Friday, 31 March 2017

new (and old) music friday #17: ALMA, charli xcx, FLORIO, steps, bon iver

maybe one day i'll learn the art of moderation, i.e. writing a post every week so that i don't end up with a backlog of songs from the last three, which is the situation i find myself in now. never fear though, for a long post is here to save the day (and potentially bore anyone who actually reads this to death). 


i'm starting at the beginning, with this song that i apparently shazamed (?) on the 9th of march (my internet footprint comes in handy sometimes). i heard it in H&M in kingston, which always plays such good music. i was back there today, looking for a potential graduation outfit (unsuccessfully) and heard another great song that i sadly didn't have time to shazam; by the time i'd rooted around in my bag for my phone, i was only able to catch the last few seconds, which the app obviously didn't pick up. anyway, back to this song, titled wait by an artist called FLORIO, who i'd never heard of until this song stopped me in my tracks. it's a perfect blend of current and 80s-style pop, filled with the classic highs and lows that make the era's music so dramatic, without sounding like a rip-off. his soundcloud currently only has the one song on it, but i'm excited to hear more from him in the future. 

2. lorde (again)

i know i mentioned the new zealand starlet's comeback single green light in my last new music friday post, which i'm still playing obsessively - i love the way it makes even the most mundane trips to tesco feel like i'm the star in a hollywood blockbuster - but the second song she released not long after, titled liability, tugged at my heartstrings so hard i'm surprised they're even still in tact. i can't help but marvel at the fact such a talented songwriter is only 20, and the way she can pinpoint every single emotion i've ever felt from my teenage years right up until now. her evocative performance of the track on saturday night live has, in my opinion, further cemented her as one of the most interesting, outrageous acts in pop right now, and i'm counting down the days until melodrama is released on the 16th june. 

3. jakil

i wrote about this song for guestlist not too long ago, but i still can't get enough of it's infectiously catchy guitar riff and - of course - the 80s style synths. in the article mentioned, i described every time we talk as the love child of whitney houston and the 1975, and i don't think there's a better way to sum it up. the scottish five piece have promised to release a further three singles this year, and i'm praying they retain this 80s influence.

4. alt-j

apart from their breakout hit breezeblocks, i never really got into this band, but their comeback single 3WW caught me off guard. the song is a far cry from their indie debut, as they experiment with electronica, prog rock and everything in between, telling the story of a "wayward lad" who ends up stranded on the north east coast, from the perspectives of three different characters. it sounds absurd, but somehow the whole thing works. it's hopefully the shape of things to come on their upcoming album relaxer, due for release on the 9th june. 

5. charli xcx 

pop princess charli returned with her highly anticipated mixtape, number 1 angel, and though i don't love it as much as her previous EP vroom vroom, it still showcases her knack for writing an excellent pop song. she continues to work with SOPHIE and PC music founder A.G. cook, as well as collaborating with artists such as rapper starrah and french electronic musician uffie. though she told NME that this was just "songs that me and AG cook made in two weeks in LA when i was feeling really depressed" - if only i could channel my depression into something so good - she stressed that it was a "whole new album", and songs like dreamerblame it on u and ILY2 will tide me over until the new album arrives. i also got a ticket to see her at the jazz cafe in camden in april, which will also feature hannah diamond and RIVRS; aka my dream line-up. sadly it's sold out, but i'm sure a whole tour will follow later in the year.

6. steps

the ultimate purveyors of nostalgia made their return to the music world not too long ago, and i couldn't not mention it here. like most kids in the early 2000s, i adored steps, playing their gold album on repeat and trying to learn all the dance moves. fast forward to 2012, and i saw them live, which was one of the best - and most camp - experiences of my life. seriously, if you haven't belted out the words to tragedy whilst wearing bright red light-up devil horns, you haven't lived. so i was delighted to hear they were reuniting for scared of the dark, which was an ABBA-inspired delight featuring one of the best key changes of all time, and this noisey article sums it up better than i ever could. 

7. keane

this next one is incredibly random; whilst listening to spotify on my phone, i searched for everybody wants to rule the world by tears for fears (one of my favourite songs of all time), and underneath it appeared everybody's changing by keane, which was a major hit back in 2004 (!!). this was another album i devoured when i was younger, though it's only when i look back at the song's lyrics that i realise how pertinent they are to my own life right now as things are in such a state flux (read: finishing uni in two months with no idea where my life is heading). so once i'd finished belting out said lyrics, i revisited their debut album hopes and fears, and fell back in love with songs like bend & break, can't stop now, this is the last time, and somewhere only we know. they might not be the coolest band around, but their songs have that stadium-ready kick, not unlike coldplay, and i've been listening to them non-stop since

8. little mix

i find myself constantly frustrated with this band as i know they're capable of producing excellent pop songs (if you listen to move, salute, weird people and touch and don't find yourself up on your feet/belting out the chorus, you are a liar), yet their albums are full of dull, unmemorable piano ballads, and their latest album glory days is no exception. if they keep it up, i fear their own glory days may be numbered, yet i wait patiently for that fifth harmony moment; another group who didn't produce a good full length album until last year's 7/27. however little mix's latest single, no more sad songs was an instant hit with me when i saw the new video last night, and is a perfect Getting Ready To Go Out number. 

though it might not pack the emotional punch of say roxy music or lady gaga (the reasons such songs make me feel that way deserve a whole other post), it serves as a perfectly catchy pop song that should remain in the charts (if they're even still relevant in this day and age) for a good few weeks. i still want more from the girls though, so i continue to hold out hope that someday, free from the evil clutches of syco music, they will experiment with more left-field production one day and go all lorde on us when we least expect it. for now though, no more sad songs is on repeat, though i highly recommend the version without machine gun kelly (when will song writers and producers realise that adding a struggling-to-stay-relevant rap artist to an already excellent pop song does nothing to improve it?) (see: work from home and worth it), which can be found on the full length album.  

9. bon iver

this artist comes with a slightly embarrassing back story. basically, a few weeks ago i downloaded tinder for what is probably the fifth time and discovered a new feature, where you can add an "anthem" to your profile (spotify strikes again); i'd be lying if i said that 95% of the people i swiped right on were mostly because of their song choice. then something odd happened; i got talking to someone who wasn't a creep purely interested in sending inappropriate messages to every girl they match with, and after a few days of talking, i listened to the anthem on their profile. it was friends by francis and the lights, featuring bon iver and kanye west (!!), and i was hooked straight away. i then somehow found another song by bon iver, titled 8 (circle) from the band's 2016 album 22, a million. 

i hate to say it, but it was a monday night, and after going to the nearest wetherspoons with some friends from my uni course, i was Quite Drunk, and i think the combination of alcohol and hearing these songs for the first time led to some kind of transcendental experience at around 6am, as the effects still hadn't worn off. i made it into uni the next day though, so all was well on that front,but only time will tell how well things go with my tinder match.

10. ALMA

after reading an interview with the finnish artist on noisey, i listened to her music and was obsessed almost instantly. after zara larsson flew the flag for sweden (though i must admit her debut album failed to thrill me after the release of her ridiculously catchy singles i would like and ain't my fault), it seems finland wants in on the act, and with songs like dye my hair (i love how her vocals in this acoustic version sound exactly like the single) and the euphoric chasing highs under her belt, it won't be long before ALMA is being played on radios and in nightclubs the world over.

11. bleachers

(another odd number!) 

i discovered don't take the money in the middle of last night and though this post was ready to be published, i couldn't leave it out. this is the kind of song that could quite literally knock you off your feet; luckily i was sitting down. it's explosive, euphoric and makes me want to drive down a long desert road in a convertible, the wind in my hair, and someone i love next to me in the driver's seat. (it also features guest vocals from lorde!)

this week's playlist is here

Thursday, 16 March 2017

the original modern: manchester's past, present and future

and this is how it starts

confused about the direction my life is/was heading, i stumbled across the grant singer documentary, simply titled joy division. i can't remember how, or when, or where i found it, just that it changed not only the way i approach writing, but also my perception of the city that has the potential to make and break me. manchester, of course. 

armed with the knowledge of legendary city dwellers such as tony wilson, peter saville and jon savage (for reference: this review of unknown pleasures showed me what music journalism could be, and though i know i'll never write anything quite as excellent, it's always in the back of my mind every time i click on the "new post" button), i embarked on my final project for university; a magazine about the past, present and future of manchester. 

fast forward to last night, and i was standing in the packed-out museum of science and industry, listening to peter saville say these very words as part of a talk that ended too soon. this was the second time i'd seen him do a talk, the first being in a small gallery on cork street in mayfair last december, to a crowd of twenty or so people. i was in the second row, directly facing him, blinking back tears every so often in sheer disbelief that the man i'd seen in the documentary that changed everything was right in front of me, talking about his art school days and how he never picked up a library book until his third year was almost over. the image of a 21 year old saville, scared and unsure - as the rest of us soon-to-be graduates are today - embarking on the task of creating what would eventually become one of the most iconic album covers of all time gave me so much hope for my own future that my heart nearly burst. earlier in the evening, making my way into the gallery after a walk around mayfair to kill time, i saw him outside, smoking with the other co-host of the talk, SHOWstudio's lou stoppard. despite being a fan of her work, i barely even registered her slick of bright red lipstick and curtain of dark, poker straight hair. my eyes remained glued to this elusive figure all in black, oblivious to the impact he'd had on me and my own work. needless to say, i didn't approach him, simply glided past - as graceful as i could muster given how much my legs were shaking - and took a seat in the tiny room; close but not too close. 

it was odd then, that watching him speak to a packed out room of around thirty, forty, maybe even fifty people last night, he seemed so much more approachable than he did on that street last december. maybe it's because i'd seen him before, and it almost felt like watching an old friend, or maybe it was the crowd, the usual manchester set with their ian brown haircuts, fred perry polos and a peroni in hand, who would occasionally shout out terms of endearment for saville, at one point chanting his name like a rowdy united crowd. it wasn't unlike the sense of belonging i've felt at the many courteeners gigs i've been to over the years, and it felt a world away from the hushed, almost reverential silence that fell over the crowd on cork street. saville and the director of the museum, sally macdonald, discussed his influence on manchester's music scene (naturally), including the cover he created for new order's debut album movement, heavily inspired by the work of futurist fortunato depero, as well as his least favourite cover he designed - session 25's always now - and concluded with his vision for how the museum could - and should - look in the future. he also name-dropped designer and friend raf simons, who he collaborated with to subtly redesign the calvin klein logo, and boldly declared that "modern manchester stands on the shoulders of ian curtis", stating that none of manchester's post-modern creativity would have happened without curtis "giving his life" for it, and he hopes that one day someone will build a statue of him in albert square to honour his legacy (curtis, not saville, though both are worthy recipients). 

also on display at the event was a paltry display of original sketches for the cover of movement, as well as pills 'n' thrills and bellyaches by the happy mondays. fascinating though it was to see, i couldn't help feeling disappointed that it was such a small selection, given that the main attraction that night was saville's talk, and with it, his work for factory records. it reminded me of an article i'd seen on the manchester evening news website about a talk - the panel for which included smiths drummer mike joyce - that discussed the need for a museum dedicated to the rich musical history of manchester (sadly i missed it as i was at uni). the fact that this hasn't yet been created dazed and amazed me as we left the gallery - after a brief stop outside so i could hurriedly make notes about the talk - and i only hope that one day such a place is created. 

fast forward to today, and while re-reading my notes from last night in preparation for writing this post - and also figuring out how to re-purpose it for my uni magazine - my mind couldn't help but drift to a more exciting place, namely the news that the 1975's third album - working title music for cars; a somewhat lazy decision given that the band's first EP also shared this title - will be released sometime next year. the interview was published in Q magazine (who knew that was even still a thing?) and can be purchased for a somewhat extortionate fee of £4.50, or if you're a trash human like i am, can be found on tumblr under the tag "the 1975" for free, and it got me thinking about how similar they are to joy division. 

bear with me here. much like saville last night, i'm going to make a bold declaration of my own and say that the 1975 are the modern-day equivalent of joy division. not in a musical sense, as sonically, joy division take on a much more post-punk sound than the slick electro-pop styling of the 1975, who actually sound more like new order. for me, the similarities lie first of all in their approach to the music industry. both bands created their own record label (factory/dirty hit) and fund(ed) their albums entirely themselves, though the 1975's work is under license to major label polydor, a smart move that allows them to retain total creative control whilst still gaining massive publicity (BRIT award anyone?). it also means that their label is less likely to go bust, such was the fate that befell factory after they declared bankruptcy in november 1992, and hopefully peter hook's prediction that matt healy will spend their riches on god-knows-what won't come true either. 

the second similarity comes from the sense of place, or lack of, that can be found in both unknown pleasures and the 1975's second album, i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. in the documentary mentioned earlier in this post, many of those interviewed about unknown pleasures describe it as an ambient soundtrack to the city. both bands make no reference to manchester in their lyrics, and though the 1975 came after britpop legends oasis and the stone roses, that guitar-heavy sound has never featured prominently in their discography. this allows their album to be enjoyed by people anywhere in the world, as it becomes their own soundtrack to whatever city they reside in, be it barcelona or boston. 

for the 1975, it's allowed them to escape the trap the courteeners have fallen into on their last few albums as they rely too heavily on that nostalgic 90s sound and risk losing fans who are more inclined towards pop (i.e. me). there's a reason why love will tear us apart still sounds so new in 2017, and it's because their music transcends time and place, much like the 1975's second album, which i find works whether i'm walking through the northern quarter or travelling on a packed northern line tube. for me, somebody else is their love will tear us apart, a song i firmly believe i'll still be listening to in another forty years, tears in my eyes as i remember the first time i ever heard it. 

so why manchester? 

it's a question i've been asking myself ever since i realised there's nowhere else in the world i'd rather live and work. it's that DIY attitude, the desire to make something out of nothing, to escape the grimy post-war tower blocks where ian curtis and peter hook grew up, or the boredom of middle-class suburbia that matt healy and george daniel found themselves trapped in some 13 years ago. it's the desire for authenticity, to keep alive the rich cultural history of a city that did so much for the music scene, and it's all of those reasons combined that mean i'll always be fighting back tears as i think about peter saville aged 21, embarking on the biggest and best project of his career, and of the 1975 collecting their BRIT award and getting the recognition they so rightly deserve. finally, and most importantly, it's the motivation i need to finish this degree and also make peace not just with where i came from, but where i'm going next. 

Friday, 3 March 2017

new (and old) music friday #16: lorde, billie eilish, the xx

in a strange twist of fate, things seem to have been working out for me in the last week or so, though i'm still reluctant to talk about it for fear of somehow jinxing it. and of course, i had an excellent soundtrack for my week, which i'll discuss below.

1. lorde

how coincidental that on one of the most significant days i've had with regards to my writing ~career~, lorde finally released her new single. both of these events took place yesterday, and though i was fully aware of the ever-looming release of green light, following some excellent, if not highly frustrating promotion, i couldn't have predicted how well things went for me yesterday. after an also successful tutorial at uni (despite oversleeping and being five minutes late), i went into london, specifically to whitechapel for an interview of sorts at guestlist magazine. long story short, my first article for them is now online and can be read here. after nearly three years of rejection from various publications, seeing my work on someone else's site and getting recognition for it is a feeling quite unlike any other. (i feel like the 1975 finally getting to headline a festival after 13 years of being a band.) it was just a shame that i had to wait until i got home to listen to - and watch the spectacular video for - green light, as it would have made an excellent addition to my already triumphant walk back to the tube station post-interview. i made up for it when i got home though, listening to it on repeat at full volume, and i highly recommend you do the same. 

2. hayley kiyoko

the former disney star released new single sleepover yesterday, with another excellent video that makes me incredibly grateful to have someone being so vocal about their sexuality in the music world in the current political landscape. the song also serves as a vehicle for all my feelings directed at various girls over the years who never felt the same, with the line even when you're next to me / it's not the way i'm picturing summing up that plummeting feeling of disappointment when you know you'll never be more than friends. her explanation of the music video also made me tear up slightly, as she said it was for the " lovers, dreamers, and seekers" of the world and described how her daydreams allowed her to "find self-love and feel validated", another feeling i know all too well. 

3. the xx

i finally got round to listening to the latest album from the london-based electronic trio, i see you, and it didn't disappoint. this might sound odd as they're all in the same band, but i could definitely make out the signatures of jamie xx's sound, making the album reminiscent of his 2015 solo release, in colour, which featured on my list of favourite albums that year. highlights include on hold, replica, sunset and lips. 

4. dead or alive

the other night i watched a channel 5 documentary about pete burns, filmed in the weeks before he died of a heart attack in october last year, and though i came away with a new-found love of his sharp wit and sense of humour, it was also the music that captivated me. most people are familiar with dead or alive's most famous song, 1984's you spin me round (like a record), but after frantically shazaming the songs playing in the background of the documentary, i found some new favourites including brand new lover and hooked on love. this is 80s pop at its best - and cheesiest - and though i've yet to listen to the rest of their albums, their vevo channel has a great selection of hits from a tour they did in japan.

5. billie eilish

after reading a nylon article about the california-born singer, i listened to her latest single bellyache and was instantly hooked. written from the perspective of a murderer just after committing their crime, the song's storytelling is matched with an equally excellent electronic-infused sound, and i'm excited to hear more from the rising star.


i can't for the life of me remember which gig it was at, but i remember seeing the london-based duo live as a support act, and was instantly hooked on their infectious synth-pop sound. signed by charli xcx to her label vroom vroom, they recently brought out a new single, the delightfully dark bad karma, which is now on repeat alongside their other tracks friend lover and kill my fears. 

this week's playlist is here