Album Highlights of the Year (So Far…)

2017 has been a fantastic year for music and at times it has been difficult to keep up with the various tour, singles and album announcements over the past few months. Looking back at the year so far, here are my album highlights.

MUNA – About U (3 February)

album 1

Capturing the intense emotional highs and lows of life and relationships, MUNA’s debut About U celebrates individuality and feeling safe in your own skin. Sincere emotions and passion shine out of the album’s 12 glittering synth-pop tracks, resulting in a truly euphoric listening experience.

Best Tracks: Loudspeaker, I Know A Place, Crying on the Bathroom Floor

Methyl Ethel – Everything Is Forgotten (3 March)

album 2

The quirky second album from Australian psychedelic rock band Methyl Ethel is a lot of fun. It may not be filled with a steady flow of standout tracks, but its quirky blend of trippy indie and androgynous vocals definitely result in an enjoyable listen.

Best Tracks: Drink Wine, Ubu, Weeds Through the Rind

Spoon – Hot Thoughts (17 March)

album 3

The ninth album from the American rock group is full of genre twists, with funky grooves and stylish beats infused into the solid indie rock formula. Each track is a gem and together the album is an irresistible little package.

Best Tracks: WhisperI’lllistentohearit, Can I Sit Next To You, Shotgun

Soulwax – From Deewee (24 March)

album 4

Recorded in one take and therefore featuring incredibly seamless transitions from one track to the next, From Deewee is certainly not an album that you pop on shuffle. Fusing elements of electronic, rock and punk, the album’s powerful rhythm and rich synths create an energetic and unique sound.

Best Tracks: Missing Wires, Is It Always Binary

Paramore – After Laughter (12 May)

album 5

An impressive genre (and aesthetic) jump from the emo-punk rockers as they dive head first into the world of 80s synth-pop with triumphant results. This is ‘Fake Happy’ music at its best, offering melancholic lyrics to an infectious beat.

Best Tracks: Hard Times, Rose-Colored Boy, Idle Worship

Pumarosa – The Witch (19 May)

album 6

An astonishing debut album that certainly lives up to expectations, The Witch is an accomplished and hypnotic debut. Pumarosa are the masters of spiritual, shift-shaping tunes, as they first demonstrated with ‘Priestess’, and this album does a grand job of showcasing the unique and unpredictable force of their songwriting.

Best Tracks: Priestess, My Gruesome Loving Friend, Red

Albums to Look Forward To…

The rest of 2017 involves a plethora of exciting album releases, including:

Haim Something To Tell You (7/7/17)

Arcade Fire Everything Now (28/7/17)

Everything Everything A Fever Dream (18/8/17)

The War on Drugs  A Deeper Understanding (25/8/17)

Foo Fighters Concrete and Gold (15/9/17)

 

 

 

Prince Playlist – 10 of my Favourites

A year on from Prince’s untimely death at the age of 57, I thought I would share some of my favourite tracks from the star (for the full playlist, go to the end of this post).

Prince_SelfTitledStarting off in the late 70s with ‘Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?’ from Prince’s second album Prince (which also features ‘I Feel For You’, later made famous by Chaka Khan), this song is beautiful funk rock and that guitar solo is just irresistible. It’s also crazy to think that Prince was only 21 when this was released.

Moving into the 1980s, the title track from Prince’s fourth album, ‘Controversy’ Prince_Controversyaddresses the speculation surrounding him at the time: “I just can’t believe all the things people say… Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?”. Like many of Prince’s tracks, it is ahead of its time and as relevant today as it was in 1981. It is also happens to be ridiculously catchy and of course, funky.

1999A year later Prince released 1999 which features some of his biggest hits – one of which is the stunning ‘Little Red Corvette’. In the same vein as Springsteen’s ‘Pink Cadillac’, Prince utilises the 80s “car as a metaphor for a woman” trope to an electric effect as he screams “You must be a limousine!” An 80s classic.

PrincepurplerainIn 1984 Prince released Purple Rain, the soundtrack inspired by the film of the same name and his most famous album, (to date it has sold over 22 million copies worldwide). The album is jam-packed with tunes but there are two clear standouts for me. Firstly the opening track ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ with its iconic opening verse: “Dearly beloved, we are are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” A hugely energetic fireball of a song, it nearly explodes at the end and I wish to God I had experienced it live. Equally as feel-good and supercharged is ‘Baby I’m A Star’, one of my top 5 favourite songs of all time. The transition into the track from ‘I Would Die 4 U’ is seamless and if you have not had a full-on dance session while playing it at full volume in your bedroom, then you are really missing out. Trust me.

ParadeLPPrince’s 1986 album Parade also features some of my favourites, albeit for very different reasons. ‘Kiss’ was one of the first Prince tracks I ever heard and I have danced to it countless times since. He really is in his prime with this song as he balances seduction with genuine affection. Also on Parade is the beautiful ballad Sometimes It Snows in April’, where Prince’s talents as a lyricist are on full display. Providing a real contrast to tracks like ‘Kiss’, here Prince is stripped back and emotional as he laments on death and grief.

More often than not, however, my favourite Prince tracks are dripping with bold Prince_sign-o-the-times_250sexuality and electric funk. 1987’s Sign o’ the Times is a wonderfully varied and rich album and has something for every mood, however I find myself continuously coming back to two tracks in particular. ‘It’ is a purely addictive song with its gorgeous slick beat and in those last 60 seconds of instrumental you can clearly hear the inspiration for modern synth-poppers such as Christine & the Queens.

However, ‘U Got the Look’ is without a doubt my favourite Prince song. It has the perfect blend of pop, rock and funk, along with Sheena Easton’s fantastic vocals and I can’t help but fall for it every time I hear it.

Prince_BatmanFinally, I have to mention a track from Prince’s soundtrack for Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989. My personal favourite is ‘Partyman’, which is featured in the art gallery scene in the film where Jack Nicholson’s Joker playfully defaces some priceless art. Unlike many soundtracks, this song does not need its context to be enjoyed but I think it’s fair to say that the song really does make the scene.

You can listen to the full playlist here:

Tracks of 2016 – No. 10 – 1

There are a number of artists that almost made this list, including Black Mountain, Rihanna, Warpaint, Pumarosa and Sunflower Bean (to name a few). Ultimately, however, these are my musical highlights of the year…

10. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

From his brilliant second album, Kiwanuka’s ‘Love & Hate’ is a soulful, emotive and moving piece of music. Its many components, not to mention that great guitar solo, work together beautifully to create a truly stunning track.

9. Shura – What’s It Gonna Be?

2016 has been a great year for Shura as she finally got the attention she deserves with the release of her debut album Nothing’s Real. ‘What’s It Gonna Be?’ is one of her best – upbeat with hugely relatable lyrics, plus it has a brilliant John Hughes inspired music video.

8. The 1975 – Somebody Else

The 1975’s second album I Like It When You Sleep… has some great tracks, but this is definitely a standout. I’m a sucker for synths, especially when they sound like this – perfect late-night, post-breakup state of confusion listening.

7. Leif Erikson – Real Stuff

I stumbled across this track by accident and was instantly hooked. It’s a timeless indie rock song and is hard to believe it’s by a band that only debuted music last year.

6. Formation – Drugs

Formation’s new releases never disappoint, but this one really is something special. Fusing their unique mix of punk and electronic elements, it’s like a drug for your ear drums. Gritty, edgy and cool – I honestly can’t get enough.

5. Metronomy – Old Skool

‘Old Skool’ is a track that manages to simultaneously sound completely funky and delicious, but also slightly disturbing – and I love it. This dichotomy is wonderfully realised in the music video starring a suitably bonkers Sharon Horgan.

4. NZCA Lines – Two Hearts

‘Two Hearts’ is one of the most irresistible songs I’ve heard all year. It’s futuristic disco sound is so energetic and powerful, I feel like I’m in a hypnotic state when I listen to it (in the best possible way).

3. Tegan and Sara – U-Turn

Tegan and Sara’s 8th album Love You to Death is a brilliant pop album, full of ridiculously catchy songs stuffed with 80s nostalgia. ‘U-Turn’ is my personal highlight – a gem of a pop song that I have found myself constantly playing on repeat.

2. David Bowie – Lazarus

On 1st January this year I chose ‘Lazarus’ as my Track of the Week. When I first heard this track I was struck by its lyrics and jazz influences but when Bowie’s death was announced just over a week later, the song took on a whole new meaning. Listening to it now, it is still just as beautiful as the first time I heard it, but even more tragic and poignant.

  1. Christine and the Queens – Tilted

Discovering Christine and the Queens’ music has been one of my highlights of 2016 and it all started with this song. With its unique bilingual lyrics, ‘Tilted’ is an anthem for embracing your true self and is pop music at its best. The music video and choreographed live performances of ‘Tilted’ also add to the sparkle of the song.

 

 

Bruce Springsteen – The Highlight Reel (1973-1975)

bruce young
A young Bruce Springsteen holds his debut record, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

Introduction

Earlier this year, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band kicked off The River Tour (due to finish in September after 75 dates), in support of the 2015 release of Springsteen’s The Ties That Bind: The River Collection box set, featuring outtakes and video footage to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the album The River. In September, Springsteen will also release his autobiography Born to Run, which he has been privately writing for the past seven years. Amongst this Springsteen fever, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to collate, and share, my personal Springsteen highlight reel.

Over the past few years I have gradually fallen deeper and deeper in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen. First introduced to him via his Born In The USA record, I immediately connected with his 80s releases and decided to delve further into his musical history. As both a History graduate and a huge music fan, I find him absolutely fascinating. In just over a week’s time, I will be seeing Springsteen at London’s Wembley Stadium and when buying my tickets, I came up with the idea of writing a Springsteen series for this blog.

My personal highlight reel will span every single Springsteen album, split up into roughly 2 to 3 albums per post. The tracks I have chosen are my current personal favourites and this project is not intended as an in-depth analysis of Springsteen or a list of his ‘best’ work, but as a personal reflection on his music. I will aim to cover all of his current work by the time his River Tour ends in September (fingers crossed!)

As with any ‘Best Of’ list or countdown I have ever written for this blog, choosing which songs to feature has been incredibly difficult. However, it feels like even more of a challenge with Springsteen as not only is there a lot of music to choose from, but his work is so varied and raw, that it somehow feels personal choosing one song over another.

Highlight Reel 1973-75

In this first highlight reel, I will cover Springsteen’s three albums released between 1973 and 1975 – Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973), The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973) and Born to Run (1975).

Springsteen was only 23 years old when he released his debut record and right from the very start, he showcased his talent with words. One of the main reasons I love Springsteen’s music is because of his beautiful lyrics and ‘The Angel’ perfectly demonstrates his ability to convey a character through music, within a number of minutes. The lyrics feature numerous references to motorcycles and I love the simplicity of the piano playing and how its delicate sound contrasts the typical connotations surrounding the hells angel of the story.

Reading Springsteen’s lyrics is often more like reading a poem than a song, and it is these lyrics that make his songs so special. Also from his debut album, ‘Spirit in the Night’ tells the story of ‘Crazy Janey’ and co’s escapades to the Greasy Lake. It is romantic, freeing but also mysterious and shows how Springsteen is as much a storyteller as he is a songwriter.

Springsteen’s second album, also released in 1973, features a more bluesy and soulful sound with tracks including the gorgeously funky ‘The E Street Shuffle’ and ‘Kitty’s Back’. However, it is the final track, ‘New York City Serenade’ that is my personal favourite from the record. At just under 10 minutes long, it is a truly magical composition. It sweeps over you and transports you to Springsteen’s romantic fantasy of 70s New York. It also proves how skilfully Springsteen has been able to incorporate piano and saxophone into rock music.

In 1975 Bruce Springsteen released his third studio album, Born to Run, which saw him finally break into the mainstream and achieve commercial success. The second song on the album, ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ is one of my favourites mostly because it just makes me feel good and because it reminds me of the music featured in The Blues Brothers that I was obsessed with as a child. It tells the story of the formation of the E Street Band, with Springsteen placing himself in the story under the pseudonym ‘Bad Scooter’ and meeting the other band members such as the ‘Big Man’ himself, saxophonist Clarence Clemons. A big, big tune.

It may not be as lyrically sophisticated, but ‘She’s the One’, also from Born to Run, is without a doubt one of my top Springsteen songs. It has a great pace to it and builds so beautifully. Its staccato beat is infectious and when it really kicks in at 1.17 you just feel so alive.

Perfectly placed after the sombre, but stunning, jazz of ‘Meeting Across the River’, is Born to Run‘s big finale – ‘Jungleland’. The song portrays the violent gang lifestyle of the protagonist (the ‘rat’) who tries, and ultimately fails, a ‘stab at romance’. It is tragically beautiful and a fantastic example of Springsteen’s role as a commentator of 20th century America, in particular of the working classes. It also features a breathtaking saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons. ‘Jungleland’ is epic and when you listen to it, you really feel it.

 

 

Best Of – CHVRCHES

In anticipation of their headline gig at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Thursday night (which is going to be one hell of a gig, especially as Shura is supporting), I thought I would share my favourite Chvrches’ tracks. As with any of your favourite bands, it is nearly impossible to limit your favourites, but I think this list gives a good overview of who Chvrches are as a band and why they’re so great.

5. Dead Air

Starting off with an example of Chvrches’ non-album releases, ‘Dead Air’ was featured on the Lorde-curated soundtrack to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (which is an awesome album, by the way). I absolutely fell in love with this track immediately and still listen to it on repeat.

4. Get Away

‘Get Away’ is one of Chvrches’ most slick tracks and perfect for night-time drives, which is appropriate as the track was released in 2014 as part of Zane Lowe’s alternative soundtrack to the cult film Drive. Personally I don’t really see why Drive needed an alternative soundtrack (Kavinsky and College were already perfect) but I’m glad it led to this track because I think it’s brilliant.

3. Lies

Even now, when I hear the start of this song I get chills. The Bones of What You Believe has so many brilliant tracks on it but ‘Lies’ will always be one of my favourites. It sounds a lot darker and deeper than other Chvrches tracks and it’s just so beautifully intense.

2. Clearest Blue

Every Open Eye is full of great tracks such as ‘Empty Threat’, but ‘Clearest Blue’ is definitely the highlight for me. A stadium-filler of a tune, ‘Clearest Blue’ is Chvrches at their biggest yet. A modern spin on the 80s synth-pop of New Order or Depeche Mode, the track is catchy, beautifully paced and just pure fun.

1. Gun

Another stand-out track from their debut album The Bones of What You Believe, for me ‘Gun’ is the ultimate Chvrches song. It’s infectious, stylish and empowering, and therefore epitomises the band.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foals – Top 10 Tracks

This month Foals kicked off their first arena tour in the UK including a night at Wembley and with support from Everything Everything and Peace in a DJ slot. At this career-high point for the band, and in eager anticipation of their gig at Birmingham’s Barclaycard Arena on Friday night, it feels like an appropriate time to share my top 10 favourite Foals tracks.

10. Balloons

Starting off with Foals’ math-rock indie beginnings, ‘Balloons’ shows Foals in full on Antidotes mode. It’s funky, a bit mad, very abstract and just brilliant.

9. Spanish Sahara

One of the statement tracks from Total Life Forever, Foals reveal themselves as the kings of crescendo with this perfectly paced and stunning track.

8. Night Swimmers

Definitely one of the stand out tracks of latest album What Went Down and when it really kicks in at 02.20 – wow, just wow.

7. Blue Blood

As the opening track on their second album, ‘Blue Blood’ showed a new and exciting sound for the band and I love how it makes you feel good but also kind of sad at the same time.

6. Cassius

In some ways it’s hard to believe that Antidotes is from the same band as ‘Inhaler’ or ‘What Went Down’ but either way this is such a catchy, quirky and fun little indie track.

5. ‘What Went Down’

An incredibly epic track, Yannis literally roars as he cries ‘When I see a man, I see a lion’. It’s proof of why Foals are one of the best British rock bands right now.

4. Late Night

A perfect example of Foals’ ability to start off a track quiet and gentle and gradually build it into this crescendo of roaring beauty.

3. My Number

The song of summer 2013 and the festival season, ‘My Number’ is probably their best known and definitely their catchiest track.

2. London Thunder

Foals at their most beautiful, late night simplicity. I absolutely adore this track and how it shows a completely different and subdued side to the band.

1. Inhaler

Well, it had to be didn’t it? Fully charged and ferocious, this track really cemented the band as more than just a youthful indie band. Plus, it’s going to sound awesome live.

 

Bring on Friday!