Monthly Archives: January 2013

Review: Nathan Luke – ‘Honest Love’ Live Session

It’s not often I do reviews of videos – I find they often speak for themselves. This one from York singer-songwriter and all round nice guy Nathan Luke certainly does – watch it below.

In the ‘making of’ video for the session, Nathan is keen to express the importance of playing his songs live. Eschewing a standard music video and instead recording a live session is a potentially risky move, but it’s worked for Nathan in the past and it certainly works very well here. His previous sessions with Fallout Productions were notable for their stark simplicity, allowing the viewer to focus completely on Nathan’s performance – for ‘Honest Love’, however, the stakes have been raised, with the beautiful Holy Trinity Church in Hull being the chosen venue.

Nathan Luke - Holy Trinity Church

Fortunately, rather than draw attention away from his performance, the setting compliments it – it seems quite fitting that a song mourning a lack of “good old fashioned romance” be played in a place where such romance might eventually blossom into something more. The cavernous reverb of the church also plays to Nathan’s advantage, lending even more power to his already dynamic vocals – seriously, those soaring crescendos are spine-tingling.

All told, this live session for ‘Honest Love’ is a bold and very convincing statement of intent. In a world where it’s increasingly difficult for singer-songwriters to really stand out, Nathan Luke takes his own brand of melancholy and delivers it in a way that’s cathartic rather than self-pitying – and for that, he’s very much worthy of your attention.

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Let’s Get Cynical About: The Brit Awards 2013

Brit Awards 2013Oh Brit Awards, every year you’re the same. It’s so easy to look at your nomination list and tear it to shreds, thinking that you bring it on yourself. But let’s be honest, it’s not you, it’s me. Clearly, your ceremony has never been designed for anyone who might have the audacity to hold their musical opinions higher than anyone else’s – it’s a celebration of the popular, the world beaters, those who’ve made their mark on the largest number of people possible. And when you look at it like that, sometimes you do an alright job of it. …but really, that’s not going to stop me from continuing this post – this year’s list is too good an opportunity to pass up.

British Male Solo Artist

Ben Howard
Calvin Harris
Olly Murs
Plan B
Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley isn’t gonna win, let’s be honest – his nomination is a tokenistic nod to the Mercury Prize at best. Ben Howard and Olly Murs look like the most likely candidates to me, so I’m going to predict an Olly Murs victory.

British Female Solo Artist

Amy Winehouse
Bat For Lashes
Emeli Sandé
Jessie Ware
Paloma Faith

See, you’ve kind of boxed yourselves into a corner here guys. You can’t really give Amy Winehouse the first ever posthumous nomination* and then not go through with giving her the award. It would just look cheap and attention-grabbing. Admittedly it might still look cheap and attention-grabbing even if she does win, but anyway. It’s probably either her or Emeli Sandé, whose glut of nominations look like the work of people with a point to prove… maybe the same people who awarded her the Critic’s Choice prize last year?

*with the exception of the Outstanding Contribution award, which has been posthumously won by both John Lennon and Freddie Mercury.

British Group

Alt-J
Mumford & Sons
Muse
One Direction
The XX

I’m really not sure about this one – there’s the off chance that this’ll be the point in the ceremony that the judges decide they should at least make some sort of effort to look cool and therefore give the award to Alt-J or The XX, but if I’m honest I don’t see that happening. And unlike last year, this doesn’t seem to be down to a public vote – which is probably just as well, as if it was then One Direction would probably storm it. As it stands, I think they’re still in with a pretty good shot thanks to their USA-conquering ways – and by that line of thinking, Mumford & Sons are their closest competition. Whoever wins, we lose.

British Live Act

Coldplay
Mumford & Sons
Muse
The Rolling Stones
The Vaccines

It’s amazing how little effort The Rolling Stones have had to put in to get nominated for this award – I mean, they played, what, half a dozen shows last year? Guess that’s one of the perks of being a legendary band. To be honest, they seem pretty likely to win – I mean, who else on the shortlist can get away with charging £95 (as a bare minimum) for their live show? The Brits love a good money-maker, after all.

British Breakthrough Act

Alt-J
Ben Howard
Jake Bugg
Jessie Ware
Rita Ora

Despite the fact that it’s a public-voted award, this is a deceptively open-looking list. However, doing some cursory, unscientific research into the popularity of these artists (i.e. looking at how many likes they have on Facebook) reveals that Rita Ora probably aught to blow the whole field away. Shame, but I’ll still hold out hope for the near-impossible Alt-J victory.

International Group

Alabama Shakes
The Black Keys
Fun
The Killers
The Script

Fun. It’s going to be fucking Fun. That’s basically all I have to say on the matter, except that this is a fucking awful representation of international music in 2012.

International Male Solo Artist

Bruce Springsteen
Frank Ocean
Gotye
Michael Buble
Jack White

I’m starting to think that the inclusion of Bruce Springsteen in this category is little more than a running joke among the voting panel, as he seems to have cropped up at least once every two or three years over the past decade (and never won). Frank Ocean and Jack White are too cool to win, so I reckon the bazillion-selling Gotye will be victorious here.

International Female Solo Artist

Alicia Keys
Cat Power
Lana Del Rey
Rhianna
Taylor Swift

I’m sorry, but if Rhianna wins for the third year in a row then we may as well just re-name this category “the Rhianna award” and have done with it. However, Taylor Swift has had some pretty massive hits this year, so I think she might get the nod.

British Single

Adele – ‘Skyfall’
Alex Clare – ‘Too Close’
Coldplay & Rihanna – ‘Princess of China’
DJ Fresh ft Rita Ora – ‘Hot Right Now’
Emeli Sandé – ‘Next To Me’
Florence & The Machine – ‘Spectrum’
James Arthur – ‘Impossible’
Jessie J – ‘Domino’
Labrinth ft Emeli Sandé – ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’
Olly Murs ft Flo Rida – ‘Troublemaker’
Rita Ora ft Tinie Tempah – ‘R.I.P.’
Rizzle Kicks – ‘Mama Do The Hump’
Robbie Williams – ‘Candy’
Rudimental ft John Newman – ‘Feel The Love’
Stooshe – ‘Black Heart’

Say what you will about the Brits, at least they’re unafraid to show their true colours, proudly touting the nominees for this award as being “based on the biggest sales success in 2012” – artistic integrity be damned! The result here is down to another public vote, which means my prediction will just be a wild guess at which artist has the most rabid, fanatical fanbase – I’ll hazard a guess at Olly Murs.

EDIT: Apparently this isn’t actually a publicly voted category this year after all. So, on the basis that a) only one of these songs has won a Golden Globe award and b) the Brits academy never shies away from awarding one of its own, I’m changing my prediction to Adele.

Mastercard British Album Of The Year

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Emeli Sandé – Our Version Of Events
Mumford & Sons – Babel
Paloma Faith – Fall To Grace
Plan B – Ill Manors

Ok, I know you might not like Alt-J, but if you can tell me with a straight face that you’d rather listen to any of the other albums on this list, then I’ll just laugh at you. Seriously, Paloma Faith? Paloma fucking Faith? I didn’t even know what her album was called before now. Ill Manors is an admirable achievement for Plan B, but unfortunately it’s absolutely zero fun to listen to. Sitting through an entire Emeli Sandé record would probably send me to sleep, and the less said about fucking Mumford & Sons, the better. They’ll probably win though, unless Emeli Sandé’s PR department can give her that one final push…

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Let’s Get Cynical About: The BBC Sound Of 2013 Longlist

BBCIt’s time, once again, to look at the BBC’s tips for the year – while the Sound Of 2013 poll shouldn’t be considered the be-all and end-all of new music, the list actually does include a few gems this year, and thus is worth taking note of. That’s not to say that everything on the list is worth bothering with, however…

Solo Artists

They say never judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the your gut instincts don’t lie – A*M*E looks like a teenage Nicki Minaj, and guess what? She sounds like a teenage Nicki Minaj too – maybe there’s a little more of a dancehall influence present, but the brash posturing, bratty rapping and obnoxious backing track are all present and correct. Anyone expecting Laura Mvula (#4) be akin to Grace Jones, however, will be sorely disappointed – she makes it onto the list by sounding like a slightly more interesting version of Adele. Similarly, King Krule might be the splitting image of Frank Carter, but he’s no hardcore punk – though interestingly enough, his sound feels like it’s some sort of unlikely halfway house between The Clash and Jamie T. Going back to sounding like Adele, Tom Odell does a pretty good job of channeling both her and fellow multi-million sellers Coldplay, which is probably why the Brit Awards have named him the first ever male winner of their Critic’s Choice prize. ‘Safe’ is the word.

It’s always obligatory for there to be at least one artist on the list who’s already received boatloads of critical acclaim, and this year it’s Toronto’s The Weeknd, whose mixtapes (beginning with House Of Balloons in 2011) have already had the likes of Pitchfork fawning over him – and to be fair, his desolate take on the kind of R’n’B Frank Ocean has become famous for is sure to take him to even greater heights this year. Meanwhile, Angel Haze (#3) has probably got the style and in-your-face flow (…did I just write that?) to go places, though it remains to be seen whether she’ll be remembered more for her music than for her very public twitter spat with Azealia Banks. And speaking of R’n’B, let’s pause for a moment and pity Arlissa, who really can’t afford to drop the ball when she steps out the shadow of her collaboration with Nas, lest she be consigned to a life of being a featured artist on hip-hop records.

Finally, we have AlunaGeorge (#2), who ruin my black and white dividing line between bands and solo artists thanks to the combination of a) not really being a band in the traditional sense and b) having two members. Their wonky, floaty future-pop might be a little bit of a tough sell for the general public, but then again Alt-J were pretty popular last year (for good reason), so who can bloody tell anymore?

Bands

Guitar music is dead! No, it’s coming back! Who knows?! Who cares!? One thing’s for sure, it’s obligatory for the list to have at least one ‘great white hope of British guitar music’ (usually heavily backed by the NME), and this year it’s Palma Violets. While they’ve got more potential for a Vaccines-style success than a (Viva) Brother Brit-flop, I still remain unconvinced about them in general. Elsewhere, there’s the whole ‘B-Town’ scene – which I dislike on principle because it ignores the fact that the best indie band in the country (*cough*JoFo*cough*) has already come out of Birmingham. But regardless, Peace represent the city in this year’s list, and at least they manage to sound like an amalgamation of various other bands I like – Friendly Fires, Foals, The Horrors, even a little Wild Beasts. Not as good as any of those just yet, but hey, they’ve got time – and at least they’re not Swim Deep. There’s also a thriving indie-rock scene in Dublin, if this list is to believed – and while Little Green Cars are a little too Mumford & Sons for my liking, Kodaline at least seem to have the right sort of Beatles-y aspirations to demonstrate a little potential.

If you were worried that electronic bands weren’t getting a look-in, Glasgow’s CHVRCHES (#5) make sleek electro-pop that sounds somewhere between Metric and Purity Ring. Also thoroughly deserving of an inclusion are London’s Savages, a dark, invigorating female post-punk four-piece with echoes of early Joy Division – their live show is utterly captivating, and was captured brilliantly on last year’s I Am Here EP. And then there’s Haim (#1), whose beguilingly slick pop-rock makes them very much deserving of the top spot – I’m kinda kicking myself a bit for not catching them when I was in Iceland, to be honest.

And there you have it – now all that remains is to see how these acts fare over the next 12 months…

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Let’s Get Cynical’s ‘Top 10 Albums That I Actually Listened To In 2012’

It’s fair to say that 2012 was a bit of a weird one for me in terms of actually listening to full length albums  – which is to say, I didn’t listen to anywhere near as many new records as I probably should have. To be honest, the album I’ve listened to the most is probably Boxer by The National, but of course that came out five years ago and thus can’t really be my album of the year. As such, there are some records that probably ought to be here that aren’t, simply because I just haven’t listened to them. Bat For Lashes is the most obvious example I can think of – there’s not even a good reason I haven’t listened to The Haunted Man, I just… haven’t. Maybe I’ll do a list of records I should have listened to in the last year? Anyway, enough rambling, a list. Of sorts.

Honourable Mention:
Patrick Wolf – Sundark And Riverlight

Patrick Wolf - Sundark And Riverlight

Patrick Wolf – Sundark And Riverlight

This probably would have made my top 10, except it somehow feels like cheating to include a record that doesn’t actually contain any new songs. That said, it’s far from a by-the-numbers greatest hits compilation, with Patrick Wolf going so far as to re-record 16 tracks for this career-spanning compilation. The impact of these songs is undiminished by these acoustic re-workings, and in some cases they’re even better for it – ‘Vulture’ being the prime example. For that reason, this album is more than deserving of an honourable mention – it’d be nice to see more artists take as much care with their own ‘greatest hits’ records.

10. Rozi Plain – Joined Sometimes Unjoined

Rozi Plain - Joined Sometimes Unjoined

Rozi Plain – Joined Sometimes Unjoined

This record deserves to be in the list just because Rozi Plain seems like a lovely human being, but happily there’s some great music on here too. Sparsely beautiful acoustic songs are the main order of the day here, but it’s the more propulsive moments that really stick out – ‘Humans’ and ‘See My Boat’ are both giddy highlights, while the soothing atmosphere and tender honesty of ‘Catch Up’ also brought a smile to my face.

9. Lone Wolf – The Lovers

Lone Wolf - The Lovers

Lone Wolf – The Lovers

Included here because I had enough faith in Lone Wolf to join the Pledgemusic campaign for his new record, and sure enough he delivered. It’s very a compact record, and very different to previous album The Devil And I, but it’s no less rewarding a listen. The queasy, nervous atmosphere of ‘Spies In My Heart’,  the lush soundscapes present on ‘The Swan Of Meander’ and ‘Good Life’, and the quiet desolation of ‘Two Good Lives’ are among the record’s finest moments, but it’s excellent throughout.

8. The Hundred In The Hands – Red Night

The Hundred In The Hands - Red Night

The Hundred In The Hands – Red Night

The second album from NY electro-indie duo The Hundred In The Hands is mainly here because ‘Faded’ is, to me, a jaw-dropping heartbreaker of a song, but to be fair there’s more to this record than just that one song. The sun-kissed melancholy of ‘Recognise’, the darkly danceable ‘Keep It Low’ and the throbbing, widescreen shimmer of ‘Tunnels’ should provide you with plenty of reasons to keep coming back for more.

7. Purity Ring – Shrines

Purity Ring - Shrines

Purity Ring – Shrines

Forget brostep, Purity Ring have probably created the best record featuring 2-step beats that’s been released all year (disclaimer: I know nothing about dubstep). Seriously though, wonderfully atmospheric synths and skittering beats combine with mesmerisingly ethereal vocals make Shrines one of the year’s most compelling records, with ‘Fineshrine’ and ‘Obedear’ being particular standouts.

6. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

Alt-J - An Awesome Wave

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

What is there to say about this record that hasn’t already been said?It’s the album that single-handedly made ‘folk-step’ a thing, and by now you surely know where you stand on the Mercury-winning band – personally, I thought Alt-J were deserving victors thanks to their inventive debut. And yes, it’s better than the Django Django album, in case you were wondering.

5. 2:54 – 2:54

2:54 - 2:54

2:54 – 2:54

The debut record from the Thurlow sisters may have stuck firmly to a singular aesthetic, but can you blame them when it’s as well realised as this? Rarely do debut records sound this self-assured, but 2:54 make it look easy. Flawlessly executed throughout, from the passionate whirlwind of ‘Revolving’ all the way through to the razor-edged tension of ‘Creeping’, 2:54 is a record to lose yourself in.

4. Team Me – To The Treetops!

Team Me - To The Treetops!

Team Me – To The Treetops!

In the absence of a new Los Campesinos! record, Norwegian sextet Team Me did an admirable job of filling my need for twee, yet full-blooded indie pop. Bittersweet lyrics, ridiculously long song titles, chaotically beautiful soundscapes and euphoric gang vocals mean that all the right ingredients are here for a record that’s as likely to break your heart as it is to leave you with a big, silly grin on your face. Besides, any band who namedrop Patrick Wolf are alright in my book.

3. The XX – Coexist

The XX - Coexist

The XX – Coexist

Having proved themselves to be masters of late-night, atmospheric intimacy on their debut, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that The XX reduced me to an emotional wreck within about three listens of Coexist. At first I feared that it lacked the magic of their first album, but then the emotional one-two punch of ‘Sunset’ and ‘Missing’ hit me with full force and left me like putty in their hands. A record for anyone who’s ever loved, lost, or hoped for a second chance.

2. FOE – Bad Dream Hotline

FOE - Bad Dream Hotline

FOE – Bad Dream Hotline

In a world of dull, identikit popstars, FOE represents a swift and vicious punch to the face , in much the same way that album-opener ‘Ballad For The Brainkeepers’ doesn’t take long to hit you like a battering ram.  Unafraid to get the knives out for money-grabbing, fame hungry artists (‘Tyrant Song’, ‘Get Money’, ‘Genie In A Coke Can’) while simultaneously presenting Hannah Clark’s own impeccable pop-rock vision (‘Jailhouse’, ‘The Black Lodge’, ‘Cold Hard Rock’), Bad Dream Hotline is exactly the kind of record that should be celebrated as ‘pop’ in my own skewed version of the world.

1. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory

Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

Despite my limited listening this year, I’m actually pretty confident that Attack On Memory would be my number one record regardless. The change of style took me aback when I first heard it, but I quickly grew to love the angrier, more agressive new Cloud Nothings. ‘No Future/No Past’ and ‘No Sentiment’ are vicious highlights, but it’s ‘Wasted Days’ that’s really indicative of this record’s ambition – a nine-minute downward spiral of furious self-loathing, built around the repeated mantra of “I thought I could be more than this,” it should well and truly obliterate any preconceptions you had about this band.

Listen to all the albums on this list on Spotify here.

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Review: The Blueprints – The Shipping Forecast

The Blueprints - The Shipping Forecast

The Blueprints – The Shipping Forecast

Despite being stalwarts of the York music scene, it’s actually been years since The Blueprints released a good old-fashioned EP – but the wait is now finally over, with the band having released a new five-track record entitled The Shipping Forecast at the tail end of 2012. These are songs that you may well have heard if you’ve seen the band play live over the past couple of years, but here they sound more finely honed than ever – you can hear the results below.

Opening track ‘Walk’ is as fine an opening gambit as you could possibly hope for – contrary to its title, it gallops along at an invigorating pace, a blissful marriage of shimmering guitars, soaring vocals, chiming keyboards, propulsive drumming and subtly brilliant bass. If you think the band might have peaked too early, then fear not – ‘The Wave’ is as energetic as it is heartfelt. “I could teach you, if you’ll let me/to jump and jive and be closer to me,” the band sing in impeccable harmony, before lamenting that “No-one seems to dance in the old romantic way/too busy making sure hair stays straight.”

‘Black & Blue’ really emphasises its cheery, bouncing tempo by bringing keyboardist Tom Williams to the fore, while Sophie McDonnell provides gorgeous additional harmonies to bring out the wide-eyed hopefulness of the song’s chorus. And if that’s somehow not enough bang for your buck, then ‘Staring At The Sun’ is like two brilliant songs in one – starting out life as a rousing indie-pop stomper, before seamlessly transforming into its scintillating coda.

Final track ‘The Amber Ocean’ strips things back without losing any of the band’s indie-pop sensibilities, with Stuart Allan’s impassioned vocals and acoustic guitar lent a grandiose air courtesy of Rachael Brown’s cello playing – the song feels like it’s channeling the sadly departed spirit of Grammatics, which can only ever be a good thing.

As the EP’s title suggests, the sea is a recurring theme throughout these songs – not only is it referenced directly in song titles, but it’s also used as a metaphor throughout the record’s lyrics. ‘Walk’s protagonist is described as “displaying all the traits of a maritime disaster”, while navigating the relationship portrayed in ‘Black & Blue’ is compared to sailing a ship to shore – it’s a neat touch that serves to further tie this perfectly formed EP together. The Blueprints should be immensely proud of The Shipping Forecast – here’s hoping it helps them plot a favourable course through 2013.

The Shipping Forecast is available now on Sweet Sue Records, via Bandcamp.

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