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Updated: 2017-11-17T15:35:15+00:00


Going Fast Into The Night: Julien Baker Live In Berlin

2017-11-17T15:35:15+00:002017-11-17 15:35:15 +0000

To see Baker live is to have something close to an epiphany I first became aware of Julien Baker, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter, not from her own music but from a YouTube clip of her covering one of my all-time favourite songs. I had heard her name and seen her striking face on many a music blog, but hadn’t yet listened to her angelic voice until watching her tackle ‘Accident Prone’ by the legendary (and recently reformed) archetypal emo/punk-rock band Jawbreaker. width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Before this, I may or may not have made completely unjust assumptions about Baker’s music. I knew from those blog posts she played heart-breaking, soul-searching solo music, but I didn’t yet have a context in which to put it. Watching this clip, however, changed everything. I immediately understood where Baker was coming from; this was, essentially, “emo” music for a wider audience. Then I started finding the connections everywhere. Baker provided counter-pointed vocals on Touché Amoré’s single ‘Skyscraper’, the final song from heart-breaking 2016 album Stage Four, she provided a cover of ‘Big Ballad Of Nothing’ to a recent Elliot Smith tribute album, she fronts an even more explicitly “emo” band, Forrister (formerly The Star Killers) back in her native Memphis, Tennessee. Her own music becoming a revelation was, at this stage, merely a formality. Baker is currently touring her second full-length album and first for indie-major Matador, Turn Out The Lights which, since its release three weeks ago, has been blowing an ever-increasing amount of minds. While fans of her of her originally self-released, super-sparse debut album Sprained Ankle have lamented the increased production values and layering a bigger budget has afforded, it’s largely been received exceptionally well for such a young performer and writer. Barely out of her teens, she shuffles semi-awkwardly on and off stage and between her guitar and electric piano, and is met with a wave of ecstatic applause followed by reverent silence between every song. But none of this affects her once she is performing. Baker has such a command of her instruments – guitar, piano, and most crucially, voice – that it’s no wonder her audience are overawed by the performance. Opening with new album’s lead single ‘Appointments’ the crowd gathered at Berlin’s deco-style theatre Heimathafen have something of a spiritual epiphany, enraptured by Baker’s every turn. In many ways, Baker is a complex array of contradictions. She is both openly gay and Christian, is based in the country music centre of the world yet preaches of the power of punk-rock, possesses a voice that wouldn’t be out of place in a gospel, or even as a major pop-star, and yet her earnest, direct, and fragile music is aimed at an indie-music audience. Baker doesn't believe in hiding any of these factors either; she openly sings about her faith, her relationships, and her prior drug-problems with a refreshing honesty, and has more in common with “confessional” acts like Frightened Rabbit, with whom Baker also collaborated with recently. Baker, roughly speaking, splits her set between guitar-songs in the first half, building to piano-led ones in the second. In those guitar songs, like the strum-heavy ‘Even’, the harmonics-led ‘Sprained Ankle’, or the surprisingly album-omitted single ‘Funeral Pyre’, she controls her voice from rising to the rafters, warming up as it were. It’s not until the dramatic finish of ‘Sour Breath’ that her voice begins to soar, a moment that a more obvious artist would milk for all its worth. In the piano-led section, it strikes me how deep that Jawbreaker influence goes when she performs ‘Hurt Less’, which has the same key and a similar melody to ‘Accident Prone’, to the point that I almost mistake it. Despite this, it is between that song, and Sprained Ankle closer ‘Go Home’, that one really hears the power of Baker[...]

The Fangasm: Bon Iver by Bon Iver

2017-11-17T16:29:27+00:002017-11-17 15:35:00 +0000

Pianist and composer Simeon Walker tells us of his love for one of those rare albums that makes you feel Back in 2011, the anticipation leading up to the release of Bon Iver’s eponymous second album was palpable. How would he follow For Emma, Forever Ago, a captivating, beautiful record so quintessential in the singer-songwriter-with-his-guitar-making-an-album-in-a-cabin-in-the- woods-after-a-period-of-heartbreak field? Thousands of fans across the world, waiting for what could possibly follow an album so perfect in its ethereal rawness and vulnerability. I was one. The album was released to the kind of fanfare that I imagine Justin Vernon was already becoming slightly uncomfortable with. His rise was meteoric, off the back of a debut that wasn’t planned in the way many modern releases are, and which hadn’t been certain to make it out of Wisconsin before Jagjaguwar picked it up. The weight of expectation was huge. As I listened for the first time, silent wonder gave way to a sense of relief that what had been made was not just very special, but something more; even in those first few listens, a new favourite album had been born. src="" width="300" height="380" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true"> Music fans like to feel that they know something of the artists they love, something beyond the music. What is it about this person that helps them create the music I like? Vernon immediately came across as an intriguing character. Who was he really? On For Emma, we’d been invited into a world of retreat and isolation from a set of difficult experiences, which saw him head back home to Wisconsin and cut himself off from the world. You could sense the fragility that he felt, and this was apparent not just in the lyrics and musical rawness, but his falsetto vocal delivery. It’s a vocal style used by many (and is particularly prevalent in popular music today), but it drew me into listening even more intently and emphasized the fragile vulnerability with which he was presenting his songs. The main thought I had prior to Bon Iver, Bon Iver’s release was how he would develop his overall sound. Musicians like to develop their ideas and output, and no one (hopefully) wants to keep on churning out the same stuff again and again. But For Emma was already iconic – quite a feat for a first album. How would this long-anticipated second album sound? On the first few listens, I was struck by the clean, warm clarity of the sound. Of course, the falsetto was there, as were the banks of double-tracked backing vocals. But there was such great scope to this record – layer upon layer of instruments and vocals, creating thick, rich textures to each song, with a wider dynamic range and an overall sense of expansiveness and a desire to push musical boundaries further. There were moments of drama and intensity, which you knew would sound incredible in a live setting, even as you listened in your bedroom; the drop after a minute of ‘Perth’; the build in ‘Calgary’; and, of course, the tumultuous finish to the album with ‘Beth/Rest’. It was profoundly different to For Emma, but it was still real and genuine. The vulnerability was still there, although perhaps less pronounced, hidden behind more layers of music and texture. It was one of those albums that made you feel. width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Something that has always been intriguing about Vernon is what he is actually saying in his lyrics. Sometimes it’s clear, yet often it’s hard to know what he’s talking about. I find this an endearing quality, adding a further level of mystique. Many would assume that this contributes to creating difficulty in connecting with his audience, and perhaps for some, this was initially the case. However, dedicated fans often take their fandom to greater levels than just listening – searching for lyrics online for instance. It[...]

Morrissey - Low in High School

2017-11-17T14:48:13+00:002017-11-17 14:47:05 +0000

Makes The Killers look like Throbbing Gristle Short of downing a pint of frog’s piss on I’m A Celebrity, releasing an album of country duets with Shane Richie or get caught whipping his cock out a la Louis CK, it’s hard to imagine how Morrissey could sully his reputation any further. Shoddy solo album follows shoddy solo album as reliably as ignorant quip succeeds drearily ignorant quip. The ex-Smith’s latest indiscretion occurred on the BBC, which has been promoting Low In High School with veritable gusto via plenty of radio play and invitations from Graham Norton and Jools. Performing a lengthy set at Maida Vale for 6Music, with 35 years of showbiz experience under his straining belt, Morrissey’s between-song banter exhibited all the wit and charisma of a seasoned poo. It included a comment about the Ukip leadership election being 'rigged' in favour of a more moderate candidate over the Islamophobic and far-right associate Anne Marie Waters. When that went down like a lead balloon, Morrissey added, 'You didn’t get it, did you? You obviously don’t read the news.' This came approximately ten minutes after he’d just warbled his way through the single ‘Spent the Day in Bed’ on which Morrissey recommends that we all stop watching the news. This is not the first time Morrissey has flirted with rightwing nationalism and his official merchandise webstore still includes a t-shirt design featuring a black-and-white Union Jack with switchblades in the form of a cross and a font which can only be described as significantly more fascistic than comic sans. I’m not saying Morrissey is a bigot. That’s the last thing I want. But if you spotted Morrissey waving a [REDACTED] flag at a [REDACTED] rally while saluting [REDACTED] and kicking [REDACTED] in the face then you wouldn’t exactly be surprised. It’s weird how Morrissey has become one of those gummers who pines for the olden days when you could call a spade a spade and everybody spoke English because, as documented in his arrogantly Penguin Classic-ed autobiography, Morrissey (like countless others) had a bloody miserable time back when most toilets were outdoors, life was much bleaker and literally everybody ate meat. Mind you, you can’t blame Morrissey for harbouring a rose-tinted sentimentality for previous times. We listeners pine for an earlier age too, specifically that era when Morrissey had the ability and necessary collaborators to create music of substance. Remember the good old times when Morrissey spoke for gentle outcasts and well-read oddballs instead of speaking exclusively for the mutant hatechild of Paul Nuttall and Alf Garnett? Remember when Morrissey last did something good? Sure, bad people often make good art. Like all record collections, yours and mine are brimming with the names of deeply unpleasant power-tripping egomaniacs who have held deeply reprehensible views and committed countless terrible acts. We needn’t worry much about that dilemma in this case because Low In High School is not very good art at all. On it, the worst English novelist since Katie Price moans about the mainstream media with his tinfoil hat firmly in place, gets distracted several times by the spaces between people’s legs, rhymes “train” with “rain” without feeling ashamed, pronounces the word “news” in a manner that suggests his time residing in Rome, LA and elsewhere has impinged on his own ability to maintain a native accent, spends seven sanctimonious minutes explaining that soldiers are quite heavily involved in the process of war (who knew?), expends another five minutes on the revelation that many armed conflicts are driven by the American thirst for oil (mind blown!), and champions the state of Israel as if Julie Burchill had gelled her hair into a quiff and swapped provocative print journalism for the more candid communicative medium of ranting at strangers from behind a greasy karaoke microphone. The saddest thing is that all the emotionally flat croo[...]

Charlotte Gainsbourg - Rest

2017-11-17T14:31:25+00:002017-11-17 14:28:40 +0000

Not just intimate, but vulnerable, self knowing, open and loving. And definitely not embarrassing

In a recent interview with The Economist, Charlotte Gainsbourg spoke of the lyrics in Rest, her latest release and first proper studio album for eight years, as 'intimate – not embarrassing but on the verge of being embarrassing'. Just the sort of self-effacing comment you'd expect from someone who, having recorded her first song at 12 years old, has only now, at 46, released an album of her own lyrics.

Intimate? Yes. Embarrassing? No, and you get the sense that any fear of embarassment is really rooted in a fear of oversharing or making the listener uncomfortable – which would only be a danger if the delivery was apologetic. But it's not: her breathy, ethereal vocal is charged with grief and longing, while the ballsy electro-pop accompaniment drives confidently forward, moulding to her voice.

width="540" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>

Despite past lyrical collaborators taking Gainsbourg's experiences on board when writing her words – Beck produced and wrote almost all of the songs on 2009's IRM about Gainsbourg's experience suffering from a brain haemorrhage – this is the first time she's fully taken to the floor herself. So it's no surprise that she transports us back to 1991 in 'Lying With You' when she witnessed her father's death. As well as describing his physical position as he died, she recounts her own movements: "My feet are hovering above ground, ready to follow / My mouth is whispering in raptures, celebrating you". It isn't a mournful song; the lilting persistence of the synth accompaniment together with a vocal lightness makes it warm – accepting, even.

Elsewhere on the album, you can hear the influence of French producer SebastiAn loud and clear: 'Sylvia Says' and closer 'Les Oxalis' have the foot-stomping disco vibes you'd expect from the Daft Punk and Justice remixer. Six-minute 'Deadly Valentine' continues in this vein, only with a darker edge. The video with Blood Orange's Dev Hynes shows a couple at various stages of romantic commitment from childhood to old age. The track name aside, Gainsbourg's robotic delivery of the religious vows together with SebastiAn's relentless, ominous bass undermine the idea that this song has anything to do with one perfect love.

'Rest', is part lullaby, part elegy. As elsewhere on the album, the context is integral to understanding lyrical or production decisions that might otherwise have sounded strange, or even cheesy. Following the loss of her older sister Kate, Gainsbourg retreated from Paris and moved to New York where she finished this album. This title track both hopes for rest for her sister, but also for herself, from her grief. It's full of childhood references and childlike pleas – quoting lyrics from The Snowman with an accompaniment that sounds like an arcade game, and pleading "Reste avec moi s'il te plaît / Ne me laisse pas t'oublier" ('Please stay with me / Don't let me forget you'). So yes, these are intimate lyrics and stories told first person for the first time – and not just intimate, but vulnerable, self knowing, open and loving. And definitely not embarrassing.


Something Old, Something New: Neue Meister's Modern Classical

2017-11-17T16:33:34+00:002017-11-17 08:55:00 +0000

We went to Berlin to see some of the best contemporary experimental composers You wouldn’t have to search too hard to find a thinkpiece on how popular music has come to the end of its inventive period and is now stuck in an eternal, tortured regurgitation phase. It has been a theory for several decades now that technological advances have shown us the full range of possible sounds on the spectrum, and that we’ve used them all. This is an ill-founded idea for a list of reasons too long to explore here, but chief among them is that musical progress was always based on taking familiar traditions and putting an unfamiliar obstacle in their way in order to create something new. One of the trending areas where this still happens in riches is the world of ‘modern classical’ music, which has been having a moment across Europe and North America this decade. One of the beacons of the movement is Germany’s Neue Meister, a plucky, youthful imprint of the establishment label Berlin Classics. Their excavation and championing of contemporary experimental composers has led to a series of concert nights in Berlin, the sixth of which takes place tonight in the vast, modernist complex DRIVE, which by day masquerades as a Volkswagen showroom, until at night it can let its hair down and live its true life as a futuristic concert hall. Tonight they have drawn their biggest crowd to date, which speaks as much to their ability to draw the most sought-after figures in this world as it does to the public’s growing trust that Neue Meister’s stamp of approval alone is enough. Manchester’s John Metcalfe opens the night’s proceedings. As founder of the classical offshoot of Tony Wilson’s Factory label and a former member of Factory band The Durutti Column, he has his own cult credentials, and tonight he premieres his piece ‘Flood, Tide’. Opening with his rippling, autumnal piano (evocative woodland vistas are projected onto the hefty screen behind the stage), the piece is encouraged into the light by the increasing presence of violin, as if to coax the sunshine into the sky. Yorkshire’s Rosie Doonan is Metcalfe’s vocalist of choice, her voice gentle enough not to dominate but distinct enough not to blend in. For the final section of the 30-minute piece, an electronic beat slips into the arrangement, impressive in its ability not to cause an awkward segue. The crescendo arrives in the form of a powerful, cascading swirl of strings, reminding us that while organic and electric are not enemies, the organic touch rarely lets you down. Next is Spanish composer and pianist Oriol Cruixent bringing us ‘Bacchanalia’ from his three-part cycle Trinoctium. Sparse, tribal drums run through most of it as if scoring a frantic foot chase in a climactic movie scene. At first, they make hesitant friends with the choppy violins, until the moment when they find a stride alongside each other, and the chase appears to double in speed. The centrepiece is a ferocious multiple drum solo, the likes of which would turn any self-serious 70s prog band green. A mixture of skin and metal, the diversity of tones and rhythms is staggering; it’s not what the average punter imagines when they think of ‘classical music’, that’s for sure. Finger-plucked strings eventually re-emerge for the final act of a piece that is beautiful, exciting, and surprising at every turn. Germany’s Sven Helbig rounds out the night’s first half with his piece ‘Tres Momentos’. Opening with the approaching rumble of thunder and rain, three violins dart and soar, as if weaving a tear-stained quilt. The mood changes when a death-rattling drum quickens the pace and the strings turn panicked and stabby, a theme only reinforced by the blaring blood red static visuals on the big screen. In a brilliantly shocking moment, all of the players stop playing but the music continues. Anyone who has seen the Club Silencio scene in David Lynch’[...]

Who Will Survive In America? Gil Scott-Heron's Perfect Prophecy

2017-11-16T12:21:24+00:002017-11-16 12:21:24 +0000

A year into the return of winter in America, the words of Scott-Heron have proven to be hauntingly relevant A nation frozen, stuck in the bitter season of ice. Desolate, withered and toiling under a deceitful administration, which teeters precariously towards chaos. One that belittles the constitution, makes a mockery of democracy and bulldozes into foreign affairs, showing scant regard for the peace painstakingly acquired in the hardships of the past. Racists empowered, growth stifled and reason seemingly in hibernation. No, this is not Trump’s America, but rather the picture Gil Scott-Heron paints in his song ‘Winter In America,’ recorded 44 years ago. width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Scott-Heron was writing in the time of Nixon and Watergate, of a brutal recession and soaring unemployment, the hot war in Vietnam, the broader cold war against Russia and ongoing struggles for basic equality rights. He was a voice of reason and courage that cut through the tumult and folly of the time, and who looked to a brighter future of revolutionary change, peace and a more just society. Yet the stark parallels between his words written in the 70’s and the state of America today are sobering, and reflect the turn of winter we seem to be witnessing. Spring in America is once again far out of sight on the distant lips of the horizon. ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,’ an invigorated spoken word piece that sinks its teeth into the core of American consumerism and conservatism, could be applied to any modern era. In the context of the rise of Trump, however, this message becomes even more hauntingly pertinent. As a celebrity business tycoon best known for a reality TV show and a catchphrase, who has slapped his gold plated name on an array of products in the name of ego and greed, his ascent perversely welcomes the nightmare these lyrics warn against, like a demented antithesis of every line. It’s as if Scott-Heron could see it coming. width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> If this was a revolution of any kind, it was certainly one that goes “better with Coke,” starred hosts of plastic white pundits and was not only televised under bright lights every inch of the way, but was also born out of celeb culture’s heartless, sickly world. “Tune in for the Armageddon after the break” - you can already imagine a dolled up CNN presenter reading it from her autocue. Another parallel is the scapegoating of Mexicans, which Trump has further exacerbated in a depraved lurch for votes. Back in the 70’s relations were little better, exemplified by the vicious case of George Hanigan - a ranch owner who captured 3 illegal Mexican immigrants on his property, burned their feet on an open fire and then released them and shot at them as they fled. Scott-Heron wrote ‘Alien (Hold Onto Your Dreams)’ in tribute to those who take the perilous trail over the Rio Grande in search of a better life, aptly named considering the coldness they’re treated with beyond the border. When playing live he’d often introduce it in Spanish, whilst the lyrics are peppered with Mexican slang such as “gringos” (white people) or “la mordida” (the bite i.e. the bribe), and he imagines the struggle of working “two bucks an hour” whilst thinking of “the woman that you love so much who’s still in Mexico.” This very real connection to his subject matter, and his ability to step into the worlds of people in vastly different circumstances to his own, is an integral feature of his songwriting. The relevance of this song today also serves as a reminder of Trump’s distinct lack of either of these qualities. With countless cases of police officers shooting black youths in cold blood, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and Trump[...]

Secret Shine's Track By Track Guide to There Is Only Now

2017-11-16T11:36:48+00:002017-11-16 11:36:48 +0000

Scott Purnell and Jamie Gingell give DiS the lowdown on new album 'There Is Only Now' Bristol's Secret Shine remain one of the last surviving bands from the Sarah Records era, having put out their first EP on the label After Years back in 1991. Still active after an eight-year hiatus between 1996 and 2004, the five-piece release their fourth long player There is Only Now next month on Saint Marie Records. Here, Scott Purnell and Jamie Gingell from the band take DiS through each of the ten tracks that make up the album. width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen> --- Burning Stars This song was probably the most unpolished idea we took with us to the studio in France where we recorded the album. I started this in Garageband and it only ever really was half a song so I remember Jamie adding bits on his iPad on the plane over. It grew into this lovely breezy, pop-infused, mulit-layered song and was one of my favourites to hear develop in the studio. Each vocal layer made the song stronger and stronger and therefore a nice song to kick off the record before we entered into bleaker territory. (Scott) All In Your Head This was one of the first songs written for the album. It was also one of the first we recorded in the studio. We'd been talking about writing some music that was a little more suited to film scoring, and the chorus from this song started life that way. That's the primary reason for its epic sound. We like to play with contrasts in our music and this song seemed well suited to that approach, with fairly minimal verses leading into probably the some of the loudest passages on the album. There are a lot bigger super saw and string sounds in this song than we usually use, but it seemed appropriate in this case and was needed to get the wall of sound we were looking for in the production. (Jamie) Dirty Game width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen> 'Dirty Game' is about the messy side of relationships, and how some people get a kick out of the power play that can occur. For that reason, we wanted the production to be slightly darker than some of the other tracks. It was one of the easiest songs to write on the album and came together pretty quickly. It also turned out to be one of the easiest to mix. We currently use it as the first song in a live set because it’s so solid and has a strong vocal element. Both this song and 'All In Your Head' where sketched out using GarageBand on iPad. It’s surprisingly easy way to lay out a song quickly, and allows you to concentrate on another day rather than 1000 different synths or plug-ins. (Jamie) Drift Away width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen> This has become an inter-band fav and a mainstay of our live set. I have a tendency to write songs in 3/4 tempo. This came from my love of the music of the Cocteau Twins who often used this time signature and later embraced by Lush and more recently Doves. It was also inspired by my adoration of The Cure’s Disintegration with those big synth sounds and rhythmic bass line. Jamie added a noisy finale to this song which wasn’t on my original demo. We’ve worked like this before - combining two very different ideas to make one song. (Scott) To The Well 'To The Well' is probably the darkest track on the album. It’s probably the harshest and least shoegaze song as well. The idea for the lyrics came from various horror films and were meant to convey a sense of isolation and of fleeing from something. We thought it was one of the less interesting songs on the album during the recording sessions, but it’s become a really strong song for us live and audiences really seem to like it,[...]

Clockenflap 2017: The DiS Preview

2017-11-16T11:12:12+00:002017-11-16 11:12:12 +0000

We're off to Hong Kong for an event with a ridiculously good line up It was shortly after moving to Hong Kong when I first realised that the live music scene would take some getting used to. There was the £70 to see Belle and Sebastian in a vacuous shed out by the airport, followed shortly after by the £50-odd to watch Thurston Moore play among the incongruous soft furnishings of a modern Christian church. A few promising trips to local indie nights hit the skids when they were shut down by the police, then things started to dry up – not least the funds in my bank account. In recent months, we’ve seen the likes of DIIV come through town, with Japanese Breakfast to follow later in the month, but these are exceptional occasions these days. Which makes Clockenflap, Hong Kong’s only bona fide weekend-long music festival, an even more important date in the calendar than it would be among a busy gig calendar. The name is, apparently, meaningless, but to Hong Kongers, it’s synonymous with getting your annual fill of live music over the course of a weekend in November. The thought of an outdoor festival elsewhere in the northern hemisphere this time of year is enough to send shivers down the hardiest of spines, but it’s only just started cooling down in the Special Administrative Region of China, after a gruelling summer (24°C at the time of writing), making this the perfect time of year for a festival. This year’s line-up makes for an interesting weekend: it’s got arguably the most strength in depth of any from the past few years, with a number of big-hitting headliners adding some oomph to proceedings. Among the most recognisable names on the roster are The Prodigy, Massive Attack, The Dandy Warhols, Stormzy, Temples, Slaves, Feist and, er, the Kaiser Chiefs. Picking through the international acts, though, makes for a great afternoon’s listening, and so we’ve selected 10 bands from 10 different countries that those attending this weekend should make it their business to check out. width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> --- TInariwen (Mali) width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Weather-beaten blues rock from the Sahara Desert. Tuareg exiles Tinariwen had been producing great music for almost 30 years before they entered mainstream western consciousness in 2007. Their last album, featuring Kurt Vile and Mark Lanegan, was among their finest. Gym And Swim (Thailand) width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> A five-piece from Bangkok, Gym And Swim play sunny indie pop, with a nod to the likes of Camera Obscura, the Shins, Fun and the Beach Boys. A New World If You Can Take It (Hong Kong) width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Doomy, dreamy post-rock, a hint of Mogwai with a dash of MBV says Clockenflap founder Justin Sweeting. “Locally, ANWIYCTI are coming back to HK after some European dates just in time to make it to the festival to kick off the main stage on Friday night. Will be a momentous homecoming!” Higher Brothers (China) width="540" height="304" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> A hip hop group from Chengdu city, Higher Brothers’ bilingual rhymes gently prod the overseas perception of their homeland. Songs which seem cartoonish on the surface pack some punch, such as the track ‘Uber’, which riffs on the shutting down of the taxi service in the band’s hometown. The lyric “I don’t write political hip-hop. But if any politicians try to shut me up, I’ll cut off their heads and lay them at their corpses’ feet” saw them shut down by censors an[...]

Taylor Swift - Reputation

2017-11-15T23:48:05+00:002017-11-15 23:47:52 +0000

What’s refreshing about Reputation is that Taylor Swift's no longer holding the mask so tightly to her face It’s hard to know exactly when Taylor Swift’s dramatic heel turn began - and, more importantly, whether it was by mistake or design. Anybody who’d been paying attention over the course of the last couple of Swift album cycles, for Red and 1989, would have picked up on a couple of things; one, that she was gradually shifting towards a full-throated embrace of the pop mainstream and two, that she’s an extraordinarily canny businesswoman and a terrific self-publicist. The problem was that as seamlessly as she seemed to musically be making the transition to out-and-out pop star - 1989, especially, was a tour-de-force - the cracks were beginning to show as the strain of balancing her all-American, girl-next-door persona with the cold calculation of her careerism took its toll. width="540" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> The backlash was probably inevitable. It was one thing being the country-pop singer with a penchant for snapping back at ex-boyfriends in pretty PG-rated fashion; it was another entirely to be taking her cues from Regina George in manufacturing a daft feud with Katy Perry, culminating in a video for ‘Bad Blood’ that ultimately served as a very expensive way of announcing how many famous mates she had. By the end of the 1989 tour, people were getting sick of her pulling the same trick on stage, parading a succession of celebrity friends in front of the audience night in, night out. Then there was her failure to take a side in last November’s presidential election, which reeked of self-interest before principle. Anybody clinging to the hope that perhaps she’d wisely realised that Hillary Clinton’s many A-list endorsements were only going to work against her in the rust belt states that ultimately swung the contest would have had the notion dashed by her recent filing of a lawsuit against a blogger who, in admittedly unvarnished terms, called for her to denounce the white supremacists who were trying to claim her as one of their own. Still, if so much of the squandering of the considerable post-1989 goodwill seems self-inflicted, the most tabloid-friendly of her extracurricular distractions since that last record was not of her own doing; it wasn’t her fault that Kanye West chose to make her the subject of the sort of misogynist rhetoric that he continues to be given a universal free pass on, or that he would then take that to a revolting visual extreme with the invasive video for the track in question, ‘Famous’. There wasn’t much she could do, either, about West’s wife gleefully presenting inconclusive evidence of Swift having endorsed the offending lines as proof of the singer being a bit false, in one of the most astonishing instances of hypocrisy of recent times. Swift wasn’t in control of any of that unpleasantness and, suddenly, somebody so used to artfully spinning potential controversies to her advantage - the ingenious publicity stunt that was her Apple Music letter back in 2014 being a case in point - found herself in need of the best possible damage limitation strategy. On the evidence of the first single from Reputation, she chose to own it; ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ cast her as a cartoon villain who’d gladly adopted the serpentine imagery that Mrs. West had bestowed upon her. ‘...Ready for It?’ followed, and had Swift sounding similarly combative even without an obvious target. When ‘Gorgeous’ provided a mellower counterpoint, it sounded anodyne by her standards. Ryan Adams, you suspected, would not be covering this record. What made 1989 so compelling was that it was characterised by that magpie-like predisposition for pouncing upon anything musica[...]

Mavis Staples - If All I Was Was Black

2017-11-15T23:47:38+00:002017-11-15 23:47:36 +0000

Just a couple years shy of 80, Staples once again proves herself an essential force Legendary soul and gospel singer Mavis Staples has enjoyed an extraordinary third act. Most folk at this point in their career might be kicking back or riding the wave of past glories. And why not? Given her achievements as one of soul and gospel’s most recognisable voices and her involvement in the civil rights movement during the Sixties, it’s fair to say Staples has done her bit via her remarkable contributions as a musician and activist. Nevertheless, given her understanding of the political power of popular music and the horrendously surreal state of current American politics, it’s perhaps no surprise that this conscientious artist feels compelled to contribute to the discourse. If All I Was Was Black was written and produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and this latest record marks a partnership that has now endured over three records. At first glance, their connection might feel like a curious one, but the fellow Chicago residents have already proved their combined value over two excellent long players. And as a musician that operates primarily within rock and Americana Tweedy has demonstrated his ability to work outside of those genres to fine effect. Must like their previous collaborations he’s not afraid to add colour and character with the instrumentation, but it all works in service to the main event: Staples inimitable voice. In contrast to their previous efforts, If All I Was Was Black is composed of entirely original material, written by Tweedy. The record picks up the tempo from their downcast 2013 collaboration One True Vine, and wears its preoccupations firmly on its sleeve. There’s little doubt that 'We Go High' was inspired by Michelle Obama’s powerful campaign speech in support of Hilary Clinton. And the track stays true to the generosity of her original sentiments, refusing to be drawn into the negativity synonymous with the GOP (“When they tell their lies / spread all their rumours / I know they're still human and they need my love”). This level of positivity runs throughout the album from Build a Bridge’s open-hearted sentiments to the title track's entreaty, “It’s time for more love.” In any other hands, the record’s magnanimity could be in danger of being more than most could stomach given the cruelty of the Trump administration, but Staples offers a sage viewpoint that crushes hot-headed anger, and the themes aren’t built on hippy idealism, but hard-earned experience. Equally, the sass of 'Who Told You That' reveals the intimidating, not-to-be-messed-with side of her vocal that was employed to great effect on the Arcade Fire single 'You Got The Power'. Tune-wise, there’s no obvious stand-out, and the record is best experienced as a whole whereby its message is most complete. In many respects this is the strength of Tweedy’s writing and production in that he has resisted over-baked sloganeering and fussy arrangements, opting instead for finely drawn narrative and a sympathetic musicality. Its power builds slowly, steadily and compellingly. It's sensitive to Staples core sound, whilst feeling entirely contemporary, from the lean groove of 'Little Bit' to the chugging guitar-led rhythms of 'Try Harder'. Just a couple years shy of 80, Staples once again proves herself an essential force; having been musically active since the Fifties her continued vitality is astonishing. Her voice has grown even more commanding with time, and it’s nigh on impossible to refuse her entreaties. If All I Was Was Black contains performances as powerful as any she has given. Staples is at her most soul-stirring on the wistfully brief sign-off 'All Over Again,' on which she hauntingly rasps, “with the stars all closing in / I set out on the o[...]