One modern trend which I have yet to experience is the famous band from 10 or 20 years ago touring and playing the whole of one iconic album from start to finish. I got to thinking about this after a couple of pieces of news recently – firstly spotting that Adam Ant is playing the whole of ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ at the O2 Academy Brixton in June, and then discovering that Terrorvision are playing the whole of ‘Regular Urban Survivors’ during an autumn tour. Is it time I actually went along to one of these gigs?
Terrorvision were established as a solid and entertaining indie rock band when ‘Regular Urban Survivors’ emerged in 1996 – yes, 20 bloody years ago, can you believe it? The album had two priceless assets that immediately catapulted it to another level. Firstly, it had a theme running through it as Terrorvision recreated on record the classic cliches from a generation of action / crime / spy / thriller films. And secondly, it was brilliant, rollicking good fun. From the opening tyre screeches that usher in ‘Enteralterego’ (still my favourite track on the album, by the way) we are treated to a rollercoaster ride of riotous, unpretentious entertainment.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that every song is specifically linked to a definite movie theme, we do appear to have references to defusing bombs (‘Enteralterego’), supergrasses (‘Superchronic’), disposing of murder victims (‘Hide The Dead Girl’), car theft and joyriding (‘Conspiracy’), alien invasions (‘Didn’t Bleed Red’) and the worst hangover of all time (‘If I Was You’). I’m not entirely sure what ‘Perseverance’ is about (apart from whales and dolphins) but this is another great song, well deserving of the Top 5 position it reached in the UK chart as the album’s lead single. The slower tracks (‘Easy’, ‘Bad Actress’) work well too and the album essentially culminates in the highly entertaining ‘Celebrity Hit List’ as lead singer Tony Wright searches for a ‘fancy car for my fancy wife’. Indeed the lyrics are mostly great too with plenty of witty word play as well as the most magnificently mangled rhyming nonsense from ‘Conspiracy’ – ‘The dogio and the catio are fighting on the patio’.
Any weak spots? ‘Junior’ is uninteresting and ‘Mugwump’ always seemed to be a rather odd closing song to me, appearing to have wandered in from another record, although it did at least end in the same tyre screeches that started ‘Enteralterego’. This remains a hilariously entertaining album, and given how strong Terrorvision’s live reputation is, I suspect it will be fantastic seen live. It is a pity that Terrorvision never quite lived up to this lofty standard – despite a UK No 2 in 1999 with ‘Tequila’ the band broke up in 2001. It is good fortune for all of us that they reformed (minus original drummer Shutty) and remain a major live draw – and good fortune that they made ‘Regular Urban Survivors’ in the first place.
The timing of the release of Rosie Lowe’s debut album ‘Control’ is fascinating, certainly from a reviewer’s viewpoint. ‘Control’ has emerged in the same week as the much more heralded Jack Garratt’s debut ‘Phase’, reviewed in these pages a few days ago, and the stylistic and structural similarities between Lowe and Garratt are immediately striking on listening to the two works. The results are startlingly different, at least commercially. Garratt’s album entered the UK Album Chart at No 3, only headed by the unit-shifting behemoths that are Adele and David Bowie. Lowe is nowhere to be seen. Does that reflect the difference in quality between the two albums? As ever, there are lies, damned lies and the Official UK Charts.
Lowe is in her mid-twenties and hails from Exeter, although she has lived in London for eight years (she studied at Goldsmiths). Her music mixes R+B influences with subdued keys, jagged cuts and breaks and prominent experimental chords and rhythms while her sharp, sinuous vocals bring FKA Twigs to mind more than once. Single ‘Who’s That Girl’ is an early highlight, but ‘Worry ‘Bout Us’ is another strong song, and I enjoyed the way that the muted sharpness of the piano gives way to softer synths in ‘Woman’. It’s intriguing and thoughtful stuff, but there is also a spikiness and a reticence about Lowe, almost as if she is wary of her experimentation whereas Garratt seems to revel in his. You find yourself listening for the big kicker, the track that elevates the album to the next level.
Then, two thirds of the way in, it happens. From the first bars of ‘Nicole’ you know you are getting something different. The melody is moving and emotional, Lowe’s voice has gained extra soul, and it suddenly feels as if she has learned how to meld the disparate parts of her craft. ‘Nicole’ is six minutes long and it is a stunning, beautiful piece of music. Album closer ‘For You’ is another striking work, a love song with broken edges as Lowe asks ‘What you gonna give me for giving it all?’
Music with broken edges – maybe that describes ‘Control’ best. But there is intelligence and imagination behind this work, and when those pieces come together, the effect is mesmerising. It will be fascinating to see what Lowe does next. To conclude, I have given this album an identical score to ‘Phase’. I think that is a much better reflection of its merit than the Official Charts, don’t you?
There are some significant movers on this week’s Heatseekers Chart, notably from last week’s featured act, Dancing Years who have leapt from No 21 to No 3 with ‘Learn To Kiss’. Both ‘Ablaze’ and ‘Ritual Spirit’ are scheduled to enter the main chart on Monday, so ‘Learn To Kiss’ looks very likely to be the Heatseekers No 1 next week. However, they do have to contend with the week’s star act Halsey – after her fabulous performance at the O2 Academy Brixton on Tuesday, ‘Colors’ is the highest Heatseekers new entry at No 4 while ‘Badlands’ has spectacularly rebounded to match its original Album Chart peak position of No 2.
Two other songs to highlight this week – firstly The Chainsmokers, with the assistance of 17 year old Pittsburgh resident Daya have rocketed from No 32 to No 10 with ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. The band are also climbing the Singles Chart rapidly with ‘Roses’ – this is high class EDM from an act who were previously best known for the highly irritating but very catchy semi-novelty single ‘#Selfie’ from 2014. Then we have one of the UK’s classiest young pop singers, Shura who had two Top 10 hits on the Singles Chart last year with ‘Indecision’ (No 3) and ‘2Shy’ (No 6) – her new single ‘Touch’ arrives this week on the Heatseekers Chart at No 13. Shura has mastered the very difficult art of putting together songs which appear minimalist and straightforward, with a minimum of bells and whistles, but which rapidly make a major impression. ‘Touch’ is another prime example, and looks set to follow up her major success last year. Although it was the lesser hit, it was ‘2Shy’ that won Best Pop Song in the 2015 Dave’s Chart Awards – it is also the only song I can think of that mentions Uxbridge in the lyrics, by the way.
Check the full list on the Heatseekers tab – there are so many strong new songs around that I have expanded the chart to a Top 60 this week.
The writers I most aspire to emulating in my own work tend to be film reviewers. Probably my favourites are James Berardinelli, Peter Travers and Stephanie Zacharek, but I have a soft spot for the biting criticism of the doyen of the New Yorker for many years, Pauline Kael. One of Kael’s most famous reviews was for the 1970 musical ‘Song Of Norway’. She didn’t like it much, describing it as being of ‘unbelievable badness’ and memorably concluding ‘you can’t get angry at something this stupefying – it seems to have been made by trolls’. For some odd reason this classic line sprang into my head near the end of my first listen to ‘Reverie’, the new album by Scandinavian ‘dream pop’ band Postiljonen.
Postiljonen are Norwegian Mia Boe, and Swedes Joel Nostrum Holm and Daniel Sjors. There is something of M83, and something of Sigur Ros about their music, but they seem to have forgotten that you do need to actually give the audience some detail and some depth to your tracks. Their songs are certainly appropriately dreamy, with high pitched choral vocals and loops of synthesisers. All is OK to start with, but the vocals gradually become more and more whispery and breathy, and the music more and more ethereal and featureless, and the overall effect is increasingly soporific. There are signs of life as occasional songs struggle to escape from the syrupy sea of synthesised slurp – current single ‘How Can Our Love Be Blind’ has some appealing jangliness, and ‘Blood Flow’ actually has some brass in it somewhere – but as the album dragged on to low point ‘This Deep’ I entered a reverie of my own (at least the album is well named). I had just decided that Postiljonen would be a useful addition to the hospital where I work if we ever ran out of midazolam when suddenly along came album closer ‘Postlude’ – and it was great! The band discovered tonal changes, and staccato sections, and audible lyrics, and instruments that were actually working well with the swirls of synths instead of being drowned by them. So Postiljonen can write decent and striking songs – perhaps next time round we should have a few more of them.
When it comes to the arts my first impressions are usually right. I do remember the first time I watched Friends I thought it was the worst sort of American happy clappy rubbish, and I also remember expecting that ‘The Pinkprint’ would be a load of old nonsense about butts and bitches after I heard the (still astonishingly awful) ‘Anaconda’. But apart from that – no, not wrong much. I was wrong about Jack Garratt though . I really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about when his first two singles ‘The Love You’re Given’ and ‘Breathe Life’ appeared in my main playlist. They just sounded a bit weird – chopped up bits and pieces with nothing to hook onto. Neither made my Top 100. Then along came ‘Worry’, a much more instant song which is poised to make its Dave’s Chart debut in the next couple of weeks, and I have now had my first listen to Garratt’s debut album ‘Phase’. And do you know what? I really enjoyed it.
I suppose it is a bit odd that I had trouble with ‘The Love You’re Given’ and ‘Breathe Life’ because I do enjoy the type of trip hop electronic cutting that runs through ‘Phase’. Perhaps what I needed to do was to hear all the songs alongside each other, instead of popping up randomly next to some Wolf Alice or Selena Gomez. Then you really do get the feel of the flow of the music, skipping from the lyrically gorgeous ‘Weathered’ through the introspective ‘I Know All What I Do’ and into the more uptempo ‘Surprise Yourself’. I know Garratt is keen to define his music as ‘genreless’ and indeed there is the odd moment coming from left field here – particularly the tender piano ballad ‘My House Is Your Home’ which ends the album. But he does also have a style and a sound which is uniquely his: aided of course by his immediately recognisable vocal. Occasionally the experiments go a bit far – in ‘Chemical’ particularly – but overall there is a mood, a theme that pulls the whole work together. Garratt is a forward thinking, innovative musician, and this is a fascinating and thoroughly contemporary album.
‘Not many men here tonight are there?’ I asked the security guy on the doors of the O2 Academy. ‘No – it’s all girls’ he said. ‘Little girls’ he added after a moment’s consideration. I can’t quite remember the last time I have felt so out of place at a gig. I was expecting a young audience, for sure – but 95% of the people queueing round the block in Brixton and cramming near the front to see Halsey last night were teenage girls. There must be other men of ‘a certain age’ who enjoyed Halsey’s excellent debut album ‘Badlands’, a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic last year, but if there were, they certainly weren’t in Brixton. To make matters worse, my wife was separated from me in the teenage crush at the front, so I busied myself with helpfully passing cups of water around and trying not to look too much like an old lech.
Halsey has said that she has learned something about live shows from Kanye West. If her approach to making an entrance and owning the audience from the first song of the set is anything to go by, she’s got very little to learn from anyone. As a statement of intent the opening trio of songs, ‘Gasoline’, ‘Hold Me Down’ and ‘Castle’ were as powerful as you could get as Halsey, complete with bucketloads of attitude and dressed in a skimpy top, alarmingly short shorts and knee high boots prowled around the stage to their sparse, pounding bass beats. ‘Do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me’ she snarls, and the whole place is in complete tumult. She projects an image of total assuredness and self confidence, but she was also genuinely warm and appreciative of the audience and clearly very touched to be playing such an iconic venue.
Her music is a fascinating blend of the artists her parents listened to – not just The Notorious BIG and Nirvana (as namechecked in ‘New Americana’) but hip hop influences from 2Pac and Bone Thugs N’ Harmony on her father’s side and electro influence from The Cure on her mother’s side. ‘Ghost’ is a great example of this, with its synth intro and rap section, but there is also the smooth electro backing of ‘Control’, a proper and very moving love song in ‘Is There Somewhere’ and probably the closest she gets to true pop, ‘Roman Holiday’, transformed into a real singalong live. Oddly the singles don’t quite make the same impression – the intricate instrumentals and long fade out of ‘Drive’ were always going to be difficult to reproduce live, but the chorus of ‘Hurricane’ also sounded a little subdued. But she kicked it back into gear with ‘Colors’ to end the main set, and she looked truly choked up at the conclusion of encore song ‘Young God’. She is well supported by a very tight and slick backing band, and the visuals are excellent, perfectly matching the pace and beats of the music. And it is very hard to forget the sheer power and impact of those opening three songs.
So where were all the boys? Why would they not want to see Halsey? We are all agreed that her music is exceptional, aren’t we? A thought – and I’m not sure about this as a theory, but there is something dominant and intimidating about Halsey. She herself described ‘Badlands’ as ‘an angry female record’. And sadly there are lots of inadequate men out there who can’t deal with female empowerment. Get over it, guys. And the girls? Well, Halsey is cool and sassy. She is forthright and self assured. She writes fantastic songs and performs them superbly. Wouldn’t you want to aspire to be like this woman if you were a 14 year old girl? That must be it.
As predicted last week, Lanterns On The Lake have reclaimed the Number One spot on Dave’s Singles Chart with ‘Through The Cellar Door’, which jumps from No 5. With ‘Faultlines’ still in the Top 3 and ‘Beings’ on top of the album chart, Lanterns On The Lake are dominating in a way we have not seen since the chart revived just over 2 years ago. They are the fifth act to have had two No 1’s in that period, by the way. The other four might give you some more idea of my musical tastes – Foxes, Gabrielle Aplin, Meg Myers and Lapsley. The next potential challenger to ‘Through The Cellar Door’ is not immediately obvious – for all its brilliance, Little Mix’s ‘Secret Love Song Part II’ appears to have ground to a halt at No 4. Mystery Jets log their career first Top 10 single as ‘Telomere’ climbs to No 7, while significant climbers further down include three songs I confidently predict will make the Top 10: ‘Roses’ from The Chainsmokers (37 to 22), ‘Strange Hellos’ from Torres (56 to 32) and ‘Cascades’ from High Highs (61 to 34). Take a look at the video for ‘Strange Hellos’ by the way – truly scary as Torres spits venom to a malevolent distorted backing track. Totally brilliant – unless your name is Heather and you know Torres of course! Here’s the Top 20 – check the tab for the full Top 100.
Now the SuperBowl bounce is over we can confidently state that the performance of the first two singles from Coldplay’s No 1 album ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’ is worse than that of the first two singles from any of their previous six albums. At least one single from each album made the Top 5 – as the graphic below indicates, ‘Adventure Of A Lifetime’ and ‘Everglow’ have done less well.
There’s hope yet for a revival – the most successful single from ‘Viva La Vida’ was third cut and No 1 ‘Lost!’ – but first listen to ‘Hymn For The Weekend’ does not suggest that things will significantly change for ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’. I am going to predict that a minority of the songs on this album will appear on the setlist of their summer shows at Wembley. We will see.
There are some absolute superstars in the Top 10 of this week’s Heatseekers Chart – both generally accepted superstars (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, PJ Harvey, Massive Attack, Pet Shop Boys, Adele) and superstars in my eyes (Lapsley, School Of Seven Bells, Foxes). Into this heady mix jump Lissie, subject of Thursday’s album review with her dark, sinister ‘Shroud’ and Danish four piece Lukas Graham with recent UK Number One ‘7 Years’. You can tell when music writers reach a certain age, because they start reminiscing about their youth and getting teary eyed at lyrics like ‘Soon I’ll be 60 years old, my daddy got 61’ (my own father was 3 weeks off his 61st birthday when he died) and ‘I hope my children come and visit once or twice a month’. I don’t think I can actually tell if this is a good song or not – I’m too busy thinking about the future when it comes on. Incidentally how many of you thought that Lukas Graham was some mid Western American singer when they first heard the name? Me too.
One name to note are Leeds based Dancing Years, whose first Dave’s Heatseekers Chart appearance is with an absolute epic. ‘Learn To Kiss’ is a beautiful, poignantly emotional song with gentle keyboards and slowly building guitars. One review site has described Dancing Years as an amalgam of Jeff Buckley and The Blue Nile… but I’m not sure that’s quite right. There’s more than a hint of Bon Iver in there too, and that’s high praise. Take a look at the video below, and check out the whole chart on the Heatseekers tab.
OK, here’s something to get excited about. American singer Lissie has released her third album, ‘My Wild West’, and it’s a peach. Who is Lissie, for starters? She is 33 year old Elisabeth Corrin Maurus, originally from Illinois, and she has released two albums both of which made the UK Top 20 in 2010’s ‘Catching A Tiger’ and 2013’s ‘Back To Forever’. There is clearly something about her folk tinged music that strikes a chord with a UK audience, so I do not think I will be the only British blogger praising her newest release.
Lissie’s music combines elements of folk and country with something of a West Coast tinge… think Cam meets Lana Del Rey, maybe. Her songs are mostly gentle and steadily paced, but there is a darker quality to some of the music and passion and poetry in her lyrics. First single ‘Don’t You Give Up On Me’ leans towards country, and the reflective ‘Sun Keeps Risin’ and the ballad ‘Together Or Apart’ provide further straightforward examples of folk rock. Occasionally her voice lets her down – she struggles a little with the high notes in closing track ‘Ojai’ – although when she throttles back there is an appealing huskiness which you feel she could use more often.
But when she tries out slightly edgier arrangements, such as in ‘Daughters’ with its foreboding start and message of female strength her music reaches another level. The best example of this is the excellent ‘Shroud’, a superb song with crawling guitars giving way to more potent rhythms half way through. ‘Something’s missing – I just cannot find it again… Where are all my friends?’ It’s bleak but it’s gorgeous. And she can nail classic folk pop too – ‘Hollywood’ is an absolute winner and a surefire hit. Lissie has recorded an album with much to enjoy and admire, and an album that I think will grow and develop with repeated listening. This could be her time.
Foals are the country’s No 1 band at the moment. Their artistic merit and credibility have never been in doubt, they won three Dave’s Chart Awards for 2015, including Song Of The Year for ‘What Went Down’ and they have always been recognised as a stunning live act. Tonight was our first experience of their live show and we were not disappointed after a performance of colossal energy and volume threatened to take the roof off the SSE Arena.
What makes them so good live? Well, their songs lend themselves perfectly to live performance, particularly now the stadium rock power of ‘What Went Down’ has been added to the funk influences on ‘Holy Fire’ and ‘Antidotes’. This is a rock band who can make you dance before they blow your ears off. Central to the Foals sound are their sublime rhythm guitarist Jimmy Smith, driving the funkier numbers, and their outstanding drummer Jack Bevan, blasting the set along. It’s a heady concoction behind charismatic front man Yannis Philippakis’ vocal, right from the point when the slinky ‘Snake Oil’ opens the set.
Foals have such a superb selection of songs now that they can put together a set list that takes the crowd through the full range of moods. The danceability of ‘My Number’ moves into the more reflective ‘Birch Tree’ and recent single ‘Give It All’ before ‘Mountain At My Gates’ kicks up the pace again. This song somehow sounds funkier than on record – and this is another of Foals’ tricks. Performed live, several of the songs take on a new life – ‘Spanish Sahara’ is transformed into a real epic, while ‘Providence’ blows you away with its stunning power.
The lighting and sound mixing was spot on throughout too, as highlighted by the last two songs in the main set – the eerie video backdrop to the magnificent ‘A Knife In The Ocean’ and the main arena lights being thrown on for the chorus of a barnstormingly brilliant ‘Inhaler’. There is time left then for ‘What Went Down’ and for mayhem to descend during the riotous closer ‘Two Steps Twice’ as Philippakis disappeared into the crowd for his usual surfing. This is a band at the absolute height of their powers, both on record and live. Do not miss a chance to see them – you won’t forget it!