Wednesday, 25 February 2015

LIVE: The Maccabees, Sheffield Leadmill, 21.02.2015

When you love a band - I mean, really love a band - it can become difficult to be objective. Conversations down the pub about which album is best threaten to break out into actual violence, missing a tour date becomes an inconceivable prospect and any missteps in their career are dismissed as them 'going through a transitional period'. 

The Maccabees are a band I really love, and so it goes without saying that I would defend their brilliance to the hilt. However, one of the many reasons I love them is their consistency, and their desire to make sure their music is absolutely perfect before showing it to their fans. Almost two years in the making, their impending fourth album has been long awaited and shrouded in relative secrecy, save for a short stretch of shows with Kasabian at the back end of last year. It's why tonight feels so special, so exciting. Indeed, The Maccabees are ready to give their new material to the wilds.

Before all that though, the sparsely populated room is treated to the sonic stylings of LSA, a band who's name throws up results ranging from the Liverpool School of Architecture all the way to the Late Stone Age if you put it into Google. Search a little deeper, and you'll find that their name actually stands for 'Love Stays Alive', a reaction against the superficial judgement made against new bands starting out. But do LSA pass the flash in the pan test? While the nepotism of being Maccabees members Hugo and Felix's brother will probably not be lost on lead singer Will White, they are a captivating little outfit, laid-back yet somehow earnest on the likes of 'Can't Be Trusted' and 'More Or Less Equal' a song that sounds like the poster anthem for the 2007 'Best Midlands' movement despite LSA's London postcode. Without succumbing to the normal mundane 'how you doing Sheffield?!' schtick, they come across self-assured and ultimately, very promising. 

With chants of 'MAC..A..BEEEEEEES' increasing in volume at the same steady level as the room's sweaty temperature, tonight's headliner take to the stage in traditionally unassuming fashion. 'Wall Of Arms' is a fitting opener, an ode to the camaraderie between fan and band that has sustained them for so many years. As the track reaches it's peak the crowd surge forward, and the spell is broken - just like bumping into an old friend, the recognition of a song loaded with memories makes it feel like they never went away.

Mingling with such classics as 'Precious Time', 'William Powers' and a deliciously rare outing of 'Latchmere', there of course are new songs. In spades. All five of them, delivered with the confidence of a first album track. 

While it's always difficult to get a measure on a track from only one listen, it's near on impossible not to feel immediately satisfied with the quality of what is offered over tonight. When they were describing to NME 'both the fastest and slowest music [they've] ever done', it's clear they were referring at least in part to 'Marks To Prove It', a track that carries the same wide-eyed euphoria of 'pelican' but with even more pace. Any record label with any sense would declare it the first single on the spot. 

In direct comparison, the coconut-stomp of 'WW1 Portraits' constantly feels on the cusp of something bigger, so much so that when that inevitable drop comes, it floods the room with palpable, intoxicating relief. Tension has always been something The Maccabees have been great at, and it's clear that the new record will be loaded with it, dripping in emotion. 

Rounded out by Given To The Wild's magical closer 'Grew Up At Midnight', tonight's show has been a masterclass in the comeback. Showing tangible evidence of progression with the same old charm, The Maccabees stand once more as proof that the nice guy doesn't always finish last. Prepare your stereos. 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

REVIEW: McBusted, 'McBusted'

If it were not for McFly and Busted, I doubt this blog would be in existence today. A 12 year old's gateway to pop punk, to emo, and then to indie and alternative, they started a lineage which is responsible for all the of music I have held dear to my heart over the years. From the outside, their lightweight guitar pop is throwaway. To me, it was the key to the city.

Nearly ten years after Busted's split, a lot has changed. Cheeky lyrical innuendo has been replaced with twerking and toke-taking, deep house has become radio-worthy and some blokes called One Direction are papering the walls of teenage girls bedrooms. The spikey hair and airborne 'jumps' of yore are relics of another time, resigned to history alongside pokemon cards and sticky aliens that gave birth in the freezer. Is there really enough room in pop for six guys, rapidly approaching their thirties, to sing about girls with American Pie-worthy youth? Is it authentic enough to survive?

The thing about both Busted and McFly, was that it was never supposed to be serious. What I Go To School For? Back in 2003 that was a boyhood anthem. Nowadays, it would be labelled peadophilia wrapped up in a catchy chorus. All About You? A timeless feat of sweet lyricism that could be applied to almost any situation, even DFS adverts. That Tom Fletcher of the McFly half has been filling his spare time writing songs for the likes of One Direction and Five Seconds Of Summer tells you everything - these are no amateurs. But still, I would be lying if I said that my strong emotional attachment to my childhood heroes caused my heart to fill with dread at the promise of a new record, destined to mar a legacy so fun and unspoilt.

The catch? I needn't have worried. At 21 years of age, it was always unlikely that this record would come to mean much to me on a deeper level, but that's okay. Pop music doesn't always have to be everlasting. With McBusted, the purpose is simple - revive one nostalgia act (Busted), tack them on to a still semi-successful act (McFly), and send them off to tour the world, make straight-to-the-point-pop and delight fans while putting a solid investment in that pension fund. Who can blame them?

There's no way around it - 'McBusted' is a time capsule record, a celebration of things past as opposed to any attempt to win any new fans. Lead single Air Guitar sums up it's essence perfectly - upon first listen, it's a cheesy midlife crisis desperately trying to be hip; on the second, it's the sort of track you'd get up early on a Saturday morning to tape the performance of on CD:UK, the lyrics of which you'd scrawl across a banner to drag with you to Wembley arena. It's big, happy and lovable.

Setting the tone of self-deprecation that lifts the whole record, it's difficult not to put your cynicism aside and enjoy 'McBusted' once you're in on the joke and have forgotten that they're mostly married with children now. 'Sensitive Guy' is a hilarious rip of hipster culture that is probably more spot on that most of the bands who've tried it before (I'm just a super, super sensitive guy/I sleep with the light on/Got a badass eco-friendly motor-scooter to ride on), whereas 'Before You Knew Me' is loaded with sugar-rush pop-culture references that are very obviously indebted to the Busted sense of humour:

"I liked you better before you knew me
You were high definition
Now you're barely 720
You were Hannah Montana
But now you're licking things like Miley"

With so much emphasis on the vocals of McFly's Tom, and Busted's James and Matt, the McFly constituency is left fairly under-utilised, a slight annoyance when you consider that McFly's Danny is probably the groups best singer. There's no denying that this record is very Busted - 'Riding On My Bike' would have slotted nicely onto James' musical project Loserville, and 'Hate Your Guts' is so heavily indebted to Blink 182 that they went the whole hog and got Mark Hoppus to feature. 

As the band with the most chance of a separate future after this, it's not surprising that McFly have perhaps taken a back seat. And indeed, as the half with the messier history, the emotional weight of Busted's delivery works to create the record's more lasting moments. Recalling the aftermath of their initial split. 'What Happened To Your Band' is frank and open, capturing the dark humour of being forced to explain yourself to the worlds media.

"They gotta know first hand
They wanna understand
What happened to your band?
What are your future plans?
I'm like your biggest fan"

A rare moment of introspection among all the japery, it's a sign of true catharsis, offering an insight into the purpose of the project in the first place. Starting a new band is an unlikely method of closure, but perhaps it's the only medium that seemed appropriate, healing the cracks by creating new memories. Indebted to Busted as the band who opened the door for their success, this is McFly's offer of thanks and friendship, and it shows. Surely there are worse legacies to leave?

'McBusted' is available now on iTunes

Monday, 29 December 2014

2014 in Music

This year has been something of a mad one, not least in terms of music. I started 2014 in a sea of paperwork, trying to finish off the final elements of my Music Journalism degree before setting off for a months work experience at NME and finding out that I'd received a first class mark. The latter half of the year was lost in job applications, house moves and general adult stuff that got in the way of my usual busy schedule of gigs and headphone time. None the less, it wouldn't be right to end the year without a musical round up, so here goes!


Despite it's release date technically having been in December 2013, I lost most of the first month of the year to Beyonce's self titled album (read my full review here). A year later, I still love every facet of it - the crisp production, stunning art direction and the overwhelming sense of honesty that coats every lyric. Let us not forget how empowering a record it was either - from black pride ('Superpower'), feminism ('Flawless') and sexuality post-motherhood (er, the whole thing), it was a record which threw off the cloak of perfection and was true to itself.


February was a good month for this little here blog, as I got into plenty of debate with friends and family concerning Alex Turner and THAT Brits speech. I still think it was utterly hilarious, perfectly befitting of the rock star character Turner has created for himself. It was also a great month for records - Bombay Bicycle Club's So Long, See You Tomorrow brought their experiments with eastern and dance music to the fore while still maintaining their heartfelt softer moments, whereas Wild Beasts Present Tense (review here) was a journey into dark, unchartered territory, loaded with synths and imagery. I'd highly recommend both.


In March I went to watch Bombay Bicycle Club for the umpteenth time at Leeds Academy, falling in love with their stage show that is steadily growing in ambition. It was the first time I realised how truly huge they were becoming, cementing later in the year when they announced a show at Earls Court. Having followed this band from their very earliest gigs, I couldn't be prouder.

Cramming the final few thousand words for my dissertation, I listened to and enjoyed plenty of records - Real Estate's Atlas, Pharrell's GIRL and The War on Drugs record Lost In A Dream, to name but a few. The War On Drugs in particular were to become very important this year - in January I spent a week at the NME offices where one of my tasks included transcribing an interview with Adam Granduciel, the man behind the 'band'. Although I've obviously interviewed bands myself before, I was blown away by Jenny Stevens (the NME journalist's) technique and how throughly she got Adam to open up, and have been really inspired by the experience and what I could hear in the music after knowing a little more about the man behind it. The power of good music journalism!


In April, I returned to NME for a month's work placement on the desk. I learned loads, both about journalism and about London life. I also had some stuff published, which was a huge compliment. Naturally, the commute meant plenty of time to listen to music - the Wolf Alice Creature Songs EP, Iggy Azalea's The New Classic and Cloud Nothing's Here And Nowhere Else mainly. When I got to the office each day, I was exposed to plenty more - Salad Days by Mac De Marco, Damon Albarn Everyday Robots and an advance copy of Kasabian's 48:13. Kasabian have always been something of a guilty pleasure, but the minute I heard 'eez-eh', I will admit I was shocked - this deranged funhouse music that sounded like it was delivered by a gang of football hooligans had a menace to it that made me see them in a new light.

April was also a good month for gigs - I finally got the chance to see Brand New headline a gig, and was moved to tears by hearing 'Jesus Christ' live for the first time. At the other end of the spectrum, I had a brilliantly nostalgic evening at London's 02 Arena watching McBusted, much more fun that I expected. Who'd have known then that we'd be getting an album later in the year...


May is a month that seemed to dissolve in a mess of finishing my degree, my NME placement and generally enjoying some downtime away from blogging and being switched 'on' to the media world. However, I did make it to Gold Sounds festival at Leeds Brudenell Social Club (review here), where Cloud Nothings and Johanna Gruesome were massive highlights. Albumwise, I fell for Kate Tempest's Everybody Down despite not normally being a fan of spoken word-type art - it made me feel the same way that Arctic Monkeys 'Whatever People Say I Am...' did with it's gritty realism, which is no small compliment at all.

May also had it's disappointments. Despite utterly adoring 'Magic', I couldn't help but feel let down by the two-dimensional-ness of Coldplay's Ghost Stories, and Lily Allen's Sheezus succumbed to the same problems as it's much-talked about lead single 'Hard Out Here' - too many dated references, and tunes that weren't strong enough to really ram home the important message.


June - the month Jenessa went soft. Five Seconds of Summer were everything my 13-year-old self would have loved, provided a homage to the glory days of Avril Lavinge 'sk8ter boi' pop. I hated myself, but there was no denying that 'She Looks So Perfect' became something of an earworm. Ed Sheeran's X initially underwhelmed by steadily won me over via the brilliance of both 'SING' and 'Don't' (reviewed here), while Lana Del Rey dropped Ultraviolence,  a wishy washy affair that peaked with 'West Coast', soaked in her trademark sultry melancholy.


As so often happens in the summer months, Lo-Fi became a way of life. Alvvays self-titled record filled the gap, sounding a little like Arctic Monkeys 'AM' had it ditched the leather jackets for californian board shorts and sneaking out of the bedroom window at night. Soundtrack to the summer = sorted. At the jazzier end, I fell under the spell of Jungle via a stint working in the offices of Beacons Festival - the album got played on a nearby daily basis, lodging 'Busy Earnin'
and 'Time' deep within my brain.

At the end of July, I also made the long trip down south to review my very first 2000 Trees Festival. I loved every moment - it's boutique family feel makes for a much more relaxing experience than some of the bigger events. I said goodbye to Kids in Glass Houses at one of their last ever festival shows, experienced an incredibly high-octane live show by The Bronx and welcomed Wolf Alice even further into my life.


August was a pretty quiet month for releases - everybody was too busy playing the festival circuit! I was lucky enough to receive my first press pass for Leeds Festival (reviewed here), where I waved goodbye to AM-era Arctic Monkeys, watched Paramore prove their worth as one of the world's best live bands today and put my faith in Drenge to be the next big crossover band. I also took some pretty horrendous street style photos (promise to get better in 2015).

There were two great albums at least - in pop land, Ariana Grande's super-sickly sweet My Everything was Mariah Carey re-imagined for the selfie generation, while FKA Twigs took the Beyonce approach to sexuality, displaying vulnerability alongside formidable strength. 'Two Weeks' is undoubtedly one of my favourite tracks of the year - check it out if you're one of the very few who hasn't heard it already.


Forget Alt-J and their weird crisp-packet references - September was all about Jamie T. Having waited five years for a new record, Carry On The Grudge was everything I wanted it to be - matured but playful, dark but with flickers of hope, songs to go wild to and songs to make you feel sad. What's my favourite song? I'm torn between 'Turn On The Light' and 'Love Is Only A Heartbeat Away', both beautiful in different ways.

At the tail end of the month, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly also muscled in. His last ever Leeds show was incredibly emotional, and reminded me just how much his first record meant to be as a teenager, an experience which I wrote about in full here.


Award season kicked into play again in October - Young Fathers surprised everyone to win the Mercury Music Prize, while Little Mix scooped the Popjustice £20 music prize for their single 'Move'. Still not sure on the former, 100% behind the latter - Destiny's Child-worthy pop will always be a winner in my book. In album land, I took a liking to Lower Than Atlantis' self-titled record (reviewed here) - pop punk that was very straight-forward about it's intentions.

Jessie Ware and SBTRKT both yielded great singles but not much else, leaving me feeling a little despondent. But then of course Princess Taylor Swift came along with "1989', a record that had so many potential singles it may as well have been named Top 10 countdown. Don't even think about asking me for a favourite song (probably 'Style' or 'Blank Space'), but bonus track 'New Romantic' is a Robyn-worthy female anthem that definitely should have made it onto the main record. You can read my full review of the record here.


November was a solid month for comebacks - first we finally got that long awaited Azealia Banks record, which proved more eclectic than anybody could have expected - I refer you to 'Nude Beach A-Go-Go'. We also got a new record from TV On The Radio - I haven't listened to the whole thing too throughly just yet but can assure you that 'Test Pilot' is easily one of the most devastating songs of the year, the sound of divorce 'smashed down for all to see.'

Watching Real Estate & Alvvays, Jamie T & Slaves (read my reviews here and here) live were also emotional experiences - the former because we got to be part of the show by picking out song choices from a cup, the latter because I was surrounded by drug users and overheard some rather ignorant and unpleasant racial stereotyping aimed my way. Win some, lose some.

Topping off the month, Beyonce re-released 'Beyonce' as a platinum edition, teaming up with Nicki Minaj for a version of 'Flawless' that added a whole lot more sass to an already sass-laden pot. We also got 'McBusted', which while fun, felt a little like overkill - I adored the tour, and found the album to be something of a guilty pleasure. Lead singer 'Air Guitar' was something of a tune, if you didn't mind eating around the cheese.


December - the month Charli XCX broke my heart by delaying the UK release of 'Sucker'. Still I managed to console myself with Nicki Minaj's The Pinkprint, with the brilliantly bonkers 'Anaconda' and the Beyonce-featuring 'Feeling Myself'.

It was also another good month for gigs - I saw one of my favourite bands Los Campesinos! do a lovely Christmas show for the second year running, and reviewed a Kasabian gig at Leeds Direst Arena with the added bonus of a support slot from The Maccabees (read here) . Once again, hearing 'Precious Time' live forced me to tears, quickly dried by the hands-up, no nonsense hit-fest of Kasabian.


So what's in store for next year? Now that I'm working from home, have a little more money and more independence, I'm hoping lots more gigs and plenty more content. There's plenty of bands I'm expecting to have big 2015's too - Wolf Alice (read my interview here), Slaves, Alvvays, MNEK, George The Poet, Years & Years and Tinashe to name a few.

Congratulations if you're still reading this post - it's been quite a whopper! Thanks so much to all the PR's, promoters and managers who have sent me music or invited my to gigs/festivals this year, it really is appreciated.

Check out my Spotify playlist before for some of my favourite tracks from the year, and keep checking back for more music goodness across 2015!