Monday, 30 March 2015

Recommended music: 'Escape From Evil' by Lower Dens

Image: Escape From Evil

The third album from Lower Dens sees them make a shift from the krautrock of the seventies to the bouncy electro-pop of the eighties, all glistening guitars and shimmering synths (the only thing that would make it more 80s would be if you stuffed it full of saxophone solos, but maybe that's a step too far...). Over the top comes Jana Hunter's voice, strong and clear, like Chrissie Hynde crossed with Lana del Rey. It's the sound of her breaking out as a frontwoman, embracing the limelight and saying "this is me and my band, don't hide me on a dark stage any more, light me with a glitterball". Speaking as someone who's seen Lower Dens play live a lot, often on a dark stage, this is a welcome development - although at times I miss the motorik drumbeat (there's just a hint of it in 'Company'), it's nice to hear some sunshine in their sound. 'Electric Current' is not dissimilar to something the Eurythmics might put out, while 'To Die In L.A.' has an air of Robert Plant's 'Johnny and Mary' about it.

At times the records sounds like it's auditioning to be an alternative soundtrack for the movie 'Drive', or even Brett Easton Ellis's book 'The Rules of Attraction', while at others it's just revelling in the in bright sunlight. There's an undoubted slice of Californian cocktail hours in this record (despite the band's Baltimore homeland), and its tales of love and loss seem well suited to the musical atmosphere it generates. I must admit that it's taken me a few listens to get below the surface sheen and start to love this record, but it's definitely worth the effort.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Track of the Day: 'No Less' by SBTRKT

Over the past couple of days SBTRKT has thrown a few tracks onto Soundcloud that are either new or were left over from 'Wonder Where We Land'. This is probably the most likeable and straightforward of the three - it's small but perfectly formed and (stretched out with some vocals) would make a great summer dance tune. You can hear the other two below - 'Roulette' is more glitchy while 'FlareTwo' is more full-on and in your face - see which of the three is your favourite.

Recommended music: 'Solo' by Nils Frahm


This, like pretty much everything Frahm puts his name to, is a thing of beauty. Recorded on his own as improvisations, with no overdubs, it's full of sublime melodies and gentle keystrokes, evoking solitariness but not loneliness, and a sense of calm and stillness that's just mesmerising. Even on the more vibrant and animated 'Wall', which undercuts the calmness with a slight air of menace, you still feel by the end that all is well. It's an amazing example of what one man can achieve with one piano and a bucketload of talent, but there's more...

You see, this record has a purpose, and that purpose is to raise money for the building of the Klavins M450 piano. One of a kind, this will be the largest piano in the world, standing 4.5 metres tall. A prototype, the M370, has already been built, and it's that on which Frahm recorded this album (as you might have guessed that one is 3.7 metres tall). The income from 'Solo' is being used to cover the materials and labour for the construction of this wonderful instrument, which will hopefully culminate in a festival to unveil it in Berlin on Piano Day 2017. So by buying this release you're helping this historical project to succeed, as well as getting a stunning piece of music for yourself. You can buy it here, and listen to a track from it below.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Recommended music: 'Hinterland' by LoneLady

"Beyond the dirty window there's a curios flame
In the dark heart of Hinterland that keeps on calling me"


With her second album for Warp Julie Campbell has delivered a mesmerising and hypnotic record that fuses industrial Manchester with motorised Michigan. This is a very architectural album, literally and metaphotically. From the initial recordings in her home studio in a towerblock - aptly called Concrete Retreat - she's piled layers and layers of analogue recordings, physically building the tracks up. And the titles - 'Bunkerpop', 'Hinterland', 'Mortar Remembers You', '(I Can See) Landscapes', 'Into The Cave' - all point towards an overall feeling of bleakness both within and outside of the environment. In some ways it's a record that's entombed in concrete, and you're not really sure whether it's accepted its fate or is trying to break free.

Put your headphones in and you'll hear a crisp, at times almost brutal sound as the layers of synths, live percussion and analog sounds compete for space in your head. But this is a record that works equally well from a set of speakers - the infectious grooves that underpin a lot of the tracks will definitely make you want to move your feat.

Musically there's a whole host of influences on display, from Liquid Liquid to Cabaret Voltaire to LCD Soundsystem to A Certain Ratio and maybe even The Fall. And although it's a record that maybe could've been made in Berlin or Detroit you can feel Manchester at its heart.

"Flee to the outskirts, the ground is crumbling,
The sky is falling"

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Video of the Day: 'Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) by Run The Jewels feat. Zack de la Rocha

This a pretty powerful song in its own right. But this new video by AG Rojas takes it to another level. On the face of it it's just another white cop beating on a black kid. But it makes no judgements as to the cause - we're dropped right into the middle of the action, and during the course of the video each has the upper hand at times. It's designed to provoke a response, and hopefully a discussion, one that Killer Mike will no doubt be heavily involved in since he became an unofficial spokesman in the wake of what happened in Ferguson.

The buzz around Run The Jewels just gets bigger and bigger, and I'm pretty sure that seeing them at Field Day in June will be one of the highlights of the summer.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Recommended music: 'Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit' by Courtney Barnett

Sometimes I Sit and Think
The first album proper from Melbourne-born Barnett, after her EP collection 'A Sea of Split Peas' is a bright shining beacon of sass in the world of mediocre mainstream music. With more attitude than a bag full of rattlesnakes and more hooks than an abattoir, her music is the type that smacks you firmly in the face but then kisses you better afterwards. From the brilliantly punky first single 'Pedestrian At Best', with its insanely catchy chorus, through to the downbeat but not morose closer 'Boxing Day Blues' this is an album that never fails to entertain. Lyrically Barnett covers subjects ranging from the trials of buying your first property in the crap part of town; "We drive to a house in Preston / see police arresting a man with his hand in a bag / How's that for first impressions!" (Depreston) to being stuck in the wrong job; "I'm not suicidal just idling insignificantly / All I ever wanted to be was an Elevator Operator / Can you help me please?"

Musically the production is bright and crisp and gives the feel of a record that's been 'played live' while it was recorded. That feel even extends to the track sequencing - it feels like almost the perfect order for a live show - a powerful finish, then a chance to calm down a bit before building the energy back up. It's clear that Courtney is a natural talent who is just beginning to blossom, and she's got enough musical strings to her bow to match the wit and insouciance of her lyrics. The two long songs ('Small Poppies' and 'Kim's Caravan', both around the 7-minute mark) never seem to drag, but she can still nail a perfect two minute pop song on 'Aqua Profunda!'. There are tracks on here that sound like The Velvet Underground and tracks that sound like The Kinks, but it's still a totally modern and relevant album.

Perfect post-punk pop from someone who may just be the saviour of indie guitar music.

PS It's worth mentioning that on the orange vinyl version of this that I've got there's a secret bonus track at the end which may well be the title track (as she sings the title in it).

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Track of the Day: 'Strange Combinations' by Teleman

A new track from Teleman, which has been recorded and produced by Dan Carey for his Speedy Wunderground label. If you've not heard of the label before they do one-off releases that are recorded in a day and mixed the next day. The speed of recording is designed to, in Dan's words 'avoid over-cooking and faff'.

This new release from Teleman has an infectious electronic groove that may well have you dancing round your living room. Like all of the Speedy Wunderground releases it's limited to 250 copies on vinyl and you can order it here.

Recommended music: 'Zen Summer' by Cloud

The second album from Tyler Taormina sees him in a brighter place, both literally and metaphorically. Although it was recorded before he packed up and left Long Island for Los Angeles it almost sees him anticipating that move, replacing the outpouring of emotions on 'Comfort Songs' with something more contented and relaxed. From the moment the wave crashes against the shore at the start of opening track 'Fly Into The Mystery' you can sense the journey to the West Coast. Here's what Tyler says about the vibe of the record:

"After 'Comfort Songs' I was in a dark place; but I always knew that when it ended a really uplifting and bright time was going to come. When it inevitably did the lightness I experienced turned into a real strange period of transition, culminating with me leaving home for Los Angeles. 'Zen Summer' was written to help those experiencing the anxiety associated with a state of flux. I wanted them to realise that things would be alright in the end."

Despite the change in direction the album is still full of personal observations. You can sense the importance Tyler places on surrounding yourselves with people you care about in these mirrored lyrics from 'Sunshine Psych' near the start of the album and 'Rainbow Road' at the end:

"I like when a house is full of life and when friends stick around"
"I like when a house is full of life and friends you call the best"

In 'Melting Cassatt' (which you can hear below) he confesses that "I told myself that I wouldn't cry...but it's OK now". Advice is despatched on the trippy 'Sleepy Giant Speak' :"One way out is to whine, one way in is to count the good things, it's your life, don't be scared"

The music meanwhile has broadened and deepened to become a blend of Mercury Rev and The Velvet Underground, while on the blissed-out 'Tastes Bad' we move into the stoned mantra of enlightenment-seeking psychedelia.

Overall this blissed-out and uplifting record is something that nourishes your soul as well as providing enjoyment for your ears. The album is out on 7th April via Paper Trail Records, and you can order your copy here.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Track of the Day: 'That's Love' by Oddisee

A new track from Oddisee is always a reason to celebrate, especially when it heralds a new album from the man. 'The Good Fight' is out on May 5th, and from it comes 'That's Love' - fast but not furious, it's a meditation on what we'll do for the people that matter to us, and what they'll do for us. It's upbeat and summery and fills me with excitement for the album.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Recommended music: 'Shadow of the Sun' by Moon Duo

Shadow of the Sun

Back with their third album proper (or 6th if you count the 2 remix albums and 'Live in Ravenna') the futuristic psyche-rock pairing of Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada might be treading familiar paths, but maybe in different shoes. There's fuzzed up garage rock on 'Wilding', goth-punk on lead single 'Animal' and foot-stomping surf rock on 'Zero', but that's not all that's on offer. 'In A Cloud' is a more gentle and melancholic take on psychedelia, while 'Slow Down Low' includes acoustic guitars and some whirly organ in its armoury. 'Ice' meanwhile is a hypnotic and throbbing way to end the album (or the vinyl version of it at least).

Talking of vinyl, this is one of those releases that cries out to be bought in this format. Not only does it look resplendent in red vinyl but it comes with a bonus 7" featuring 'Animal' and a bonus non-album track (it sounds better too of course).

With a solar eclipse due next week this would be the ideal album to zone out to as you sit in the shadow of the sun.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Track of the Day: 'Run' by Roniia

Roniia hit the UK and the rest of Europe next week on tour, and to celebrate they've made a cassette mixtape to sell at the shows. The tape features some of their favourite acts and influences, as well as this new song of their own which isn't on their brilliant début album. The track itself is a warm and enveloping number that really showcases Nona's vocals over some dark and glitchy electronics. It's one of the best things they've done so far and I can't wait to hear it live in Hoxton next week.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

New music: 'Tomboy' EP by Tomboy

This new electronic duo from Brooklyn, NYC have just released their first EP (an album's on the way later) and it's an intriguing mix of melodic pop hooks and pounding hymns. It's clear that they've got a deep understanding of how to build a song so that it sounds equally as good on your headphones or on the dancefloor. They've been working together since 2013, having previously carved out individual careers as musicians and songwriters, and seem to have a great chemistry, with the resultant sound being somewhere between La Roux and Sylvan Esso (to my ears at least). You can stream the whole EP below.

Track of the Day: 'Transition' by Violet ft. A.M.O.R, Nightwave, Nancy Whang, Mamacita & Coco Solid

To celebrate International Women's Day (which was a couple of days ago, and which I always share with my birthday) this posse of empowered women gathered together and made a rather awesome tune. Covering Underground Resistance's Detroit techo classic 'Transition' they've made a track dedicated to the women of the world, but I'm sure they won't mind if you're a man but you still want to dance to it. Grab the free download below.

Recommended music: '700 Fill' by Ratking

The authentic sound of young, urban New York City, Ratking get getter and better with each release. '700 Fill' sees them honing their skills with the help  of some guests like Despot, Remy Banks and Princess Nokia. The beats are varied (who'd have seen that saxophone coming on 'Arnold Palmer'?) and hard-edged, while the lyrical subject matter ranges from the American Dream to school to blunts to North Face Steep Tech jackets.

Having stated in the past that 'We're a rap group but we want to be part of the culture of punk' the band have continued to do things their own way by giving this release away as a BitTorrent bundle. In exchange for your email address you get 9 tracks, a video from Ari Marcopoulos, some instrumentals and even a discount code for merch. Click here to get hold of it. If you're the cautious type who wants to listen to the album before downloading it you can stream it below.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Remix of the Day: 'Off Peak Dreams (Hookworms Remix) by Ghostpoet

Ghostpoet's track is fuzzed up and scuzzed up by Hookworms, who provide it with a menacing tone and a 'Are you looking at me?' stare. I'm trying to find out where you can buy / download this, but in the meantime you can listen to it below.

Friday, 6 March 2015

SXSW 2015 - the ones to watch.


With SXSW season fast approaching it's time for a trawl through the long list of music events to pick out the must-see artists. Sadly I won't be there this year, but if I was this is where you'd find me. (Anyone with a + by their name is playing more than one show so you should be able to find them somewhere else if you have a schedule clash).

1. Run The Jewels - Cedar St Courtyard 20th March+
Makers of the best hip-hop album of 2014, an incendiary live act, voice of the people and all-round good guys, Killer Mike and El-P should be on the top of everyone's list. In fact, they probably are, so make sure you get there early to guarantee your spot at a show that you'll be talking about for months.

2. Public Service Broadcasting - Latitude 30, 19th March+
As unfashionable as concept albums might be, the new one from PSB 'The Race For Space' is a mighty fine record. Telling the story of the USSR vs USA in the battle for space supremacy they manage to convey both the wonder and emotion of this amazing achievement. They're great fun live too.

3. Songhoy Blues - Parish, 20th March+
Hands down the most exuberant and life-affirming live band I've seen for the past few years. Exiled from their homes in northern Mali when making music was banned by the extremist leaders, they were welcomed into the Africa Express family by Damon Albarn and have now had their album produced by Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs). The most fun you'll have at SXSW, guaranteed.

4. Raury - venue TBC
If the whole world hasn't heard of Raury by the end of this year I'll be very surprised. Like a younger (and more prolific) version of Franck Ocean he sings, re raps, and is basically uber talented.

5. East India Youth - Latitude 30, 17th March
Nominated for the Mercury Prize in the UK last year for his 'Total Strife Forever' album, Will Doyle already has a second album ready for release next month and has signed to XL Recordings to put it out. A mix of melodic pop tunes and darker electronic numbers will keep you entertained at the British Music Embassy.

6. Kate Tempest - Latitude 30, 17th March
Another Mercury nominee, Kate is on the same bill as East India Youth so you won't have far to travel to see her. Poet, playwright, rapper and novelist, it's hard to pigeon-hole her, but rest assured that whatever she does she always does it with maximum energy and skill.

7. Skepta - venue TBC
Tottenham born UK Grime artist Skepta might suddenly be a lot more famous than he was this time last month. The reason? He was part of Kanye West's showstopping performance at the BRITs music awards, even getting namechecked by Yeezy at the end of 'All Day'. If he's good enough for Kanye then I'm sure he's good enough for you.

8. Oddisee - Bungalow, 17th March
One of my all-time favourite rap / hip-hop artists, Oddisee deserves to be feted by the music-loving world. With a new album on the way, he'll be following up his own show at SXSW by immediately coming back onstage as part of the 'DC loves Dilla' show at the same venue.

9. Courtney Barnett - Cedar Street Courtyard 19th March+
Australian indie-rocker Barnett has a punk attitude and a way with titles that could match Morrissey - witness her new single called 'Pedestrian At Best' and her album 'Sometimes I Sit And Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit'. 

10. Joey Bada$$ - venue TBC
Straight outta Brooklyn NYC,  Joey B brings the area's hip-hop heritage and updates it for a new generation. Founder of the Pro-Era collective, who'll also no doubt be in town, and with his début album 'B4.DA.$$' gathering critical & commercial acclaim he's definitely one not to miss.

11. Brolin - Day Stage ACC, 20th March+
This young and enigmatic producer and musician from the UK will be releasing his first album later this year. He's already had masses of support online and via alternative radio stations, and if the album's as good as people are expecting he'll likely be nominated for this year's Mercury Prize.

12. THEESatisfaction - Bungalow, 21st March+
Seattle-based duo THEESatisfaction are a sensual and seductive rap / r'n'b act making music unlike anyone else at the moment. Imagine Lauren Hill & Sade combined and you'll be somewhere on the right path. Working closely with Shabazz Palaces their records are an aural delight that will soothe your soul.

13. Catfish and The Bottlemen - Latitude 30, 17th March+
Fresh faced young indie-rockers from Wales. CatB recently won the BBC Introducing Award in the UK. Much of their appeal stems from frontman Van McCann's engaging style and they certainly know their way around a melody or two.

14. The Pop Group - Maggie Mae's Rooftop 20th March+
Post punk art-rockers The Pop Group have just released their first album for 35 years (!), produced by Paul Epworth, and the reformed original line-up are now taking that record on the road ad taking crowds by storm with it.

15. Hodgy Beats - Clive Bar, 20th March+
To my mind the most talented of the Odd Future collective, Hodgy recently released the brilliant 'Denatape2' mixtape with Don Cannon. Expect the unexpected, with Earl Sweatshirt also in town, who knows which other members of Odd Future might turn up (although probably not Tyler given the furore last time he hit SXSW)

Monday, 2 March 2015

Remix of the Day: 'Boys Latin (Andy Stott Remix)' by Panda Bear

The original version of this comes from one of the best albums of 2015 so far, 'Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper'. Although I'm not sure you'll necessarily recognise it when you hear Stott's pulsatingly industrial remix. It's mad and noisey and thrilling so give it a try.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Recommended music: 'Late Night Tales - Jon Hopkins'

Jon Hopkins

Even by Late Night Tales pretty faultless standards, this album is exceptional. Jon Hopkins has curated an immaculate collection of tracks. There's 5 or 6 on here that I already have and love, but every single one of the others sounds like something I should have heard and loved before. From Four Tet to Letherette, from Bibio to Helios, it's a stream of musical consciousness that ebbs and flows on an aural tide.

And you don't only have to listen to it at night either; staring out of the train window, or curled up in an armchair in a cosy corner, or walking across the windswept moors - this is a collection that just works whatever your circumstances. It will soothe and revive you, comfort and inspire you, and just leave you in a better place than it found you.

In the process of putting this together Mr Hopkins has shown that not only does he make great records of his own but that he can recognise greatness in others as well - a true skill.

Sheer perfection.