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!
There is a wave of criticism of the Grammys in the papers today – focusing on a variety of issues including the turgid live performances and Adele’s dodgy piano tuning. What they do not seem to have focused on as much is the shocking nature of some of the awards. So I am going to critique them. Now, I would not want you to think I am some sort of indie snob – you will find me listening to Carly Rae Jepsen and to Rachel Platten with the best of them. But there is good, proper pop music and then there is the kind of tedious, anodyne bollocks purveyed by the winners of the main awards on Monday night.
What is it about Uptown Funk for starters? How can this simplistic, lyrically inane, lowest common denominator song really be the Record Of The Year? With its video, showing Bruno and his mates leering after women on the street in Miami or somewhere like a bunch of sleaze bags. Ed Sheeran? Homogenised pap for the masses with nothing resembling real emotion. Taylor Swift? Album of the Year? She didn’t even record the best version of ‘1989’ last year, let alone the best album overall. Yes, you all know Ryan Adams’ interpretation was much more edgy, challenging and emotional. And kudos to Taylor for calling out Kanye, but that doesn’t make her record any better.
Worst of all though was Meghan Trainor’s win for Best New Act. A career based on one novelty song and some mangling of grammar (how does one ‘Marvin Gaye’ ) would be bad enough, but she’s not even a new act. ‘All About That Bass’ was released in July 2014, and was nominated for Song and Record of the Year in last year’s Grammys. I could rattle off a dozen more deserving cases even allowing for the fact that our American cousins will not have been introduced yet to the marvellousness of Lapsley and Laurel. You could mention Alessia Cara for sure.
But I’ll tell you who should have won. In your own back yard, Grammy people, you have a Brooklyn girl who released a superb debut album last year (top 10 in the UK, No 2 in the States) with a collection of contemporary, punchy, thoughtful songs highlighted by the intricacies of ‘Drive’ and the classic styling of ‘Hurricane’. She is as good a new talent as anything to have emerged from the States in 5 years. Yet you didn’t even nominate her. Halsey, you were robbed.
School Of Seven Bells spend a second week on top of Dave’s Singles Chart with ‘Open Your Eyes’, holding off the continued revival of Lanterns On The Lake’s ‘Faultlines’, now back up 2 places to No 2. ‘Faultlines’ was last at No 1 six weeks ago – no song has ever spent longer climbing back to No 1 after being dislodged. Gabrielle Aplin’s ‘Salvation’ spent five weeks off the top (behind Coldplay and ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’) between weeks at No 1 in 2014. If you want my opinion (and I guess I’d know, it being my chart) I suspect that Lanterns On The Lake will be back at No 1 very soon, but with ‘Through The Cellar Door’ which climbs from No 7 to No 5. Just take a proper listen to the way this song is constructed and produced – it is such a superb piece of music.
There are major moves further down for Twenty One Pilots’ ‘Stressed Out’ (45 to 18) and Selena Gomez’s ‘Hands To Myself’ (59 to 23) but I can’t quite see either as a potential No 1. This week’s two highest new entries are a different matter – Daughter’s stunning ‘Doing The Right Thing’ arrives at 38 (a second Top 40 hit for them this week, with ‘Numbers’ climbing from 37 to 27) and Torres’ ‘Strange Hellos’ is new at 56. Both are very strong contenders for the Top 5. Go to the Dave’s Singles Chart tab for the week’s chart and the Spotify playlist of the best 60 performers this week.
High Highs are Jack Milas and Oli Chang, from Sydney, and you may recognise their name from their gorgeous current single ‘Cascades’, the title track of their new album. High Highs’ music is from the same stable of indie rock as recent Dave’s Chart hits such as Caveman’s ‘Shut You Down’ or New Desert Blues’ ‘Zachary’. It’s one step to the left of ‘guys with guitars’ indie, with top treble vocals, prominent jangly backing and with the rhythm section mixed right down. The effect is melodic and swoony, but there’s a lack of punch, of hooks to get your teeth into, and after a while the songs tend to meld and drift into a slightly featureless background. These are songs that take repeated listening before the subtleties emerge. ‘Cascades’ is a good example, actually. I’m surprised now that I was not particularly struck by the song when I first heard it, because now I think it is en route to the Top 20. It is the high spot of the album, but I also enjoyed gentle opener ‘Boxing’ and the tearjerking ‘Catch The Wind’. The album dips in the mid section, but kicks back when more prominent drums and bass drive ‘Ocean To City’ into a position as the obvious follow up single. There’s nothing to dislike here, and there’s nothing wrong with gently soothing summer’s day rock, but maybe a little more substance would be good next time round.
As far as I was concerned, the release of ‘Beings’, the third album from Newcastle’s Lanterns On The Lake marked their ascent to superstar status. It is a stunning work, fully deserving of my Album Of The Year accolade. Yet here I was, able to buy tickets for their show at the charming little venue of Oslo in Hackney just four days before the event and listening to their engaging vocalist Hazel Wilde expressing her delight that the band had sold out the venue. They should be selling out much bigger venues than this. Lanterns On The Lake are one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place.
From the quiet, foreboding chords at the start of set (and album) opener ‘Of Dust And Matter’ everything we heard tonight confirmed my view about this band and the brilliance of their music. Wilde, her vocal in turns gentle and threatening is a haunting focal point. Guitarist Paul Gregory and touring violinist Angela Chan lay down the trademark Lanterns backing sound of spiralling, echoing strings (Gregory plays several songs on his guitar using a cello bow) while bass player Bob Allan and drummer Oliver Ketteringham provide a forceful rhythm section. The songs are to die for. The band’s folk upbringing is showcased in ‘Another Tale From Another English Town’ and ‘A Kingdom’, the latter building to an explosive duelling drums finale. There’s the gunshot drum climax to ‘Stuck For An Outline’. The imagery is evocative. ‘Darling, if the creeks don’t rise you’ll see me again’ sings Wilde at the climax of the epic, six plus minutes of ‘Beings’. This is music of an astonishing scope and depth of ambition. There is a menace about the songs, a sense of something sinister lurking round the next corner – even the Devil himself gets a namecheck in ‘Of Dust And Matter’s opening lines. Then the band pull you back from the brink with the ballads – the pure, plaintive ‘Send Me Home’, Wilde flying solo at the piano on the encore’s first song ‘Green And Gold’. And yet there is still that edge in the lyrics. ‘The Crawl’ is like no love song you have ever heard – ‘Prise my ribs apart – and we can watch the blood drip dry.’
The highlights for me – strangely not massive Dave’s Chart hit ‘Faultlines’, which came early in the set and was the one song that maybe was a little underpowered. So I’d go for the chilling ‘I’ll Stall Them’ and the pounding majesty of current single ‘Through The Cellar Door’. ‘Are you one of us’? asks Wilde. Oh yes! After the beauty of ‘I Love You Sleepyhead’ to close the show, you leave the venue thinking that you can cope with whatever shit is going down in the world, because Lanterns On The Lake and their music are in it too. I absolutely bloody love them! My new favourite band.
Back at the start of 2014, ‘Youth’ was the first No 1 of Dave’s Chart’s new incarnation, spending 9 weeks in all on top of the chart for Foxes, AKA 26 year old Louisa Rose Allen. Two years on then it seems very appropriate that Foxes’ new album, ‘All I Need’ is the first to be reviewed on this new blog.
Despite her EDM origins it has become increasingly apparent that ‘Youth’ and its pulsing, trancey electronic beats is actually a very unusual part of Foxes’ repertoire. The joyous ‘Let Go For Tonight’, also a Dave’s Chart No 1 in the spring of 2014 is much more typical of the new songs on ‘All I Need’, with its piano backing and rousing chorus. These two songs and the title track were the highlights of ‘Glorious’, Foxes’ debut album. It was solid and enjoyable but beyond the big three tracks (and fourth Top 10 single ‘Holding Onto Heaven’) there was a sense of the remainder of the songs being a little unformed and ultimately unsatisfying.
Foxes has taken a major step forward, because things have changed significantly with ‘All I Need’. The promising roots of ‘Glorious’ have developed into a series of exuberant songs with prominent keyboards and strings, clear production and faultless vocals. It does help that the first half of the album is so immediately familiar. After the brief instrumental of ‘Rise Up’ we launch straight into the first two singles, ‘Better Love’ and ‘Body Talk’, both Top 40 hits and both perfect examples of Foxes’ ability to craft and sing perfect pop songs. ‘If You Leave Me Now’, the best ballad of Foxes’ career to date and a new Top 10 entry this week and ‘Devil Side’ are even better, and the lively ‘Amazing’ and the Selena Gomez-esque ‘Cruel’ complete a group of sun drenched, buoyant songs which would be perfect for an afternoon set at one of the big festivals.
They are a tough act to follow and it is greatly to Foxes’ credit that the lesser known songs on the second half of the album maintain this high standard. ‘Wicked Love’ can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a ballad or a more uptempo number and doesn’t quite work, but then we build towards an excellent climax. ‘Scar’ is slower paced and shows off the appealing crack in Foxes’ vocal, ‘Money’ is a lively singalong and ‘On My Way’ is a gorgeous finale, quiet and reflective and string driven. The four bonus songs on the deluxe version of the album are less appealing, with ‘Shoot Me Down’ and ‘Lose My Cool’ lapsing into uninteresting EDM. Stick to the shorter version of the album and you will not go wrong.
Foxes is a major talent. She co-wrote every song on the album, sings superbly and infuses every track with passion and spirit. She is quite possibly the best female pop singer in Britain today, and why her songs do not get wider recognition is a mystery. ‘All I Need’ is a superb album – easily one of the best of the year so far.
Many congratulations to School Of Seven Bells who have hit No 1 in this week’s Dave’s Singles Chart with the wondrous ‘Open Your Eyes’. Grimes drops to No 2 after three weeks on top with ‘Flesh Without Blood’, and Kacy Hill spends her third week at No 3 with ‘Arm’s Length’. It’s a pretty good week for Lanterns On The Lake – ‘Faultlines’ climbs back up a place to No 4 (and is the longest runner in the chart at 17 weeks) and ‘Through The Cellar Door’ jumps spectacularly from No 32 to No 7. And ‘Beings’ is back on top of the album chart. And I’ve managed to grab tickets to see them at Oslo in Hackney on Thursday – my first gig report for ‘Shining The Light’. Other highlights – highest climber for Rachel Platten’s ‘Stand By You’ and highest new entry for Foxes and ‘Devil Side’. Go to the ‘Dave’s Singles Chart’ tab for the full Top 100 countdown.
Coldplay featuring Beyonce and Bruno? Sounded odd beforehand, even knowing the link between the first two named on ‘Hymn For The Weekend’. Turned out it was odd. Coldplay bounced through ‘Viva La Vida’, ‘Paradise’ and ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ (which might have been written just for the Super Bowl show) and then disappeared – obviously the viewing billions needed to see someone they were a little more familiar with. So Bruno (wasn’t he on the Super Bowl show a couple of years ago?) ‘treated’ us to yet another rendition of the most overexposed song of last year – if I never hear ‘Uptown Funk’ again it’ll be too soon.
Then we plunged headlong into political statements with Beyonce and her newly released song ‘Formation’, with its lyrical and visual references to Black Lives Matter, and to Mario Woods… It’s critically important, and we will talk much more about it as I get to hear more of ‘Formation’ and as ‘White Privilege II’ enters the charts, but did it make for a cohesive show? Or am I being short sighted and ignorant when I say that? Is this show purely about entertainment (as it was last year with Katy Perry) or is it about much more than that? When Chris Martin did seize the microphone back we shifted gear again, and were now suddenly into reflective territory with ‘Fix You’ and its lyrics about losing something you can’t replace, as images of departed half time show luminaries such as Whitney, Michael Jackson and (brilliantly) Clarence Clemons appeared on screen. And then a gay pride rainbow finale provided another change of emphasis in what was a bewildering 15 or so minutes.
Should we have just stuck with Coldplay? ‘Clocks’ and ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’ would have finished off their set nicely. Was this the right setting for unveiling ‘Formation’? Did the organisers simply try to cram too much topical content into the show? And why Bruno?