Introducing… Kate Jackson, Hannah Lou Clark and Sara Hartman

hartmanFirst off, perhaps I should say ‘reintroducing’ when I talk about Kate Jackson, who may well be familiar to indie fans of ten or so years ago. Jackson, who hails from Suffolk was briefly a darling of the indie scene in the mid 2000’s with her Sheffield formed band The Long Blondes. Named as ‘Britain’s best unsigned band’ in 2006 by The Guardian, and winners of the NME’s Philip Hall Radar Award, The Long Blondes signed to Rough Trade and released two critically acclaimed albums in 2006’s ‘Someone To Drive You Home’ and 2008’s ‘Couples’. Then guitarist and principal songwriter Dorian Cox suffered a stroke, and the band amicably agreed to split.

Jackson started to sketch out songs with Bernard Butler after meeting him at an after show party in Kings Cross before moving to Rome, where she lived for four years on and off and worked on her other interest as a visual artist. Her painting has developed since she moved back to her native East Anglia, but the musical bug rarely releases its grip once it has bitten you, and Jackson hooked back up with Butler to develop the songs they had begun some years before on her return to the UK in 2014. And the result is her new album ‘British Road Movies’ and its lead single ‘The End Of Reason’. The album aims at a cinematic feel to the music, tapping into Butler’s ambitious production alongside his recognisable guitar and Jackson’s vocal excellence. ‘The End Of Reason’ is a perfect introduction to this album, with its electro back beat and widescreen feel. “Forget, no regrets… your children will not be proud of you” – the lyrics hit the mark too. Jackson’s aim is that every track on the album could be a movie theme – we’ll take a listen in a few days and see if she and Butler have achieved that lofty aim. It’s good to have her back.

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It’s very good to introduce Hannah Lou Clark as well. She will I suspect be a lot less familiar, although fans of acts as diverse as Gaz Coombes and Lonely The Brave will have seen her supporting them earlier this year. Clark actually set out as FOE, a guitar thrashy slightly off the wall act that reminded some reviewers of a PJ Harvey parody, but over the last two or three years she has dropped the noise, taken hold of her real musical self and switched to what feels like a mature, introspective but still candid style of music. It’s quiet in places but fascinating too – good enough to hook a crowd of Lonely The Brave fans, which is a pretty impressive effort. Debut EP ‘Silent Type’ appeared in late 2014 and picked up considerable interest, and Clark has now followed this up with ‘It’s Your Love’. The EP’s title track is an outwardly bouncy, poppy song, but lurking behind it is the stunningly brilliant ‘Cowboy Joe’, currently making rapid headway up the Heatseekers Chart. This is all low-fi guitars and laid back, sensuous vocals as Clark tells of her love – “When you look in my direction, angels appear in the ceiling”. This man has clearly captivated her, and as we reach the closing lyric “I feel comfort when I think of you, your hand on my heart”, you realise just what a sexy song this is. It’s superb stuff from an artist with a huge future.

hartmanFinally the fresh faced newcomer to the scene is 20 year old Sara Hartman, a native of Sag Harbor in the Hamptons. A year or so ago Hartman jumped on a plane to Berlin to pursue her dream of making music. Inspired by the musical and artistic education she received from her parents (her mum creates visual art) Hartman has worked out a blend of pop with punch and heart which is instantly appealing. She has certainly attracted attention – she supported no less than Ellie Goulding on her recent European tour, and has played support in the States for X Ambassadors before embarking on her own solo headlining tour in Europe (oddly missing out the UK, but there’s plenty of time for that). ‘Monster Lead Me Home’ was her first major release, but she has now hit a real sweet spot with ‘Satellite’, her debut Dave’s Singles Chart hit. It’s breezy, and hook filled, with a bit of a catch in the chorus. “I can love you if you let me… but love, you’ve got to let me’ goes the lyrical refrain. Do you know what I like best about Hartman? Her voice is something else – it’s as if she’s not singing the song but confiding her deepest thoughts to us. It makes the whole song so much more personal and engaging. She has got huge potential if she can keep that little bit of an twist to her music. I do hope she won’t slip into the same trap that Ellie Goulding fell into – Goulding’s intially interesting, indie styling petered out very early and left us with the rather dull, prosaic artist we see today. My suspicion is that Hartman has rather more to her than that.

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Classic Album Revisited – Donna Lewis, Now In A Minute

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Now, here’s someone you won’t have thought about for twenty years or so. I hadn’t thought about her for years myself, but every week when I am setting up the playlist I always include some of my favourite songs from the past. And so it happened that last week the very familiar sound of Donna Lewis’ worldwide hit from 1996, ‘I Love You Always Forever’ with that sublime, near acapella intro appeared, and that prompted me to take another listen to her debut album ‘Now In A Minute’ today.

There are some disadvantages to launching your career with such a recognisable, iconic song as ‘I Love You Always Forever’. It is easy to forget 20 years later what a colossal hit this was – it spent nine weeks at No 2 in the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (extraordinarily being kept from No 1 by ‘Macarena’), was a Top 5 hit virtually everywhere else and at one time held the record for the most radio plays for any single, ever. You could I suppose be forgiven for jumping to conclusions about Lewis and her musical style based on this one song – think soppy transatlantic love songs set to a slightly tame, overproduced electro backbeat? Well, there are love songs aplenty on ‘Now In A Minute’, the backbeat is certainly electro and the production is a little intrusive in places, but there is so much more to enjoy in this excellent and unjustly ignored album. Two things in particular – Lewis’ breathy, gentle vocal is emotional, and haunting, and in some songs sends shivers down your spine, and these shivers are accentuated by her acute, soul searching lyrics.

There are pretty standard adult oriented pop type cuts here – album opener ‘Without Love’ has no surprises in the melody, ‘Nothing Ever Changes’ and ‘Love And Affection’ are pretty songs without a lot of punch. But there is startling edge in the lyrics to ‘Without Love’ – “Give me some value, some worth” sings Lewis, before crying “I mean nothing, nothing to you… and I’m broken, broken in two”. Her tribute song ‘Mother’ could have been unbearably sloppy, but Lewis turns the song on its head two thirds of the way through, amending the lyrical refrain just enough to make the song a paean of joyous appreciation to whoever you want to think about while listening – “You give me life, you give me love”. ‘Simone’ is mysterious, haunting, slowly paced and beatless, and echoes ethereally around your mind – I’d forgotten quite what a lovely song it is. ‘Fools Paradise’ is more uptempo, with the mid-Atlantic backbeat working nicely with Lewis’ vocal. And then there is the monster hit itself. Why people can’t be content with the original cut of ‘I Love You Always Forever’ is a mystery. We have to have Philly remixes, and ridiculous editing which cuts off the wonderful opening… just leave it alone, people. It’s heartfelt and gorgeous, and that first line as Lewis sings “Feels like… I’m standing in a timeless dream”…

But the two best songs on the album are the last two. ‘Lights Of Life’ appears to tell the story of a plane crash, and a group of survivors lost in a frozen, barren wilderness before they are rescued. It is powerfully evocative, and beautifully constructed, particularly in the spoken section before the fade out. “It was my birthday the day they found me – now I am one week old, my life from this moment begins again”. You imagine that this is exactly how it feels to survive such a cataclysm. As an example of how Lewis’ songwriting could spread beyond the straightforward, you couldn’t have bettered it. But then, but then… the most beautiful, emotional, heartbreaking memorial song I have ever heard follows in the simple, plaintive ‘Silent World’. I don’t know why Lewis wrote this song, or who she wrote the song for, but love and loss fills every second. By the time we reach the last couplet, we are all lost. “If I could open the heavens above I’d be with you… If I could hold you again in my arms I would tell you that I love you”. Many people on line have written of the strength this perfect piece of music has given them at the worst of times. What greater praise could we give ‘Silent World’ than this?

And what of Lewis since ‘Now In A Minute’? She has slid rapidly into obscurity after follow up album ‘Blue Planet’ vanished largely without trace – her record label Atlantic dropped her (way to show gratitude, guys) and two independently released albums cut little ice. But Lewis is still out there, and she is still making music, having made her way via classical and electro themes to a jazz influenced, largely covers album called ‘Brand New Day’. The album has already had a release in the States last year but appears in the UK in a couple of weeks. I’ll be taking a listen, I think. So, maybe this was a good time to revisit ‘Now In A Minute’ and to say that Donna, some of us do remember you, and some of us are still deeply moved by your music, even twenty years on.

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Dave’s Heatseekers Chart Update

It’s a tricky job writing a blog sometimes. You will have seen very few updates over the last couple of weeks – when you are juggling blogging with work and a wide range of other interests it can be difficult to keep on top of things. So apologies for the lack of recent updates, but I am planning to kick things off much more frequently next week. And just look at what we have coming up in the next three weeks – gigs from Walking On Cars, Phoria and a trip to Wembley to see Coldplay on the 19th. There’s plenty to write about.

One of the major musical events which sadly has passed me by this week is Radiohead’s concerts at The Roundhouse. The first night was last night, and the reviews I’ve seen suggest that the gig was something approaching outstanding. I didn’t even try to buy tickets, to be honest – given that they sold out in about a nanosecond I would have stood very little chance. Very pleased that Planet Telex figured in the setlist for last night, by the way. Anyway, Radiohead celebrate their return to the live stage by not being Nos 1 and 2 in the Heatseekers Chart anymore, because Lissie has dislodged them with her wonderful single ‘Hollywood’. It’s such a beautifully sung, beautifully moving song, and that final burst of defiance sounds increasingly like a cry in the dark every time I hear it. A resurgence for ‘My Wild West’ will be coming up in the album chart tomorrow I suspect.

One of the other problems with being ludicrously busy is that you can’t always listen to as much music as you would like to. Some interesting albums slip past without being noticed until a single appears that gives you a nudge back in the right direction. Most obviously it happened with The Jezabels, as ‘Synthia’ was sitting around unheard until ‘Come Alive’ appeared. It might be about to happen with Little Green Cars, whose sophomore album ‘Ephemera’ has yet to appear on my playlist. It will be there next week, because single ‘Easier Day’ has enjoyed a superb rise up the Heatseekers Chart from No 38 to No 4. Little Green Cars are a five piece from Dublin, and yes, they do fit the Dave’s Chart formula of being an indie rock band with a tendency towards epic adventurous music and a female singer in Faye O’Rourke. ‘Easier Day’ is gorgeous, yet as with so many songs I love, it has a little twist at the heart of the lyrics. “It gets better, better, better, when I hear my mother crying in her sleep” sings O’Rourke, adding “It gets better… when I know that all the crying is for me”. ‘Ephemera’ is the kind of album title that holds mystery and intrigue too – it is named for a WB Yeats poem of the same name, a reflection on loss and farewell. Guitarist Adam O’Regan’s father Hugh (who actually gave the band their unusual name) died unexpectedly at just 49, soon after the band’s debut album ‘Absolute Zero’ had been released, and this tragedy has clearly influenced aspects of the band’s progression. A review of ‘Ephemera’ to come next week.

The other big climber this week does at least have a listened-to album behind it, and bloody good it is too. Beverly are a two piece from Brooklyn, consisting of Drew Citron and Scott Rosenthal, and I reviewed their second album ‘The Blue Swell’ in my other musical role, as an occasional album and gig reviewer for Subba Cultcha. ‘The Blue Swell’ launches spectacularly from a slight hint of girl-vocal led electro pop into a punchy, pacey set of songs with fascinatingly obscure lyrics, and standout cut ‘South Collins’ (which climbs from No 22 to No 7 this week) is a superb example of Beverly’s craft. The band manage to cram an entire film noir script featuring a past time murder and its effect on the present day into a four minute song (plus excellent accompanying video). It’s intriguing, engrossing stuff.

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Dave’s Chart Update

We talked about the strength of the current top singles last week, and the chart reflects that again this week. The Top 3 are unchanged, and with Skyes, The Slow Show and Daughter all making significant progress up the chart as well, we may have little movement in the top 5 over the next two or three weeks. The songs which are making the most impressive moves in the chart this week are Jones and ‘Hoops’, her gorgeous and heartbreaking tale of unrequited love which leaps from No 45 to No 18, and Eyre Llew whose ‘The Deep’ rockets from No 67 to No 33. This gives Eyre Llew two Top 40 hits, with ‘Fero’ still impressing at No 23 (and still increasing its chart points, despite the fact that it has dropped down the chart this week. Not bad for a band who were still unsigned when I last checked.

There are only six new entries this week – well, actually five new entries and one re-entry from Lonely The Brave, whose ‘What If You Fall In’ has been off the chart for three weeks after its original entry. Their new album ‘Things Will Matter’ is up for review later this week: take a listen to the excellent ‘Rattlesnakes’ for another example of a band who might be about to break through. Obviously if there is any justice in the world the real breakthrough this week should come for The Duke Spirit though. You will already know how highly I rate their new album ‘Kin’, and the standout track from that album ‘Wounded Wing’ is the highest new entry this week at No 55. It’s a beautiful, moving, emotional ballad, perfectly sung by Liela Moss and guest Mark Lanegan, and it is the kind of song that makes me wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t seem to agree with my view on what superb music actually is. I mean, there is no dispute about this song at all, surely?

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The Duke Spirit – Kin Album Review

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The Duke Spirit might just be one of the best bands that you have never heard of. They have been around since 2003, and have released three previous albums – the most successful of these was 2005’s debut set ‘Cuts Across The Land’, which peaked at No 40 on the UK album chart. ‘Kin’ follows something of a hiatus for the band which saw founder members Liela Moss and Toby Butler work on a new project called Roman Remains, and new bass player Rich Fownes join the five piece (the band’s other members are Luke Ford and Oliver Betts). I first came across The Duke Spirit via recent single ‘Blue And Yellow Light’, the lead track on ‘Kin’. This sounds like fairly standard indie / electro rock at first listen, but gradually takes on stronger life. Moss’ vocal is matched with that of long time friend Mark Lanegan, and there’s an unmistakeable Cocteau Twins vibe going on too, courtesy of producer Simon Raymonde. The song, about the heightened sense of being one experiences through loss, gently swoops and hooks you in. It’s a great lead in to a very solid collection of songs.

There are some things which are immediately apparent about The Duke Spirit, and one of them is their varied and always interesting approach to changes of pace and mood. Second cut ‘Sonar’ growls along on deep guitars, stepping up the momentum. Then we have the standout track on the album, the glorious current single ‘Wounded Wing’. Raymonde plays the piano as Moss and Lanegan share a tender ballad, his deep baritone perfectly matching her honeyed vocal. “I sail like a summer lost – to a cold front, freezing fog”…the lyrics are emotive and fascinating too. It’s a beautiful piece of music. The album maintains this high standard superbly. ‘Hands’ is pacey and almost punky in its styling. ‘Here Comes The Vapour’ floats in ethereally, but has a spooky feel to it. It twists and turns before a prolonged, melancholic fade. In contrast ‘Anola’ kicks in much more forcefully, the punchiness of Betts’ drums to the fore here. There’s always something unexpected happening – I even thought I heard a theremin quivering away in the backdrop to ‘Pacific’.

There’s not a bad track here, and the band have kept things neat and compact with an album that is exactly the right length, and that ends in exactly the right way with the sedate ‘Follow’. The Duke Spirit’s return for a decade of music is ludicrously low, in chart terms at least. ‘Kin’ managed to enter the UK chart at No 72 last week. Its debut at No 6 on my album chart is a much better indication of its merit. I am going to keep my fingers crossed that reviews like this one, and the power of superb songs like ‘Wounded Wing’ will bring them to a few more people’s attention. Listening to ‘Kin’ certainly brightened up my day.

****

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Dave’s Singles Chart Update

The Jezabels hit four weeks and counting at No 1 with ‘Come Alive’, holding off Gnash and Olivia O’Brien’s ‘I Hate U I Love U’ which is in its fourth week at No 2. Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s ‘See You Again’ spent seven weeks at No 2 last summer waiting for Stina Nordenstam’s ‘Murder In Mairyland Park’ to vacate the top spot, and ‘I Hate U I Love U’ is now accumulating enough points to be No 1 in a normal week, so I suspect it is not going anywhere in a hurry. ‘See You Again’ did eventually reach No 1, of course. Laurel has jumped past Daya and Skyes to No 3 with ‘Life Worth Living’, but the biggest threat to the top 2 must be The Slow Show, even though ‘Breaks Today’ only moves up one place this week. We have tickets to see The Slow Show later this year at Bush Hall – their live shows are something special I understand.

Also on the gig list for later this year and also a major threat for the top spot are Daughter: ‘How’, the third single from their No 1 album ‘Not To Disappear’ has shot up from No 35 to No 12, making it this week’s highest climber. This is yet another sad song in a chart full of them. “Holding on, souvenirs, his words inked from birthdays. Goodbye to our empty ruins – yeah, that’s when I saw her” sings Elena Tonra, adding “How come he’s the one to let me down?” as the guitar line kicks through. ‘Numbers’ was a superb song, but this is something else. ‘Not To Disappear’ is still in the Top 3 of the album chart after four months by the way – the only albums ahead of it this week are ‘Synthia’ at No 2 and the new Radiohead album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ at No 1. We’ll talk a little more about that later this week.

Among the new entries we can welcome back well known acts in Tom Odell and The Temper Trap, and a further impressive song from Phoria with ‘Everything Beta’ at No 79. One place ahead of them is Fifth Harmony’s ‘The Life’ – with ‘Work From Home’ already climbing the chart and ‘Write On Me’ entering the Heatseekers Chart this week, Fifth Harmony are putting together a really impressive chart record. I’m not a big R+B fan as you will probably have gathered, but this group (who emerged from the second series of the US version of The X Factor) have a real touch of class about them. They outdid Little Mix in getting through three different names during the course of the show, by the way – going from ‘Lylas’ (which they had to ditch because apparently Bruno Mars’s sisters have a group of the same name… no, I’ve never heard of them either) to ‘1432’ (which they had to ditch because… well, it was bloody stupid). The viewers chose ‘Fifth Harmony’ – so go American people, it’s a good name. We can also welcome five acts who are debuting on the chart this week. I’ve discussed Laura Gibson and Yonaka already in recent posts, but let’s say hello to Eliza and the Bear (who have emerged from a run of so-so singles with the excellent ‘Where Have You Been’), The Kills (they have been around for ages, and release their fifth album ‘Ash & Ice’ next month) and Asking Alexandria (proper in-your-face metalcore band whose ‘The Black’ swings into surprising melody towards the end). You may not think I’m much of a metal fan either – but just remember that Slipknot actually topped the chart last year with ‘Killpop’. There’s something for everyone here!

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Mt Wolf and Meadowlark – Oslo Hackney Gig Review

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I think we are getting a bit more adventurous with our gig attending. We’ve gone from seeing mega-acts with predictable shows (Imagine Dragons, Stereophonics) to new acts with excellent debut albums (Halsey, Lapsley, Haelos) over the last year or so. But this gig was a bit of a leap in the dark, as I was familiar with precisely one song by Mt Wolf when I bought the tickets. The song in question, ‘Hex’ is bloody good, of course. On the evidence of tonight, we should do this a bit more often – I just get the feeling we might have been in at the start of something really big.

Part of the reason why I wanted to go to this gig was that Meadowlark were supporting Mt Wolf. Kate McGill and Daniel Broadley have caught my attention with some excellent folk tinged pop in the last eighteen months, so the chance to see them was not one to be missed. They are engaging live if a little lacking in punch, but maybe that’s not unexpected given the gentle nature of most of their music (and the half full hall). Singles ‘Eyes Wide’ and current hit ‘Paraffin’ were the highlights. It was probably a good thing that we were (as usual) right at the front of the crowd and had seen the set list, because I knew that Meadowlark had left their best song ‘Family Tree’ out of the show – I did tweet the band about this and had a nice reply from them about their wish to fit all their new songs in. Tricky when you only have a half hour slot of course, and ‘Family Tree’ is 5 minutes long, but still – maybe best not to be too clever with an audience who don’t know you very well.

The excellent pictures that accompany my gig reviews come courtesy of my wife Denise, who is a keen photographer – of course she’s not an official photographer, and so has to be subtle with her camera as apparently many bands don’t seem to want people taking pictures of them, and many venues have rules about this in their T’s and C’s. I’d have thought there was no such thing as bad publicity, to be honest, but you do wonder how the security personnel will react to someone wielding a Nikon in the audience. In fact almost all the security people we’ve come across at gigs are cool, sensible, cheerful and helpful, and just want everyone to have a good time. Well, tonight the law of averages caught up with us. We had the most jobsworth, pernickety security bloke we’ve come across all year patrolling the front of the Oslo hall. I recall when we saw Lanterns on the Lake here in February that we were able to sit on the edge of the stage between sets and stand right up to the front without any trouble. Well, there’s a line on the floor about three feet from the edge of the stage, and woe betide you if you crossed this line, as our security man was there in a flash waving his torch around and grumbling. He was not keen on people standing to the right of the stage either. How ‘Killjoy McKilljoyface’ was going to react to my wife’s camera was obviously a source of some concern – we solved the problem by carefully positioning ourselves so I was directly between Killjoy and Denise, and he couldn’t see what she was doing. It’s clearly much easier with a photo pass!

Now then, Mt Wolf. I have discussed their history before but it is worth recapping for any newcomers to the blog. The band have been around since 2011 and were formally a four piece led by singer Kate Sproule. In late 2013 after some well received EP’s the band split after Sproule chose to leave – her decision, coming after a storming live appearance at Heaven coming as a total surprise to the other band members. After a period of consideration and a hiatus for other projects the remaining three band members – Sebastian ‘Bassi’ Fox, Stevie McMinn and Al Mitchell decided to carry on. I would with due respect suggest that Sproule’s departure is the best thing that could ever have happened to Mt Wolf. Much as I love bands fronted by female vocalists, there are a lot of them around the moment, and Mt Wolf are now positioned in something of a league of their own because they have three huge things going for them. They write exceptional, anthemic, all-encompassing orchestral songs. Their live performance is outstanding. And they have unearthed one of the most extraordinary voices in all of music in Fox’s falsetto.

Fox’s natural singing voice is in a much lower register, but given that the band’s output had been written for the female voice, he opted to try a falsetto, and the results are spine tingling. His eerie, echoing vocal matches the band’s music quite perfectly, and the venue matches both really well. Take set opener ‘Anacrusis’, from their current ‘Hex’ EP. The music grows beautifully between McMinn and Fox’s guitars and the keyboards of regular touring and session guest Teia Fregona, spiralling into a powerful climax of soaring music and pounding drums from Mitchell. An anacrusis is an unstressed note that keys you into the next downbeat incidentally, and ‘Anacrusis’ the song does a superb job of keying you into the rest of the band’s set. I am going to pinch a line from blogger Karla Harris, whose review of ‘Anacrusis’ described the song as ‘music that requires the listener to feel instead of think’, because this is so precisely right. You allow yourself to become immersed completely in this epic sound, and Mt Wolf take you on a majestic journey into a completely different place.

Most of the set list consists of their new songs, of course. ‘St Michael’ is another early highlight with a more gentle downbeat finish, and currently unreleased songs ‘Bohemia’ and ‘Dorji’ pack a very powerful punch too. Just to mix things up we then see a Madonna song get the Mt Wolf treatment. ‘The Power Of Goodbye’ (from her best album ‘Ray Of Light’) is one of my favourite Madonna songs, and in the hands of Fox and colleagues it takes on spectacular new life. The band do dip back in time with ‘Life Size Ghosts’, sung by guest vocalist Robyn Sherwell. Just a quick suggestion to the band – Fregona has got a great voice (she used to front a band called Disraeli Gears) and she has become a pretty regular member of the band’s live line up (having toured the States with them recently). We think she might like a chance to take the lead vocal next time you play this song.

The main set comes to a sensational close with ‘Hex’. This really is the most stunning piece of music – Fox holds the audience spellbound with his tale of devastation as the music grows and swells behind him. “It’s hard to break from you – peel your skin from mine” sings Fox, with heartbreaking imagery before the guitars and drums crash in for a spectacular finale. The band return with the instrumental ‘Starliner’ before closing the show with the gorgeous ‘Hamburg’, another classic in the making as Fox’s vocal, this time taking on a gentle lilt weaves its way through the music. There is something truly special about this band and their music. This comparison has been made before, but it was very striking when Bon Iver’s ‘Holocene’ came over the sound system before Mt Wolf started their set. There is a real echo of Justin Vernon’s vocal in Fox’s voice, and a real echo of the Bon Iver sound in Mt Wolf’s inspirational music. Perhaps there’s more folk influence in Bon Iver and more electro in Mt Wolf, but the music of both bands is a thing to behold. Mt Wolf are aiming for very lofty heights indeed.

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Dave’s Heatseekers Chart Update

This has been a good week in the Heatseekers Chart. Very little of much importance left the chart last week and we have a gaggle of impressive new songs and climbers to talk about over the next few days. Things are stable right at the top of the chart, as Phoria’s ‘Everything Beta’ and Tom Odell’s ‘Magnetised’ hold at No’s 1 and 2 for another week. Both enter the main chart next week, which would seem to pave the way for a bit of a Radiohead take over. The Oxford superstars have ‘Burn The Witch’ climbing to No 3 and the extended six minutes plus of ‘Daydreaming’ entering at No 4. These are the only two tracks from ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ available on Spotify – obviously I will have to obtain the rest of ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ via some other means. The band’s mischievously dark side is certainly alive and well, judging from the epic Camberwick-Green-meets-The-Wicker-Man video for ‘Burn The Witch’.

Radiohead may not have it all their own way next week, as two new entries arrive in the Top 10 from favourite albums of mine. Lissie’s ‘Hollywood’ always sounded like the most commercial track on her Dave’s Chart No 2 album ‘My Wild West’, and it has duly arrived in the Heatseekers Chart at No 7. I commented when ‘My Wild West’ came out that Lissie layers her folk rock with some darker elements, and there’s a shiver or two in ‘Hollywood’, a classic tale of a young girl lost and alone looking for her fame and fortune. “You break my will like they said you would” sings Lissie, before adding in a final moment of defiance “But oh, Hollywood – you don’t own me.” Two places lower The Jezabels arrive with ‘Pleasure Drive’, their follow up to current Singles Chart No 1 ‘Come Alive’. I suspect this song might be something of a holding pattern while I decide whether to blow the chart open completely by releasing ‘Stand And Deliver’ or ‘Stamina’ as a single, but it’s still bloody good and destined for the Top 2o at least.

We will have a little introduction to some new women in the list in a few days time – having already met Laura Gibson when I reviewed her album ‘Empire Builder’ last week, we will be talking about Sara Hartman, Kate Jackson and Hannah Lou Clark who occupy the places from 11 to 13 this week. Behind them come some very familiar names: Twenty One Pilots follow up their Top 1o single ‘Stressed Out’ with ‘Ride’ at No 17, Laurel has her new song ‘San Francisco’ at No 20 and between them the Red Hot Chili Peppers return to the chart with new single ‘Dark Necessities’ at No 18. This song is the lead single from their eleventh studio album ‘The Getaway’, due in June. The album is the Chili Peppers’ first for twenty five years not to be produced by Rick Rubin – Danger Mouse takes the controls, with mixing from Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame. The album, the recording of which was delayed for several months after bassist Flea broke his arm snowboarding is largely inspired by a relationship which broke up with the force of a nuclear bomb, according to Anthony Kiedis. If ‘Dark Necessities’ is anything to go by we are in for a real treat.

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Dave’s Chart Update

Three weeks and counting at No 1 on the Singles Chart this week for the Jezabels: indeed, it’s three weeks and counting for the whole Top 3 as Gnash and Olivia O’Brien hold at No 2 and Daya holds at No 3. Behind them Skyes climb to No 4 with their debut hit ‘Quarks’ – against that Laurel looks like an old hand as ‘Life Worth Living’ becomes her fourth consecutive Top 5 single, following ‘Shells’, ‘Memorials’ and ‘Blue Blood’. Just to keep us on our toes, Laurel has released another single. ‘San Francisco’ is moody and noirish in its styling, with some rare risque lyrics from the girl herself, but her gorgeous voice sounds as good as ever. What I love about Laurel is her chameleon like desire to try out all sorts of different styles and genres of music, confident that her immediately recognisable vocal will act as the common thread running through the songs. Look out for a Heatseekers entry for ‘San Francisco’ this weekend.

Behind the Top 5 the obvious major contender for No 1 is The Slow Show’s ‘Breaks Today’, which races from No 29 to No 7 on only its third week on the chart. That rather takes the attention away from a very impressive rebound for Haelos and their Top 5 single ‘Pray’, which bounces back into the Top 10 at No 9 in the wake of their brilliant performance at Peckham’s Bussey Building last week. It’s been a good week for Haelos: not only has follow up single ‘Separate Lives’ jumped to No 62 but they can also celebrate a No 1 album as ‘Full Circle’ dislodges The Jezabels and ‘Synthia’ from the top of the chart. It’s also a good week for Phoria, as ‘Evolve’ climbs to No 16 on the Singles Chart and follow up ‘Everything Beta’ hits No 1 on the Heatseekers Chart.

Phoria are of course on our list of upcoming gigs, and tomorrow’s trip to Hackney to see Mt Wolf and Meadowlark has already had an impact. ‘Hex’ is the biggest climber on the chart this week for Mt Wolf, jumping 44 places to No 48, and Meadowlark’s ‘Paraffin’ has jumped 20 places for the second week in a row, this time climbing from No 60 to No 40. I have checked out some of Mt Wolf’s new material in anticipation of tomorrow’s gig, and great it sounds too, but it remains the case that this is one of the few gigs where I will be more familiar with the music of the support act than I will the music of the headliners! And while we are on support acts, many congratulations to Alessia Cara for landing a support slot on Coldplay’s arena tour this summer. The prospect of playing to 50,000 people at Wembley is a little daunting but Alessia’s live show is terrific, and one of the highlights of her set, opening song ‘I’m Yours’ has taken a big jump this week as well, up 35 places to No 50. As ever there are innumerable excellent songs climbing the chart – to pick out one or two others who I have praised recently in these pages, it’s a very impressive 40 place jump to No 51 for Jones and ‘Hoops’, and Lucy Rose’s gorgeous ‘Nebraska’ climbs to No 53. ‘Sweet’ is a bit of an insipid word to use to describe a song, but that’s exactly what ‘Nebraska’ is.

Now, a band I have not spoken about before are Sigma. The drum and bass duo, Cameron Edwards and Joe Lenzie have had repeated success in the UK Chart with a gazillion singles with which I’ve not really found much in the way of affinity. ‘Glitterball’ and ‘Coming Home’ were minor Top 100 hits in my chart, but rather unexpectedly Sigma seem to have cracked it with their eighth (yes, eighth) single release from their debut album ‘Life’. The song in question is ‘Stay’, and it is one of those drum / bass / EDM songs that just seems to have something extra special contained within. I usually have a fair idea of what works for me in songs, but it all seems a bit random with dance music – apart from the Chainsmokers of course, who are great. What is so good about ‘Stay’? I think it has a lot to do with the excellent vocal… but who the hell is it singing? The sleeve notes for ‘Life’ are full of credits for Ella Henderson, and Rita Ora, and Paloma Faith, and Ella Eyre… but who is this mystery woman? Her vocal is better than any of the other Sigma collaborators in my view. Answers on a postcard (or in the comments section) please.

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Classic Album Revisited – Radiohead, The Bends

the bends

There are some acts in the world who don’t seem to play by the rules that everyone else in the music industry follows. They have transcended their art to the extent that whatever they do, be it prolonged absences, releasing albums at an unheard of pace, trying out different approaches to circulating and selling music, is accepted as simply being another example of their genius. Bowie was like that, and so was Prince. In the modern musical world, the classic example of a band who now live on their own plain are Radiohead. Their innovative, often revolutionary career absolutely merits the description ‘unique’ for them. They are clearly one of the greatest rock bands in music history. So on the day when their new album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is about to land on us (as ever in an unpredictable way), I thought it was a good time to lay one particular Radiohead myth to rest. ‘Kid A’, ‘Hail To The Thief’, ‘Amnesiac’, and particularly ‘OK Computer’ are amazing albums, full of extraordinary musical evolution and challenge to the listener. My two favourite Radiohead songs, ‘Airbag’ and ‘Lucky’ both sit on ‘OK Computer’. But none of these albums is Radiohead’s best. Their roots are as a traditional rock band – and ‘The Bends’ is not just their best album, but quite possibly the best rock album ever recorded.

‘The Bends’ arrived in the midst of the Britpop / indie revolution, and two years after Radiohead’s debut set ‘Pablo Honey’ (home to their first classic song ‘Creep’ of course). It might have been easy to have mixed them up with their indie contemporaries, particularly those at the heavier end of the scale (Oasis being the obvious example), but there was always a style and an imagination about Radiohead that Noel and Liam’s superb but derivative music could never match. The opening four songs on ‘The Bends’ are a majestic statement of rock brilliance. Opener ‘Planet Telex’ with its swirling intro, distorted guitars and stratospheric vocal from Thom Yorke sets the scene. “Everything is, everyone is broken’ sings Yorke, a pretty solid clue to the lyrical development of ‘The Bends’ as a whole and to some extent the band’s entire career. It’s an often neglected track when people talk about the best songs of Radiohead’s career, although oddly it is not the most neglected track on the album.  ‘The Bends’, up next is a more straightforward rock song, powered by the genius that is Jonny Greenwood and his blasting guitar. This sets the scene for two of the singles from ‘The Bends’. ‘High And Dry’ is desolate and tragic, to a quiet backdrop. “All your insides fall to pieces – you just sit there and wish you could still make love’ is just about the saddest line on the whole album. Then ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ builds in a classic style from its quiet, unsuspecting opening to the point where the guitars crash in after the second chorus and Yorke introduces us to his “fake plastic love”.

It’s kind of hard to know where you go after that, and for years I thought that the album dipped in the mid section. I think I was rather mistaken in this however. By now the heavy rock sound, driven by Greenwood’s power guitars on top of the backing from fellow guitarist Ed O’Brien, bass player Colin Greenwood (Jonny’s older brother) and drummer Phil Selway is well established. ‘My Iron Lung’ is probably the heaviest track on the album, ‘Just’ is a more radio friendly rock song (it also came out as a single), but the best song in this section is ‘Bones’, home to another multi-octave Yorke epic. It appears to be about growing old and crumbling as you do so – “ground to dust and ash, crawling on all fours” – hopefully this won’t be my theme tune any time soon. ‘Nice Dream’ is relatively unremarkable but does act as a bit of a counterpoint to all the ferocious rock around it.

The one song I really had trouble with was ‘Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was’. It just seemed to meander along without doing a lot, and the title seemed untypically clumsy too. But listen to it in the context of the songs preceding it. ‘Just’ and ‘My Iron Lung’ drive the pace up so hard that some form of further drop in energy was essential. ‘Bullet Proof’ is gentle and melancholy, and actually acts as the perfect lead in to what I still maintain is about the best three track closing run on any album ever. ‘Black Star’ is a magnificent song, its unusual fade in intro giving the sense of the building tension to come. This is another song about a doomed relationship – this time one that disintegrates completely during the song’s four or so minutes. From Yorke’s girl standing in her dressing gown when he comes in from work, through the collapse of their sex life, to their final breakup – but he still can’t let go. “I keep falling over, I keep passing out – when I see a face like you”. It’s a work of total brilliance. Then the lid comes right off the pressure cooker with the single most inappropriately ignored song in the entire Radiohead canon. ‘Sulk’ is based on the horrific events in Hungerford in 1987 when local misfit Michael Ryan killed first his mother and then 15 other people before shooting himself. The lyrics only address this obliquely. “Sometimes you sulk, sometimes you burn – God rest your soul” sings Yorke before the song builds to an extraordinary finish, Greenwood’s guitar destroys the studio and Yorke hits high notes almost beyond human hearing. The band have virtually never played ‘Sulk’ live since 1995. What a waste!

Then comes the most stunning coda as the blistering rock comes down spectacularly to the eerie, haunting ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’. It’s perhaps the single best indicator of the mysterious, supernatural undertones to many of Radiohead’s best subsequent songs, including ‘There There’ and current single ‘Burn The Witch’. “Rows of houses – all bearing down on me” starts Yorke’s protagonist, a man without hope. The gutwrenching but horribly compelling conclusion is as desolate as any in rock. “Cracked eggs, dead birds – scream as they fight for life. I can feel death, can see its beady eyes”. It’s as shocking as anything you could ever hear, but there might be that faint glimmer of light as Yorke’s final line “Immerse your soul in love” perhaps raises the smallest glimpse of hope among the ruins.

And there you have it. An album where virtually every song stands on its own as a classic, but where all twelve, placed together creates a masterpiece, a work of complete brilliance. Is it my favourite album ever? Well, there are one or two other colossal contenders which I will tell you about in the next few weeks, but it’s right up there. And is the word ‘genius’ too strong to apply to Radiohead? Of course not. No other act in the world today merits this description more.

*****

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