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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Dave’s Heatseekers Chart Update September 2

I promise we will get back to the regular album reviews soon, but for now, you will have to make do with possibly the most exciting Heatseekers Chart for months. There are a horde of excellent tracks either entering the chart for the first time, or making significant moves towards the top. We have already covered some of them – but it is worth sending out our congratulations to The Courteeners, who have jumped to No 1 with ‘The 17th’, preventing ‘Georgia’ by Bear’s Den from regaining the top spot. And there are major climbs for the three tracks we discussed in detail last week, Autoheart’s ‘Oxford Blood’, Foreign Fields’ ‘I Killed You In The Morning’ and Arkells’ ‘My Heart’s Always Yours’.

So, what else is happening? Let’s start at No 4 with one of the year’s biggest breakthrough acts, Christine and the Queens. ‘Saint Claude’ follows ‘iT’ and ‘Tilted’ as singles from the No 1 album ‘Chaleur Humaine’, and this is another absolute cracker. No, it’s better than that, actually. The music is gorgeous, Heloise Letissier’s voice is hauntingly emotional, but the lyrics… bloody hell! How astonishing are they? There are so many things wrong with the man Letissier is telling us about. “Such an attitude – impatient, gloriously rude” she sings, adding “Every breath you take is a violent strain that breaks”. But then there is an absolute killer line in the chorus. “Here’s my station – but if you say just one word I’ll stay with you”. The song is even more sublime in French. It’s quite exceptional stuff. What a star Letissier is – and how brilliantly well deserved. I have said this before, and I will say it again probably, but to see a top class singer hit the heights purely on the strength of her music and her performances – it kind of restores your faith in the world, really.

So, here come some more superb new songs. Daughter have released a fourth single from their No 1 album ‘Not To Disappear’ – ‘No Care’ isn’t quite as mesmerising as ‘Numbers’ and ‘How’ but it does add a bit of an extra edge to their approach. “No one asks me for dances because I only know how to flail” is a great first line, building to a rather cutting chorus. “No care, no care in the world: I don’t care, I don’t care anymore”. Daughter are another of the year’s major successes – their show at Brixton in October is one of the highlights remaining this year. Then we have Ingrid Michaelson’s second single from her new album ‘It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense’, which has just been released. I suggested a few weeks ago that Michaelson’s marital breakup might have given her music the necessary kick to take it out of AOR land and into something more interesting. Well, on the evidence both of ‘Hell No’ and her wonderful new song ‘Whole Lot Of Heart’ that is exactly what has happened. The cutting vitriol of ‘Hell No’ has been replaced with a magical and moving piece of work. “You said it’s life that moves too much – We’re losing touch, but I’m not losing you”. It’s great – and Michaelson is also hitting the big time.

There’s more! We have new songs from Empire Of The Sun (‘High And Low’), Charlotte OC (‘Blackout’) and Carly Rae Jepsen (‘Higher’)… it’s all so competitive that even a solid piece of indie rock from Jimmy Eat World (‘Get Right’) has only managed to enter the chart at No 37. But the most auspicious new song of all is the first release from the forthcoming Bon Iver album ’22: A Million’. Justin Vernon has been discussing the album at a press conference in the last 24 hours: the album has a genesis mixed up in drum loops, a trip to the Greek Islands and an uncredited Stevie Nicks sample among many other things. Plus all those weird song titles. We are promised something of a departure from Bon Iver’s previous work, but encouragingly there is a lot that is familiar in the opening single (and lead off track) ‘22 (OVER S∞∞N)‘. Vernon’s haunting vocal is centre stage as ever, of course. Are Bon Iver responsible for possibly the best song of the millenium to date in ‘Holocene’? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments box).

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Dave’s Chart Update August 30

So, after considerable difficulty Hannah Lou Clark has finally equalled the record for the most successful debut appearance ever on my chart as ‘Cowboy Joe’ returns to No 1 for its seventh week, with Lissie’s ‘Hollywood’ dropping to No 2 after two weeks at the top. ‘Cowboy Joe’ and ‘Hollywood’ are both losing chart points, so the odds of either being No 1 next week are pretty low. That would seem to open up a bit of a dilemma for me as the obvious song to replace them is Ray BLK and Stormzy’s ‘My Hood’, which has climbed to No 3 this week (overtaking both ‘Stop Desire’ and ‘Broken Oars’). As you all know, ‘My Hood’ is a superb song, and I’d ordinarily be delighted with it at No 1, but for some reason it has disappeared from Spotify this week. When a previous artist decided to withdraw her songs from Spotify, I immediately banned her from my chart! (Hello, Taylor). I’m not going to do the same with Ray BLK, and I still need to talk about this in more detail, but it might be germane to point out that without Spotify, I would never have heard of her or this song. So the evil, monolithic enslaver of popular music creators might not be all bad after all, perhaps.

There are some significant moves towards the top end of the chart from The Kills and ‘Impossible Tracks’ (unsurprisingly, from No 32 to No 21), The Naked and Famous (also unsurprisingly, from No 41 to No 29) and Bear’s Den (as ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain’ jumps 31 places to No 38), while all of those songs might eventually be usurped by Snow Ghosts who have the highest new entry at No 32 with ‘Vetiver’. Well, ‘Vetiver’ might not usurp ‘Impossible Tracks’, in truth. Meanwhile ‘Heartbreak Hi’ at No 51 is a highly impressive Top 100 debut for Avec Sans, and not too far behind that is a rather suprisingly high new entry for Katy Perry and ‘Rise’. I am not one of those snobs who has a problem with Perry – I actually think she is bloody good at what she does, and some of her songs are pretty much pop perfection (take ‘Firework’ and ‘Roar’ as obvious examples). She can hammer out a top notch ballad (‘Unconditional’) and had a startling No 1 in my chart early in 2014 with ‘Dark Horse’, her collaboration with Juicy J. ‘Rise’ has appeared at a slightly odd time, as it had been linked with NBC’s coverage of the Olympics in the States. Perry has talked about the song’s ability to “inspire us to heal, unite, and rise together”, and the video has a montage of great American performances from the past to further motivate us all. Montages always remind me of ‘Team America World Police’ though, and somehow smaller, more personal acts of courage in the Olympics move me more than more obvious American displays of overemotion in my mind… so with that bunch of cynicism out of the way, I can probably say that ‘Rise’ is going to benefit from not being attached to the Olympics at all as far as I am concerned, and it will stand or fall in my chart on its strengths as a song, pure and simple.

Two more songs I have not mentioned so far deserve a bit of focus this week. First up we have The Invisible, a three piece from London led by Dave Okumu, and including Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor. The band are ‘genre-bending’ apparently (their Wikipedia page lists no fewer than six different genres of music including ‘downtempo’ and ‘synthpop’), and their third album ‘Patience’ includes current chart hit ‘So Well’. This is a lovely melancholic piece of music, with breathy vocals contributed by Jessie Ware – after a few listens it actually gets quite haunting, with its theme (so common in music it seems) of nobody ever really knowing anyone else. Fortunately we have the perfect antidote to all that sadness in Arkells, whose new single ‘Drake’s Dad’, the first release from their fourth album ‘Morning Report’ is new in the Top 100 at No 92 this week. Arkells are best known (to me anyway) for their 2014 hit ‘Leather Jacket’, and ‘Drake’s Dad’ bounces along with a similarly enthusiastic tale of a rather off the wall road trip. It’s all a true story too, apparently – and yes, the ‘Drake’s Dad’ of the title is actually Drake’s Dad – or Dennis Graham who ‘couldn’t have been nicer’ according to the band. How the band bumped into him in a bar in Beale Street, Memphis is not explained. You could be forgiven for thinking that Arkells are all about a bit of a laugh, but then you’ve not heard the next single from ‘Morning Report’. ‘My Heart’s Always Yours’ is a big, ballsy rock ballad that flows over a top notch tune, and is the kind of song that might just push you up to the next level. It is going to be big, I think.

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Dave’s Heatseekers Chart Update August 28

Snow Ghosts have wrested the No 1 spot back from Bear’s Den and ‘Gabriel’, as ‘Vetiver’ celebrates its last week of Heatseekers eligibility. ‘Gabriel’ also slips behind the superb ‘Heartbreak Hi’, a slice of electropop genius from Avec Sans – their album is out and I will be reviewing it next week. ‘Heartbreak Hi’ is also entering the main chart this week, so ‘Gabriel’ has a fair chance of returning to No 1, but it has a few rather impressive potential challengers to overcome.

First up we have ‘The 17th’, the new single from The Courteeners and the first release from their fifth album ‘Mapping The Rendezvous’ which comes out in October. I have liked The Courteeners for years, but it appears that I have liked them because of one song – ‘Not Nineteen Forever’, which is now 8 years old. They have released a couple of other decent singles – ‘Are You In Love With A Notion’ probably the best – but I’ve never heard them produce anything quite like ‘The 17th’. This is a major extended piece which builds gradually into a tale of lost opportunity and disappointment. “Everyone can hear you but nobody’s listening – I wanna be someone but haven’t got the discipline” the lyrics tell us, before fading into a refrain of “we’re having such a good time”, phrased in such a way that you know the protagonist in the song isn’t really having anything of the sort. It’s a quite superb song, and will be a major chart contender. The new album might be very interesting indeed.

Next up are Foreign Fields, a duo from Wisconsin – Eric Hillman and Brian Holl. The band describe their music as ‘electronic folk’, and they have been around since 2011 with one album to their name already in 2012’s ‘Anywhere But Where I Am’. Their second album ‘Take Cover’ appears in October, and there are a variety of taster songs around the internet at the moment including ‘Dry’, ‘Tangier’ and ‘I’. The song that has introduced me to them is the current Heatseekers No 12, ‘I Killed You In The Morning’. The band describe this as their second song in a series about the five stages of grief, and it has been beautifully illustrated with a video shot with the Indie-Ballet Collaborative. It’s a moving, gentle, thoughtful piece of music from a band who clearly have depth and substance to their approach to their art. I am seriously impressed with ‘I Killed You In The Morning’ and the album is highly anticipated.

Who else should we mention? Well, Metallica are back, swearing their way through some typical monster riffs in ‘Hardwired’, and Banks keeps on teasing us with excellent songs from her forthcoming album – to add to current Singles Chart entry ‘Fuck With Myself’ and ‘Gemini Feed’ (the first song I can recall with “passive aggressive” in the lyrics) we now have another cracker in ‘Mind Games’. But to maintain the theme of bands-I-like-because-of-one-song, let’s say hello to Autoheart. If you have not heard of Autoheart, then you might have heard of their previous manifestation as The Gadsdens. They have been around since 2007, and most famously released the epic piano driven indie anthem ‘The Sailor Song’ in 2009. This is quite possibly my favourite song of all time, and it remains a classical piece of musical and lyrical brilliance. Why The Gadsdens turned into Autoheart in 2011 remains unclear – Autoheart released ‘Punch’ in 2013 (‘The Sailor Song’ being one of the tracks) and are now on their way back with their new album ‘I Can Build A Fire’. Lead single ‘Oxford Blood’ has entered the Heatseekers Chart at No 20 this week, and it is massively promising. Lead singer Joey Gadsden teams with a lovely backing vocal from Anne Haight on a song that he apparently had sat on for several months before sharing it with the rest of the band. Any band who can produce something as exceptional as ‘The Sailor Song’ clearly have the ability to continue to make excellent music, so we will take a listen to ‘I Can Build A Fire’ this week too.

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Black Foxxes – I’m Not Well Album Review

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One of the tips for aspiring writers that I recall well is that you should never use expletives for emphasis. It implies a lack of the right sort of vocabulary to properly convey your message. So I am not going to tell you that ‘I’m Not Well’, the debut album from Exeter three piece Black Foxxes is fucking awesome. I am sure I can give you the right sense of its brilliance in a more literate way.

Black Foxxes are a fascinating band. The membership came together in 2013 when drummer Ant Thornton joined forces with vocalist and guitarist Mark Holley and bassist Tris Jane. The trio are far from your average indie rock personalities. Each of the band’s members seems to suffer from anxieties and insecurities, including around such fundamentals as playing live, and the band derives its spirit and its meaning from the mutual support that they give each other. ‘I’m Not Well’ has echoes of such emotions running throughout its fabric. This is gutsy, powerful, melodic rock of an exceptional kind, but with a real heart and soul that is instantly apparent when you listen. The title track and album opener ‘I’m Not Well’ you will already be familiar with, and I have written about it in glowing terms before. The song opens quietly over gentle guitar and Holley’s ruminative vocal before it explodes into furious life just over half way through. Then after Holley has let rip, ‘I’m Not Well’ collapses into a melancholic coda. It’s a superb song, and is heading towards the Top 10 in my singles chart as we speak.

This fusion of blitzing rock and introspective thought is the driving force within ‘I’m Not Well’. The two best songs behind the title track both follow this pattern. ‘Whatever Lets You Cope’ is gorgeous and thoughtfully developed, while ‘Rivers’ is a moving, twisting rock ballad. Holley tells of how the support from his colleagues has enabled him to bring forward such ideas – and we are very grateful for this. ‘Rivers’, a superb extended work is absolutely heartbreaking. Then we have other examples of excellence in first single ‘Husk’, the pacey, metal-esque ‘How We Rust’, and the powerfully building ‘Bronte’ (great title too). You would expect the pace and the power to dip somewhere, and ‘Waking Up’ and ‘Home’ represent a slight lull in the general quality, but we do get a great finish. ‘Slow Jams Forever’ melds powerchords and moments of quiet calm, and ‘Pines’, taken from the band’s first EP drives the album to its conclusion with moments of sheer brutal power.

This is a superb effort. Everything works – the band’s tight, aggressive and melodic music, Holley’s excellent vocal, the clear passion and depth of feeling that lies within these songs. On this evidence Black Foxxes are one of the finds of the year – and you absolutely have the sense that they will go on developing, exploring and creating new and exciting variations on their formidable theme. So, in summary – ‘I’m Not Well’… it’s fucking awesome, isn’t it?

****½

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Dave’s Chart Update August 22nd

No major changes at the top of the Singles Chart this week, although curiously Lissie has held on to the top spot despite losing ranking points, while Hannah Lou Clark is still at No 2 despite gaining points again. It is not inconceivable that ‘Cowboy Joe’ could vault back to No 1 next week, particularly as I can’t quite see either ‘Stop Desire’ or ‘Broken Oars’ being quite strong enough to make the top spot. There are a variety of strong songs climbing the chart towards the Top 10, including Agnes Obel and ‘Familiar’ which has gained the most chart points for the second week in a row. A climb of 64 – 27 – 18 is very impressive and ‘Familiar’ already looks set to better Obel’s previous top chart hit, ‘Love Is Dead’ which peaked at No 9. But I will tell you now which song currently climbing the chart will get to No 1. ‘Impossible Tracks’, climbing this week from No 48 to No 32 and already The Kills’ highest charting hit (by a mile) just gets better and better every time I hear it, with its pounding guitar line and its lyrical tale of dangerous, unremitting love. Superb stuff.

The Kills have benefited in the album chart as well, as ‘Ash & Ice’ has climbed to a new peak of No 4, 8 weeks after the album’s release. Albums of course do tend to benefit from massive singles, but it is interesting to note that the highest placed single to date released from any of the current Top 8 albums is Christine and the Queens’ current No 11 hit ‘Tilted’. Yes, that’s right – there has not been a single Top 10 hit from any of the current Top 8 albums. Most remarkable of all, the new album chart No 1 is Snow Ghosts and ‘A Wrecking’, which came out last year and about which I wrote in glowing terms a couple of weeks ago. Snow Ghosts celebrate their first Top 100 single this week as ‘Dawn’ makes a quiet entrance at No 92 – not the kind of single you’d expect to be the trigger for an album to reach No 1. Well, it isn’t, of course – the current Heatseekers No 2 ‘Vetiver’ and primary trigger for my Snow Ghosts discovery reaches the singles chart next week and will be a much bigger hit than ‘Dawn’. Neither are on ‘A Wrecking’ though. You might think it has been a very long time since an album reached No 1 without any singles at all charting from it – but you’d be wrong. It happened only last year, when Iron Maiden achieved the feat through the simple measure of not actually releasing any singles from ‘The Book Of Souls’.

Right, some other snippets of chart news. Two of this year’s biggest singles have dropped off the Top 100 this week – ‘Come Alive’ from the Jezabels and ‘How’ from Daughter. We are due to see Daughter in late October – and our chances of seeing the Jezabels live appear rather better than at the start of the year as we have had the excellent news that keyboardist Heather Shannon’s cancer treatment has gone well enough for the band to have relaunched the world tour in support of ‘Synthia’ that had to be cancelled earlier in the year. At the present time The Jezabels are due to tour Australia and North America, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I did wonder earlier this evening what I would go for as my favourite song of the year so far… you might have thought that ‘Come Alive’ would be the one, but actually… ‘Through The Cellar Door’ would be top of the pile at present I think.

 

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Laurel – The Social Gig Review

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‘Spellbinding’ – that’s the word.

This is going to be a very biased review. I absolutely love Laurel Arnell-Cullen’s music. I have written many times about her on this blog before, but for any newcomers, she first came to my attention in late 2014 when the gorgeous electro-pop ‘Shells’ reached No 2 in my chart. She achieved the not inconsiderable feat of beating Lapsley to my Music Futures Award that year, and has gone on to have spectacular success in my chart with a string of superb songs. She has a chameleon like quality to her style – ranging from the trip hop stylings of ‘Memorials’ through last year’s best song, the beautiful string backed ‘Blue Blood’ to the bluesy ‘Life Worth Living’, all Top 5 hits – but every song features her stunning, utterly characteristic vocal. Only one other artist has had four Top 5 singles in my chart over the last 2 years – Meg Myers (with ‘Desire’, ‘The Morning After’, ‘Go’ and ‘Lemon Eyes’) and even Myers can’t match the eight weeks that ‘Blue Blood’ spent at No 1 last summer.

So, I have been looking forward to seeing Laurel live for ages, and we were delighted to see her at The Social, the tiniest venue we have been to this year. It is a basement room under a pub, long and narrow with room for maybe 50 people – it seemed unlikely that ‘Blue Blood”s 24 piece string orchestra were going to fit in, and so Laurel played the set entirely solo, accompanying herself on guitar. I commented in my review of Speech Debelle’s set a couple of weeks ago about the irritating tendency people attending gigs have of chatting away, even when the headline act is playing. It appears that there is a way to prevent that though. You just need a voice like Laurel’s voice.

She has, without a doubt got the most beautiful voice I think I have ever heard – soulful, bluesy, husky at times with a quite wonderful crack beneath her higher register. She is utterly spellbinding when she sings. You could literally hear a pin drop – there was not a sound in the entire place from any of the audience. She is an excellent musician too, and we were completely captivated throughout her entire set. There were plenty of new songs on show – Laurel is still working towards the release of her debut album – but given the electro nature of ‘Shells’ and ‘Memorials’ these were unlikely to be on the set list for this show at least. A couple of particular mentions, for set opener ‘All Star’ and for ‘Alright’ which apparently she wrote a couple of days ago.

Laurel is delightful company too – cheerful and personable, making fun of her own inability to tune her guitar and chat at the same time. She clearly revels in playing live, and looked taken aback by the spell she had cast on everyone, and the rapturous reception for her songs. The set closed in grand style with ‘Life Worth Living’ and with her current single ‘San Francisco’, which got a bit of a noise boost on the guitar compared to the recorded version. I’d have loved to hear her try an acoustic version of ‘Blue Blood’ – but never mind. I was very happy to leave with a copy of the set list (thanks Laurel!) with musical notation, lyrics and Pikachu on the back! This was a superb set from one of the country’s greatest musicians.

So, the final question that I have posed on multiple occasions since I first heard ‘Shells’. Why is this woman not a superstar? She has the perfect voice, she writes superb songs, she has imaginative ideas with her production, and I expect her album will be outstanding. And she looks great too – always important in the modern music business, however much you think it shouldn’t matter. I can usually figure out why acts haven’t made the major breakthrough, but with Laurel, I am completely stumped. Maybe it just needs that one killer song – I thought ‘Blue Blood’ was going to crack it for her, to be honest. It’s kind of depressing to think that some talentless wannabe will be pushed as the ‘Next Big Thing’ after the upcoming series of ‘X Factor’ has run its course, while Laurel will doubtless be working away gigging at small venues, writing her gorgeous music and still waiting for her break. Well, this is why I write this blog – and if I can do anything in my writing to help publicise this superb artist and bring her the success she deserves, I will feel that my work is done.

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