Dave’s Chart Update

It is major congratulations this week to Daughter, who celebrate their first No 1 as ‘How’ deposes The Jezabels and ‘Come Alive’ after an eight week run. ‘How’ is the third Top 10 single from Daughter’s No 1 album ‘Not To Disappear’, with ‘Numbers’ having peaked at No 2 and ‘Doing The Right Thing’ peaking at No 7. There are three major challengers heading towards the top spot though, and two of them might be a bit of a surprise. Firstly Lucy Rose rockets to No 3 with ‘Nebraska’, the third single from her Top 5 album ‘Work It Out’. ‘Nebraska’ was always an excellent song, and I have written in praise of it before but I don’t think I was expecting this kind of blast up the chart after its initial few weeks pootling around rather slowly in the lower reaches of the Top 40. ‘Nebraska’ has in fact leapt from No 23 to No 3 in two weeks, a spectacular climb by any standards. In contrast Hannah Lou Clark’s debut Top 100 hit is doing anything but pootle, as ‘Cowboy Joe’ reaches No 6 on only its fourth week on the chart. 

The two songs make a fascinating contrast – ‘Nebraska’ is sweet and gentle, very typical of Rose’s output while ‘Cowboy Joe’ is as sensual and sultry a song as I’ve heard in ages, building around its evocative lyrics to its powerful guitar climax. Rose is great, but Clark could be a major talent about to break: of the two, I’d consider ‘Cowboy Joe’ to be the more likely No 1. Of course, both could be scuppered by Radiohead – ‘Daydreaming’ has jumped to No 7 on its third week on the survey (overtaking ‘Burn The Witch’ which has been on the chart for a week longer). Radiohead’s last No 1 on the singles chart? Would you believe it was ‘Paranoid Android’, nearly 20 years ago? No, I didn’t think you would.

The other major move on the chart this week comes from Little Green Cars, whose ‘Easier Day’ has jumped 45 places from No 71 to No 26, while in the wake of their Wembley show on Sunday (review to come in a day or two) Coldplay have finally broken into the Top 100 with ‘Up & Up’: this song has spent a few weeks doing its own bit of pootling in the Bubbling Under chart. There are other new songs on the Top 100 this week from well known acts including Drake, Laura Doggett, Zedd, Chvrches and Longfellow, but we also have a couple of much newer acts to mention.

Firstly Exeter three piece Black Foxxes have their debut hit with ‘Husk’, entering the chart at No 92. Black Foxxes consist of guitarist and vocalist Mark Holley, bass player Tristan Jane and drummer Ant Thornton, and make sparky, punk infused hard rock, with an ambition to be ‘as loud as possible with no gimmicks’. ‘Husk’ fits the bill very nicely, but for something really special, check out their new single and current Heatseeker ‘I’m Not Well’, a superlative track that ranges across the spectrum from its quiet intro and fade through to its earsplitting mid-song guitar and Holley’s excellent vocal. Their debut album (also titled ‘I’m Not Well’) is due out in August, and thus far it is all very promising. Then we have Yak, also a three piece and also playing punk tinged indie rock. Oliver Burslem, Andy Jones and Elliot Rawson are from Wolverhampton, and their debut album ‘Alas Salvation’ has already appeared last month. The reviews are pretty spectacular actually – no less a reviewer than The Guardian’s Michael Hann described the album as ‘ a force of nature’, and debut Top 100 single ‘Harbour The Feeling’ will give you a very solid primer for this band. There are so many excellent albums from new and established acts coming out at the moment – there need to be more hours in the day for me to get through them all frankly.

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Kate Jackson – British Road Movies Album Review

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The Guardian have published their list of ‘the best albums of 2016 so far’. There is the odd pleasant surprise – ‘Chaleur Humaine’ from Christine and the Queens, for example, and I doubt too many people will disagree with Radiohead’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ being on the list. But most of the other inclusions and exclusions are frankly baffling. PJ Harvey? Drake? Lazy selections. ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ was largely one-note and uninvolving. I have not reviewed Drake’s ‘Views’ on this blog – let’s just say that much as I like the guy, he does go on a bit sometimes. And as for what has been missed off? Don’t get me started on The Jezabels. Where are Haelos? Where are Daughter? And here’s another monumental blunder – the failure to acknowledge ‘British Road Movies’, an absolute gem of a debut solo album from former Long Blonde Kate Jackson.

I discussed Jackson’s return to the music scene a few days ago. She has spent much of the last six or seven years in Rome and painting in her native Suffolk after The Long Blondes broke up in the wake of songwriter Dorian Cox’s stroke. But before Jackson took off for foreign climes, she sketched out ideas for several songs with Bernard Butler, and on her return to the UK she and Butler teamed up again to complete the writing and recording of ‘British Road Movies’, with Butler taking on lead guitar and production duties. This is an album with an ambitious scope – to take a lead from the great American tradition of Kerouac and the road movie, and present a series of songs with a British slant, all of which could represent themes for films. Jackson’s paintings add visual art to the mix, and the result is hugely impressive.

Current single ‘The End Of Reason’ leads off the album, and is the most obviously cinematic song on the record. It’s synth driven, telling a tale of urban decay and decline, and sweeps majestically behind Jackson’s pointed lyrics. It’s an extremely auspicious beginning. I do like artists who have the confidence to lay it on the line right at the outset of an album, and Jackson boldly follows ‘The End Of Reason’ with two absolute corkers. Firstly ‘Homeward Bound’ is a spectacularly evocative song, blasting along to the classic and totally characteristic sound of Butler’s guitar. This is how you imagine Suede might have sounded circa Dog Man Star if their lead vocalist had been a woman. It’s superb, but it is immediately bettered by the outstanding ‘Metropolis’. This is a glorious slice of indie rock, telling its tale of those who want to escape from a humdrum, city bound existence with a scorching beat and with Butler’s guitar giving power to Jackson’s vocal. The song is optimistic at first – “We could be painters or we could form bands – women have children and brilliant plans” Jackson sings, before reality sets in. “Could be me, could be you – this city pulls me to pieces” the song concludes. It’s both tragic and somehow uplifting, and it is one of the best songs I have heard on any album this year.

The album maintains its excellence throughout. A couple of the songs, ‘Wonder Feeling’ and ‘The Atlantic’ have seen the light of day before, on a single released back in 2011. In its current incarnation ‘Wonder Feeling’ is a lively indie pop singalong, with Jackson celebrating her love for “a boy with longer hair than me” (it is entirely possible that this is an ironic reference to Jackson’s normal short hairstyle) by declining to go to work and heading off onto the motorway. ‘Lie To Me’ counterpoints its rather sad lyrics with a lively melody, coming across like the soundtrack of a slightly kitsch romcom. There are a couple of gentle ballads to finish off, with the quirky, too short ‘Velvet Sofa From No 26’ appealing more to me than the more straightforward piano backed ‘Last Of The Dreamers’. But the other song to really enjoy is the fabulous ’16 Years’, a sinister, edgy, almost Gothic song with foreboding laced through every bar. You could easily see a movie lurking within its dark walls.

Jackson is a confident, imaginative artist on any number of levels, and she and Butler are a match made in heaven, frankly. They have produced a dazzling album of great imagination that hooks you in with that masterful three track opening run, and then doesn’t let the interest drop. It is comfortably one of the five best new albums I have heard this year – for a solo debut, it’s nothing short of sensational. The Guardian, are you listening?

****½

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Dave’s Heatseekers Chart Update

The most exciting event in the Heatseekers Chart this week is the return of Garbage, who blast into the list at No 7 with new single ‘Even Though Our Love Is Doomed’. This is the lead track off the band’s sixth album ‘Strange Little Birds’, which is due out imminently. You might have noticed that I do have a major affection for acts who appeared in the mid 90’s – my musical interest over the years has tended to occur in bursts of enthusiasm with years of fallow in between (like some weird sort of musical crop rotation). The mid 90’s era of Britpop was one of my bursts of enthusiasm, and Garbage were one of my absolute favourite bands. Their self titled debut album remains one of my favourites ever – how anyone can fail to love songs like ‘Supervixen’, ‘Stupid Girl’, ‘Vow’ and ‘Milk’ is entirely beyond me. ‘Even Though Our Love Is Doomed’ is a worthy addition to the Garbage canon: a prolonged song of quiet desperation, sung I gather in one take by Shirley Manson as she was learning the lyrics. It works magnificently – her vocal feels ever so slightly stilted and fragile, but that completely fits lyrics like “And even though our love is doomed…You’re the only thing worth fighting for, you’re the only thing worth dying for”. And the song gradually exerts a pincer grip of despair as you listen. It’s stunning stuff, and it’s brilliant to have Garbage back at their formidable best.

Their excellence stands out against a slightly underpowered group of new songs this week, but two more new entries are well worth mentioning. Firstly we have the return of New York’s Ingrid Michaelson, whose seventh studio album ‘It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense’ is due out later this year. Michaelson had a decent hit in my chart a couple of years ago with ‘Afterlife’, but her personal circumstances have changed significantly since that song and its parent album ‘Lights Out’. Michaelson divorced her husband of four years Greg Laswell early last year: the couple put out a statement asking for “privacy while we navigate this time in our lives”. Of course musicians being musicians, such events are frequently the cathartic trigger for future work, and privacy might have gone out of the window a little. I understand that Laswell’s musical response was a rather melancholic album called ‘Everyone Thinks I Dodged A Bullet’… yes, even the title says a thousand things. Michaelson has bounced back with her new single ‘Hell No’, as cutting a putdown as you could wish to hear. “Am I gonna miss you – hell no!” sings Michaelson, adding in the same vein “You gonna take him back? Hell no!” The cover of the single is pretty pointed too – look at where the words ‘Hell No’ are emblazoned on Michaelson’s top and you’ll see what I mean! She’s always been talented but a little too AOR for my tastes – maybe these events will give her music the kick it has sometimes seemed to need.

Then we have a fascinating talent all the way from sunny Amsterdam in Annelotte de Graaf, better known as Amber Arcades. We nearly got to see Amber Arcades live earlier this year via a reviewing assignment for Subba Cultcha, and I am now rather regretting that we didn’t. From her original folky ballads of four or so years ago de Graaf has dramatically refocused her music, now with synths and choppy guitars behind some seriously ethereal vocals. Her debut album ‘Fading Lines’ has appeared this week (rather appallingly adding to the 15 albums I already had queued up for listening and reviewing – I do have a job as well you know, guys!) and from it she has her debut Heatseeker entry in ‘Turning Light’. And it’s bloody brilliant – just my kind of music. Seven minutes or so of swirling synths, echoing beats and ever so slightly off kilter lyrics that read as if they might have been derived from the original Dutch via Google Translate. It almost adds an air of mechanicity to the whole feel of the song which suits it very well. “When all is bright, I’m inside, turning light”. It’s intriguing and with songs on the album called ‘Constant’s Dream’ and ‘Apophenia’ I think we might be in for a bit of a treat. Incidentally you might also be understanding how much I love the stories behind songs and their titles, and the word ‘Apophenia’ refers to the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns in random data. Maybe something I indulge in a little in horse racing, one of my other major passions.

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Album Reviews – Corinne Bailey Rae, Little Green Cars and Eagulls

Corinne-Bailey-Rae-The-Heart-Speaks-In-Whispers-2016-2480x2480There’s something very irritating about talent show singers resorting to old songs. In fact I am the person sitting in the corner watching ‘The X Factor’ yelling “sing something contemporary” at the screen. It is a matter of some concern then that I found myself doing the same thing while listening to Corinne Bailey Rae’s new album ‘The Heart Speaks In Whispers’. Bailey Rae is a technically gifted singer whose roots lie in jazz and gospel. I wonder if the problem is actually mine – I’ve always found jazz to be a very soulless form of music where technical merit seems to take precedence over emotion. Such is the case with ‘The Heart Speaks In Whispers’.  There’s a lounge bar feel to first single ‘Been To The Moon’. ‘Hey I Won’t Break Your Heart’ starts as a gentle guitar ballad before the jazzy notes kick in. ‘Green Aphrodisiac’ is featureless and goes on for far too long with little variation,  and ‘Horse Print Dress’ and ‘Do You Ever Think Of Me’ are just dull. In fact the excellent current single ‘Stop Where You Are’ is so much better than the rest of the album it is almost comical. What works about this song? It has emotion, it has feeling, it has alterations of pitch and pace, there are some minor key changes in there somewhere. It all creates a song that holds your interest and yes, moves you. Opening track ‘The Skies Will Break’ is up-tempo and enjoyable but for me the rest of the album falls into a musically excellent but rather insipid, old fashioned morass. Bailey Rae has the voice and the soul for true contemporary excellence. She is wasted on some of this material.

50548-ephemeraIrish five piece Little Green Cars are about to hit the big time in my Singles Chart with the superb single ‘Easier Day’. The song and its moving video are a powerful testament to the loss of love and the knife twists this can cause. New album ‘Ephemera’, named after a WB Yeats poem carries on that theme. There is some seriously good music on this album. Lead single ‘The Song They Play Every Night’ feels like classic indie folk with a real Irish edge to it. You can imagine kicking back in the pub with your friends and thinking about the changes that life can bring as the song flows over you. ‘I Don’t Even Know Who’ is a sweet midtempo ballad, and there are evocative melodies on ‘You & Me’. But then there are other parts of the album that fail to hold the attention. ‘Brother’ is uninteresting, ‘Good Women Do’ provides an unconvincing attempt at injecting some venom into the music and the closing tracks ‘Wings Of Peace’ and ‘The Factory’ are rather dreary.  ‘Clair De Lune’ sums the album up perfectly – a curate’s egg with an interesting chorus and a dull verse.  ‘Easier Day’ is the best song here but ‘OK OK OK’ is a higher octave and a big finish away from being something really special. Stevie Appleby and Faye O’Rourke share the lead vocal duties – me being me I prefer the songs led by O’Rourke’s vocal, so maybe that doesn’t help. I can’t help feeling that Little Green Cars have missed an opportunity here to craft something really special. Perhaps in the end the album is ironically well named, as something to be enjoyed in the moment but that will not linger long in the memory.

EAGULLS_Ullages_1500x1500_72dpi_2048x2048Something to really enjoy on the other hand is ‘Ullages’, the second album from Leeds five piece Eagulls. A couple of the band’s songs have floated past me before without really making an impression, but current Singles Chart new entry ‘Skipping’ is an excellent lead single from an album which really delivers some impactful rock music. I’m not sure that ‘indie’ is quite the right term for Eagulls. There is a definite goth feel about some of the music,  which may be helped by vocalist George Mitchell’s similarity at times to Robert Smith of the Cure. The album kicks off to an excellent start with ‘Head Or Tails’  and ‘Euphoria’, the latter is all complex guitar lines and lyrical structures and is a fascinating piece of music. Things rather slow down as the pace drops with ‘Velvet’ and ‘Psalms’, and the band can be a little monotonous in the slower tracks, but ‘Blume’ is an exciting cut, picking the speed up again and leading us into ‘Skipping’ with its shredding guitars and churning backbeats. ‘Aisles’ verges on the epic and closing track ‘White Fly Lullabies’ has great gothy guitars and a big build towards the finish. I like the snappy names of the band’s songs  (although they may soon run out of anagrams of ‘Eagulls’ for their album titles) and the album cover is great too. This is really exciting and interesting music from a band going places.

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Dave’s Chart Update

One of the changes in modern music is the loss of the traditional pattern of artists releasing a series of carefully chosen singles at sensible intervals from an album. I have done my best to stick to this kind of approach in the singles chart – which is maybe just another example of hankering after my youth (along with the general tendency for songs to enter the chart in relatively low positions, climb slowly and then hang around at their peak for a few weeks, which was very much what used to happen on the Billboard Hot 100 at the time I began listening to it in the late 70’s). What I really can’t be doing with is the nonsense that affects the singles charts whenever a really major album comes out – Drake’s ‘Views’ being the most obvious recent example. Everyone listens to it, we get masses of streaming hits and every track enters the Top 100 singles, however good it is (or not). I rarely admit pure album tracks into my charts at all, aside from the odd one or two that I decide to ‘release’ as a single (and one of those, Rosie Lowe’s ‘Nicole’ has finally hit the Top 10 this week – well done Rosie!) However I have given in to some of the multi-single releases from certain artists. And then there is my tendency to not always discover songs when they first appear (although I am now creating a ‘hot new songs’ playlist to go through all the new tracks each week).

All of that is a rather long winded way of saying that we have something of a record this week with no fewer than seven acts having two songs climbing the chart. Chief among these is Tom Odell, whose first two cuts from his forthcoming album ‘Wrong Crowd’ appeared within a week of each other. ‘Magnetised’ has reached No 29 after just three weeks and clearly has Top 10 momentum about it, while title track ‘Wrong Crowd’ is the highest climber in the chart, shooting from No 94 to No 58. Pretty impressive as Odell attempts to add to his massive No 1 from 2013, ‘Another Love’. Also impressive are the climbs for Fifth Harmony and their current two singles: ‘Work From Home’, their collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign and a massive worldwide hit has reached No 41 while ‘The Life’ has climbed to No 57. Their album ‘7/27’ is out this week: for the mathematically minded out there, we know the girls don’t think that 7/27 is anything to do with 1/5 – it was the date the band formed on the US X Factor. A third single ‘Write On Me’ is climbing the Heatseekers Chart as well.

And then we have Alessia Cara. Now, Alessia, I have a bone to pick with you. Nothing to do with your consistently excellent music – ‘I’m Yours’, which I have been praising for months has reached No 20 and ‘Wild Things’, the actual follow up to ‘Here’ has climbed to No 73. No, I have discovered that you are NOT supporting Coldplay at Wembley when we go on Sunday 19th. I am not quite sure who to be cross with actually… perhaps the genius who decided that we would not like to hear from one of the best new talents in popular music on all of Coldplay’s shows, and that we would sooner listen to Lianne La Havas (nothing against you Lianne, but) and… Reef? You remember Reef, don’t you? No? Well, I’m not surprised. They last had a hit single in 2003 – which is at least three years more recently than their last studio album. This was released in 2000. Yes, we are going to be treated to a support act whose last album came out when Alessia was 4. We’ve seen some fantastic acts supporting megastars at megagigs – think Blur (REM), Biffy Clyro (Foo Fighters), The Prodigy and the Manic Street Preachers (Oasis). This is not going to be one of those gigs, sadly. Think Kelly Osbourne supporting Robbie Williams perhaps.

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