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 much better homage to the glory days of Busted than McBusted themselves. 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, but couldn't help feeling like the time had passed to be singing about girls and diners and first loves. Still, '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!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Kasabian/ The Maccabees, First Direct Arena, 21.11.2014

(Originally published on Counterfeit Magazine, available here)

It’s a truth universally known in the world of support acts that opening a gig with new material is a massive no-no. The Maccabees must have confidence in spades: despite a thin and widely indifferent audience, they open one of their first gigs in two years by tearing through a track that is indebted to every one of their albums all at once – the emotion of Given To The Wild, the exuberance of Colour It In and the wild guitar work of Wall of Arms. Looking suitably pleased to be back on stage, the likes of ‘Feel To Follow’ and ‘Precious Time’ sound remarkably fresh for their time away, with Orlando Weeks dedicating ‘First Love’ to the recently closed Cockpit, a fitting tribute for a band who have always worn their heart on their sleeve. Welcome back boys – we’ve missed you.

Whilst the ladies toilet queue reassures us that there are some women in tonight’s crowd, the sea of Liam Gallagher haircuts and Fred Perry polos assures us that we are indeed at a ‘dad lad’-heavy Kasabian gig. The atmosphere feels like a cross between a football match and a pantomime as spotlights illuminate their two frontmen, taking a slowed down version of ‘Bumblebee’ and pushing it gradually to its inevitable release. As soon as that beat drops, all of the evening’s scepticism evaporates: the flush of pink is visually stunning as it reflects on the sea of pints thrust aloft, worshipping at the altar of big, bold British rock.

Testosterone is flung to the wall as they romp through ‘Shoot The Runner’ and ‘Underdog’ to near hysteria before bringing on a skeleton-costumed mini orchestra for a fantastic rendition of ‘Where Did All The Love Go’. As the strong day-glo imagery projects bizarre wording and random phrases (‘trackie’ ‘commit no nuisance’,‘skeggy’), an oddly retro punk ethos tints proceedings, a definite two-fingers in the air atmosphere. Well, if punk was arena-sized, platinum selling and constantly banging on about ‘aving it’, that is.

As always, the strength of tonight’s gig is in the kinship of Kasabian’s duel frontmen. Serge Pizzorno, all flailing limbs, maracas and a sewn-on fox’s tail, is the perfect partner for Tom Meighan’s straighter shtick and surprisingly powerful voice. They look to each other regularly, drinking in the screams of audience and cavorting their way through the deranged funhouse that is ‘eez-eh’, arguably one of the most memorable songs of the year.

Amongst all the bravado, however, are a collection of British anthems that never say die. Kasabian are not a band usually associated with diversity, but here, tonight, they prove that they can do ballads (‘Goodbye Kiss’), pop choruses (‘Bow’) and even 80s discotheque (‘Treat’) with startlingly ease. As the foot stamping threatens to break the balcony during ‘Vlad The Impaler’ and ‘Fire’, this could well have been a Greatest Hits concert. If this is indeed an Empire, consider Tom ‘n’ Serge your new Director Generals.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

10 Questions with... Wolf Alice

It's been a long time since I fell in love having encountered them at a festival, but London's Wolf Alice were that treat back at Beacons 2013, an intoxicating mix of punk spirit, 90's-tastic delivery, and a genuine passion for what they are doing. In the past six weeks alone, they've been announced as the opening act for Alt-J's 02 Arena date, selected for Government export funding and released a free download of a 'Storms', a song that only serves to further exacerbate the desire for their debut record. But just who are Wolf Alice? After a few false starts and a lost set of questions, we caught up with lead singer Ellie Rowsell for a quick chat about festivals, living the dream and teenage angst...

Hi Ellie. With December fast approaching, it's been a pretty cracking year for you and your band, especially in terms of public perception and reviews, what has been your biggest pinch-yourself moment thus far?
For me it was when we went to America and played South by South West. I'd never been to America and it was like stepping into a movie! So to be invited there for "work" was a dream come true. Our shows were all really fun and people seemed to really enjoy themselves so it was a big success too.

You've built up a following through EPs before you release a full length album; do you think this is important for new bands?
It's a good idea for some artists but not necessarily for others. It gives you time to develop, get studio experience and build a fan-base, but it also adds pressure on your debut as you've been waiting so long to do it.

You signed to the Dirty Hit label earlier in the year, why did you decide to go with them?
They're a small label at the moment so we knew they would have lots of time for us; they give us a lot of creative freedom and their enthusiasm for music was very apparent.

You're named after an Angela Carter story; have any other writers had influence on your work? What inspires you lyrically?
Yes, I find it incredibly inspiring in terms of writing lyrics to read a lot of books and watch a lot of films. It means I can write lyrics about other people and experiences other than my own when I don't want to write or think about myself.

I caught your sets this summer at Leeds Festival and 2000 Trees, how did these shows go for you? Do you prefer northern or southern crowds?
2000 Trees was a really nice surprise for us. The crowd were amazing and we had a really good time. Leeds was a dream come true and lived up to all our expectations. Sorry to be boring but I like northern and southern crowds and haven't noticed much difference.

Who would headline a Wolf Alice curated festival?
Miley Cyrus fronting Deftones …

You all grew up in London and even found out that you were at the same Horrors gig aged 14 before you'd met each other; how do you feel about all ages gigs? Do you think there should be more all age gigs/festivals for young people to get into music?
Joff actually grew up on a farm in Cornwall! But, yes, when I was growing up I went to lots of all ages concerts and it upsets me that it's not such a huge thing anymore. I know some concerts are 14+ but to have shows curated specifically for underage kids was incredibly exciting; and drew people to music who would maybe not bother go to a normal gig, and therefore give them an experience they might otherwise not have had.

As a female fronted band, you're often lumped into regressive 'women in rock' round ups; what do you make of this sort of thing? Do you think feminism in music is as big an issue as people make out?
Some people put more effort in to talking about the role of women in music than they actually do writing and playing good music, and I don't think that's a good look, but feminism in music is an important issue. As for the women in rock round-ups, I don't mind them as long as they don't call us girl rock.

'She' is pretty much teen angst encapsulated in a 3 minute rock record – how do you describe your teen years? What advice would you give to teenagers struggling with growing pains?
I found my experience as being a teenager very emotional, and that's why up until now most of my lyrics were about that period in my life - very internal, personal and introspective, which is fun to put into poetry or lyrics and helps in some way to release and understand what you are feeling. So I guess I'd say channel your growing pains into something creative, because your brain is thinking about some of its craziest stuff that deserves to be heard!

Imagine if Wolf Alice were a person. What would be your bio on a dating website?
Wolf Alice enjoys holding hands and long walks on the beach. Also enjoys lager and marathons of the Simpsons.

Download 'Storms' for free from Wolf Alice's soundcloud on the link below.