Music, Opinions

This Week in New Music: Lucy Rose, Jade Bird & Declan McKenna

Something’s Changing – Lucy Rose (Album)

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I’ve done a full review of this album which you can read here. It’s a simply beautiful record which reflects her growth as both a person and a musician in the last few years, much of which she credits to her independently organised tour in Latin America last year. Left with no manager, no booking agent and no label, Lucy Rose took the reins for Something’s Changing and created her best work to date.

Something American – Jade Bird (EP)

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This is the one of the best finds I’ve come across this week. Jade Bird is a young lady with a powerful voice and a brilliant collection of songs to go with it on her first ep “Something American.” ‘Cathedral’ is a smasher. I can’t wait to see where this girl is going.

Humongous – Declan McKenna (Single)

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Another new find for me this week was Declan McKenna, and wow am I glad I did.  This track has a marvelous hook and the kind of chorus you could yell out at a gig or a festival. After one listen to Humongous I hastily listened to the rest of the tracks on his Spotify, which are all fantastic too. Once I got passed how great his voice & the sound was, I started listening to the lyrics.. the content of the lyrics are something particularly unusual from a 18-year-old singer-songwriter. He’s written about the likes of FIFA scandals, the issue with religion and youth involvement in politics. I haven’t been this excited about an artist in a long time, I’ll be counting down the days till his debut album “What Do You Think About the Car?” is released on July 21st!

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Music, Opinions

A kaleidoscope of colours, a head full of dreams

If you’re reading this you probably already know that I am a massive music fan. I look forward to Friday’s for the new releases, all my money is spent on gig tickets and I put aside hours every month to write album reviews despite the fact only one or two people will actually read them. Music has had such a positive impact on my life in so many ways. It’s given me some of my closest friends, it’s helped me stave off panic attacks, get through a workout or ignore drunk old men on public transport.

My iTunes library and monthly Spotify playlists must contain hundreds of artists from a range of genres, and I appreciate them all, but there’s a few artists that are particularly special to me. I guess they came into my life at a good time. Seeing them perform live is as high up on my bucket list as any life goal. Gradually I’ve ticked most of them off; Taylor Swift, Hudson Taylor (multiple times..), The Civil Wars.. last night I got to tick off Coldplay.

For me, and for many, many others, Coldplay are simply one of a kind. There is no other band who have written music suitable for my early morning, commute, workout, pre-drinks, house party & late night playlists. Parachutes is a stunning acoustic album that has aided sleep for me on many occasions, A Rush Of Blood To The Head has done just that as I headbanged around the room unable to hear my brother yelling at me to turn it down next door, X & Y  gave us the iconic ‘Fix You’ while Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends provided that “oh oh oh oh ohhhhh ohhh” that has echoed through stadiums across the world, there was the emotive and euphoric Mylo Xyloto and the heartbreaking Ghost Stories, and finally A Head Full of Dreams which ventured into the club scene.

They’re a divisive band (like any great band is) but more than any other one of my favourite artists, I genuinely feel sorry for those who don’t appreciate Coldplay. Last night they brought the “A Head Full of Dreams” tour to Croke Park, they left having fulfilled dreams some of us never even knew we had.  Dreams of rainbow confetti and sparkling fireworks, kaleidoscopic lighting and multi-coloured balloons, a psychedelic world of sound and colour where every single one of us played a role.

It didn’t matter whether you were on the pitch or high up in the stands like I was, it was a haze of singing and screaming and jumping and crying and turning to your friend with a look that said, “is this really happening?” It was a night for the child inside of all of us, for undiluted happiness and unashamed delight. It was couples holding hands during “Us Against The World” and Chris Martin sprinting down the stage as rainbow ticker tape exploded from all sides, it was a disabled man being crowdsurfed to the stage and 80,000 people singing “Don’t Look Back In Anger” for Manchester, it was “going low” and jumping high and singing “lights will guide you home” in a sea of orange as the sun set.

There’s so many more words to say but all I can think of is thank you.

To Chris, Jonny, Guy and Will – thank you.

xx

 

Photo credit to @niamh_tierney 

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Album Review: Something’s Changing by Lucy Rose


Last year, British singer-songwriter Lucy Rose embarked on the trip of a lifetime. In the space of two months she played 33 gigs in eight countries. The challenge set in this case was that the dates were in Latin America, a place where you would be hard pressed to find her music in shops and where her promoters did not believe she could fill a venue. In a move that was deemed crazy by both her label and loved ones, Rose promised her Latin American fans she would bring her music to them if they could book her venues and find her places to stay. This led to a tour independently organised by and for the 28-year-old’s fans who transported, fed and housed her throughout. Along with the release of her third studio album,  Rose has released a 20-minute film that documents the trip which provides a touching embellishment and context to the release.

Something’s Changing opens a with a fitting invitation from Rose for us to join her on her personal journey embroiled with “all the good, the bad, the happy, the sad.” This journey begins with ‘No Good At All,’ one of only two tracks written before the Warwickshire native set off on her transatlantic trip. It gives us an insight into Rose’s lack of confidence in her musical capabilities before the Latin American tour, the influence of which permeates the album. The insecurity is noted on the piano-based track which sees her trademark airy vocal floating above the hum of gentle orchestral instrumentation (“I’m not the oil painting you once bought” “I’m nothing like the vision you once formed” “A flower of fallen seed”). This lack of confidence in her own music changed over the course of her trip as the songwriter met fans who shared stories of how her music has touched them personally and for whom music was more than just “background music when you’re cooking”. As the album progresses, we start to hear the chains of insecurity fall away.

In a livestream earlier this week the singer talked about a particularly touching moment on the trip when she was messing about on an old Spanish guitar which belonged to one of the fans she was staying with. “I thought it was just nonsense that I was playing,” Rose explained, but it had touched the fan she was staying with who asked her to promise to finish it. This resulted in ‘Love Song,’ a slow, lilting track that, despite being one of the album’s least exciting moments, flourishes in its final 40 seconds when the melody transitions to something assertive, up-beat and catchy. There’s something altogether more heart-warming in the knowledge that this song exists almost solely because one person believed in it.  It is in moments like these that we get a first hand example of Rose’s renewed confidence in her own music.  She now believes a song is worth it even if it only means something to one person – it’s hard to find fault with a mantra like that. Rose seems to now understand that a song need not make everyone happy, and in that knowledge there is liberation.

Elsewhere there’s a number of impressive collaborations including Elena Tonra of Daughter (‘Soak It Up’) and alt-folk trio The Staves (‘Is This Called Home’, ‘Floral Dresses’). The Stavely-Taylor sister’s vocals blend beautifully with Rose’s, adding an extra dimension to both tracks. ‘Is This Called Home,’ is an affecting cut confronting the global refugee crisis that is lifted by their contribution, reaching its emotional peak when they come in to harmonise on the closing refrain – “Let me hold your hand.” Lead single ‘Floral Dresses,’ is a raw, Joni Mitchell nodding folk tune that sees Rose rejecting absurd gender expectations, (“I don’t wanna wear your floral dresses / And my lips won’t be coloured”). A stunning flurry of swirling harmonies, it is accompanied simply by an acoustic guitar and stands as the album’s true high- point.

Much of the best material has been used to promote the album, save for the third track ‘Strangest of Ways’. The song was originally written for a film about “a girl who’s allergic to everything,” but after becoming so attached to it Rose decided to keep it for her own album instead – and it’s not hard to see why. It’s the only track that is reminiscent of the likes of ‘Our Eyes’ and ‘Like An Arrow’ from Work It Out. ‘Find Myself’, one of the tracks most heavily inspired by the people she met in Latin America (“Cause I find myself, I find myself in new company / Now I find myself, I find myself within your dreams”), meanwhile, has a great hook and some sweet harmonies but falls slightly short of being quite the chart ready number it seems to strive to be.

The lack of sweet indie-pop “hit” doesn’t hinder the album however. If anything, it’s another example of how Rose has evolved and matured into a more self-assured person and artist. The lyrical maturity is evident throughout the rlease with a number of subjects broached for our inability to recognise the beauty in ourselves on ‘Second Chance’ to fate and destiny on ‘Moirai.’ Following the theme of growing confidence, Rose challenges the greek god Moirai and asserts: “I won’t settle for the theory you’re not made for me / This fate and fortune misery / Let’s go against the grain / Let them think we’re both insane / Rewrite our own history.”

Lucy Rose has come a long way from the days of simply providing backing vocals for Bombay Bicycle Club, and her second album’s uncomfortably forced drive to be a scrapbook of chart-worthy indie-pop only served as a disservice to the singer. Left with no manager, no booking agent and no label, Lucy Rose took the reins for Something’s Changing and in the process found a profound resilience and honest determination, the sound of which is ready and waiting now to be heard and embraced.

3.5/5 stars

Published on The Thin Air

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Music, Opinions

This Week In New Music: A Blaze of Feather, Calvin Harris & Bedouine

Here’s my pick of the albums you need to hear that dropped last Friday, plus one that dropped the week before. Between going down hard with the flu  & starting a new job, I didn’t get to do a list for last week, forgive me!

A Blaze of Feather – A Blaze of Feather

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Alternative 

For anyone pining Ben Howard’s absence from the music scene as of late, I’ve got good news! A Blaze of Feather are a new band led by Micky Smith made up of six musicians who’ve toured with Ben Howard, including the man himself. Their debut is a swirling soundscape of synths and soothing harmonies, an hour of medicine for the soul. If it means a longer wait for solo work from Howard, it’s worth it. It’s one of the best albums of the year.

 

Bedouine – Bedouine

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Singer/Songwriter

This was actually released over a week ago, but I had to include it today seeing as I missed last weeks blog. Bedouine is the debut from Aleppo-born singer-songwriter Azniv Korkejian. It’s a nostalgic offering of Americana, folk and soul, perfect for a summer drive. Reminiscent of Norah Jones, Joni Mitchell & Laura Marling, a beautiful record that’s well worth a spin.

 

Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1 – Calvin Harris

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Dance/Electronic

How many calls did Harris have to make to create this album? Practically every song features massive stars in their own right. However, despite the big names gracing the album, I can’t distinguish many “radio-hits” on the record. It’s a nice listen but it’s a deviation from the Scottish DJs usual style, less club anthem more summer chill.

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Album Review: Capacity by Big Thief

Big Thief’s sophomore album “Capacity” feels like a vessel for lead singer Adrianne Lenker to process her tumultuous life. Hers has been a life that is purpose made for storytelling; spending her earliest years in a cult, almost dying in a freak accident, spending years living out of a van, earning a scholarship for a prestigious music school.

These stories of love and loss, of violence and healing and of friendship and family, all come together to create the intimate Capacity. It feels as though you’re reading someone’s diary, a certain feeling that you shouldn’t know all this about another human being. Dark and personal lyrics are complimented with Lenker’s soft, tender vocals, while her bandmates create swirling melodies that package up raw, painful moments and offer them with a serving of finger-picked guitar lines and steadying drum beats.  

This mix of overtly dark lyrics and soothing music can be somewhat unsettling. This is the case on Watering especially where Lenker details an assault from the perspective of both the victim and the perpetrator. The lyrics are violent and distressing (“He cut off my oxygen / And my eyes were watering / As he tore into my skin / Like a lion”) with multiple refrains of the word “screaming” particularly unnerving. In the break between the point of view switching between victim and perpetrator, Lenker’s “oohs” almost sound more like she is screaming or wailing than singing.

This, the most disturbing moment on the album, transitions to Coma. A delicate track that begins only with guitar chords before gradually, harmonizing voices and restrained drums are introduced. It feels as though Lenker is staring blankly into the distance as she tries to come to terms with how her body has been violated. When she sings “when you wake up / you wake up…” it sounds as though Buck Meek’s finger-picked guitar line is gently awakening her from her “protective coma.” Despite the heavy subject matter, you could find yourself being lulled to sleep by the hushed vocals, so soft they’re almost a murmur.

Lenker also has a penchant for delivering matter-of-fact statements in such a way that they are deeply affecting. On opening track Pretty Things she makes sex seem almost like a religious ritual; “Holding my wrist to the bed / He was thrusting and moaning / And pressing his head / To my temple / His head was a temple.” Later on Mythological Beauty, the track that details the freak accident that almost took young Lenker’s life, she is blunt in her description of sex once again, peeling it back to its most physical elements, “Seventeen, you took his cum / And you gave birth to your first life.” Perhaps it is an attempt to humanise her mother or to make some statement about how all of us are the same, have the same urges, underneath it all. Or perhaps it’s just simply the way Lenker likes to write, prose among poetry. Much of Mythological Beauty is descriptive without embellishment and yet it is one of the most evocative tracks on the album. It conjures up memories of childhood; the sights (rented a house in Nisswa, Minnesota / shrapnel and oil cans, rhubarb in the yard), the smells (standing beneath the oak tree by the front door / you were inside baking bread), the sounds (you held me in the backseat with a dishrag, soaking up blood with your eyes / I was just five and you were twenty-seven / praying, “Don’t let my baby die”).

Mary, named after Lenker’s best friend, unfolds in a similar way, evocative and nostalgic. It’s a stream of consciousness, an outpouring of memories – floods on the plains, clothes pins on the floor, marching up the mountain, cheap drink, the marching band… The decision to use a piano and organ for the recorded version of this track (Lenker uses a guitar live) differentiates it from other tracks on the album. The twenty-five year old singer-songwriter’s voice is haunting against the background of the piano and organ on the sprawling track, confirming it as one of the standout moments of the album.

Capacity finishes with Black Diamonds, a foot-tapping, humming along kind of song. Max Oleartchik’s chilled-out bass line, Buck Meek’s lilting guitar and James Krivchenia’s drums combined with Lenker’s hushed assurance “You could cry inside my arms / you could cry inside my arms like a child / you could cry / you could cry…” create the perfect conclusion to an album that is full of tragic and painful moments that somehow still leaves you feeling warming by the time you’ve reached the end. From violent assault on Watering to near death on Mythological Beauty, Lenker invites us into the world of Capacity in which scars are created and healed, and there’s catharsis to be found in that release.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Music, Opinions

This Week in New Music: Lorde, Denai Moore & The Strypes

Here’s my pick of the albums you need to hear that dropped today

Melodrama – Lorde

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Alternative/Pop

Melodrama, the “Royals” singers sophomore album, is a concept album about a house party. From the excitement of that first great song  to the beginnings of a hangover, it’s worth listening to in sequence to get the full experience.  Despite the influence of the likes of Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Sara Bareilles) and Kuk Harrell (Justin Bieber, Rihanna), this pop album is still uniquely Lorde.

 

We Used To Bloom by Denai Moore

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Alternative/R&B

Londoner Denai Moore’s latest album is a a beautiful and affecting glimpse into a young woman learning to love herself and accept her flaws. Moore explores topics like anxiety, greed and the “transformative” power of love here with extraordinary grace and poise. With smooth R&B beats and sincere vocals, “We Used To Bloom” is a pleasure to listen to.

 

Spitting Image by The Strypes

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Indie/Rock

If you’d like a throwback to retro rock and roll, Spitting Image is your album of the week. It feels a little rock-y, a little blues-y, a little indie, but it’s a mix that works well.  The Cavan natives third record is more polished than their previous offerings but the rawness of a good live performance is still very much tangible.

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Album Review: “hopeless fountain kingdom” by Halsey

“hopeless fountain kingdom,” the sophomore album from Halsey, opens with the American songstress reciting the prologue of Romeo and Juliet before she dives into her own modern-day story of star-crossed lovers. This begins with 100 Letters, a track in which she shakes off a past lover, assuring us “I don’t let him touch me anymore.” It’s a decent opener that feels familiar, but follow-up track Eyes Closed deviates from the usual. The melody for this song was crafted by The Weeknd and though he doesn’t sing a word on the track, his presence can be felt throughout. Devil In Me, written by Sia, is another moment on the album where Halsey feels more like an impersonator than her own thing, but these are only two moments on the record and for the most part, the Halsey we fell in love with on Badlands is very much present.

That Halsey was the epitome of the modern day, social media “cool girl.” Most young female artists are trying to speak to and for a specific group, but Halsey may be the most genuine. First gaining a following through the internet, Tumblr specifically, Halsey embodies so much of this new generation of young women who are desperately trying to have their voices heard. The 22-year-old is opinionated online and very vocal about social issues such as destigmatizing mental health and politics (she was an outspoken Bernie Sanders supporter). She isn’t afraid to talk about her mental illness (bipolar) or her sexuality (bisexual) and will call out her own fans on Twitter if she has a problem with what they’re saying. She’s brave and brash and beautiful, and all about female sexual empowerment.

Heaven In Hiding is a great example of this and one of the stand-out tracks of the record (it’s also Halsey’s favourite track). The music scene at the moment is, perhaps, over saturated with overtly sexual songs delivered by females in scantily clad attire, and everyone has their own opinion on whether these female artists are truly empowered or being exploited by those higher up in the industry. When it comes to Halsey and a track like Heaven In Hiding, I don’t think anyone can question that Halsey is empowering herself rather than having her sexuality exploited. This track has the songstress flipping “the script” in a sexual encounter, with Halsey confidently taking the lead (“And you thought that you were the boss tonight / but I can put up one good fight”) as she teases the subject. Later, on the current single Strangers, Halsey collaborates with Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony to sing about the relationship between two women. We’re well used to hearing women sing about getting with other women, but it’s usually experimental and purely sexual (female pop singers out there I am looking at you, you know who you are!). It’s refreshing to hear two openly bisexual women sing about a female/female relationship with real depth, and on a track that is destined to be a hit.

The other collaborations on the album include one with Quavo (Lie) and another with Cashmere Cat (Hopeless). Listening to Lie for the first few times, I thought it was trying too hard to be an anthem and missing the mark. After watching Halsey perform it live however, I think this track does have the potential to be grand and atmospheric. For me, the addition of Quavo on the studio track is a hindrance rather than a help and the song has a far bigger impact with Halsey alone. Indeed, most of the strongest tracks on the album are those that allow Halsey to be Halsey, and are free from heavy outside interference. Whether it was pressure from the label to include some big names or the singers own self-doubt, the singer is at her best when the track has that classic, signature Halsey sound.

One of the most common themes on the record is, interestingly, the singers self-doubt, especially when it comes to relationships. This is most poignant on Sorry, the only ballad on the album and one of the records strongest offerings. The mellow moment has Halsey apologising to her “unknown lover.” It’s the most vulnerable moment on the album with emotional lyrics like, “Sorry that I can’t believe, that anybody ever really starts to fall in love with me.” The song really shows off her stunning vocals with the only accompaniment being sparse piano chords.

On Bad Love she self-asses herself to be, well, ‘bad at love.’ But as outsiders, the string of lovers she mentions seem like they could well be the problem rather than Halsey herself. It’s also another moment on the record where we see Halsey’s staunch feminism causing issues for her in relationships. One male ex-lover is “calling [her] a bitch again” due to her honesty / outspokenness while another is bothered by her quest to pursue music, instead wanting her “in the kitchen with a dinner plate.” She delivers the lines in such a way that you get the feeling she’s rolling her eyes rather than genuinely bothered by what these guys thought of her, and you just know that her fans are rolling their eyes right along with her.

Alone explores the 22-year-old’s sense of isolation amidst this new found fame. She feels “alone in [her] mind” despite the millions of people coming to see her. In the chorus she seems to address her fans singing, “I know you’re dying to meet me, but I can just tell you this / Baby, as soon as you meet me, you’ll wish that you never did.” However, this is contrasted on Don’t Play where she radiates confidence and empowerment. “Can’t fuck with my vibes, double cuppin’ in my ride, motherfucker don’t play with me” she sings over an infectious beat as she sings about making her own money, “drinks on me.” And this is really what makes a Halsey album so great – the contrast, the colours, the complicated nature of it all. Yes, Halsey is a badass feminist icon, but she also has moments of doubt, depression and despair, and that’s what makes her truly empowering. Because the real “cool girl” has vulnerabilities and insecurities too, and by Halsey revealing hers to us it allows us to embrace our own and realize that we can feel confident and empowered in spite of them. Overall, “hopeless fountain kingdom” is a good, well-rounded album and should succeed in pleasing old fans as well as drawing in some new ones.

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