Dave’s Heatseekers Chart Update November 25th

After a couple of weeks away I am back to hopefully post a little more regularly than recently. And we will kick off with a Heatseekers Chart which has undergone something of a change over the last month. The string of superb songs that dominated the list (‘The Spoils’, ‘Loss’, ‘Light Me Up’ and ‘To The Hilt’ particularly) have all crossed over into the Singles Chart, and we are left with just one song in the list that I am currently predicting will make the Top 10 in the Singles Chart.

But despite that the chart has a familiar feel to it, with Gabrielle Aplin at No 1 and Laurel at No 2 (and No 11). Let’s start with Aplin, who I suspect is still familiar to most of you as a result of her cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘The Power Of Love’, featured on her debut album ‘English Rain’ and as used by John Lewis in one of their famous Christmas advertisements. If the adverts themselves are generally memorable, the use of one of your songs to soundtrack the advert is starting to be treated rather negatively. Singers are now being spoken about as being ‘John Lewised’ – the latest victim being Emily Middlemas in the current (terrible) series of X Factor. The other thing you will know Aplin from is her song ‘Salvation’ – even if you don’t know the song, you will have heard the very iconic piano intro used a million times as incidental music on TV. A musical history built around a John Lewis advert and incidental music does not sound the most promising of CV’s, to be frank.

But I think Aplin is brilliant. She dominated my chart in the summer of 2014 when ‘Salvation’ and ‘Alive’ spent 14 weeks at No 1 between them. Ten of those were for ‘Alive’ but ‘Salvation’ had two separate runs on top, either side of the five week stay at No 1 by Coldplay’s ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’. They were the year’s No 1 and No 2 songs, and they are both outstanding, superbly played and beautifully sung. ‘English Rain’ was actually a very sweet album with these bursts of emotional power, but Aplin had a shot at semi-reinventing herself as a bit of a rock chick in 2015. The title track from her second album ‘Light Up The Dark’ spent four weeks at No 2 in my chart, but that was I suspect based on reputation more than the song’s strength. Follow up single ‘Sweet Nothing’ did reach the Top 20 but the album overall was a bit of a disappointment. At this point one could see Aplin’s career slithering into some kind of abeyance, but she has bounced back with the excellent new single ‘Miss You’. This is neither as guitar driven as ‘Light Up The Dark’ or as pure teenager-sweet as the songs on ‘English Rain’. It feels like a stab at a proper adult piece of comtemporary pop music, somewhere in Adele / Ingrid Michaelson territory, and it works really well. It did take a little while to grow on me, admittedly, but Aplin has included some neat changes of pace and her vocal is as pure and gorgeous as ever. I think it is a winner and a very promising sign of what will hopefully be a step forward on her forthcoming third album.

Now, I would really love to be able to review the first album from Laurel, who (as I said when I reviewed a live show back in August) has the most beautiful voice I have ever heard. But Laurel is taking her time to put the album together. I don’t think she is short of a song or two, because my charts have seen something of a Laurel invasion in the last four months or so. ‘San Francisco’ became her first single to miss my Top 10, peaking at No 11 in September, but ‘Hurricane’ is heading rapidly towards the Top 10 (it is currently at No 17 with a bullet, as they used to say), and she also has two songs in the Heatseekers Chart. ‘Maybe Baby’, at No 2 is a bluesy, soulful number – and ‘Too Far’, newly arrived at No 11 is also a bluesy soulful number. In fact all of Laurel’s current songs are bluesy and soulful, highlight her beautiful voice, are largely guitar backed, sparsely produced and barely last three minutes. She has spoken of the change in her musical style over the last year or so – when we saw her live she accompanied herself on guitar, with no band or other instrumentation. She has very much switched to an acoustic style – and I’m slightly torn about this. On the one hand, her voice does take centre stage and I will keep saying it – her voice is a thing of pure beauty. But on the other hand, there was some exceptionally promising production and a trip hop feel to songs like ‘Shells’ and ‘Memorials’, her first two singles to hit my chart. And her magnum opus, the exceptional ‘Blue Blood’ was backed by a 16 piece string orchestra. I just wonder if Laurel is going down a bit of a blind alley with her current music. The new songs are very good – don’t get me wrong – it’s hard to get to No 2 in the Heatseekers Chart with a bad song – but I just wonder if they could be better.

I’m torn in a third way because I have a slight issue with most debut albums released by artists who have spent a couple of years highlighting their songs via EP and single releases. I think far too many such artists fall victim to the temptation to load all of those possibly overfamiliar songs onto the debut album, which then rather lacks surprises. For example, Lapsley’s debut album ‘Long Way Home’ included songs such as ‘Painter’ and ‘Station’, which had actually been in circulation for a year or more. I was impressed when Wolf Alice took the brave decision to leave ‘Blush’ and ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ off their debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’ last year – I think the album was all the better for it. I think Laurel is going to follow the example of Wolf Alice rather than Lapsley and release a debut album of relatively new material when it finally does arrive next spring. I should applaud this – but Laurel, your three best songs are ‘Shells’, ‘Memorials’ and ‘Blue Blood’ – and it would be a real pity if they were confined to the vaults and not played again live. Just my opinion.

Adele climbs to No 3 with a typically professional Adele ballad in ‘Water Under The Bridge’, and The Cinematic Orchestra at No 4 are another example of how incidental music can kick start your career. Everyone in the world will know the simple plaintive piano intro of their most famous song ‘To Build A Home’. If you can’t think of it, check it out on YouTube – I guarantee within three notes you will say “Oh, that one!” ‘To Believe’, their current single is a bit of a grower and is climbing the Heatseekers Chart as it does so. Other songs to look out for are Gnash’s collaboration with Johnny Yukon, ‘Home’ (currently at No 37 but should be much higher): the latest piece of evidence that when Little Mix go ballady and emotional it works far better than pappy pop, ‘Nothing Else Matters’ which jumps to No 16; and two songs featuring Aquilo which have also done well this week. His own single ‘Sorry’ climbs from No 45 to No 17, and he is also the featured vocalist on Enigma’s new single ‘Amen’ which is a new entry at No 22 this week. This song comes from Enigma’s eighth studio album ‘The Fall Of A Rebel Angel’. Now, those of you of a less youthful vintage will know about Enigma. A ‘musical project’ rather than a band, their debut album ‘MCMXC a.D’ was a worldwide hit in 1990, sparked by the multimillion selling ‘Sadeness’, a Gregorian chant set to an electro backbeat. It’s also the song with possibly the sexiest moment in recorded musical history in it too – listen to the girl breathing at the musical break about two thirds of the way through and you’ll hear what I mean! ‘Amen’ sounds very Enigma-ish, if that’s a word – I’ve not heard a great deal of their music in the last fifteen years but this is pretty good stuff, and Aquilo’s vocal matches the song very well. Promising, I’d say – I need to listen to the album.

Finally, here’s something really different. Car Seat Headrest is one of the worst names for a band I can recall (I’m not overly keen on Frightened Rabbit either by the way), and they have a somewhat odd history even for the modern internet era. The band essentially is Will Toledo, a 24 year old from Leesburg in Virginia, and took their name from Toledo’s habit of recording his vocals in the back of a car for privacy. Toledo took to the internet with huge enthusiasm and has released no fewer than ten original albums, mostly via DIY site Bandcamp. Albums 1, 2, 3 and 4 (named ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’ and ‘4’) appeared at a rate of one a month. Toledo has slowed down, now releases his work on a regular label (Matador) and has formed a band to tour with him. You kind of wonder about the sort of quality control that an artist who releases ten albums in six years utilises – but on the evidence of Car Seat Headrest’s debut Heatseeker track ‘Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales’ I’m not sure Toledo is doing too much wrong. This is a fascinating extended piece, lasting over six minutes, and is about post party blues and that crucial decision about whether you chance driving or not. “Turn off the engine, get out of the car – and start to walk” advises Toledo. The ‘killer whales’ refer to ‘Blackfish’, an angry documentary about the plight of killer whales in captivity (the film itself was inspired when SeaWorld captive orca Tilikum killed his trainer Dawn Brancheau apparently because she wore her hair in a ponytail, one of the more dubious explanations for the conduct of a captive animal that I have ever heard). ‘Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales’ is taken from album No 10, and no, it’s not called ’10’, it is called ‘Teens Of Denial’. With other tracks sporting titles such as ‘(Joe Gets Kicked out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)’ and ‘The Ballad of the Costa Concordia’ this has to be well worth a listen.

 

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Dave’s Chart Update October 31st

When I started this blog at the beginning of this year, I said in one of my first posts that I love the female voice. My charts and my favourite songs tend to be dominated by songs sung by women. Today we have a statistic that emphasises that fact with absolute clarity. The Courteeners have achieved their first No 1, as ‘The 17th’ dislodges ‘Impossible Tracks’ from The Kills after three weeks in the top spot. This is the first song sung by a male singer to hit the top spot since Foals and ‘What Went Down’ spent their last week of seven at No 1, just under a year ago. ‘What Went Down’ was dislodged on November 15th last year by Alessia Cara and ‘Seventeen’. Since then, the only sniff of a male vocal in a No 1 is Stormzy’s rap on Ray BLK’s ‘My Hood’. Since Lorde’s ‘Royals’ took the No 1 spot on November 10th 2013, songs sung (or in once case rapped) by male vocalists have spent just 30 weeks out of 154 at No 1. It would be my guess that the overall breadth of released music does not feature female vocalists 80% of the time! The most successful acts in terms of weeks at No 1 over this period of time? Gabrielle Aplin, who spent 14 weeks at No 1 in 2014 with ‘Alive’ (10 weeks) and ‘Salvation (4 weeks): Foxes, who spent 12 weeks at No 1 with ‘Youth’ (9 weeks, 2013) and ‘Let Go For Tonight’ (3 weeks, 2014): and Lanterns on the Lake, who have totalled 11 weeks this year with ‘Through The Cellar Door’ (9 weeks) and ‘Faultlines (2 weeks).

All of this rather detracts from this very impressive performance by ‘The 17th’. The Courteeners have never lived up to their excellent debut single ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ in my book, but ‘The 17th’, a slow burning epic just shows that bands can produce superb songs almost from thin air. ‘Impossible Tracks’ is far and away the most successful song The Kills have ever produced in my charts, to take another example, while The Invisible’s ‘So Well’ has far outstripped anything else they have ever released (it spends its fifth week in the Top 5 this week). And on the other hand, there are those acts who place virtually every release into the top regions of the chart. There are significant climbs for two such acts this week as Phoria’s ‘Loss’ jumps 20 places to No 40, and Laurel’s ‘Hurricane’ climbs 22 places to No 41. Both acts have placed four singles out of five in the Top 10 (Laurel has placed four out of five in the top 5 in fact). ‘Loss’ is virtually certain to emulate its predecessors ‘Emanate’, ‘Saving Us A Riot’, ‘Evolve’ and ‘Melatonin’ – I’m not quite so sure if ‘Hurricane’ will match the success of ‘Blue Blood’, ‘Shells’, ‘Memorials’ and ‘Life Worth Living’ for Laurel, but it has made a very solid start.

But even more impressive is the current record of Daughter. The first three singles from second album ‘Not To Disappear’ all reached the Top 5 – ‘How’ reaching No 1, ‘Numbers’ reaching No 2 and ‘Doing The Right Thing’ reaching No 5. Now they have three songs moving up or towards the chart. Official fourth single ‘No Care’ has climbed to No 33 this week, but there is more potential in their two other songs. ‘The End’ appeared on the Japanese version of ‘Not To Disappear’, strangely enough – this gorgeously melancholic song was also missed off the set list for their recent show at the O2 Academy Brixton. ‘The End’ has entered the Heatseekers Chart at No 8 this week. And then there is ‘Youth’. This song is from Daughter’s debut album ‘If You Leave’, and it reached No 29 on the singles chart on its first release in 2013. Quite why it did not do better is uncertain, because this is one of the most beautifully tragic songs you could ever wish to hear. But the reason why it has suddenly revived, re-entering the singles chart this week at No 52 is entirely down to its performance and reception at the O2 Brixton Academy this week. I have never heard a song sung by the audience with quite as much warmth and passion, and I have certainly never heard the kind of ovation that ‘Youth’ received. It was almost a five minute surge of applause and cheering, matched by Elena Tonra’s delightful giggles. A truly wonderful song – now, will it make up for 2013 by becoming a big hit in 2016?

 

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Classic Album Review – Tori Amos, Boys For Pele

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You will have noticed something of a bias in my previous Classic Album reviews towards the music of the mid 90’s. The era of Britpop was one of my previous major musical periods of interest, and so many of my favourite albums emerged at that time. But we are also now talking about albums that were released 20 years ago – and this seems to be a very good time to review that music and see how it has stood up to the changes in music since then. One such album is ‘Boys For Pele’, from Tori Amos – and that is the album I am going to look at today.

Tori Amos is my favourite musician of all time. I was astonished when I first saw her – a flame haired beauty playing piano with wild abandon and almost primal ferocity. When she was at her height of success and excellence, there was nobody before or after whose songs have thrilled and moved me in the same kind of way. ‘Boys For Pele’ marks an interesting point in Amos’ career. Her first two albums had both been colossal successes. ‘Little Earthquakes’ clearly merits some discussion in these pages, as it remains my favourite album ever (it is the 25th anniversary of its release next year). ‘Under The Pink’, which came out in 1994 provided Amos with her first major hit single in the UK in ‘Cornflake Girl’, and set high standards for her third studio album.

‘Boys For Pele’ was somewhat unexpected in its scope and style then when it was released in the summer of 1996. Both ‘Little Earthquakes’ and ‘Under The Pink’ had been tightly selected albums, both with well focused songs whose subject matter was immediately clear. Both also interestingly suffered from overly long closing tracks that could have been left off without any compromise on the final quality (the title track on ‘Little Earthquakes’ and ‘Yes Anastasia’ on ‘Under The Pink’). ‘Boys For Pele’ was rather different – a sprawling work 18 tracks long, with four short ‘interlude’ tracks designed to act as lead songs on each side of a double vinyl LP, and lyrics that immediately piqued the interest and (considerable) criticism from reviewers because of their bizarre, unpenetrable, often nonsensical nature. What exactly was Amos up to?

The album was born from the wreckage of Amos’ relationship with Eric Rosse, producer of her two previous albums. Amos conceived of the songs as a means of restoring her fire and energy as a woman, and taking that fire back from the men in her life. The myths of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele and themes of feminism and religion are woven throughout the music. And Amos’ superlative vocal and masterful piano provide the familiar hook on which these new, novel ideas are laid. What results is challenging, unsettling and in places very difficult to fathom. But in places, it is quite brilliant, and one forgets just how good some of these songs are until you hear them again.

The album kicks off with one of its interludes, the mysterious ‘Beauty Queen’. Just Amos and her piano, chiming gently behind her breathy, haunted vocal. This flows into ‘Horses’, the first hint of the lyrical weirdness that either makes or mars the album, depending on your viewpoint. “So I chased down your posies… your pansies in my hosies”. Some songs use lyrical pace and meter to act as a counterpoint to the melody, with the actual content being less important. But Amos had always been a focused, precise songwriter before – given to moments of punch that smack you between the eyes. “So you can make me come… that doesn’t make you Jesus” from ‘Precious Things’ is one excellent example. Pick a song on the first two albums, read the lyrics and you know what she is talking about (with maybe the honourable exception of ‘Cornflake Girl’). What is she singing about in ‘Horses’? Don’t know.

‘Blood Roses’, the next track has plenty of punch – this is a song full of abuse and humiliation. Amos has even referenced Peter Greenaway’s horrific movie ‘The Cook The Thief His Wife And Her Lover’ in speaking about the song and its killer last line “Sometimes you’re nothing but meat”. When Amos snarls “You think I’m a queer… I think you’re a queer” – this is vicious and terrifying. It’s good then that the menace drops with the next song – which is bizarre, because ‘Father Lucifer’ tells the story of a day when Amos took part in an ayahusca ceremony with a South American shaman and met the Devil. The gentle piano and Amos’ faltering vocal turns it into a gorgeous and moving song. This is the point where the album really hits its stride, and the next song ‘Professional Widow’ maintains the pace. It’s rather a shame that everyone will remember this song in its unrecognisably different EDM remix by Armand van Helden – because the original, an attack on Courtney Love is vitriolic and cutting. “Slag pit – stag shit – ah honey bring it close to my lips” she starts… this is a while before she starts yelling “starfucker”. Take another listen to the original – it’s really special.

‘Mr Zebra’ is a quiet little interlude that doesn’t feel out of place in a superb run of songs, which now hits its peak with the two best songs on the album. Actually, they are two of the best songs Amos has recorded. ‘Marianne’ is absolutely brilliant. This is another song with ludicrous lyrics (“tuna, rubber, a little blubber in my igloo”) but somehow this time you just know what Amos is singing about. The story of Maryanne Curtis, a girl with whom Amos went to school, who died of an overdose at 15 and who was rumoured to have committed suicide is sung heartbreakingly and emotionally, and the lyrical oddness just works. “I said Timmy and that purple monkey are all down at Bobby’s house…” just flows as Amos (who had never performed the song until the take we hear on the album) cuts right to our core. I don’t quite know why I crumple at “she could outrun the fastest slug” or “quickest girl in the frying pan”… but I do, every time. I simply adore ‘Marianne’. But I’m pretty fond of ‘Caught A Lite Sneeze’ too – this powerful, unusually percussion heavy song tells the tale of a failing relationship. “Didn’t know our love was so small” would seem to sum it all up.

‘Muhammed My Friend’ gives us the interesting concept of Jesus being a girl… fitting with the feminism and religion subtext to the album, and then we have the song that was the stone cold highlight of the album when it first was released. ‘Hey Jupiter’ has Amos, her piano and a million tons of emotion as we get another look at collapsing love – this time seen through the metaphor of planetary separation. The edge of desperation in the line “and this little masochist is lifting up her dress” is gutwrenching. She will do anything to keep this together, but she knows inside that it is doomed. I remember when Amos played this song at the Royal Albert Hall when she toured in support of the album. A memorable moment that will stay with me until the grave. I’m not sure ‘Hey Jupiter’ has aged as well as some of the songs on the album, to be honest: compared with ‘Marianne’ and ‘Caught A Lite Sneeze’ it now feels like a fairly standard piano ballad. And this is the point at which ‘Boys For Pele’ starts to ebb downhill. Compared to the precise nature of the first half of the album, songs such as ‘Agent Orange’, ‘Doughnut Song’ and ‘In The Springtime of His Voodoo’ never really struck the same kind of chord. There are some unexpected emotions in ‘Not The Red Baron’, which appears to be based on the Peanuts cartoons (mentioning Charlie Brown and his ‘wonderful dog’) but which actually sees Amos reach an epiphany that men can suffer too when relationships fail, and that women can be the victimisers as well as the victims. But the obvious highlight of the second half of the album, a song which could almost draw together everything that has gone before is the beautiful ‘Putting The Damage On’. The brass that ushers this song in is unexpected and all the more potent for that, and Amos gently leads us through a kind of summary of the break up with Fosse. “If I start seeing him as beautiful.. that he’s beautiful after all that happened” she said about the thoughts behind the song, and the lyric “You’re still so pretty when you’re putting the damage on” comes naturally from that. It’s lovely, and the sweetness of closing song ‘Twinkle’ works well, as it does not detract from the memories of ‘Damage’.

‘Boys For Pele’ is an uneven, overlong album, and Amos went on to release at least three albums that were its clear superior – ‘From The Choirgirl Hotel’ is right up there with ‘Little Earthquakes’ as her best album of the lot, ‘To Venus And Back’ benefited from the wondrous ‘1000 Oceans’ as its closing track and the 9/11 inspired ‘Scarlet’s Walk’ explored contemporary America in intriguing fashion. But as a marker of where Amos stood in her own personal life, ‘Boys For Pele’ is one of the most cathartic experiences I can recall in popular music. And amidst the sometimes shredding emotion and the camouflage, Amos crafted songs which will remain favourites of mine until the day I die. But then she has always had a knack for doing that.

 

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Dave’s Heatseekers Chart Update October 28th

It’s a very good week for Ingrid Michaelson. I expected big things of the New Yorker, who is of Swedish and Dutch ancestry when ‘Hell No’, the debut single from her seventh album ‘It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense’ appeared earlier this year. There was an edge and a slightly vicious sense of humour in her music that I’d not seen from her before. She has not disappointed. The album is excellent, and climbed to the No 1 spot in my Album Chart last weekend (holding off strong debut entries from The Naked and Famous and Kings of Leon among others), and second single ‘Whole Lot Of Heart’ is heading for the Top 10 in the Singles Chart at present. But best of all is the album’s lead off track ‘Light Me Up’, which reaches No 1 on the Heatseekers Chart this week. ‘Light Me Up’ is a simply glorious love song, beautifully constructed from its curious snippet of sound intro to the point where the piano chimes in. It’s emotional and powerful, but the highlight for me are the lyrics in the opening two verses. “Well you’re not what I was looking for” sings Michaelson, before the real power of this new love strikes her. “And you taught me what a life is for – to see that ordinary… isn’t”. And later… “I want to see you with my eyes… but I see you in the fireflies. And how extraordinary is that?” From a background of solid but unremarkable AOR, Michaelson has jumped into the stratosphere as one of the year’s biggest successes. And ‘Light Me Up’ is going to do very well when it crosses over into the Singles Chart next week.

Right behind Michaelson is Jillian Banks and ‘To The Hilt’, the fourth single from her much anticipated second album ‘The Altar’. I found ‘The Altar’ to be a curiously uneven piece of work – almost a little disappointing in places, in fact. There are some excellent songs (and current singles chart No 11 ‘Mind Games’ is the obvious standout) but also some rather plodding tracks that feel like filler. Banks is at her best when she lets her voice become the focal point of the music – because she really has a hauntingly gorgeous voice. It is bruised and almost broken in places. ‘Mind Games’ allows her the scope to fully capitalise on this, but ‘To The Hilt’ might be even better. A beautiful piano backed ballad, Banks sings of a man who was with her when she set out on her music career, but who has been unable to cope with the trappings of fame and success that have come her way. “Hated you for leaving me… you were my muse for so long. Now I’m drained creatively… but I miss you on my team”. It’s absolutely lovely. Banks herself clearly feels a deep attachment to the song, which is the closing track on ‘The Altar’ for a reason. “It is special to me, that song. It’s sacred to me. It just feels… It felt like it needed to be the last thing you heard from me. It’s a bit gentle. It also doesn’t fit in between songs. It needs space because it’s so emotional. It needs time to breathe and to be digested.” she said about ‘To The Hilt’. It is a song that gives you everything good about Banks. I am really looking forward to hearing her perform the song live… clearly, it needs to be the last song on the setlist.

A couple more highlights to tell you about. Haley Bonar already has two Top 20 singles from her current album ‘Impossible Dream’ in ‘Kismet Kill’ and Top 10 hit ‘I Can Change’ – now ‘Stupid Face’ looks set to do very well, having climbed to No 3 in the Heatseekers Chart. Denmark’s Agnes Obel has released her new album ‘Citizen Of Glass’ this week (review coming in the next few days), and she follows current Top 10 single ‘Familiar’ with two Heatseekers Top 10 entries in ‘Golden Green’ and ‘Stretch Your Eyes’. And it’s a welcome back to the chart for Little Mix. The former X Factor winners are an interesting band in chart terms, because they do churn out some rather run of the mill stuff which I can easily ignore. I hated ‘Black Magic’, a real lowest common denominator jumble of all that is wrong with pop music, for example. But when they are good… ‘Change Your Heart’ is a majestic song, and the girls-only vocal version of ‘Secret Love Song’ is pure unadulterated pop perfection, sung quite gloriously by Perrie and Jade in particular. New single ‘Shout Out To My Ex’ is quite fun, and very pointed in a ‘Hell No’ fashion about a shall-remain-nameless former partner of one of the band members (hello Zayn!) It’s not going to be a huge hit but probably will make the Top 40, and a Heatseekers new entry at No 17 is not a bad start.

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Daves Heatseekers Chart Update September 24

We have a first in this week’s Heatseekers Chart – two songs sharing the No 1 spot. As you may know if you are a regular reader, the position songs take in the Heatseekers Chart is determined by my prediction of the peak position they will eventually reach in the main singles chart. You’d think I would be pretty good at making this prediction, but sometimes you would be surprised – ‘Through The Cellar Door’ for example never got beyond a peak of No 8 in the Heatseekers Chart and actually dropped to No 15 the week before it crossed over into the main Singles Chart. At this point I was predicting a Singles Chart peak of No 40 for it, rather than the 9 weeks at No 1 it actually achieved. I think to be fair that when I think a song is going to get to No 1, it often does. Two songs this week share the distinction of me predicting that they will reach No 1, and so they are sharing the top spot on the Heatseekers Chart as well. Avec Sans’ ‘All Of Time’ was on its own at the top last week, but the more you listen to Massive Attack’s ‘The Spoils’ the more you are drawn in by its orchestral beauty. Massive Attack have had two previous No 1’s in my chart with ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ (unsurprisingly) in 1991 and ‘Sly’ in 1995 – ‘The Spoils’ looks a solid bet to become their third chart topper.

Next up, let’s mention two songs which are going to be very major hits. I thought when I first heard Bat For Lashes’ should-have-won-the-Mercury-Music-Prize album ‘The Bride’ that ‘Joe’s Dream’ was the standout track. For the uninitiated (and given that I forgot to review ‘The Bride’ in this blog, you can be forgiven for that), the album is a concept work following the journey of a woman whose husband-to-be is killed in an accident on his way to their wedding. He had a premonition of this event, the aforementioned ‘Joe’s Dream’. It’s gorgeous and haunting. Natasha Khan has a beautiful voice, and the stripped back nature of many of the tracks on ‘The Bride’ showcases this to perfection. I’m really pleased that ‘Joe’s Dream’ has appeared as a single – it may well reach the top 10, something which neither of the two previous singles from ‘The Bride’, ‘In God’s House’ and ‘Sunday Love’ managed to achieve.

And then we have a song with a very difficult standard to live up to. ‘The Crawl’ is the third single from Lanterns on the Lake’s magnificent, majestic, outstanding album ‘Beings’. I should say immediately here that I suffer from the same bias when discussing Lanterns on the Lake as I do when I talk about Laurel, because they are my favourite band. I absolutely adore ‘Beings’ and the two singles taken from it so far, ‘Faultlines’ and ‘Through The Cellar Door’ both made No 1. I was keen to find a third single from the album but wasn’t quite sure which song would work best… ‘Stuck For An Outline’ seemed like one contender. ‘The Crawl’ is certainly an unusual single – gently paced and echoing, with lyrics that cut you to the bone. “Prize my ribs apart – and we can watch the blood drip dry” sings Hazel Wilde in that eerie, foreboding, slightly threatening style she shares with the Jezabels’ Hayley Mary. “I’m not the only one to have pieces gone” the song concludes. The imagery, the style, the atmosphere so unique to Lanterns on the Lake is all present and correct here, and the video is another thing of beauty. I am so happy that Lanterns are touring again this autumn: I know we’ve already seen them once this year, but frankly they are one of the only bands who I would go and see every single time they tour. We are going to see them in Cambridge this time because we are already tied up when they play in London (and you can ask Avec Sans why if you see them!)

 

 

 

 

 

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Dave’s Chart Update September 11th

Chart moves can give a misleading impression of which songs are improving in the most significant fashion in the chart. The reason is obvious – while songs in the lower end of the Top 100 can jump 30 or 40 places, it is rather hard to do that if you are already at No 20. A major jump at the bottom end of the survey often doesn’t lead to that significant a final peak position – but a big improvement in chart points within the Top 20 is a very strong indicator of a very high peak. So let’s look at this week’s chart in a slightly different way by namechecking the songs that have made the biggest improvement in chart points this week.

1st – ‘Vetiver’, Snow Ghosts (19 to 8, 233% improvement)

I have been talking about ‘Vetiver’ becoming a major hit for weeks, and this week’s big jump merely proves the point. A song reaching No 8 on just its third week on the chart is a major feat, and ‘Vetiver’ continues to look like a very likely No 1. The harrowing, eerie synths and those gorgeously poetic lyrics make an impact every time you hear the song. Reaching the Top 10 within 3 weeks is not a guarantee of a No 1 however – among the songs that have not reached No 1 after such a fast start in the last year are On And On’s ‘Drifting’ (which reached No 5 on its second week on the chart), Jess Glynne’s ‘Take Me Home’ and The Slow Show’s ‘Breaks Today’.

2nd – ‘So Well’, The Invisible f/ Jessie Ware (38 to 20, 216% improvement)

This song is rapidly turning into a huge hit – which I didn’t expect after ‘Love Me Again’, the first single from ‘Patience’ failed to even crack the Bubbling Under chart. The haunting music, Jessie Ware’s gorgeously pitched, breathy vocal and some searing lyrics create something special. “Conversation is not enough – Just another way for you to stay out of touch”. Songs that tell of how people don’t really know each other are always really potent and powerful and this is another excellent example.

3rd – ‘Closer’, The Chainsmokers f/ Halsey (59 to 29, 209% improvement)

‘Closer’ is doing as well as its current rate of climb suggests (88 to 59 to 29, and the highest climber in each of the last two weeks). The Chainsmokers have sneakily become the hottest electro-dance-pop act on the planet: their three singles (‘Roses’ and ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ preceding ‘Closer’) have all been massive hits in the States as well as in my chart. Really good electro-pop is often very straightforward, but top notch vocals are a massive boon – look at the colossal (and still uncredited contribution) Iselin Solheim has made to Alan Walker’s two major hits ‘Faded’ and ‘Sing Me To Sleep’. Then there is Foxes and her vocal on ‘Clarity’. Obviously the vocalist has to be female. If you were going to pick a female vocalist, as I’ve said before, you cannot go wrong with Daya or Halsey. All of the Chainsmokers’ hits this year are top class and why it took me a few weeks to wake up to the excellence of ‘Closer’ I have no idea. Top 1o for sure.

4th – ‘My Hood’, Ray BLK f/ Stormzy (1 to 1, 200% improvement)

Yes, this proves my point. ‘My Hood’ reached No 1 last week, but in pure chart terms it was only chalking up as many points as your average No 2. Now it is a clear No 1 after a huge increase in points. I have said a lot about this song before – suffice to say that I still get a lump in my throat every time I hear the line “Through concrete flowers grow”. Take a walk through Catford, or Lewisham, or Deptford and you will see how true that is.

5th – ‘Impossible Tracks’, The Kills (13 to 5, 186% improvement)

I have been singing the praises of ‘Impossible Tracks’ for weeks too, but it has slowed down a little up to last week. This huge leap into the Top 5 has set it right back on course for No 1. It is a toss up frankly which of ‘Impossible Tracks’ and ‘Vetiver’ will get there first. “I’m gonna roll on back on impossible tracks and get carried away”. My money’s on The Kills, for what it’s worth.

What else has been happening? Well, the unsurprising highest new entry is ‘My Heart’s Always Yours’ from Arkells, but a more surprising second highest new entry is ‘Daisy Chain’, a piece of electro genius from the terribly named Loose Meat. Analogue synthesisers and ‘old skool drum machines’ are heavily involved in the creation of this excellent track. Why Loose Meat? No idea, I’m afraid – one to file alongside those mysteries such as why Lissie never plays ‘Hollywood’ live and why the Augustines are about to embark on a farewell tour. Glad we saw them earlier this year when we did. And finally, ‘Cowboy Joe’ is stubbornly hanging around in the Top 5 – it has now spent 12 weeks in the Top 5 (plus another one at No 6). It is about to go platinum (those symbols beside the top selling songs on the chart list? Green for platinum, yellow for gold, red for silver) and it is right up there with ‘Come Alive’ and ‘Through The Cellar Door’ for the year’s top seller now.

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Avec Sans – Heartbreak Hi Album Review

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Now, it is time to introduce you all to something really special. Avec Sans (French for ‘With Without’) are Alice Fox (vocals) and Jack St James (electronics). The duo have been together now for 4 years, and have gained something of a reputation for their moving electropop and their exciting live performances. A variety of songs had seen the light of day before they broke through into my chart in a big way with ‘Heartbreak Hi’, the title track from their newly released debut album. You will already know how highly I rate ‘Heartbreak Hi’ – it’s a gorgeous song, combining a reflective verse with a soaring chorus, and it has climbed as of this week to No 21 on my singles chart. Indeed, Avec Sans have a lot of the hallmarks which I really like in a band – spiralling, sweeping electronic music, heartfelt lyrics, evocative song titles, excellent female vocals. So I was pretty excited to take my first listen to ‘Heartbreak Hi’ the album this week. I was not disappointed.

This is an absolute cracker of an album, and the tone is set right from the start. ‘Even The Echoes’  is a superb lead off track – atmospheric, with beautifully layered synths and a real sense of unease behind the music. ‘Heartbreak Hi’ itself comes next, and ‘Shiver’ adds some extra touches. The verse is sparse, but as the chorus comes in and the song continues the instrumentation becomes more and more intricate. There is a lot going on in these songs behind the classic synthpop music. There is a minor dip at this point – I didn’t find much in either ‘We Are’ or ‘When You Go’ to remember – but the album bursts back to life with the nicely defined ‘Hold On’ and the swirling ‘Resonate’. There are hints of School of Seven Bells and of Chvrches layered throughout the music – Lauren Mayberry’s vocal particularly came to mind during the classically mid tempo, sure fire potential single ‘Close My Eyes’. And there is something of Phoria in the pulsing bass backbeat to ‘History’.

And then, we have possibly the best song I have heard all year. If you like ‘Heartbreak Hi’, then you are going to absolutely adore ‘All Of Time’. This song has actually been around for a couple of years now – it was one of the first that Avec Sans released onto Soundcloud. I hadn’t come across it before though – so thank God I have now. I don’t actually think your life can be called complete until you have heard ‘All Of Time’. It is a stunning paean to lost love. The song kicks off with a beautiful key change vocal from Fox, and as the song builds it gets more and more bewitching, and more and more heartbreaking. The imagery in the lyrics is gorgeous. “The sadness of leaving will crystallize, and break into pieces that we can hide – So no one will ever know that I was ever lost without you” sings Fox in the bridge, before the chorus kicks in. “I spent all of time on your trail, trying to find you – I spent all my life on your trail, trying to reach you”. It’s a passionate, extraordinary song that swells and twists its way into your heart. Honestly, after two or three listens you will be completely hooked. I absolutely adore it.

And the rest of the album is great too – there’s a nice build from the slow paced bass start to ‘Perth’, and then the closing track ‘Mistakes’ brings us full circle with the same kind of carefully constructed, atmospherically haunting music with which we opened the album in ‘Even The Echoes’. So, there we have it. A superb album full of songs that could stand alone just as well as they stand together. There are pop hooks a plenty but with a huge variety of ideas floating in the background. It is uplifting in places, and in others your heart is shattered. It is a truly outstanding work – and Avec Sans have become one of the most important bands of the year in the blink of an eye.

*****

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Dave’s Heatseekers Chart Update September 9th

OK, I have a confession to make. Life is so busy and there is so much going on at the moment that it is very difficult to keep up with all the new releases and all the new albums appearing. I have about eleven albums stacked up waiting to be reviewed, and I can’t always get through the new singles either. So I have started to place new songs in the Heatseekers Chart based on the artist’s past record. This week for example we have new entries in the Heatseekers Chart from Jimmy Eat World, James Vincent McMorrow and Everything Everything that I have yet to actually hear. It has worked out pretty well when I’ve tried this before – there are very few songs that have been a lot worse than I expected.

But plenty that have been much better. And the highest new entry in this week’s Heatseekers Chart is an absolute stunner. Massive Attack’s return this year with their Ritual Spirit EP has not perhaps quite led to the kind of chart success I was expecting: ‘Ritual Spirit’ itself peaked at No 13, but two of the other tracks from the EP, ‘Voodoo In My Blood’ and ‘Take Me There’ did rather less well. In anticipation of the new album, Massive Attack have released another new single. ‘The Spoils’ features vocals from Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, has a video starring Cate Blanchett and is absolutely superb. The song is a gentle, moody and melancholy, as Sandoval muses on the man she thinks she loves, but realises that she should not love. “But I somehow slowly love you, and wanna keep you the same. Well, I somehow slowly know you, and wanna keep you away.” There are beautiful,soaring strings above the backing electro beats in the second half of the song. It’s delicate and mesmerising. Massive Attack have produced many songs which feature among my all time favourites – ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ obviously, but also ‘Sly’ and ‘Karmacoma’. ‘The Spoils’ looks set to join the ranks of their very best songs. It is going to be (pardon the pun) massive.

 

 

 

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Autoheart – I Can Build A Fire Album Review

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Seven years ago the worst year of my life was brightened to a small extent by a song. ‘The Sailor Song’ by London band The Gadsdens was a glorious piano led indie pop ballad (beautifully described as ‘strange and gorgeous’ by the Telegraph’s Marc Lee). It promised much for this band, but there was no sign of any follow up music and as time went by, The Gadsdens curiously faded from view. The band ‘evolved’ (their words) into Autoheart in 2011, and released an album in 2013. Entitled ‘Punch’, the album somewhat passed me by – and the inclusion of ‘The Sailor Song’, by then four years old seemed in some ways to be a little desperate. And then… nothing more. Until this year – and it turns out that the seven year wait was well worthwhile. Autoheart have released their second album, ‘I Can Build A Fire’, and it is absolutely fantastic.
Autoheart are lead vocalist Jody Gadsden, guitarist Barney JC and pianist Simon Neilson. Their music is probably best defined as ‘indie pop’, but this is not ‘guys with guitars’ indie – the influence of piano and keyboards is very strong. The band’s (possibly tongue in cheek) description of the album as “Erasure meets Abba via Limahl’s ‘The Never Ending Story'” does strike a chord – there are lilts and sways and swoons here that fit with the best examples of 80’s pop, allayed to a contemporary backdrop, with lyrics which are poetic, and moving, and heartfelt. There are many songs here to enthuse about, but four in particular are worthy of special mention.
Lead single ‘Oxford Blood’ is a powerful electro-based song, led by Gadsden’s poetic vocal and the backing of Berlin based singer songwriter Anne Haight. “We need a lot of love to combat the evil – lying in a bathtub hoping for a miracle” runs the lyrical hook. It’s magical. Almost-title track ‘We Can Build A Fire’ in contrast pounds along to a rhythmical beat. The use of the metre and pace of the lyrics as a counterpoint to the music is one I have always loved, and ‘We Can Build A Fire’ uses this perfectly. “In my assassination there are constellations lighting up the sky above, the night is full of love” – the words themselves are less important in this song than the texture they create. Then there is the most gorgeous ballad you could wish to hear. Gadsden wrote ‘Before You Came’ for his boyfriend Matt, and sent it to him on Christmas Day. You can quite understand why this is his favourite track on the album. Here the lyrics mean everything. “On the day before you came – Every view I ever saw was never good enough, there was little in my life that I was proud of”. Beautiful stuff.
There are plenty of other excellent songs – the electro vibe of ‘Possibility’, the more staccato charms of ‘Murky Waters’ – but the album saves probably the best for last. ‘Joseph’ started life as three separate songs, and the band were unable to work out which one should be the final version. Two decisions resolved their dilemma – the song was transformed into a duet between Gadsden and Haight, and elements of all three versions were combined together to create the finished article. The result is a quite majestic album closer – one that the term ‘epic’ might have been coined for. It’s all pretty tragic too – probably the saddest song on what is a hugely uplifting record. “You don’t heal me like you used to” the final chorus goes, before concluding “I don’t need you like I used to – you can’t cure me like before”. Haight’s vocal, alongside Gadsden’s gorgeous voice is quite perfect, a fragile and delicate contrast.
Autoheart have created something exceptional here. They are completely contemporary now, but you kind of feel that had this album come out 30 years ago it would have fitted in perfectly then too. The melodies are masterful, the lyrics are poignant and emotional, and the voices are perfect. Finally, seven years after they released what is still possibly my favourite song ever, Autoheart have taken their rightful place at the very top of the tree.

*****

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Dave’s Chart Update September 5th

We will start today with massive congratulations to Ray BLK and Stormzy, who have climbed to No 1 with the debut entry for both in my chart, ‘My Hood’. This wondrous tribute to the run down and yet romantic area of South East London where both come from (and where I live) becomes the first hip hop chart topper since ‘See You Again’, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s massive worldwide smash from ‘Fast 7′. “Top floor of Pepys Estate will show you our world” – the song is so moving that you just want to go there and look for yourself. A thoroughly well deserved No 1. The next immediate threats to reach the top are Nieves’ heartbreaking ‘Broken Oars’ and Adele’s ‘Remedy’ (from the stronger half of her rather polarised single releases) – further down the Top 10 we can congratulate Ingrid Michaelson, Black Foxxes and Polica who all enjoy their first Top 10 single this week. We’ve spoken about ‘Hell No’ and ‘I’m Not Well’ before, but I’ve not said anything much about ‘Wedding’. This is the second chart hit from Polica’s album ‘United Crushers’ which I reviewed a couple of months ago: ‘Wedding’ was always the standout track, but it has done much better than I expected as its melody gradually sneaks into your mind, and Channy Leaneagh’s vocal counterpoints the music beautifully. The song has a pretty powerful message too, hitting out at police brutality and the streets where kids have to be raised to fight. “Saying hands up, the bullet’s in” references protests following the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson. I think this song will hang around the Top 10 for a few more weeks yet.

Many of the songs I have discussed recently are making progress up the chart – one song which I have not talked about but which is now activating is ‘Closer’, the collaboration between The Chainsmokers and Halsey. In a rare show of taste, the British public have actually bought / streamed ‘Closer’ to No 1 in the official chart! The Chainsmokers are unrecognisable from the band who annoyed as many people as they impressed with their Top 20 single ‘#Selfie’ last year. Huge hits with ‘Roses’ and ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ have now been followed by a third highly impressive collaboration with a female vocalist – the one disadvantage of seeing The Chainsmokers live will be the fact that Daya and Halsey won’t be with them (I don’t suppose). Great choices for featured vocalists by the way guys! ‘Closer’ has taken a while to properly impress me, but its 29 place jump to No 59 (making it the joint highest climber with The Invisible’s ‘So Well’, another electro band collaborating with an excellent female vocalist) suggests that it will do pretty much as well as its two predecessors.

Three of the new entries finally are worth highlighting. SOAK had a major hit last year with the haunting ‘B a noBody’ – Bridie Monds-Watson has now hit the chart with her eerie cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’. “We come from the land of ice and snow – From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow” – Robert Plant was inspired by a trip to Iceland, apparently. Led Zep blow the walls off but Monds-Watson’s take is sultry, moody and not a little scary. Why she chose this song to cover I am not sure, but if it was to give it an alternative musical life, then she’s done a bloody good job. Then we have the return of Warpaint, who have clearly rid their system of the ethereal wispiness that flowed through much of their self titled 2014 album, judging from the bouncy, almost funky sound of ‘New Song’. I actually really enjoyed ‘Warpaint’, and the band had a couple of Top 40 hits with ‘Biggy’ and ‘Love Is To Die’, but there was a sense that the album wasn’t quite there – as if the songs were so ethereal that they had floated off somewhere. I’m expecting a bit more punch in the new album ‘Heads Up’, which is due out later this month. And then we have Dusky, who you may not be familiar with. This electronic band, Alfie Granger-Howell and Nick Harriman have been together since 2011. They released a studio album that year in ‘Stick With This’, but since then have bounced around between a variety of labels releasing EP’s. They do now have a new album in the pipeline in ‘Outer’,and they can celebrate their first chart entry with the atmospheric, swirling rave crossover ‘Ingrid Is A Hybrid’. It’s a great title (God knows what it means though) and the video is really cool, as you can see below.

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