead of two further EPs due later in 2016 the man like Star Slinger has dropped this new EP on us, and it's far from as sketchy as the title would have you believe. Unlike his previous releases this one actually features him singing on some of the tracks, and his voice turns out to be a great accompaniment to his music.

While the rest of his releases are set to come out with proper label support this one is self-released. You can buy it from iTunes or download it fro free from Bandcamp, the choice is yours.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Recommended music: 'Blackstar' by David Bowie

Reviewing this album now, after everything that's happened this week, is in parts futile and in parts essential. I first listened to it on Friday and was struck by how cohesive it was, how much of a 'proper' album it is. To me 'The Next Day' started brilliantly but fizzled out, but this is great all the way through. Musically the tracks gel well together, existing in a somehow separate universe of Bowie's own devising. It sounds like nothing else around at the moment, with its mix of the jazz quartet (playing both within their comfort zone and outside of it), underpinning Bowie's ever-distinctive vocals. Lyrically it's off the wall in places - quotes from A Clockwork Orange, a woman who "hits you like a dude", titles from 16th century plays etc. - but somehow it all hangs together, brought together by a quiet contemplation of what the future holds, and what death might be like. At that point it was already sounding like a few more listens might reveal it as a real 'classic' album, one that really holds its own in the Bowie cannon.

And then - Monday. By 7am the news was coming though that he'd died, unbelievable, unfathomable news which turned out to be heartbreakingly true. The tributes piled in, and the detailed analysis of what this album actually meant began. And throughout it people began posting their favourite Bowie songs on social media. My timelines were full of them, and mostly everyone was picking something different - a true measure of both his genius and diversity. By the end of the day the "Where the fuck did Monday go?" line from 'Girl Loves Me' could've applied to any one of us as we stumbled to bed with his songs in our heads and a sense of loss in our hearts.

I've listened to this album every day since Monday, some times pouring over the lyrics and meanings, and at others just letting it flow through me. Was he expecting to be dead before it came out? "Look up here, I'm in heaven", the opening line from 'Lazarus'. certainly implies that. And the line that "Everybody knows me now" could't have been more true by the end of Monday. Then there's the title track 'Blackstar' (possibly named after a cancerous lesion) - "Something happened on the day he died, spirit rose a metre and stepped aside". Or 'Sue...' -  "The clinic called, the x-ray's fine, I brought you home" or 'I Can't Give Everything Away' - "I know something is very wrong, the pulse returns the prodigal sons, the blackout hearts, the flowered news, with skull designs upon my shoes". It's just impossible to hear it and not think of it as his parting gift to the world. And although it's sad, we should rejoice in the fact that he was able to do that, that he was well enough to craft something as beautiful as this record to leave with us as he departed.

There are plenty of Bowie records that everyone should own, but this has definitely become one of them.