Dave’s Chart Update August 14

So, here’s a shocker. After 4 weeks at No 2 and seemingly losing chart points last week, Lissie’s ‘Hollywood’ has rebounded to earn its first week at No 1. Hannah Lou Clark’s ‘Cowboy Joe’ drops to No 2 after six weeks on top, and is not the most successful debut hit of all time after all. Unless it rebounds itself next week. ‘Hollywood’ is something of a ‘triumph over adversity’ song, with a real theme of learning from pain, which fits quite well with some of the events we have seen in the Olympics. That last line “You don’t own me” is an absolute killer, particularly because I still can’t quite work out if it is real defiance or a cry in the dark. Increasingly the former, actually. Now we really do need to try and find out why Lissie does not play this song in her live show – she is a superb artist and it seems a bit churlish to not see her for that reason only. So if anyone knows her, can you steer her in the direction of this blog please? I’ll tweet her too and see if she lets me know.

The big guns are massing meanwhile behind Sara Hartman’s wonderful pop hit ‘Satellite’ at No 3 and Tegan and Sara’s ‘Stop Desire’ at No 4. We were expecting big things of course from Ray BLK and Stormzy, who leap to No 6 with ‘My Hood’, and from Adele whose ‘Remedy’ has hit the Top 10 as well this week. Rather less expected was the superb success for Nieves and ‘Broken Oars’, which has enjoyed a very impressive move from No 12 to No 5. Now, I like a good heartbreaker, but ‘Broken Oars’ is possibly the most desolate, devastatingly tragic song I have heard in years. “We can’t live like this – the telly, the curtains, our union in bits” – it kind of gets worse from there. The whole landscape of the song is stunningly evocative, and Brendan Dafters’ strong accent is the perfect accompaniment. It’s utterly brilliant. One question – why ‘Nieves’?

So, what else is going on? Well, after last week’s surprise highest new entry for Demi Lovato (‘Body Say’ drops this week, just to make the point) I have tweaked the process for determining the entry position for the new songs to give those likely Top 40 hits a bit of a boost. They have been circulating on the Heatseekers Chart for three or four weeks after all. There are a few songs which have directly benefitted from this move, notably ‘Impossible Tracks’ from The Kills (a glorious love song, even if “I was carried away… I was moving too fast on impossible tracks” also has some echoes this week) which is the highest new entry at No 48. Banks and ‘Fuck With Myself’ at No 52 is another very solid debut, and there is a first chart hit for Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, whose riotous hardcore track ‘Snake Eyes’ arrives at No 70. Carter’s vocal sounds very reminiscent of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner to me.

And in massive contrast, I don’t think I should leave the Singles Chart this week without admitting to probably my biggest guilty pleasure of all. And I have a few – Girls Aloud (particularly ‘Call The Shots’), ‘Broken Strings’, Amy McDonald (seriously, she’s great – what has happened to her?) – but you cannot beat a bit of Britney, can you? Yes, Britney Spears has come slinking back into chart action with ‘Make Me…’, featuring a rap from G-Eazy, and it is well up to scratch. Her dramatic personal problems and some of her odd decisions have made her an easy target for mickey-taking, and my own view is that the quality of some of her music (and of her vocal) has been underestimated as a result. I can take or leave ‘Baby One More Time’ and its near identical twin ‘Oops I Did It Again’, but the Spears discography also includes such monumental songs as the wonderful pure pop ‘Born To Make You Happy’, the unbelievably uncool ‘I’m Not A Girl (Not Yet A Woman)’, the criminally ignored ‘Perfume’ and her best song, the outstanding ballad ‘Everytime’ (complete with gut-wrenching video). ‘Make Me…’ might not be in that class, but after she seemed to be sinking into Las Vegas residence hell a la Celine Dion at around the time of the release of ‘Britney Jean’, this is a return to form with a bit of an urban edge to it. Her ninth album is expected later this year.

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Dave’s Heatseekers Chart Update August 13th

There are a lot of very strong songs massing behind Snow Ghosts and The Kills in the Heatseekers Chart this week. Top of the challengers is ‘Kismet Kill’, the lead single from Haley Bonar’s fifth album ‘Impossible Dream’ which itself debuts at No 2 in the Album Chart this week. Bonar, whose music has been described as ‘alternate country’ has been around for ages – her first recorded work appeared in 2001 – but it was the title track from her 2014 album ‘Last War’ that brought her to my attention. At her best Bonar merges low fi fuzzy guitar with punchy rhythms, and ‘Kismet Kill’ is a good example. Second single ‘I Can Change’ offers a different pace and has also entered the Heatseekers Chart this week, at No 25. Then we have a band who really could make the breakthrough into the big league this year in Phantogram. Already climbing the Singles Chart very rapidly with ‘You Don’t Get Me High Anymore’, their new single ‘Run Run Blood’ has moved from No 13 to No 4 on the Heatseekers Chart. Their musical ability has never been in doubt, and their major 2014 hit ‘Fall In Love’ is testament to that, but Phantogram have now merged in lyrics with a sharp cutting edge, duelling electronica and a healthy slice of attitude. Their new album ‘Three’, due out later this year features some stunning cover artwork, by the way – look out for it.

A couple more songs to namecheck – firstly Paerish, whose superb debut single ‘Undone’ made such an impact in my chart last year have reappeared with new single ‘Party’s Over Biff’. Paerish are a French four piece from Paris, in case you didn’t know – who the ‘Biff’ is in the title of ‘Party’s Over Biff’ is unclear, but this is a famous line from Back To The Future Part II, so maybe that’s got something to do with it. Then we have one of the best examples of EMD-leaning electro-indie I have heard in ages in Avec Sans’ debut single ‘Heartbreak Hi’. This is the title track from their already released debut album. The band, consisting of vocalist Alice Fox and instrumentalist Jack St James have been around since 2013 and have sparked their reputation with some ferocious live shows. And then finally a song which perfectly illustrates the peril of trying to review an album based on one listen. Bear’s Den write songs that grow and sneak around your mind until you can’t stop hearing them – and ‘Gabriel’, which has entered the Heatseekers Chart at No 20 is a perfect example. It is also an exceptional song lyrically – as Andrew Davie explores something of a secret inner self (the ‘Gabriel’ of the title’) and its influence on a journey of self discovery. When I first heard it, I wasn’t convinced. Now, I think it’s fabulous – a sure major climber next week.

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Dave’s Chart Update August 7th

There is a very significant record looming for Hannah Lou Clark, who is enjoying her sixth week at No 1 with the wondrous ‘Cowboy Joe’. As I have mentioned before, this is Clark’s debut hit, and while debut hits reaching No 1 are not unusual, a debut hit spending as long as this at No 1 is distinctly unusual. The most successful debut hit ever is Foxes’ ‘Youth’, which spent 9 weeks at No 1 in late 2013 and early 2014. But then this wasn’t really a debut hit – Foxes had already had a No 1 earlier in 2013 courtesy of her featured vocal on Zedd’s future Grammy winner ‘Clarity’. The longest run at No 1 for an artist’s very first chart appearance was Nicolette Larson’s ‘Lotta Love’, which spent 7 weeks at No 1 in early 1979. You may well have never heard of this song, or its singer – ‘Lotta Love’ is a classic seventies AOR American hit, complete with mushy saxophone, and hasn’t aged terribly well, to be honest. Larson’s beautifully hoarse vocal still tingles though – she was never able to follow up this major hit, and tragically died in 1997 at the age of just 45, with various prescription medications being implicated. Two more weeks will see Clark break Larson’s record – and with the various Top 10 contenders seemingly conking out, and with Adele and Ray BLK the most obvious threats, I’d guess it is odds on that ‘Cowboy Joe’ will still be on top in a fortnight’s time.

A couple of artists who I’ve not discussed before merit a mention this week. Firstly Maren Morris has this week’s highest climber, as ’80’s Mercedes’ jumps an impressive 30 places from No 88 to No 58. This is the follow up to ‘Rich’, the lead single from Morris’ fourth album ‘Hero’ – ‘Rich’ is an entertainingly humorous song which is still bumbling around the lower reaches of the Top 100, but ’80’s Mercedes’ seems to have that something extra which country records need to cross over into the mainstream. Morris’ excellent vocal and the brilliant singalong chorus are a big help. Morris released her first album aged just 15, by the way. I commented a few weeks ago on my slightly fluctuating relationship with hip hop – my relationship with country music is a lot more straightforward. I don’t get it, basically – every song sounds the same with twangy guitars and lyrics about pickups and dusty roads and picket fences, and girls with double barrelled first names. But every so often something decent emerges from the mire, and Morris has got that pop styling to add to her country roots, and I guess that’s why she works for me. My favourite ever country song? Big respect to Bobby Gentry’s ‘Ode To Billie Joe’, but it has to be the Charlie Daniels Band and ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’.

Then we have a bit of a surprise for the highest new entry as the major new singles from Agnes Obel and Frances are beaten by ‘Body Say’, the ultra-slinky new single from Demi Lovato. Here’s a singer who has really made very little impression on my chart, her 2011 blockbuster ‘Skyscraper’ aside (this went Top 10). ‘Skyscraper’ of course ended up being murdered by X Factor winner Sam Bailey, certainly not the greatest act of GBH committed by said TV show (hello Matt Cardle) but well up there. Lovato has trodden the well worn path from child star via the Disney Channel into pop star, and has also done a bit of a Christina / Britney and turned up the sexiness on her 2015 album ‘Confident’. Lead single ‘Cool For The Summer’ more than hinted at a same sex encounter, and ‘Body Say’ kicks the wattage up further with its risque lyrics and with Lovato sprawling around wearing not a lot on the cover. It’s actually a good song if you can see past all that stuff, but as for being the highest new entry of a group that not only includes Obel and Frances, but also The Naked And Famous and ScHoolboy Q – well, even my chart behaves strangely sometimes.

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Shura and Speech Debelle – Moth Club, Hackney Gig Review


We do get to some interesting places in our gigging exploits around the capital. Hackney is becoming a familiar sight, but this was our first ever visit to the Moth Club, which appears to have been preserved in a time capsule since around 1975. The plaques on the walls listing members of the Stoke Newington Rotary Club speak of a bygone era, and the sparkly function room could have been straight out of Del Boy’s Nag’s Head. You wonder how a place like this ends up staging such good contemporary music. Today was a bit different though – as this was a benefit gig for Shelter, and my wife had won us the chance to buy tickets in a ballot. I know we are seeing Shura at a much bigger venue later this year, at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town, but seeing her play what was billed ‘an acoustic set’ in an intimate setting seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

DSC_0293We got a bit of a bonus too with the support act. It is a little ironic on the day when the Mercury Music Prize nominees were announced that the 2009 winner Speech Debelle was here supporting Shura, and singing tracks from her new EP ‘Breathe’. Debelle has rather disappeared from view since ‘Freedom Of Speech’, the follow up to that Mercury Prize winner ‘Speech Therapy’ emerged to mixed reviews in 2012. ‘Breathe’ is her first recording for 4 years, and the songs fizz and buzz with plenty of energy and verve, particularly ‘Running’ which Debelle turns into a bit of a singalong. Some of the slightly clunkier lyrical ideas which perturbed some reviewers on ‘Freedom Of Speech’ are still present, however – I was not entirely convinced by ‘No War No Peace’ for example. I did enjoy Debelle’s set – the backing with a violin and cello is distinctly different to your normal hip-hop, and the climax of ‘Sun Dog’, the set closer with the strings reaching an almost rock pitch is excellent. And respect to Debelle for calling out the irritatingly large number of audience members who seem to think it’s OK to chat all the way through the support act’s set. It’s disrespectful to the artists, and to those of us who are trying to listen.

It’s been an excellent year for Shura. She is about to chalk up her 5th Top 30 single in my chart with ‘What’s It Gonna Be’, her debut album ‘Nothing’s Real’ went Top 3 in my chart (and reached No 13 in the official UK chart for those who think that’s more important), and she has a pretty solid live reputation too (there is an excellent performance of ‘Touch’ on ‘Later’ as one example). She dealt with the ‘acoustic set’ plan pretty definitively by not bothering with it: instead we had full on Shura superbness, her bouncy synths matching perfectly with her slick backing band. Before we even got into the big hits I was well impressed at the start with ‘Nothing’s Real’, the title track from her album and one I wasn’t particularly taken by when I first heard it. Live it takes on a verve and a power which sparks into the rest of the set – it was sufficiently lively (and the Moth Club sufficiently stifling) to force Shura to ditch her trademark beanie hat (although she did manage to keep her coat on throughout, somehow).

The only slightly off beat note in the set came with ‘2Shy’, one of my very favourite songs of last year. For some reason Shura decided to fiddle around with the arrangements and we were treated to a slightly trippy start and then a guitar rock-out finish instead of the smoothly delicious pop melody of the original version. But then according to the setlist we were listening to ‘Too Shy’ rather than ‘2Shy’ so that probably explains it. Pretty much everything else worked perfectly though. ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ has made a big enough public impression to be nominated for the Popjustice ‘Twenty Quid’ Award (don’t ask) and was a riproaring singalong, ‘Make It Up’ added a gentler, more mellow note and ‘Touch’ was all class – but the absolute highlight was ‘Indecision’. This bass heavy, electro-pop-dance standout could have been written specifically for a live audience, and it went down a predictable storm. The set closed in pretty solid fashion too – ‘White Light’ has never been top of my list of Shura songs, but again this is exactly right for a live show, and Shura stretched the conclusion into a synth bashing cacophany. Just the right way to finish.

It will be very interesting to see how Shura tweaks her set for her show at the O2 Forum. A much larger venue will remove a little of the intimacy we had tonight, and it would be good to see her play for a little longer. Whether the swirling excellence of ‘The Space Tapes’ will work live is very difficult to say – as a mid set pause it might work very well – but I think we can be assured that as exhilarating as ‘Indecision’ and ‘White Light’ were tonight, they will be even better in a larger venue.




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Introducing… Snow Ghosts

snow ghostsMusic – you’ve got to love it, haven’t you? There’s nothing quite like it for throwing something new and unexpected at you and for making you revise your opinions. A few weeks ago I described The Duke Spirit as ‘the best band you’ve never heard of’. It would appear however that I was wrong about that. After today, it is quite clear – indisputably and definitively clear – that Snow Ghosts are actually the best band you have never heard of.

Snow Ghosts started life as a duo back in 2008. Ross Tones and Hannah Cartwright met through a shared love of traditional folklore and experimental electronic music, and the fusion of the two is the real hallmark of Snow Ghosts and their music. After some initial EP releases, their debut album ‘A Small Murmuration’ appeared in 2013. The album heralded the melding of Tones’ electronica with Cartwright’s haunting folk vocal, and with hints of dubstep and trip hop floating in the mixture. The reviews were solid, but to add an further element Snow Ghosts expanded into a trio with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Oliver Knowles in 2014. The first result of the trio’s collaboration is ‘A Wrecking’, released in February of last year, and an album I listened to for the first time today for reasons that will become obvious shortly.

a wrecking‘A Wrecking’ is a quite extraordinary work – and I use the term ‘work’ deliberately. There are some albums that sit at an almost orchestral, symphonic level – as if some kind of amalgam of the contemporary and the classical has taken place. You find yourself listening to the album as an entire suite of music, rather than a selection of individual tracks sequenced together. The band who perhaps most exemplify that style of recording are Radiohead – my immediate thought when I listened to ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ was that this felt less like their ninth studio album and more like their fifth or sixth symphony. Lanterns on the Lake were nearly there with ‘Beings’. And Snow Ghosts are there with ‘A Wrecking’. This is in some senses a concept album, built around the wreck of a ship somewhere in the vast ocean. Other elements of wreckage creep into the mix though, as the band describe in a fascinating piece written about the album in Clash Magazine. The music is exceptional – a searing, twisting blend of industrial electronica, spiralling strings and spine shivering vocals from Cartwright. Her voice has a clear folk influence, but there are times on ‘A Wrecking’ where she comes on like a haunted, howling banshee – as if all the evils of the world have been visited upon her.

The band use her vocal quite sparingly in some senses – at times it becomes another instrument, as in the terrifying ‘On Knives’. I loved the way that the drums are also infrequently heard – when they do start to pulse in, as in ‘Circles Out Of Salt’ and the majestic ‘The Fleet’ the effect becomes even more dramatic. There’s a stunningly scary torch song in ‘Take A Life’. ‘Lament’ is exactly that – a pure, classic Gaelic anthem of heartbreak set to strings and accordion, which then is captured by the throbbing bass synths of ‘Bowline’. ‘Drought’ has evocative lyrical imagery – the singer has drunk the entire ocean but is still thirsty. Snow Ghosts’ influences must include the trip hop movement of Massive Attack and Portishead I would assume, but there’s other stuff in there too – the stark instrumental ‘The Wreck’, which marks the mid point of the album sounds like the electro weirdness of ‘Blasphemous Rumours’ era Depeche Mode merged with the gentle, soothing melodies of OMD’s ‘Sealand’. This is music to marvel at. The tone is unremittingly bleak and desperate, although there are tiny chinks of light among the ruins – the gentle treble keys in ‘Bowline’ being an example. But that sense of tragedy simply adds to the magnificent power of the whole album. I thought ‘The Wrecking’ was quite brilliant.

It is an album that you probably need to play from start to finish – although if you want to try a song or two as a Snow Ghosts primer, try ‘Take A Life’ or ‘Bowline’. Or – even better – try the song that introduced me to Snow Ghosts in the first place. ‘Vetiver’ is their current single, and this is another scorching song. Built around pounding electro which cuts out half way through before swirling back into life, with Cartwright’s voice cutting through the music, ‘Vetiver’ is a lyrical masterpiece. Poetry made into pure contemporary music. “I build myself a small cocoon to stop my heart from craving you – of sandalwood and vetiver, of silkworm spit and mother’s hair” sings Cartwright, before adding “These days, when you wear my skin – I somehow feel overdressed”. Those chilling beats and ominous words echo through your mind as you listen and wonder. ‘Vetiver’ is going to be massive in my chart, and you are going to be hearing a lot more of Snow Ghosts in the next few months.

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Bear’s Den – Red Earth & Pouring Rain Album Review

bears den

Bear’s Den made a major impression on me with their debut album ‘Islands’, released in 2014. They write folk-indie songs with an epic cinematic scope, and three of the tracks on ‘Islands’ – ‘Elysium’, ‘Agape’ and ‘Think Of England’ made it into my Singles Chart Top 10. The band, formerly a trio slimmed down to a duo early this year after Joey Haynes’ amicable departure (to spend more time with family and friends). This has not affected their music, as remaining band members Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones have supplemented their sound with a quartet of touring musicians, and have now released their second album, ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’.

Let’s be clear about one thing. Bear’s Den do what they do extremely well. If you enjoyed ‘Islands’ there is much more in a similar vein on ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’. Where Bear’s Den stand out is in their creative and imaginative ideas – there are historical influences on some of their songs and mythical themes on others. Musically the band are at their best with richly orchestrated, rolling mid-tempo songs backed by a punchy rhythm section and led by Davie’s very distinctive vocal. The title track, a haunting tale of failing love is a good example. ‘New Jerusalem’ incorporates brass reminiscent of ‘Elysium’ to good effect, while ‘Broken Parable’ is an ambitious extended piece that flows smoothly and holds the interest throughout. Perhaps Bear’s Den are at their very best when their lyrics bring themes that are unexpected. ‘Auld Wives’, the first single from the album links the mysterious Auld Wives Lifts, a structure of three boulders located in a moor north of Glasgow with the dementia suffered by Davie’s grandfather. “But you can’t hear me now – no you don’t recognise my face” sings Davie. This is an outstandingly poignant and moving track. In general the slower paced songs work less well, although aside from the melancholy ‘Love Can’t Stand Alone’, most of these tracks do build effectively towards their close, as on ‘Greenwoods Bethlehem’.

This is undoubtedly a very enjoyable album. You do get the sense however that some of the more interesting lyrical ideas, with inspirations from sources as diverse as the paintings of Edward Hopper and Robert Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’  have been buried beneath rather standard love song lines. The hints of a childhood encounter with alcoholism on closing track ‘Napoleon’ is an honourable exception. One could also question whether ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’ really shows a great deal of musical development. Virtually every song could have been dropped into the middle of ‘Islands’ without feeling out of place. I’m not sure there’s anything particularly wrong with that, but if you want challenge or innovation in your music maybe this is not the place to start. I would add a word of caution though – these songs may seem straightforward and relatively simplistic on first listen, but you do need to invest a little time to let the songs grow and develop. ‘Think Of England’ and ‘Agape’ did not immediately strike me as major singles when I first heard ‘Islands’ – and my suspicion is that after a few more plays, songs will emerge from the backdrop on ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’ with similar power. Indeed, one, ‘Gabriel’ is already doing so. So, a solid sophomore effort – but ask me again in a couple of months, and I might be a lot more complimentary.


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Dave’s Chart Update July 31st

There is not a lot of movement at the top of the Singles Chart this week – Hannah Lou Clark’s 5th week at No 1 with ‘Cowboy Joe’ leads an unchanged Top 4, with Sara Hartman’s ‘Satellite’ climbing one place into the Top 5. There is an enormous amount going on below the Top 5 though – and the first highlight is the major climb for Tegan and Sara’s glorious ‘Stop Desire’, which leaps from No 21 to No 6. I hadn’t quite twigged until now, but this is a very definite potential No 1 from the Canadian twins. I finally got round to listening to its parent album ‘Love You To Death’ today – as we will discuss in more detail in a day or two, the album is a little patchy but alongside ‘Stop Desire’ does include two other huge potential singles in ‘Faint Of Heart’ and ‘White Knuckles’. Superb electro-pop of the very highest quality.

Mind you Tegan and Sara might need to get a bit of a move on, because the major new entries from last week are on the move. Adele’s ‘Remedy’ climbs 34 places to No 27, but is fractionally outdone by Ray BLK and Stormzy’s ‘My Hood’ which has jumped 35 places to No 28. Both have been stunningly eclipsed by Christine and the Queens, whose ‘Tilted’ has enjoyed the highest climb I can remember within the chart, leaping 66 places to No 32. ‘Tilted’ is the second single to be released from ‘Chaleur Humaine’ and just to emphasise how rapidly this song is catching my imagination, it has already overtaken the album’s first single ‘iT’ which has spent 7 weeks climbing to No 34. ‘Tilted’ is a beautifully, sparsely backed song which has had a fascinating genesis – it is an English language version of a track called ‘Christine’ which is itself a French language version of an original song called ‘Cripple’. That might give you a sense of the meaning behind lines such as “I miss prostheses and mended souls” and “Je suis plus folle que toi” (or “I am crazier than you” in English). We should talk a bit about ‘Chaleur Humaine’ as well later this week, because it is superb – and I have said it before, but the sight of a brilliant artist achieving massive success purely on the strength of their music is very heartening in the age of internet hype.

Against this trio of obvious Top 5 singles, some of the other moves rather pale into insignificance, but I should remark on Shura’s ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ climbing from No 64 to No 33. We are seeing Shura later this week – in fact, we are seeing her twice before Christmas, as I had already booked tickets to see her at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town in December when we were lucky enough to land the chance to see her and Speech Debelle at the Moth Club this Thursday in a charity gig for Shelter. News on that probably at the weekend. In other news, there is a solid climb for Twenty One Pilots and ‘Heathens’, massive hip hop hit ‘Panda’ by Desiigner is finally starting to activate, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have decided not to bother with anything as straightforward as releasing songs in a sensibly spaced out way, and now have an unprecedented four songs all climbing the Top 100. ‘Dark Necessities’ is at the head of the pack, at No 21, but there is a particularly encouraging 22 place jump for ‘The Getaway’. My biggest issue with ‘The Getaway’ – the album and its four singles – is that all the songs do sound kind of similar? I mean, very good, very Chili Peppers, but there’s a slight lack of distinguishing features between them.

Oh, and one last thing – I was fibbing about ‘Tilted’. Its 66 place chart jump was bettered only two years ago by a song that climbed from No 95 to No 28 on its second week on the chart, a 67 place jump. Maybe we also need to chat a bit about guilty pleasures soon, because the song in question was Cher Lloyd’s ‘Sirens’.

tegan sarachristinerhcp


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Dave’s Heatseekers Chart Update July 29th

The disappearance into the main chart of Adele, Ray BLK and Kate Jackson has opened up lots of possibilities in the Heatseekers Chart, and Agnes Obel has taken full advantage. Her gorgeous apparent electro duet ‘Familiar’ hits the No 1 spot in the chart this week, and looks set on the evidence thus far to beat her previous biggest hit, 2014’s ‘Words Are Dead’ which peaked at No 9. We have already discussed this song, and the new No 3, Banks’ ‘Fuck With Myself’ in some detail, so let’s concentrate on the rest of the Top 5. And there is a massively exciting appearance at No 2 for The Kills and their new single ‘Impossible Tracks’. The Kills are one of those indie bands (think Catfish and the Bottlemen, and until ‘Curve Of The Earth’ came out, the Mystery Jets) who have never really caught my imagination. It all seemed a bit indie-by-rote somehow, and ‘Doing It To Death’, the first single from current album ‘Ash & Ice’ rather followed that trend. One week at No 99 was all it managed, chart wise. But look at this – ‘Impossible Tracks’ is a pounding, pulsing, bass heavy beauty of a song, blasting along behind Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince’s vocals, with an amazing intro that sounds not dissimilar to Boney M’s ‘Daddy Cool’, of all things. It’s a love song to wonder at too – “Oh my shaking heart, you got me from the start – you got me good” as the chorus says, with even better to come in the outro. “There’s a full moon over Sunset, got our feet in perfect stride… And we stride in perfect meter, like the sun won’t ever rise.” Time to take a proper listen to ‘Ash & Ice’ I think.

I have rather more history with the act at No 4 this week. I went through a period of about five years where I barely listened to any new music, and spend my time continually reorganising my favourite songs ever into what turned into a Top 300. One song heavily featured was ‘Young Blood’, from New Zealand’s The Naked And Famous. Alarmingly this song is now six years old – more encouragingly the band have a new album out this year, and lead single ‘Higher’ has all the perfect Naked And Famous hallmarks, with jangling synths behind Alisa Xayalith’s instantly recognisable vocals. ‘Simple Forms’ will be the band’s third album, and it is due out in October. And no, I have not got the faintest idea what my No 1 of all time is any more… there are too many fantastic songs to choose from. Then finally we have the terrific ‘Dope Dealer’ from Los Angeles rapper ScHoolboy Q, which has bounced up to No 5 this week. There’s a bit of a hip-hop revival going on at the moment – most relevantly, Juicy J has just entered the main chart with ‘Medication’. Bit of a theme going here, although ScHoolboy Q did in fact deal drugs in his younger days on the streets of LA. His fourth album ‘Blank Face LP’ has received critical acclaim and has already reached No 2 in the Billboard 200. I need to be a little careful with my hip-hop enjoyment though – for various reasons too dull to discuss I was trundling around South London on a variety of buses this week, and I decided that I probably shouldn’t be singing along too loudly to ‘Dope Dealer’…


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Garbage – Strange Little Birds Album Review

garbageIt’s time to catch up on some of the album reviews that I have neglected to post during the last few weeks, while we have been touring fabulous but ludicrously hot countries and I haven’t been getting round to writing the blog. So, in the next few days we will be talking about Christine and the Queens, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bear’s Den and Bat For Lashes. I will save the review of the best album till last (clue – hello Natasha!) But for tonight, let’s take a look at Garbage’s sixth studio album ‘Strange Little Birds’, which came out a couple of weeks ago.

It’s pretty astonishing to consider that Garbage have now been releasing albums for 20 years. The Beatles survived as a album releasing act for precisely eight years, just to put that into some kind of perspective. Bands do seem to stick it out for much longer these days. I suspect it is something to do with the different way we live now – the ease and speed of travel – and something to do with the different way that music is consumed by us, the public. You no longer have to live in each other’s pockets all the time, and tour for decades to bring your songs into the open (it does help, admittedly). Garbage have of course had a well documented hiatus in their history, between 2005’s ‘Bleed Like Me’ and 2012’s ‘Not Your Kind Of People’. In fact, the time apart probably helped them – ‘Not Your Kind Of People’ marked a return to the style of music with which they exploded onto the scene in 1996 with their self titled (and quite phenomenal) debut album. And their aim to ‘take pop music and make it sound as horrible as possible’, in Steve Marker’s words remains alive and well on ‘Strange Little Birds’.

The variety of styles employed by the band have crystallised into a grunge-electro hybrid, with distinct hints of metal cutting through some of the tracks. Then there is a contrast with much more poignant music which eats into your consciousness almost without you realising it. Such is the case with the current single ‘Even Though Our Love Is Doomed’, a superbly bleak track beautifully sung by Shirley Manson, despite the fact (as has been well documented) that she had never seen the lyrics before laying down her vocal. Her faltering delivery works perfectly with the gut-wrenching lines. It’s bloody great, frankly.

The album’s tracks are ideally sequenced. The full on assault of the opening three tracks is highlighted by the excellent ‘Empty’, with its classic Garbage punch and extraordinary opening couplet.  “I’ve been feeling so frustrated: I’ll never be as great as I want to be” – we’ve all had moments like that. The pace is then cut back, with the darkly powerful ‘Night Drive Loneliness’ flowing into ‘Even Though Our Love Is Doomed’. The excellence of Marker, Duke Erikson and Butch Vig is undoubted, but of course Garbage’s key calling card has always been the contrast between their low-fi grungy wall of sound and Manson’s sharp, intimidating vocal. There’s nothing quite as vitriolic as ‘Vow’ here, but Manson is firing on all cylinders. She carries the less cutting edge tracks, as ‘Magnetized’ and ‘We Never Tell’ see the interest dip ever so slightly mid album.

But that’s just a preparation for a grandstand finish. ‘So We Can Stay Alive’ starts with gentle electro beats very reminiscent of The Jezabels’ ‘Come Alive’ before crashing guitars and drums herald a stark change of pace. Then the song seems to finish before kicking back into life again. There is a lot of variation here and the song is all the better for it.  ‘Teaching Little Fingers To Play’ is a brilliant name for a song (it is named after Erikson’s piano primer), and as it focuses on the desire to move forward and leave behind the past, there is a wonderful link with Garbage’s debut album – “There’s no-one around to fix me now”. And then there is the outstanding ‘Amends’, a majestic way to close the album. A song that gradually builds in that classic manner I love so much as Manson decries the man who has let her down. The repeated refrain “Cause I don’t know, don’t know you” that ends the song hints (as with a number of other songs on the album) that nobody ever really knows everything about another person.

Garbage have produced an album which simultaneously feels totally contemporary, and yet revives memories of 1996. There are some standout songs on here, none more so than ‘Amends’. The band’s blistering music and Manson’s fearsome vocal are all present and perfectly correct. If they are still making music in another twenty years, I for one will be delighted.


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Dave’s Chart Update July 25th

Here is a musical mystery. Why don’t artists know which are their best songs? Or maybe I should ask why artists don’t release their best songs as singles? The obvious supplementary question is – why in these days of downloads and streaming do artists release singles in the first place? We are not in the days of ‘Relax’ or ‘Rivers Of Babylon’ any more when a single can sell 2 million copies and make vast amounts of money. But what a single can do is to raise the profile of an artist among the public, attract them to the artist’s other work, and lead in turn to sales of albums and to bigger live audiences. And sometimes it just takes one major song to break an artist from virtually nowhere – Lukas Graham’s ‘7 Years’ being a prime recent example.

So, it makes sense to release your best songs as singles then, in the grand scheme of developing your career. I alluded to this issue a couple of weeks ago when discussing Radiohead, and noting that many of their best songs were never released as singles. But then by the time Radiohead were selecting the songs to release as singles from ‘OK Computer’ and ‘Kid A’, there was no real issue with profile raising going on – so they could happily leave ‘Airbag’ and ‘Lucky’ to one side and allow us to discover them on the album. That excuse does not apply to a number of the leading songs in the Singles Chart this week. The current No 1 is a good example – ‘Cowboy Joe’ is sitting quietly as the second track on Hannah Lou Clark’s ‘It’s Your Love’ EP. There’s nothing wrong with ‘It’s Your Love’, of course – and this continues to climb my chart as well (at No 27 this week), but it’s just that in every respect (musically, lyrically, vocally, thematically, innovatively) ‘Cowboy Joe’ is clearly markedly superior as a song.

Then we have Alessia Cara, who has not done at all badly of course with ‘Here’, a gigantic hit in the States and a pretty major hit in my chart too. It’s ironic then that ‘Here’ is probably the 3rd best song on Cara’s debut album ‘Know-It-All’ – the two best songs are ‘Seventeen’, a No 1 in my chart last year, and the album’s opening track ‘I’m Yours’ which climbs from No 7 to No 4 in this week’s chart. But an even greater example is Lissie’s ‘Hollywood’, which spends a second week at No 2 this week. Lissie’s ‘My Wild West’ album has seen one official single released in ‘Don’t You Give Up On Me’ – you almost get the sense that she can’t be bothered with singles any more, given the solid audience she has for her albums and for her live shows. But isn’t she missing an opportunity here? ‘Hollywood’ is folk pop at its absolute best, with a subject that everyone can understand and associate with, and with a moving twist in the tale at the song’s climax. I don’t know if everyone else will like ‘Hollywood’ as much as I do, but given the song’s obvious qualities, it has to be worth a go, doesn’t it?

Sadly not, it seems. Indeed, ‘Hollywood’ has a bigger problem than its non release as a single would suggest. Lissie is touring the UK in December, and I am afraid that we will not be going to see her. Why? Because as far as I can tell, she has never played ‘Hollywood’ live. Not once. So maybe that brings me back to my original question. ‘Hollywood’ is Lissie’s best song, and she doesn’t seem to realise it. Or is there another reason why it never appears in her live set?


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