Emma-Jean Thackray, Nubya Garcia, Angel Olsen, James Acaster, East Man, Working Menâ€™s Club, caroline, Future Islands, Moonchild Sanelly, Jessy Lanza, The enduring appeal of vaporwave
Tkay Maidza Weird Times
Contents Contact email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Loud And Quiet Ltd PO Box 67915 London NW1W 8TH Founder / Editor: Stuart Stubbs Deputy Editor: Luke Cartledge Art Direction: B.A.M. Digital Director: Greg Cochrane Sub Editor: Alexandra Wilshire Contributing writers Abi Crawford, Al Mills, Alex Francis, Alexander Smail, Colin Groundwater, Dafydd Jenkins, Daniel Dylan-Wray, Dominic Haley, Esme Bennett, Fergal Kinney, Gemma Samways, Guia Cortassa, Hayley Scott, Isabelle Crabtree, Ian Roebuck, Jamie Haworth, Jess Wrigglesworth, Jemima Skala, Jo Higgs, Joe Goggins, Katie Beswick, Katie Cutforth, Liam Konemann, Lisa Busby, Max Pilley, Megan Wallace, Ollie Rankine, Oskar Jeff, Robert Davidson, Reef Younis, Susan Darlington, Sam Reid, Sam Walton, Tom Critten, Tristan Gatward, Woody Delaney. Contributing photographers Andrew Mangum, Annie Forrest, Charlotte Patmore, Colin Medley, Dave Kasnic, David Cortes, Dan Kendall, Dustin Condren, Gabriel Green, Gem Harris, Heather Mccutcheon, Jenna Foxton, Jody Evans, Jonangelo Molinari, Levi Mandel, Matilda Hill-Jenkins, Nathanael Turner, Nathaniel Wood, Oliver Halstead, Phil Sharp, Sonny McCartney, Sophie Barloc, Timothy Cochrane, Tom Porter. With special thanks to Annette Lee, Ben Harris, Chris Cuff, Colette Baillie, Henry Boon, Jamie Woolgar, Joe Newman, Keeley Forsyth, Marcus Scott, Natalie Quesnel, Nathan Beazer, Sinead Mills, Steve Philips.
The views expressed in Loud And Quiet are those of the respective contributors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the magazine or its staff. All rights reserved 2020 Loud And Quiet Ltd.
ISSN 2049-9892 Printed by Gemini Print Distributed by Loud And Quiet Ltd. & Forte
For the benefit of whoever might be reading this long after August 2020, this is the later-than-expected edition of Loud And Quiet following the colossal shit pie of the coronavirus pandemic – our first edition post-worldwide lockdown, and one that looked like it might never happen at all. For the person reading right now, there’s a 95% chance you’ve supported us by becoming a Loud And Quiet Member over the unexpected 5-month void since issue 141. I can’t thank you enough for supporting what we do, and if you’re new to us altogether, I hope we repay your good nature and passion with some of our own over the next year. The issue begins with a dive further into this bloody mess... Stuart Stubbs
East Man . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Working Men’s Club . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 caroline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Moonchild Sanelly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Emma-Jean Thackray . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 Reviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 Tkay Maidza . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 James Acaster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 10 Years of vaporwave . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 Nubya Garcia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70 Angel Olsen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74 Future Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78 03
The Beginning: Business
The Loud And Quiet story of COVID-19, and how the pandemic gave us one last shot at staying alive, by Stuart Stubbs
Over the past four months I’ve been interviewed by a handful of newspapers, magazines, radio shows and podcasts about the effects of the pandemic on Loud And Quiet. There was one question that they all asked without fail: “When throughout all of this did you realise you were in real trouble?”. Each time, my answer was: “Instantly.” And each time I felt as though it sounded like a lie. Or that I’d not impressed just how instant this instantly was. Lockdown officially began in the UK on March 23, but most of us saw it coming weeks before, having watched coronavirus shutter northern Italy and continue to spread across Europe. We closed our office on March 17. On the same day I emailed the companies that advertise with us on a regular basis, who confirmed our fears. As a free publication, 95% of our income was reliant on advertising, with two thirds of that coming from live promoters and festivals. Those companies were definitely out; all tours pulled; all festivals looking at a fallow year following the cancellation of SXSW on March 6. The independent labels we work with looked extremely uncertain too, although by this point we were already done. It was costing us £15,000 to produce each edition of Loud And Quiet, with almost no margin of error. There was no difference between
being two grand short or ten. In the end, it just happened to be the full fifteen. Two days later, twenty-five Hollywood celebrities tried to kill the virus by singing ‘Imagine’ in a way that was impressively out of time, tune and its own mind. Experts are still unsure if COVID-19 fed off of the unintentional hilarity, or if it was a coincidence, but either way the virus raged on. But I can hardly talk: on March 18, the day between speaking with our advertisers and ‘Imagine’ calling for the complete destruction of the Internet, I uploaded ten old copies of Loud And Quiet to our online store, priced them at £10 each and promised to send a drawn picture with every order, of whatever the buyer liked. What can I say – I panicked too. Forget the fact that I cannot draw. Fifteen years after the start of Loud And Quiet, we were fifteen thousand pounds short of being able to make another magazine, and my answer was to upload ten old copies to our online store. Ten! Even with the inflated price for this worthy cause, at absolute best we were still going to end up £14,900 shy of what we needed. Like many others spinning through those first days, I was busying myself. And the following week, too, when I uploaded another ten editions (remaining goal: £14,800). I knew it wasn’t
The Beginning: Business a viable way to keep Loud And Quiet alive, but the 51 people who ended up buying a ten-pound newspaper from us that month vindicated our later decision to try to save what we do. — Pre Instant — If I’d been asked when I realised we were in real trouble outside the confine of the pandemic, I’d have struggled with such a concise answer. But it was a long time ago, for us and many others operating within independent music, publishing and the arts as a whole. Coronavirus has acted as an indiscriminate killer, of businesses as well as individuals, most tragically of all. But it’s also played the role of accelerator and spot operator, blowing out rocky foundations and unearthing our flaws. Perhaps it’s because we’re hanging in there, but for us, at least, COVID-19 has felt like a stomach ulcer that got us rushed to hospital, only for our test results to return bigger problems that we’ve been trying to ignore for years. Figures from German data company Statista show that magazine advertising in the UK peaked in the year 2000, at a yearly spend of £1.7 billion, five years before Loud And Quiet began. It held reasonably steady until 2009, when it dropped to below £1 billion, a trend that would accelerate with the rise of social media marketing and Google Ads, projecting a 2020 total of £4.9 million, just 0.49% of what it was in 2009. For a long time, these numbers remained too huge and abstract to register with a company as small as ours. In 2005 we were making 150 copies of each issue on a home printer for fun, with no thought of attempting to fund it. Even by 2010 the mounting swathe of Print is Dead articles didn’t make sense to how well this little project was going, supported in earnest by independent labels and promoters who liked what we were doing. The turning of the screw was slow as those big millions turned into small ones, but if I had to guess when we started to really feel it, I’d guess at around 2015. Since then, or before, we’ve been acutely aware of advertising being our sole income, of that income only moving in one direction, and how vulnerable we’ve been to forces completely outside of our control. The pandemic pushing it all off a cliff within a day gave us the courtesy of a quick death. Or at the least the option of one. — Post ‘Imagine’ — Once I’d drawn “David Lynch nonchalantly riding an Irish wolf hound” and “Ian Beale crying”, the three of us who work fulltime on Loud And Quiet started discussing a more stable way of funding this magazine, our website and the podcasts we make. The advertising-only model was long broken. The extreme drop in revenue for what are called ‘display adverts’ coincided with the development of social media targeting and the emergence of influencer culture. For better or worst, the advancement of advertising has caused brands to become increasingly dissatisfied with paying X amount for their advert to simply be seen, regardless of scale, hence the closing of free magazine ShortList
illustrations by kate prior
in 2018 despite its print-run of over half a million copies. And so emerged the age of paid-for features, sponsored content and “extra value” trade-offs, all with smaller fees paid to the titles involved. Pages are filled with nods to brands and tie-ins, readers are turned off and curb their support, which only greatens the need to photograph Jamie Oliver in a Fiat Punto talking about his favourite songs to play on his way to Jumble Sale in the Park In protecting jobs and their very survival, most publications have had no choice but to agree to the terms, however unfair or detrimental to their reading experience and reputations, a fact often omitted from the stories of a “lost” magazine in trouble, especially bringing to mind people’s furious glee at the eventual closing of NME’s print title in 2018. The same has applied to websites for a while, who arguably have it even harder. Like everything, it’s all Facebook’s fault. Magazines were meant to be replaced by websites, and they have been. But the advertising revenue only went with them for a short period of time, initially giving the impression that an editorial site would be able to comfortably fund itself through digital display ads. As sites grew from 2006 onwards, so too did social media, with its superior powers of audience targeting. In 2019, Facebook recorded a global income of $69.6 billion made through advertising alone. And just as the closing of ShortList proved that scale isn’t necessarily enough to win the advertising-only model within the printed press, a reported 200 million monthly visitors to BuzzFeed wasn’t enough to prevent them from having to scale back their US team by 200 in early 2019. At least with a magazine you’re able to offer a different type of advertising, outside of the digital world and not in direct competition with Facebook and Google. Regardless, we always knew that Loud And Quiet would eventually cease to exist as a magazine if solely funded by the adverts within it. So on April 28, after six weeks of planning, we announced a new Loud And Quiet membership scheme. An unmistakable SOS, and what we hoped readers would consider a fair and sustainable way for us to continue. The response on that day was overwhelming, to say the least. I wrote a pretty blunt statement outlining how we could no longer afford to give the magazine away without support from readers; how it had been a long time coming; how COVID-19 was a chance for us to re-assess how we value music and the arts; how if we didn’t reach our target we were done. It was powerful stuff, and we marveled at how many of the great artists we’ve featured over the last 15 years rallied behind us and showed their support. I think I was too tired to cry. For years I’ve looked to The Wire, a magazine I admire, and envied their loyal fanbase who almost eradicate the need for them to chase advertising deals at all. I’ve wanted us to have that, but our big problem has always been that we’re a free magazine. How do you get people to start paying for something you’ve given away for the last 15 years, especially in a world where everything is becoming more free, not less? The simple, Business 101 answer of ‘offer great value’ isn’t much help. After all, what constitutes ‘great value’ after years of offering the greatest value of all – your work for free. This problem
The Beginning: Business of undervaluing ourselves and what we do isn’t confined to the arts, but it’s been at pandemic levels itself within them for years. A lot has been written about how my generation will be the first to be less financially prosperous than our parents’, and that that trend will continue without huge structural change. And yet, increasingly we are expected to be grateful that we have jobs at all, regardless of their long hours and the low wages. And that is particularly prevalent within the creative industries, the prevailing external (and eventually internal) opinion being: “You’re doing your passion here, what more do you want? Not paying, I hope.” Acceptance of such a view has snowballed to an unsustainable level within much of the independent music industry. For a magazine like ours, it’s prevented us from saying enough is enough, in a large part due to our fear that others wouldn’t see the true value in what we do if we asked them to. (We are also not only susceptible to this problem but regrettably part of it, unable to pay our contributors what they truly deserve – something we endeavor to address if this new plan of ours works out.) And just as journalism has largely become a free commodity, increasingly, so too has a certain level of live music. Over the last ten years, it’s been a countermove of many struggling independent venues to get people through the door by wavering the door fee of live events. Jamal Guthrie, Marketing Director of LNZRT, who book London venues MOTH Club, The Shacklewell Arms and The Waiting Room, feels that the pandemic is an
“We always knew that Loud And Quiet would eventually cease to exist as a magazine if solely funded by the adverts within it”
opportunity for us to get back to a fairer way of valuing artists and the spaces they perform in. “It’s a case of diminishing returns,” he says. “If you’re giving away something for free or too cheaply in order to maintain volume while your overheads are rising, the margins keep getting tighter and there will be a point where the bottom will fall out. I think that’s something people are realising during COVID where so many businesses were in trouble almost immediately. “The free entry model is one a lot of pub venues relied upon to help keep spaces full while business rates went up, but once we reopen I think small venues are going to have to move away from this and place the correct value on live music. If free shows do happen in the future, it’ll be like a giveaway rather than an expectation.” — Memberships — To give us a chance of building a future for Loud And Quiet, we’ve been forced into publishing 6 issues per year instead of 9 (an awkward number in any case, and our issues will now feature more pages to ensure we’re still writing about as many artists as possible). Conditioning still played a part in it, but we launched our new membership scheme with some added extras. Extra extra value. On April 28 we had no idea how many people would sign up, or if our announcement would even be noticed. We worked out a price that more reflected the efforts we put in – £50 for the year. It included (and still includes) our next 6 editions of the magazine in physical and digital form, a homemade 15-year anniversary zine, a brass pin, a leather bookmark and members-only monthly playlists, vinyl giveaways, offers and more. As you’ve probably guessed, the fact that you’re reading this means that people did answer our call. You were probably one of them. So thank you. In truth, Loud And Quiet is safe for now, not forever. The support we’ve received has been incredible, and we now have enough members to get back to work with the confidence of making it to the end of the year. Any further than that hinges on our ability to put our case forward for new members to see real value in what we do, and if the percentage of returning advertising is high enough to make up any shortfall. One of the interviews I gave over the last few months was with The New Statesmen, where the writer Ellen Peirson-Hagger asked me if I thought that the subscriber model was the only way to fund a magazine these days. I said that I did and echoed Jamal Guthrie’s views that COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to reset; to realise on how much of a knife’s edge so much of society has been; to rethink our relationships with our own work and that of others, and do something about it.
THE NEW ALBUM OUT NOW
THE NEW ALBUM OUT NOW
The Beginning: Environment
When you see how vulnerable everything is, you realise you can build it anywhere I’ve been at home in Yorkshire during lockdown. I’ve actually been more productive. My work is predominately performancebased so I have wondered how this will be interpreted with the obstacles now in place. Bodies and objects are all part of the theatrical focus. I am also interested in the idea of taking away frameworks that reflect the past, and moving towards a more fluid internal motivation. With this in mind, I can visualise a future that on one hand is empty chairs and complications, on the other hand shifts into representing a more equal structure of working musicians. I like the idea of taking away the spectator, who assumes their place within the rich layers of culture. It’d be good to be out in the elements more, with the boundaries between performer and audience concurrently shifting. For Marsden Jazz Festival, I filmed my live set out on Saddleworth Moor, working with another sound artist. It wasn’t just about my music: he was putting microphones in the water and up on the top of the hills, getting all the sound of the place, while I was just coming in and out. That all came out of having to find a different way to approach work, taking ourselves out into the moors instead of a gig setting, and recording it, but in the same way bringing the whole thing in, recording where we are, which suddenly felt more important, rather than just what we were doing. Venues closing, travel restrictions being in place, and the threat of financial hardship has made the narrative for a working musician more vulnerable. I never considered myself a “musician” or an “actor” as such. It’s more about reminding myself we are allowed to use everything we have. I do love the idea of break-
words by keeley forsyth. illustration by kate prior
ing these conventions down, so that when you’ve got limited resources, which I have – I’ve got the kids on my own, I don’t play an instrument – you’re still able to make work. I have always been inspired by work of the theatre director Katie Mitchell. Her methods have been in my mind during this period and it has forced me to contemplate blurring the lines between film and live performance and how these may best be served to an audience. Her stuff is live performance, but she works across media, filming things as they’re happening, and they’re projected onto a screen, giving you an expanded version of something small that’s happening onstage. There’s something really live about it, but because it’s being recorded, you’re watching the process feed into itself. Even as an audience member you don’t feel that you necessarily have to be there – the process is making the work itself; it’s fulfilled in its own practice, you’re not doing it to an audience. The human condition is at the centre of the music I make, and I personally always feel the means will reveal themselves in the process so I don’t worry so much about change and what this may bring. I do worry about the effect it will have on the environments of theatres, galleries and spaces, and the social identities that will come out of a time where meeting up in a shared space is deemed appropriate or inappropriate. When these spaces close and the old patterns and visual imprints they come with dissolve, I hope it can bring all artists the same psyche necessary to create a shared reality. I moved out of London four or five years ago as I couldn’t survive in the way I wanted to, and it was really sad. But weirdly it allowed me to work – all my music was made since I moved out of London. The idea of going back to London and contributing to a system I don’t believe in – high rents and that sort of stuff – I can’t do it. I do think this crisis will change how culture is distributed geographically in the UK. When you see things breaking down you see how vulnerable the whole thing is, so you can build it anywhere – we are making the work, it’s not necessarily the place. When you are isolated you do remember your own selfsufficiency – you think, “Gosh, the work is actually in me and not these places I thought.” I do think it will be fairer – it would be nice; my god, it would be so lovely – but it’s too soon to say. How may I stay authentic whilst transcending these times? The performative mind has narrowed, although it has illuminated my ideas of political discussion, and mostly I have been moved by musicians coming together to collaborate on each other’s work and processes. The impact of a shared environment and mixtures of purpose has generated a dreamlike space for me which I will continue to learn from, and which will hopefully offer me a new, connective model of working.
The Beginning: Television
What would your theme song say about you?
A colleague once asked me what the theme tune to my life would be. I didn’t know him that well, I’d only been at the job a few weeks, and this felt like the zany sort of question that had potential to position me socially in what had so far been a pretty lonely and intimidating office experience. Before I could answer him, he proclaimed that his theme tune would be ‘The Loving Kind’ by Girls Aloud. I replied that I loved that song and it was actually one of the most underrated pop songs ever, which was a weird response and a downright lie, although I have found some Girls Aloud fan pages that will corroborate me. What do you answer to that sort of question? I am horribly critical of theme tunes because I find their self-consciousness, the fact that they point to some attribute the producers want to be most central to the show’s personality, a bit cringe. Sitcoms are the greatest offenders in this regard, using them as a musical sort of surgery that rips open the proverbial torso to reveal HERE. HERE IS THE SHOW’S HEART. RIGHT HERE, IN CASE YOU MISS IT. ‘I’ll Be There For You’ by The Rembrandts in Friends is intent on reminding its audience just how friendly these friends are. Full House (a certain breed of ’90s sitcom that feels almost militant in its feel-goodness) starts with Jesse Frederick’s ‘Everywhere You Look’, a theme which feels more like an instruction to its audience than anything else: Everywhere you look when watching this show, you WILL find a heart. Even if we have to tear it from you. Possible option one response to colleague: “My life’s theme tune would have to be ‘Happy’ by Pharrell because I would like to enforce that every person that comes into contact with me MUST be happy. If they’re not happy or if they don’t understand why they should be happy, they can just listen to the canned laughter I have following me.” I can’t help feeling too that theme tunes are a little aggrandising by nature, especially the ones that centre a particular character. Just take New Girl’s ‘Hey Girl’, sung by the show’s creator and star Zooey Deschanel, with her faux-vintage twang. The entire opening credit sequence is a parodic homage to her
quirkiness; it’s both self-aware and part of the ‘bit’, and to this end, I suppose I’m envious of her confidence in asserting her brand. I can’t even commit to having a fringe full-time, whereas Deschanel has maintained the same iconic haircut and image for years. And of course, character centric theme tunes can’t be discussed without referencing Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bell Air’. I maintain that I’m critical of most theme tunes, but this one is impossible to hate, though even more impossible to imitate. Just imagine. Possible option two response to colleague: “Can I come back to you on the theme tune? I actually want it to have a very specific set of lyrics that narrate my life up to now. I’ll write it for you tonight. Also, I’m going to fully commit to a fringe, so I’ll need to book that hair appointment before I can perform it to you.” I do like the idea of an instrumental theme tune, like The Simpsons, Doctor Who or Game of Thrones. The lack of lyrics gives them a sense of grandeur and timelessness; they feel expansive and cinematic. Possible option three response to colleague: “I would have to commission an orchestra to compose something suitably atmospheric for me. It would need to simultaneously capture the panic I feel remembering our boss’s salad order but also the overriding determination I have to eventually own a dog and lead a more wholesome life.” Really, it would have been ideal to have not had to answer my colleague’s question at all. Not least because I couldn’t think of a single song that served every purpose, that was as simultaneously funny and self-aware as it was feel good and timeless. What I needed was a sort of bootstrap song, the sort that eclipses the theme tune. An accidental theme tune. Take Money Heist’s ‘Bella Ciao’, originally an Italian protest folk song that is introduced to the series as an anti-capitalist rallying cry, sung by the characters to demonstrate their acknowledgement of the past and their hopes to successfully rinse the Spanish mint in the future. It feels authentic, unassuming and rebellious, the more successful younger sibling of the show’s actual theme tune, ‘My Life is Going On’ by Cecilia Krull. So in fact, in the option four response, my colleague would democratically select a relevant song for me. “Actually your theme tune would definitely be ‘Do You Think of Me’ by Misha B, because I’ll never forget that time you started playing it in the office without plugging your headphones in. You thought it was embarrassing but we all thought it was incredibly authentic.” What I actually said to my colleague was something like this: “I don’t think I would have a theme tune. Maybe just like, a quick beat in the opening where the screen goes black and then, I don’t know, Emily’s Life appears in capitals before we get straight into the action. You know, like Fleabag?”. Thank god I no longer work there.
words by emily harris. illustration by kate prior
FIELD MUSIC MAKING A NEW WORLD
Historical gravitas and art pop zip... all delivered with Field Music’s customary artful intelligence and verve” 8/10 Uncut ★★★★ Mojo ★★★★ Q ★★★★ Times ★★★★ Guardian Out now on ltd edition red vinyl, CD and digital
“Mush’s riffy, funky post-punk is as cathartic as it is surreal” Paste “Old-school indie meets 2020 attitude” 8/10 Uncut “Mush will certainly capture many hearts” 8/10 Louder Than War Out now on ltd edition orange vinyl, CD and digital
WHEN WE STAY ALIVE A creative rebirth” 8/10 Loud & Quiet A dreamlike sound wrought from trauma” ★★★★ Times Stunning tale of redemption” ★★★★ NME Out now on ltd edition crystal clear vinyl, CD and digital
FLIGHT OF IDEAS “Flight of Ideas is a faultlessly gratifying collaborative masterpiece, with plenty to delve in to” The Line of Best Fit “A who’s who of indie talent as they marry electronica and psychology” Louder Than War Out now on ltd edition orange vinyl, CD and digital
“Lustrous synth-pop with heart and soul” Uncut ★★★★ Q ★★★★ Mojo ★★★★ DIY Out now on ltd edition pink vinyl, CD and digital
The Beginning: <1000 Club
Introducing a noble crusade How much is a stream worth? Music fans were asking that question long before Spotify began its reign of dominance over our listening habits. A few years previously, we were asking if a 99p download was fair. Before that, we were convincing ourselves that pirating that song wasn’t doing anyone harm. It’s a conversation older than this magazine. I knew how to find ‘From Paris To Berlin’ on Limewire when I was nine. COVID-19 has made many reflect on these questions newly, though. Our editor Stuart Stubbs said as much when announcing Loud And Quiet’s revamped subscription model: “This feels like a reset moment for music and the arts as a whole – for us to reassess what we consider a fair price for the things we love. Underground media and culture can survive COVID-19 if enough of us really want it to.” And as the advertising model collapses around us, rebirthed into something hopefully more sustainable, you reading this tells me that you think music magazines are worth spending a pound a week on. So what about a stream? 99p? A lot of people a lot cleverer than me have been trying to answer this. The simple answer is that it’s complicated. How much of a cut is your label taking? How much are people streaming overall? There are a lot of variables that make it difficult to pin down. What I’m here to tell you about is the kind of stream that feels the most valuable. If you’re a smaller artist who’s uploaded anything to Spotify off your own back, ‘<1000’ probably makes you feel some type of way. It’s the way Spotify presents tracks with streams that haven’t cracked the thousand mark yet – an arbitrary number that doesn’t discriminate between people who have just cried listening to your album, or someone who has fallen asleep with autoplay on in the background. Yet being under that threshold still feels like a dig. Not quite worth the effort of displaying in full. The algorithm’s way of saying “not very many, that, is it?”. There are thousands of great tracks in this predicament. That’s why I’m announcing Loud And Quiet’s second biggest social campaign of the year – the <1000 Club. We’ve already helped someone break through. Bevan Smith is a New Zealand born musician who’s been making superb, diverse electronic music since the mid-nineties. His most recent output is under the moniker Introverted Dancefloor, where he explores vocal house and nerdy, Hot Chip-leaning electropop. Under the names Aspen and Signer, he’s made some of the most elegant and emotionally moving IDM ever released, and barely anyone has heard it. That’s at least according to Spotify, where Bevan’s music as Aspen has sat under one thousand plays since I stumbled upon it one night. By any metric, he’s criminally underrated. Just listen to the drum sampling on ‘Are You That Retail Snob?’, from his 1999 album release of the same name. Ten different hi-hats bounce around the mix, each spaced so precisely that you can single them out. Creeping synths fill up the mix as the meditative spirit of the track takes over. It’s not showy, but the level of craft is
obvious. Then there’s tracks like ‘Forgotten’, which rival Christoph de Babylon in their ability to create pure chills. Apsen is working with rudimentary drum sounds, but like the very best musicians, he knows how to draw beauty out of even the simplest sounds. In another world, it’s up there with SAW II in the cultural memory. It feels impossible that relatively little would be known about the musician that made this. We know that Are You That Retail Snob? was released under Aspen’s own label, Involve. He named himself after the tree, not the ski resort. He now finds a home on Carpark Records alongside acts like Dan Deacon and Beach House. The shift in monikers might be cool and mysterious for acts as big as Aphex Twin, but for Bevan Smith, it means some of his best material gets lost in the streaming shuffle. Introspective Dancefloor listeners might not even know these albums exist. But a few weeks ago, a barrier was broken. ‘Are You that Retail Snob?’ cracked the <1000 barrier. After I shared it with some mates, it sits at 1064 streams from 111 monthly listeners. I’m proud of us. If you ignore the fact that the difference between getting one play and one thousand is a few New Zealand cents, the landmark almost feels significant. It’s difficult in the streaming age to feel like you’re having a tangible impact on an artist’s perceived value, when the value of music is calculated with vague metrics like engagement. Obscure ambient albums from three decades ago weren’t made for that. This (completely real) campaign is one answer. Another would be to find a reset moment, away from just streaming. You could support the artists you care about on sites like Bandcamp, who have a long history of championing small acts rather than playing a numbers game, and who waived their share of revenue during the lockdown period, directly earning musicians $11.4 million as a result. Seeing Aspen added to their ‘selling right now’ page was about as satisfying as the weeks of streams it took to get that <1000 removed. Each month, I’ll be trying the same with an underappreciated artist and sharing them and my results here.
words by skye butchard. illustration by kate prior
THE BEST NEW MUSIC
KELLY LEE OWENS INNER SONG
WILLIE J HEALEY TWIN HEAVY
ANNA MEREDITH FIBS
PRIVATE WORLD ALEPH
Kelly Lee Owens’ masterful second album finds the convention-blurring techno producer and singer/songwriter diving deep into her own psyche—exploring personal pain while embracing the beauty of the natural world. It’s a leap in artistry from a musician who burst forth on the scene with a confident, rich sound.
Widowspeak’s music channels Mazzy Star’s narcotic allure, country twang, and the jangle of Sarah Records-style indie pop, and is as much at home soundtracking the biggest TV and film as it is on the shelves of avid record collectors. Their latest, ‘Plum’, navigates the spaces between the emotions of modern life.
Shortlisted for the Mercury Prize 2020 and crowned Electronic Sound’s Album of the Year 2019
Cardiff’s Private World present a refreshing take on contemporary synth pop.
Available on CD and special etched Vinyl.
Limited ‘Dinked Edition’ vinyl available at www.dinkededition. co.uk
Yala! Records are very proud to present Willie J Healey’s ‘Twin Heavy’. It’s a work that marks both the apex of Yala’s four years of existence and a seismic leap for WJH. The songs retain Will’s classic penchant and affinity with a suburban disaffected youth whilst suddenly being laced with a songwriting panache to put him up there with the best of the modern songwriters, Q Magazine even calling album track Thousand Reasons “a great Lost Lennon song”.
INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP POP GOSSIP
MOSCOMAN TIME SLIPS AWAY
YOUNG JESUS WELCOME TO CONCEPTUAL BEACH
IDRIS ACKAMOOR & THE SONG SUNG THIS ASCENSION IS PYRAMIDS OURS SHAMAN! Strut Records
Night Time Stories
‘Pop Gossip’ - an electronic pop album made by the disenfranchised for the disenfranchised. An explosion of colour and Pop sass - where euphoric choruses merge with melodic analogue synthesis and where the beats are set to send all social distancing on the dance floor out of the window. Essential.
Brand new album from renowned producer Moscoman, featuring What Do We Care with vocals from Tom Sanders (Teleman), Eyes Wide Strut with vocals from WOOZE, and many more.
Young Jesus’ new album, ‘Welcome to Conceptual Beach’, pries our sobs from parentheticals and wields them with a brutal but tender force. They take these elements and translate them into a spacious ground for growth, for ourselves, our communities, our world.
Epic new set over four Acts from Idris Ackamoor’s pioneering Bay Area Afro jazz collective, produced by Malcolm Catto of The Heliocentrics. “The album is introspective”, explains Ackamoor. “Each song is a personal musical statement about love and loss, mortality, family and salvation.”
Twin sisters, Georgina and Una Hanrahan, who comprise Song Sung have a hypnotically unique sound that is strangely anthemic, coming on like a space-age girl group transmitting directly from Jupiter.
As well as having a background in indie and rock, Moscoman plays house, acid, techno, dark disco, and synth, all from a more alternative angle.
‘FIBS’ is 45 minutes of technicolour maximalism, almost perpetual rhythmic reinvention, and boasts a visceral richness and unparalleled accessibility.
Their debut album heralds a return to sophistication, with nods to previous vanguards such as Peter Gabriel and Bryan Ferry, interwoven with romantic melody and refined atmosphere.
New vinyl pressing on ‘Winter Wind’ coloured vinyl available in all good independent record shops.
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Produced by David Holmes and Unloved band-mate Keefus Ciancia (Killing Eve, Noel Gallagher)
The Beginning: Sweet 16
In 2002 Jessy Lanza was watching Requiem For A Dream to appear interesting
This photo was taken in my high school, Westdale, in Hamilton, Ontario. I immediately think of concert band. I was very into playing music; at that time I would’ve been working on getting my Grade 10 piano in the Royal Conservatory exams, playing clarinet, singing in jazz bands. When I see the lockers I think of my clarinet case being in there. I tried very hard to be a good student. It was a hard time because my dad passed away that year – it’s weird to look at that photo and see that I’m smiling and just trying to be a 16-year-old but I was emotionally a bit fucked up. It was the first time something so sudden happened to me, drastically changing my life – I hadn’t really dealt with anything like that before. But my mom and my sisters were there, and they’re still around. Hamilton has changed quite a lot recently. It’s like a rust belt town; a Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Detroit. It was a big steel town and then that evaporated and it got pretty unpleasant. Not a lot to do, downtown hadn’t been rejuvenated yet… I think of it as a chip-on-its-shoulder city. Even now, people always have something negative to say about Hamilton. People call it the armpit of Ontario. I do go back there a lot. When I was living in New York I drove back all the time, like once a month. I was working on a record with my friend Jeremy Greenspan who still lives there, so before Covid I was there pretty often. I’m super close with my family too. It’s quite different now: there’s an art scene that’s
more visible, downtown has rejuvenated, people are opening stores and spending time in the city centre. The football team is called the Tiger-Cats and people just go nuts for that, which I don’t understand… Music was a big thing for me since I was very young. Both my parents were musicians and played in bands. It was a big part of my identity, and that was how I connected with people socially. I was into movies too – I used to think that watching Requiem For A Dream made you interesting – and I was going to parties, but I was always very focused on music. I’m the person who sings in assembly; I was into music; I was going to do music at university. My parents gave me the confidence to do it but I got made fun of a lot at school, as happens if you stand up in front of your peers in high school. I was mainly playing jazz standards. I did write some songs as well, but they were really terrible. I didn’t know what to write about, I was just doing approximations of pop songs – maybe that’s not so different to what I’m doing now. At that time, I was much more focused on the academic pursuit. I had to get my classical Grade 10 so I could get my teaching certificate and apply to university to go and learn jazz piano performance, which I eventually did. I loved rap and R’n’B, and people like Gil Scott Heron and Erykah Badu. I hadn’t seen people who incorporated jazz music in a way that I really liked, and those bands were my obsession at this point. I was pretty stoked to go see Talib Kweli in Toronto. I took the bus to go see him through a snowstorm. Bands would never come to Hamilton. You’d have to go to Toronto to really engage with the music I loved then. My dad had a studio in the house, and although I wasn’t able to use the console I could play the Fender Rhodes that was in there, and a Yamaha DX7. It’s funny, so much of my relationship with my dad was around music – he was a teacher but he also had a PA rental business. He would go and install soundsystems in clubs, and I would go with him to these auctions and buy all the speaker components, the subs, the cones, help him paint them, go and lay the cables and stuff. He had all these great drum machines and synthesisers, and when he passed away I inherited them. But it wasn’t until I started working with Jeremy that he started showing me how to put the pieces together. It was a bit of a hump for me to get over – it wasn’t until a good 10 years after that photo was taken that I really learned how to use all this equipment my dad had left. What would I tell the girl in the picture? I would say you should break up with the guy that you’re with in the photo [cropped out], and don’t listen to any of the bullshit that people in your grade are saying. Just focus on the stuff you care about. as told to luke cartledge
! s a m hrist
B EM ER
! e f i L
gs n i d ed
! s y a thd
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Unashamedly working class, unashamedly intellectual, by Dafydd Jenkins. Photography by Tom Porter You don’t work within electronic music for as long as Anthoney Hart without amassing a collection of aliases. Starting out in pirate radio during the 1990s, Hart later found himself drawn to the experimental avant-garde. Since then, he’s been working under two monikers: Basic Rhythm and East Man. The former, a dancefloor-oriented project (“more fun stuff, you know”), the latter a striking concoction of his roots in MC-led drum’n’bass and left-field electronic production – a sonic ethos Hart dubbed ‘Hi Tek’ – realised through deeply-felt explorations of the UK’s postcolonial present. My conversation with Hart precedes East Man’s second album, Prole Art Threat; a record of stark beats and multiple voices – a crystallisation of what liner notes writer and Goldsmiths lecturer Les Back calls “the force and the democracy of the mic” – from collaborative first-timers (Ny Ny, Streema, Whack Eye) and returning champs (Darkos Strife, Lyrical Strally). That said, our conversation largely dances around Prole Art Threat, dense with multiple asides and anecdotal leaps from
the trappings of platforming working class voices within a mass media based entirely on ‘flavours of the month’, to the labyrinthine application process of UK arts funding. Each cultural reference could constitute an alternative, England’s Hidden Reverse-style British canon: John Betjeman, E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Classes, Only Fools and Horses, J.G. Ballard, Stuart Hall and Lindsay Anderson are counted among Hart’s interests, all of which come to inform a worldview which is, as his academic friend Paul Gilroy puts it, dedicatedly “autodidactic”. “I thought about compiling a list of films and books that I could recommend,” says Hart, “ones that say something about a lot of the topics of what we’re talking about today.” I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taking extensive mental notes throughout. In the midst of discussing the commodification of identities within capitalist frameworks, Hart is stopped mid-sentence by the sound of seagulls outside my tenement flat window, which
he can hear clearly over our Skype call. “Seagulls are so evocative of my childhood in places like Hastings,” he says. “I went back there for the first time in over 20 years recently to do a bit of research for my book, to provoke some memories.” As first suggested by Paul Gilroy, whom he sought out and eventually befriended during his preliminary investigations into writings on the British working class (“families like my own”), Hart has been steadily bringing together the resources for a book, a project that he intends as part-study, part-memoir, structured around the various places in England he was moved about throughout his life. “I grew up watching stuff like Only Fools and Horses and Desmond’s,” he says. “But I noticed that works about the working class kind of… dropped off. One day, I started telling Paul [Gilroy] something about my family. He turns around to me and says, ‘oh, you should write this’. I just laughed a bit selfdeprecatingly. But then I was like, you know what, if it’s not there, why don’t I write it?” Hart grew up with two mixed-race older siblings; a brother and sister from his mother’s previous marriage. Failing to find his own mixed household background adequately represented in media, he gravitated towards books by Caribbean authors like Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners. “Obviously, there’s a whole other stratum to the book, which is about race, and specifically about Caribbean men coming to London post-World War II and trying to make a life for themselves. But I relate to it so much in that it’s about being poor, and about notions of masculinity.” Another influence on Hart’s work with the East Man project is the filmmaker Lindsay Anderson, as evinced in Hart’s suggestion via email that I seek out Anderson’s 1982 film Britannia Hospital before our conversation. Widely thought to have been the film that killed Anderson’s career in the UK (he went on to direct again in the US prior to his death in 1994), his ‘final’ film is a lasting snapshot of political turmoil in the 1980s, which, between the protesting masses outside the eponymous hospital’s gates and the upper-class snobs inside eagerly anticipating a royal visit from HRH, feels strikingly relevant today. “It was received really badly because he was criticising the left as well as the right in that film,” says Hart. “He was also critical of the way the NHS was used, which I don’t think went down well either. But he was criticising institutions, really. I think there’s a lot in his films that speak to Brexit and Britain’s idea of itself, across the political spectrum. It’s about the death of empire, and this perception of ourselves as this separate entity away from the rest of Europe.” Much like JG Ballard, who himself was born in Shanghai, the British Raj-born Anderson appeals to Hart in his ability to “look at things from a slightly detached view, perhaps. When Anderson was making films about the working classes he wasn’t being romantic,” says Hart. “He was like, ‘let’s confront this. Let’s talk about this.’” — We are Londoners — “Britain’s idea of itself” might as well be the challenging statement of the East Man project so far. Hart’s first LP under
the moniker, 2018’s Red, White and Zero (named for a portmanteau film trilogy in which the Lindsay Anderson short The White Bus was featured), showcased multi-racial Britain as it’s rarely seen in any media, right down to its evocative album art, which featured Hart standing among his collaborators. “It was kind of a post-Brexit statement, right?” says Hart. “To have that album cover be a photo of all of the people that went into making it, taken outside a studio in Bow – the birthplace of grime, and the place where my grandparents met – was like saying, ‘we are British, we are English, with all our varied backgrounds. We are Londoners.’” Despite staying on the attack in lifting the title Prole Art Threat from a song by The Fall (“I felt there was something great about the way The Fall and Mark E. Smith were unashamedly working class, and also unashamedly intellectual”), East Man’s second LP feels markedly more sombre, its artwork showing a misted tower block in black and white, and all the haunting connotations it invokes in 2020. “I liked [the photograph] because of its tonality,” Hart says. “It’s very atmospheric. I also like the texture of the film. There’s some flaws in it. Grenfell happened as well, so there was also some kind of symbolism there. Combined with that title, it felt like it really said something.” Prole Art Threat also holds a refinement of East Man’s sound, the experimental grime fervour of Hart’s instrumentals becoming more starkly spacious. “Bass is really, really important to me in what I do, but I also quite like the use of silence and space,” he tells me. “I’m not one to slap a load of reverb over stuff. I really like dry sounds that cut through. I also like space for the MCs to really fucking breathe and say something.” As infectious and immediate as Prole Art Threat is, and as apparent as its dancehall influences might seem, it’s easy to overlook how otherworldly these fusions of bars and beats really feel; you don’t usually hear the ferocious grime declarations of Ny Ny and Mic Ty over a relentless, stuttering rhythm. “Prior to [East Man], I hadn’t really worked with MCs since doing pirate radio 10 years ago,” says Hart, reflecting on his process. “I’d been doing a lot of experimental stuff, a lot of noise and distortion. Then it came to a point where I was thinking about vocals. I was like, ‘Who can I get to spit over my weird beats?’ So I thought, ‘Who’s saying something about their day-to-day experience?’ Grime MCs,” he adds conclusively. Representation rings across the East Man project, which resonates further afield to Brazil on Prole Art Threat. When reflecting on his decision to seek out Brazilian MC Fernando Kep, Hart muses on the mirrored experiences at play in the Brasil Grime Show YouTube channel. “Obviously, I noticed some very big differences, especially economically,” Hart says. “But it’s real. They play stuff by people like Grandmixxer and Youngstar, and I can see why they’ve taken to grime – since it became quite popular for a minute around 2014. They discovered it and thought, ‘oh, we recognise something of ourselves in this.’ I’m sure that’s what it is. That’s beautiful. What more can you ask for?”
When there’s one member of a band left and they’re honest about it, by Joe Goggins Photography by Oliver Halstead
Working Men’s Club 18
There’s more than a hint of the old Sheffield to Attercliffe, the suburb on the north-east side that’s become home to a quiet musical revolution in recent years. Crumbling warehouses and rusting ironmongery hint at the city’s steel-making heyday. It was precisely this kind of post-industrial landscape that fostered an electronic renaissance here in the seventies and eighties, from which the likes of Cabaret Voltaire and The Human League sprang forth. From behind McCall Sound Studio’s imposing red gate on Warren Street, Ross Orton has been at the centre of cultivating a similarly fruitful creative resurgence of late. His resume boasts local royalty (he was behind the desk for Arctic Monkeys’ AM, and drummed on the first two Jarvis Cocker solo albums) but more vital is the work he’s done with emerging artists, producing for the likes of Drenge, Menace Beach and Amyl and the Sniffers, and playing on the debut album by The Moonlandingz, who have a host of their own connections to the area (Fat White Family’s latest, Serf ’s Up!, was cut at their own place a few hundred yards up the road). None of this was lost on Syd Minsky-Sargeant when he was paired up with Orton last year. He formed Working Men’s Club at BIMM, a Manchester music college, in 2017, and the surprise success of early single ‘Bad Blood’ quickly led to a clutch of labels putting offers on the table. Heavenly Recordings won out and changed the band’s course, redirecting them to Sheffield, where Orton seemed like the ideal mentor for their increasingly electronically-minded frontman. All of which sounds straightforward. In practice, it was anything but. The higher profile afforded to a very young band by ‘Bad Blood’ set off an epic power struggle within it; one that
has left Minsky-Sergeant as the last man standing. On a suitably overcast July morning, he emerges into McCall’s front yard with a grin, offering a tracksuited elbow by way of sociallydistanced introduction. The rest of the group are here, but only for the photo shoot; Minsky-Sargeant prefers to handle interviews alone. At the end of a long period of high acrimony, his big mouth and even bigger ideas have allowed him the space to rebuild Working Men’s Club in his own image – not in Manchester or his native Todmorden, but here in Sheffield. He is still only eighteen years old. The bare bones of the matter are that founding members Giullia Bonometti and Jake Bogacki are out, with MinskySargeant absolving only the former of any blame. “We don’t have the problem of egos and combative situations any more,” he says. “It was nice to just walk into the studio for two weeks and not worry about arguments, not have to deal with any politics.” Incoming are Rob Graham of Drenge and Mairead O’Connor of The Moonlandingz, although neither had much involvement with the record. “About 80% of it is me, and the other 20% is a mixture of members past and present, including Liam (Ogburn, the bass player rounding out the new lineup). “I think you can tell that it’s a very personal album. I was very bothered about having it turn out like I saw it in my head, and as soon as you take a demo into a room, everybody wants to put their own mark on it. Which is great, except a lot of the time people were taking it too personally, and their egos were getting in the way. For me, if I put something down and it’s shit, I’ll just say it’s shit.” When ‘Bad Blood’ took off, soul-searching followed. “Suddenly, everybody wanted to know who we were, and what
we sounded like, and ‘Bad Blood’’s a good tune, but it’s definitely not symbolic of what the band’s about. I felt like having signed a significant record deal so early on we had to take it seriously. It’s very easy to fall into that hole of just letting people tell you you’re great. I didn’t want to be swayed – I wanted to trust my gut, and to make the music I’d intended to make from the start.” — Shots fired — The self-titled debut, then, is Minsky-Sargeant’s own vision realised. It’s still a pop record, just not the one that ‘Bad Blood’ hinted they’d make. Things have taken a moody turn for the atmospheric, with live drums eschewed and guitars used mainly for colour and punctuation. At the core of it, instead, is Minsky-Sargeant’s burgeoning fascination with synthesisers and drum machines. The key collaborator was clearly Orton, even if Minsky-Sargeant was turning up to the studio with fleshed-out demos, as if to deliberately limit the extent to which they could be remoulded. “I was never going to walk in with a bedroom demo that was just an idea, and then have to produce the fuck out of it. We didn’t do what Dan Carey does, which is just press play,” he says, in the first of a number of shots across the bows of his contemporaries he fires today. “That’s one way of doing it, but ours was more thought-about. We spent a lot more time talking about the album before we walked into the studio and played.” Minsky-Sargeant met Graham and O’Connor, both Sheffield natives, through Orton’s studio – another indication that the band’s centre of gravity is shifting firmly towards south Yorkshire. He cites local influences, too, pointing out the electronic parallels between Sheffield and Detroit in the eighties, and appearing happy to be able to lean away from the label of Manchester band. The group still enjoy a larger fanbase on the other side of the Pennines than anywhere else, and whilst there’s unavoidable points of comparison there too – with New Order and The Fall, in particular – Minsky-Sargeant has never hidden that he finds Manchester’s current landscape uninspiring. And anyway, he says, the songs that make up Working Men’s Club are actually rooted in neither city, but rather in the Calder Valley, where he still lives in Todmorden, and where, four miles down the road, the Hebden Bridge Trades Club hosted early shows and inspired the band’s name. “The heritage in Manchester is very overwhelming, which is why the music is so bland there,” he says. “It’s gotten
very stuck in the past. It pisses me off that people try to label you as one thing or another. I just don’t think it’s necessary to pigeonhole a band based on where they come from. The ideas behind all these songs go back to Tod, in terms of what they’re about, but I never could have gotten this far if I hadn’t left to go to college in Manchester, or to work with new people in Sheffield. Where we’re from is only relevant in that we’re a northern band, and that comes with its own pressures, partly because you’re up against so much history, and partly because you have to graft so much harder to get noticed, because all the labels are in London. We’re not some fucking band from south London that got lucky because they played one gig at the Windmill, which seems to be the case for a lot of them now.” — A love-hate relationship, but mostly hate— Simmering frustration with small-town ennui is maybe Working Men’s Club’s prevailing theme: as Minsky-Sargeant puts it in typically unvarnished fashion, “it was a rough area, I hated the people I was around, and I hated going to school
and never being told what I could do, just what I couldn’t do, and what would go wrong for me if I didn’t get any qualifications.” He’s less easily drawn on the record’s politics, which is a touch surprising given that a live-streamed show from YES in Manchester earlier in July saw him perform in a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘SOCIALISM’ and end the set by ripping off the head of a life-size cardboard cutout of the Queen, neither of which were exactly exercises in subtlety. Neither, for that matter, is ‘Cook a Coffee’, the most pointedly political track on the album. Provisionally titled ‘Defecate on the BBC’, it takes direct aim at Andrew Neil: “You look like a cunt,” Minsky-Sargeant drawls in a manner that suggests the ghost of Mark E. Smith might have possessed him. “You bark like a bitch.” Still, he’s reticent on the issue. “Actions speak louder than words, I think. It’s good to make a point and be a little bit controversial. I just don’t want to put too much of a foot in the sand right now. I’m still a teenager, you know? I might be a very different person in two years. And a lot could change for our generation in that time. It’s just that I’m not making music for any other reason than I feel like I need to – I’d be such a fucked-up person if I didn’t. I’m not doing it because I want to be some big artist with a big platform, or to preach to people like Idles do.”
“We’re not some fucking band from south London that got lucky because they played one gig at the Windmill” 21
“There’s been a lot of fucking shit in this band that’ll probably never come out, unless I write a fucking book” He will, later, go on to excoriate the government for their handling of the pandemic: “Fifty thousand dead because they care more about the economy than people’s lives. It sums up ten years of austerity.” The lockdown has had its own effect on Minsky-Sargent, not least because it’s seen Working Men’s Club pushed back from June to October (“We’d probably be in fucking Spain or somewhere now.”). He understands why, even if he clearly has already adopted a zero-tolerance attitude to the way in which the industry runs. “It’s a love-hate relationship, in that I fucking hate it, but I also have to thank it,” he says at one point, whilst discussing his discomfort at the need to brand and market his songs. “The fact of the matter is that we need to play shows and do in-stores and things like that, and we weren’t going to be able to do that in June. We’re not Sports Team, where we’re signed to a major and can just have Lewis Capaldi tweet about how great we are to a million followers, and still end up with a number two album.” He has mixed emotions about spending several more months than planned sitting on the record. For one, his mind is already on the “cinematic” follow-up, which is written but on the back burner until this release is out of the way. In the meantime, he’s working on a side project, Minsky Rock, with Orton. He’s already weird about revisiting the album in order to talk about it with journalists, or to play the songs for the recent livestream – “I’d forgotten that we played guitar in this band,” he says. There’s even some indication that the extra time to dwell on the record has been outright unhealthy: the scars of the
battles he won in order to do things his way evidently remain very fresh. “There are people high up on the credits of the record that I fucking hate, now,” he mutters darkly. “I’d smash their face in if I saw them.” This, admittedly, would be an easier threat to take seriously if he didn’t bear a striking resemblance to the central character from Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women, who in one scene is soundly beaten by a gang of punks for having the temerity to like the Talking Heads. He remains confident that he’ll be vindicated when Working Men’s Club finally sees the light of day; that the turbulence and upheaval will prove worthwhile. “It’s been a very weird world to walk into – as a child, really,” he reflects. “A scary world, where people can twist and turn and fuck you up the arse. You live and learn, and I think we’re going to prove that we’re not just a post punk revival band, and that we actually never were. There’s been a lot of fucking shit in this band that’ll probably never come out, unless I write a fucking book, but it was always about the music. I don’t care if the album sells ten thousand copies or zero. If I’m working as a postman in ten years’ time, I’ll still be messing around with synthesizers. That I can guarantee you.”
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caroline A band addicted to the sound of a single Mogwai drum snare, by Jess Wrigglesworth Photography by Jake Kenny
In a scene that played out across the nation ad infinitum these last four months, three members of caroline and I are trying to work out whose computer the tapping sound is coming from. Our interview has become a video-conference, but after about a minute we resort to audio-only so we can talk over each other in real time, rather than with a 30-second delay. But now the tapping. Jasper Llewellyn, the band’s drummer/cellist/vocalist has headphones on and is bearing the brunt of it. “What is that noise?!” “Is it me?” asks Casper Hughes, one of caroline’s two guitarists. The other, Mike O’Malley, is silent. “Micheal, put it down!” Bickering descends into laughter.
Silliness isn’t necessarily what I’d expected from caroline – but then I hadn’t known what to expect at all. Before the group signed to Rough Trade at the beginning of this year, their online presence was as ambiguous as it was minimal. There was nothing to stream, nothing on Youtube. The only clues arrived as images accompanying gig announcements: train window vistas, a power plant, a submerged car, shopping trolleys slotted together in a perfect circle. The gigs themselves were often held at ‘secret locations’. So far, so mysterious. Then came a live video for a track called ‘Dark blue’, released to announce the Rough Trade deal. The clip shows the 8-piece band playing in an abandoned swimming pool, the camera shifting from super close ups – of mouths or ears or cymbals – to distorted reflections in a mirror. The song itself is almost meditative in the way that Slint were, building over 8 and a half minutes, slowly introducing new instruments and a sole, melancholic vocal until it reaches a climax; a cacophony of creaking strings and clattering drums. It’s a remarkably polished debut, and a bold statement of intent. Watching ‘Dark blue’, it’s hard to imagine caroline as a ‘conventional guitar band’ but for a while they were just that. When Hughes and Llewellyn, who met while studying in Manchester, moved down to London for their Masters, they began experimenting in practice rooms, wanting to develop the time spent playing together at uni into something more formal. They roped in O’Malley – a teenage friend and bandmate of Llewellyn’s – in 2017, and then a bassist, and played privately as a 4 piece for the best part of a year. Early influences came from country, emo and post rock. “When we were first playing there was one Mogwai song – not even that, the sound of one, like, snare on a Mogwai song that we were just desperate to emulate.” Hughes laughs. “I remember that being a constant reference point, like, ‘If we can get our drums to sound like that, the band will be amazing.’ It hasn’t happened yet.” They decided to introduce a violin player when writing ‘Dark blue’: “I was listening to a lot of [alternative American composer] Christopher Tignor,” recalls O’Malley, “– music where violins were being incorporated but not in a neo-classical sense, more as drones and stuff.” Another violinist followed, originally as a stand in but they “couldn’t bear to play without either of them.” Then came a second drummer, after Llewellyn brought in a cello (he’d learnt as a child). A trumpet player completes the octet. “It was definitely a case of necessity,” Llewellyn admits. “When we wanted something else, we got someone else in to do that thing. But then we didn’t want to lose that texture from the band, so it just turned into a permanent fixture.” — May Nothing But Happiness Come To Your Door — Llewellyn, Hughes and O’Malley remain at the core of the project, but Hughes is keen to emphasise that the others are “band members, not session musicians.” They’re increasingly involved in the writing process. “As time’s gone on I feel like we’ve developed a kind of shared style together,” notes O’Malley. “We’ll quickly have shared ideas rather than it being totally
directed by us 3.” It’s a process of improvisation and repetition of a basic idea that the band build around. Vocals are sketched out, with Llewellyn forming the words around the sounds almost subconsciously. “It’s quite funny, there’s a kind of sadboy triumphalism about all the lyrics. We didn’t realise it and then our friend pointed it out – they’re all really self assured and demanding, and all from first person perspective. But that’s not for a reason, that’s just how they happen to form. Maybe it reveals something about my personality in some way.” He laughs and goes on to explain how this improvisation has spilled over into their live shows: “We’ve got more up for doing [it] in the live set, which is exciting,” he says, adding modestly, “I think we can be really good at it if we work at it more.” It was at one such set in September 2019 that Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis approached caroline’s manager and asked to sign them. I ask them what was their reaction to being offered a record deal by one of the most notable figures in independent music? “It was just funny,” says Hughes. “It was a massive shock. I think it was maybe our 5th or 6th gig, something like that. We’d barely played live. We’d been playing together and recording stuff, and then Geoff Travis is coming to our show and just signing us, it’s kind of crazy. Mike couldn’t believe it though. He refused to believe it was true until literally it was signed on the dotted line.” Unfortunately for O’Malley, it ended up being January before that moment came. “I posted the contracts and they never arrived,” says Llewellyn. “It ruined Mike’s Christmas.” “I was not pleasant to be around at Christmas,” O’Malley admits. “I was worried about the excitement that was building and instead of enjoying it with everyone I was being like, ‘Let’s just wait and see, until it’s all said and done, you never know what could happen.’” His scepticism was unfounded, and they started 2020 with a series of bookings: festivals, a headline show, and a slot at The Barbican supporting fellow Rough Trade group Lankum. Like many, these plans have been scuppered by the coronaviris. Then there’s their debut album, which is, they reckon “probably three quarters recorded”, but without being able to meet, it seems unlikely they’ll finish it any time soon. Nevertheless, they seem remarkably calm about the future. “There’s probably less pressure on us than perhaps there would be for slightly bigger bands who…” Hughes pauses, letting Llewellyn finish the sentence: “for a band who has fans.” After we hang up, I listen to ‘May Nothing But Happiness Come To Your Door’, the Mogwai song has something in it that caroline want to emulate. While the snare might still elude them, there are notable similarities between the track and ‘Dark blue’; a willingness to let things play out, long languid repetition with tonnes of breathing space. It’s music that invites you to stop and let it wash over you, to play it over and over again and notice its nuances.
Sex positivity and drive, drive, drive, by Gemma Samways Photography by Phatstoki 26
Of all the intimate rites of passage you probably wouldn’t want publicly immortalised shortly after, losing your virginity must be number one with a bullet. In fact, I’d go as far to bet most people would rather forget the entire anti-climactic ordeal immediately. Not so the then-teenage Sanelisiwe Twisha – now Moonchild Sanelly – who channeled these first fumblings into a poem that she performed before an audience in her hometown of Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape. “It was called ‘Cloud 9’,” the singer/rapper grins beneath a shock of cobalt braids, speaking from the sofa of her Johannesburg apartment. “And from there I just kept on because I started noticing that, in poetry, girls weren’t assertive about sex. I didn’t like that narrative where women were passive and boys were powerful, because I don’t believe it. And also coming from a space where I’d been [sexually assaulted] before, it didn’t feel good for me to just cry and be a victim, so always I’d write about how I was going out to infect boys with my virus. And everyone would cringe. And I loved that.” Now 32, Sanelly has lost none of her power to provoke, and has long been notorious in South Africa for her forthright attitude towards sex and female empowerment. When I ask if she’s out to stir controversy or simply to normalise such discussions, she laughs, “I’m out to be open about my experiences and what I believe in, and I just happen to be shocking.” Her forthcoming EP Bashiri – set to be released in September via Transgressive – should elicit plenty of double takes. Sung in Xhosa, ‘Weh Mameh’ sets sex positivity to pounding beats, while the self-styled “future ghetto funk” of ‘Boys and Girls’ is a celebration of sexual fluidity. ‘F-Boyz’ finds Sanelly asserting her power over an irresistible amapiano groove. And then there’s ‘Where De Dee Kat?’, a glorious gqom/trap hybrid that more than delivers on the phonetic innuendo of its title, featuring Sanelly demanding, “Get it up man,” over the distant chant of “Penis, Penis, Penis.” It all feels doubly brave considering that only this year she was censored for much less. ‘Askies’ – her collaboration with Joburg dance outfit JazziDisciples – was pulled from South African radio in March due to its alleged explicit content, a decision Sanelly still vehemently disputes. “The song wasn’t derogatory in any way,” she exclaims, visibly fuming. “I used the words from the dictionary in Xhosa; words like thighs, boobs, bum. Had it been done in English they wouldn’t have [censored it].” Defiant, Sanelly responded by starting the #thunderthighschallenge hashtag on TikTok and Instagram to promote the song’s message of body positivity. To her delight, she’s since received hundreds of videos from women and men of all shapes and sizes, dancing to the track and celebrating their own bodies. “That song was aimed at making people feel good, because you always have these unrealistic standards that we have to fulfil and reach,” she explains, the words gushing out at approximately 100mph. “Maybe [the song was censored] because they’re not gonna be able to sell diet products if people feel good about themselves? Because a lot of markets definitely thrive on us having negative perspectives of ourselves.
“When I was the young one, I had anorexia, and I wish there [had been] a song that made me feel good about myself. So it was almost as if, right now, I’m providing what I needed when I was younger, which is all this self-affirmation: reminding yourself that you’re beautiful, reminding yourself that your voice matters, reminding yourself not to be a hole for men to just bust their nuts in. Without thinking about it, I’m literally becoming the person I wish I had to turn to when I was younger.” — Experience, girl — As the mother of an 11 year-old, and seven-year-old twins, setting a positive example is clearly hugely important to Sanelly, and she does so by being authentically herself in the face of hypocrisy. On ‘Bashiri’ – the title track of the new EP – she attacks false prophets with a narrative sung from the perspective of a woman whose husband has been unfaithful. The song critiques a pastor figure who promises to repair the marriage by performing a miracle. When I ask Sanelly where she found inspiration for the song she guffaws, “Experience, girl!”. “Let me tell you something! So my twins’ baby daddy is a staunch Christian and his mother-in-law doesn’t like me, because mother-in-laws generally do not like me because of my expression and how I’ve looked and whatever. So she brought this prophet from Zimbabwe to shower me in holy water to kick out the demon, and I’m like, ‘What demon?!’ And he was like, ‘You’re not going to get married because you’ve got a demon inside you, and it makes you wild.’ And I’m like, ‘Girl, look! I’m just Xhosa, and Xhosa people are actually very vocal in general.’” Sanelly has often come under fire for this combination of confidence and determination. She recalls a specific incident at the beginning of her career, while recording at Red Bull Studios in Cape Town, back in 2013. “There was this white girl there who came to me and said, ‘You know what, your image makes me so confused, because you want everything. You’re here, you’re there, you’re everywhere, and because you’re black you’re probably going to make it before me’. And I was like, ‘What did you say?! Is my drive offensive to you? You’re going to fault me for being ambitious when I’m being given this opportunity to go further? No!’ And actually, I’m here now and she’s not.” She faced similar resistance while working on EGOLI as part of Damon Albarn’s Africa Express collective, too, back in 2018. “I was like a kid in a candy store, because I love writing to anything and everything, and I love challenges. So I literally could hop into this studio where they were doing this genre and write a song, and then hop into another studio where they were doing a different genre and write a song. Sometimes songs would be complete, but I would come in, write my part and they’d have to remove somebody. “Some people stopped talking to me after that because they said it felt like ‘Damon Albarn Featuring Moonchild and Various Artists’. And I’m like, but we had the same 24 hours!
Don’t fault my hunger and my drive! You think I’m just going to make one song when I’ve got a full day [in the studio]? Never.” — My power — Despite the jealous sniping from some quarters, Sanelly looks back on Africa Express as a wholly positive experience, not just because it introduced her to future collaborators – including Ghetts, who invited her to sing on his recent single ‘Mozambique’ – but because it helped widen her international audience. As a result, she was invited by Beyoncé to appear on her soundtrack for The Lion King live action remake, starring on ‘My Power’ alongside Tierra Whack. Thanks to the wonders of NDAs, Sanelly is frustratingly tight-lipped about the experience today, and about her involvement in Beyoncé’s forthcoming visual album Black Is King, which has been trailed with ‘My Power’ as its theme. But she beams at any mention of the R&B legend, explaining, “I had her in my ten-year plan, written down as one of my ultimate collabo-
rations.” Who else was on the list, I ask. “I wrote down Diplo, I wrote down Damon Albarn, and I wrote down Beyoncé. Those are my three ultimates in life. And I’ve gotten all three.” When pressed about future collaborators, Sanelly cites Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Pharrell, Doja Cat and Da Baby as being top of her wishlist. She tells me that last night she actually dreamt about meeting Pharrell, laughing, “So I know what I’m going to say now because I’ve already said it in the dream. I believe so much in the things I want to happen, and I know when I meet him I will feel like it’s happened before, because it’s already happened in my mind.” Following the release of Bashiri, there are plans to re-issue her 2015 debut Rabulapha!, and she’s already begun work on the follow-up, which will feature contributions from Diplo and DJ Lunatic, and consolidate her love of ghom, amapiano and future ghetto funk with the myriad influences she’s absorbed travelling the world. “I mean, it’s going to be amazing,” she says with trademark enthusiasm. “I’m going for the Grammys. I want a Grammy. It’s going to be lit.”
“I started noticing that, in poetry, girls weren’t assertive about sex. I didn’t like that narrative where women were passive and boys were powerful, because I don’t believe it”
Out Now SPECIAL INTEREST ‘The Passion Of’ Night School LP
The Passion Of... takes you on an odyssey, from celebrating the highs and lows of hedonism, to dystopian anthems and disillusioned love songs. Ending in a powerful final decree offering visions and desires for futures to come.
“a blistering vision of punk as possibility.” – Pitchfork ‘Best New Music’ 8.4
BRIGID DAWSON & THE MOTHERS NETWORK ‘Ballet of Apes’ Castle Face LP / CD
Wise warnings dyed in dark hues, knotted and hard-won torch songs from the edge of a turbulent sea, bittersweet balladry spun in defense against evils familiar and unknown.
“a transcendent, jazz-inspired masterpiece from the former Thee Oh Sees member”
RIVAL CONSOLES ‘Articulation’ Erased Tapes LP
Articulation follows 2018’s Persona LP on Erased Tapes. During the writing process Ryan drew structures, shapes and patterns by hand to try and find new ways of thinking about music, giving himself a way to problem-solve away from the computer, creating an expression of a moving structure and conjuring a dreamy motorik energy.
– UNCUT 9/10 ‘Album of the month’
BENT ARCANA ‘Bent Arcana’
RICHARD NORRIS ‘Elements’
GIRL FRIDAY ‘Androgynous Mary’
“This is the first interstellar transmission from five days of electrified and improvised sessions recorded at Stu-Stu-Studio, edited down to forty minutes for your earballs. This one is very much on the ECM / ‘70s hard fusion / prog-kraut tip ” Features members of Oh Sees, Sunwatchers, TV On The Radio, Flying Lotus, Feels, Prettiest Eyes, Mr. Elevator, and many, many others.
Richard Norris (Beyond The Wizards Sleeve, The Grid) presents his sonic exploration of the elements on new ambient/electronic imprint Group Mind . Featuring a mantra-like collaboration with British/Bengali singer Bishi the album is underpinned with a warm, spacious ambience informed by the Berlin School of synthesis.
The LA-based band don’t blunt the impact of the themes they work through in their ferocious, knotty rock songs, but they don’t let the more harrowing aspects of being alive and young in the 21st century daunt them, either. Dystopian shades of post-punk and noise rock abound alongside abundant optimism on Girl Friday’s arresting debut LP, Androgynous Mary.
Castle Face LP / CD
Group Mind LP / Ltd Picture Disc / CD
Hardly Art LP /CD
Coming Soon ‘the electronic musician’s electronic musician’ – Electronic Sound
OSEES ‘Protean Threat’
FLAMING TUNES ‘Flaming Tunes’
MAGICK MOUNTAIN ‘Weird Feelings’
John Dwyer (Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, Osees): “THIS RECORDING IS AT THE APOGEE OF SCUZZ PUNK ANTHEM AMULETS FOR YOUR EARS AND HEART A BATTERY FOR YOUR CORE BE STRONG, BE HUMAN, BE LOVE”
Flaming Tunes’ sole release is perhaps the finest elegy to the ‘80s home recording ethos that you’ve never heard. Originally released in 1985 on cassette (with individually hand-colored covers), this self-titled album grew out of the collaboration between childhood friends Gareth Williams and Mary Currie.
Debut album from this Leeds based trio brings a huge slice of sun-soaked Californian style fuzz to West Yorkshire. Magick Mountain burn ears and turn heads with their incendiary tales of infinite space, otherworldly escapes and weird feelings. Their colossal riffs, entwining harmonies and fistfuls of wild, distorted energy are carving out a place for the band at the vanguard of a new movement in garage-rock.
KINGS OF THE FXXKING SEA ‘In Concert’
CARLTON MELTON ‘Where This Leads’
KELLEY STOLTZ ‘Ah! (etc)’
Brand new double epic from soundscapin’ ambient drone magick karpet travellers Carlton Melton. OUT IN OCTOBER !!!!
San Francisco’s pied piper of pure pop delivers another classic opus; 12 tracks of 60s pop influenced 80s pop new waving grooves.. hummable tunes at every turn, you will not be able to resist! OUT IN NOVEMBER !!!!
Castle Face LP / CD
Agitated Records LP/CD
Released in October on Agitated Records… The debut album from these Nashville sluggers is a LIVE album… members of Immortal Lee County Killers / The Ettes / The Little Killers.. deliverin’ a righteous slamdown!
Superior Viaduct LP
Agitated Records LP/CD
Magick Mountain LP/CD Released October 23rd!!!
Agitated Records LP/CD
Journeys in Yorkshire brass bands, jazz and speed garage, by Jemima Skala. Photography by Sophie Barloc
Emma-Jean Thackray is remarkably unassuming as she welcomes me into her small but cosy Catford home studio (prelockdown). As I set up, she bustles away in the kitchen making a pot of red bush tea with honey. A large and eclectic vinyl collection takes up a lot of the room, and on the bookshelf Dickens sits side-by-side with Philip Pullman. It’s the room of someone comfortable with what she likes, and unafraid of how others might judge her for it. Aged eight, she started having cornet lessons through her primary school in Yorkshire. From there, she joined a classically northern brass band, became the principal cornet player at 13, and up until she left to study at the conservatoire in Cardiff, she joined every ensemble imaginable. “Anything I could get my hands on,” she remembers. “I was in a big band, an opera orchestra… I had a sort of pop soul band just to jam and play the odd pub thing.” This individual thirst for music was tempered with the lifestyle of playing in the brass band. In a small Yorkshire village where there’s not much else to do, Thackray says the community of the brass band becomes all-encompassing: “It becomes people’s lives, in a way. It’s a community centre for people.” Enclosed in this, she learnt how to play as a member of an ensemble and to really listen. And it was in her musical discoveries that she began to balance her talent with trust in her own taste. She stumbled into jazz accidentally. One day she was browsing Limewire for ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’, a quintessential brass band number, and accidentally downloaded a version by Miles Davis. “I literally thought I’d discovered him,” she says. “I thought he was some obscure guy in America – I just thought that no one knew about him. I just felt like the coolest person.” This turned into a thirst for the genre, and Emma would rummage for jazz records in HMV bargain bins when she had any spare change. She was also going out to Leeds’ clubs and bars, and drinking in the bass-heavy dance music that was pumping out of the North. “Any time I hear some speed garage a mile away, I’m like,” she mimes perking up and looking wildly around her, “I can hear it! I can feel it! I can taste it! I need to get there!” She laughs and says, “just big beats all the time. That’s what I need!” — Movementt — While studying at Trinity College London, Emma found herself in another close community of like-minded musicians. She bounced between the jazz and composition departments, never feeling like she was entirely at home in either. We joke about this and she apes her self-conscious teenage self: “Whatever, I don’t really read Harry Potter, I’m more into beatniks. I’m basically Jack Kerouac but I can’t drive and I live in a village,
but whatever.” Later on, though, she grows reflective on this. “Although I’ve had these lovely, warm, nurturing environments, I’ve always felt like an outsider,” she notes. “I’ve never felt like I’ve fitted in anywhere. Back in Yorkshire, I was just completely the odd-one-out in the surrounding area and in the family. I just always felt ‘other’. In a way, that’s always been a good thing. That brings a sense of maybe disassociation in some ways, but I think it also forges you in another, and it makes you want to build your own environment.” This is the kind of environment that Emma is seeking to create with her new Warp imprint Movementt. Today, Emma’s music straddles the boundary between electronic and jazz,
although she’s always been considered too dancey for the jazz heads and too jazzy for the ravers. To be given an imprint by Warp is a vindication of her talent and efforts; and indeed, an honour in itself, as it’s granted to only a select few, like Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke. Warp is a label that has always danced to the beat of its own drum, creating new paths and supporting the tastemakers of the time. Fittingly, with Movementt, Emma says that she wants to create something entirely hers. “What I’m trying to do now with my label is to make this new home where I can be at the centre rather than at the peripheries.” It’ll be primarily a place where she can release her own material – she’s sitting on a load of live recordings and wants
“Any time I hear some speed garage a mile away, I’m like – I can hear it! I can feel it! I can taste it! I need to get there!”
to reissue her first two EPs. First in line will be her upcoming EP Rain Dance, which she says embodies her “three-pronged ethos” that shapes all the music she makes: music that moves the body, the mind and the soul, all at once. “It’s stuff with a really visceral groove that’s going to get your body responding; forward-thinking musical content, whether that’s lyrical, melodic, just something a bit more cerebral. Then music for the soul, it’s stuff that’s really about nourishing subject matter and connecting people.” The important thing, she says, is keeping the three elements balanced. “I don’t want to just be another label,” she says. “I want it to be a place where people can find music that they can’t find anywhere else. I’m wanting to legitimise bootleg stuff, in a way. Stuff that people feel is a secret that they’re being let in on.” Rain Dance itself feels like just that: a well-kept secret that makes you feel special for discovering it. On her previous album, Ley Lines, Emma played every instrument herself. On Rain Dance, she’s allowed other people’s voices in from the start, recording her band jamming and using those as samples from which to build up a track, or allowing them to improvise over her composition. “They’re definitely still working within my remit, but they have their own space to say what they want to say.” — Sims, the band —
already know them, their work, and what they’re going to say. In a way, I’m still there in the background puppeteering everyone, but they feel that they’ve got control over their lives. Really, they’re just Sims in my world and I’m telling them what to do with a mouse.” Given that she’s now being heralded as one of the key voices in the future of jazz, I ask Emma where she thinks the scene is heading now. In the space of just a few years, the profile of jazz has done an about-turn, from being your embarrassing uncle’s favourite genre to pulling in hugely diverse, young, cool crowds thanks to groups like Ezra Collective and Nérija, and artists like Moses Boyd and Nubya Garcia. What’s next? “Jazz is always changing,” she tells me. “Over the past hundred years, it’s always taken from what’s been around it in order to evolve. Jazz has always been like the dance music of the time. I don’t know what’s next and I think that’s what’s really exciting about it! It could get dancier and dancier, or maybe it’ll all go completely the other way. That’s what I’m most excited to find out, really.” As we finish up the interview and I walk towards Catford Bridge station, I have the tangible sense that Emma-Jean Thackray is very much in control. Throughout her career, she’s done exactly what she wanted in exactly the way she’s wanted to, creating a space around her to be filled only by those willing to bend to her vision.
Emma says she got into the technical side of music production out of having no money and needing to know how to record music properly. At this point in her career, the production and mixing side of things have become as important in her creative process as the composition itself, and she’s single-handedly mixed and produced this new EP. “It definitely makes things more authentically my world because mixing is very subjective,” she says. “I can always imagine everything beforehand, in my head and fully realised, and I have to get to that point. The only way to do it is to do it.” I ask whether this makes her controlling as a jazz band leader. She laughs. “I communicate with my band in a way that makes them feel that they have complete autonomy, but they actually don’t. I’ve said things very subtly to steer them in a certain direction.” She pauses. “There’s a really interesting psychological debate about improvisation as well that [questions if] there is such a thing. Everybody is a product of everything that they’ve heard, and the things that they’re going to come out with are influenced by what they’re listening to, what’s around them. If you’ve chosen someone to improvise on your track, you
Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension (asthmatic kitty) Five years ago, Sufjan Stevens peaked. In the spring of 2015, he released Carrie & Lowell, an elegy to his long-estranged, recently deceased mother and his patient stepfather, drawing on poetically misremembered childhood stories and posthumous confessions to create a perfect record, a sort of exquisite diorama brimming with poise and quiet hope. Perhaps what made Carrie & Lowell the highpoint of an already fairly impressive discography, however, was not just the album itself; it also represented a perfectly executed shift in approach for Stevens, away from the high-concept, obsessively researched documentarian practice of his Fifty States and The Age of Adz phases that bore often fanatically polished music with an overwhelming sense of hugeness, and towards something more profound and confidential. With Carrie & Lowell, Stevens’ fans were offered catharsis and context about a much-adored but also zealously guarded character; simultaneously, Stevens proved he could do intimate just as masterfully as he could epic – a throughline of his unique personality and spirit was retained, with the rendering expertly flipped. How does one move on from such heights, though? For Stevens, the answer has appeared to be to do as much Other Stuff as possible. Over the past five years, it feels as if he’s tried everything but write a follow-up to Carrie & Lowell: he’s curated a remix compilation, done a live DVD, made contributions to movie soundtracks, collaborated with old friends on an intriguing but spotty semi-electronic song cycle about the solar system, written a labyrinthine ambient album with his stepfather, provided perfectly serviceable solo piano music to accompany a contem-
porary ballet, and published a revealing double A-side and essay to celebrate Pride month last year. And perhaps that’s all fair enough: after all, when stuck on a creative mountaintop, with retreat or repeat the only options, it’s understandable that extended periods of high-end dilettante tinkering might appeal. On top of that, the cultural landscape of the last five years has increasingly demanded that high-profile figures such as Stevens make artistic responses to recent socio-political events, and even someone of his storytelling capability might struggle to throw a net over the current chaos, were he to even attempt it. But another option for dealing with reaching a creative zenith, of course, is to rip everything up and start again, and this is broadly the path Stevens has taken for The Ascension: for his ninth solo album, he has written a modern pop confessional about doubting his Christian faith that sounds unlike anything he has done before, incorporating splatters of EDM, ’90s RnB, industrial synth, and neurotic glitching machine music into a hulking 80-minute slab. Written almost entirely alone and on a laptop, with programmed four-square beats underneath washes of edgeless, depthless synth and glassy reverberating vocals, the only Sufjan tells on first encounter are his voice, the album’s totemic devotion to a single theme, and its intimidating length: although The Ascension is Stevens’ longest album yet – if only just – it’s also his fifth that runs past the 75-minute mark. The writing structure is new, too: where once Stevens’ songs surged and fell back, with organic flourishes and silences, on The Ascension they pulsate at a machine-driven constant pace; where once they felt like multi-part mini-symphonies, hyper-detailed worlds unto themselves, here they frequently revel in their emptiness. That said, flickers of Stevens’ back catalogue cut through after repeat plays: there are personal revelations that echo the candour of Carrie & Lowell and the Christian-spiritual contemplation of Seven Swans, and there is electronic esotericism to rival 2001’s Enjoy Your
Rabbit and plenty of the bombast and soaring arc that characterised Illinois and The Age of Adz so well (albeit with less variety). Nevertheless, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that The Ascension is the sound of Stevens attempting not just a clean break from his musical past but also to draw some kind of line under his public personality, too: once the gentle evangelist for a loving God, Stevens becomes sarcastic, bitter, and regretful here, and several times styles himself as a spokesperson or instructor – less storyteller, and more implorer. But that’s also where The Ascension starts to feel interesting: its knottiest songs present a new Stevens, where his trademark warm wistfulness has been retooled into something more searing, and even the songs that retain the familiar Sufjan-brand cathartic redemption frequently offer stern critique alongside the sadness. From time to time, this more assertive, punchy, almost cynical personality is extremely effective. Opener ‘Make Me An Offer I Cannot Refuse’ initially evokes Vespertine-era Björk with skittering bedroom beats, but swiftly shifts into thumping dissonance while Stevens yells “I have lost my patience,” as if addressing God directly, creating an effect equal parts panic attack and exorcism. Equally, the synthetic tapestry of ‘Video Games’, in which he rejects faith in favour of agency and self-actualisation (“I wanna be my own believer,” he deadpans in the first verse) appends a jaded detachment to the existing melancholy, which suits the attendant mood. The steely double of ‘Death Star’ and ‘Goodbye to All That’, too, a motorik electrofunk segue that would slot agreeably into Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, conjures intrigue via Stevens’ wide-open delivery, and its moment of transition into a strangely euphoric futurist driving song in the second half shows that for all the stylistic mutation here, Stevens still knows how to generate tension and release. The album’s more fragile moments, too, appear even more flawlessly delicate in this new environment of crystalline, digital purity, and in doing so provide The Ascension’s best songs. The vocal line on
Albums ‘Run Away With Me’ isn’t autotuned, but almost feels like it should be, given its gleamingly perfect surroundings, and that gossamer sheen grows more engrossing as the otherwise simple song progresses. Further into the record, ‘Sugar’, ‘Die Happy’ and the title track in particular are among the most impressive tracks Stevens has ever recorded: all three are skilfully understated, happy to swim in a glitching, glimmering electronic milieu that builds rather beatifically, and all justify their extended running times with a nuanced pacing and undulation that’s often disappointingly absent elsewhere. That particular lack hamstrings much of the rest of The Ascension, with at least a third of its tracks drifting by in a sort of glacial ooze, inoffensive yet unremarkable on the one hand, but on the other tantalising because their featurelessness smacks of missed opportunity: ‘Tell Me You Love Me’, for example, is prettily stately, and one could imagine an earlier Stevens configuration imbuing it with some real heart. Here, however, it feels almost auto-generated, wilfully blank, and therefore awkwardly uncanny. Elsewhere, ‘Lamentations’ longs to be both epic and intimate at the same time, but each desire pulls the other out of shape, and although ‘Landslide’ features a rare appearance of an acoustic instrument, its personality is so diluted by the glazed, vitreous production as to be rendered almost homeopathic. All of which contributes to The Ascension being a difficult album to parse in its existing form, and ultimately an occasionally frustrating one to encounter. After all, there are 45 minutes or so of beautiful, poignant, original and enthralling music here, with tracks that demonstrate Stevens’ almost unparalleled knack for songcraft, emotional manipulation, melody and delivery. However, among them sit, variously, experiments in need of an editor, sketches in need of colour and, in the case of final track and lead single ‘America’, gargantuan wedges of undeniably impressive composition in desperate need of some soul. The obvious solution to that in our playlisted age is just to excise the missteps and crack on,
but the thought of The Ascension being broken up surely misses the point – more than any other Stevens album, this is clearly a monolithic experience designed to pin you in your seat for an hour and a half; even the idea of its being divided into four sides for the vinyl edition seems anathema to its intention. Accordingly, a hunch emerges that once the hubbub surrounding its release subsides, The Ascension may become something of a white elephant in Stevens’ discography: an album of lavish assembly, clearly of immense importance to its creator, and, during its best moments, impressively riveting, but also, you suspect, one that few will revisit in its presented form – a record that only the most devoted of Sufjan stans will be able to swallow whole. For The Ascension, that’s not necessarily terminal; for Sufjan Stevens, it’s a marked fall from his peak. 7/10 Sam Walton
Afel Bocoum – Lindé (world circuit) “You have to collaborate, otherwise you’ll get nowhere in today’s world,” Afel Bocoum states in the press release accompanying his new album. Working with others has been a common thread throughout the singer-songwriter and guitarist’s distinguished career. In the 1960s, when he was just 13, he joined legendary multi-instrumentalist and fellow Malian Ali Farka Touré’s backing band and, since the release of his debut album Alkibar in 1999, he has worked with a diverse set of musicians including Damon Albarn, Toumani Diabaté and Béla Flack. For his latest record, executive produced by Albarn, he once again welcomed a broad church of talent, from now-deceased Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen to cult favourite American violinist Joan As Police Woman. While the
intersection of traditional African music and more contemporary global sounds has long been a cornerstone of Bocoum’s work, on Lindé the concept of unity cuts through to the beating heart of the project. ‘Dakamana’ is a tender plea for solidarity in the face of poverty and conflict, in which languorous trombone melodies and n’goni plucks sit content atop a bed of gentle calabash percussion, while ‘Avion’ is an uplifting tribute to the unifying power of music and dance set to dovetailing guitar melodies. The warm sound palettes on Lindé, and its gentle, meandering tracks, make it ideal summer listening. After all the shit this year has thrown at us, it’s refreshing to listen to an album that isn’t afraid to wear its enthusiasm on its sleeve. 8/10 Alexander Smail
Bully – SUGAREGG (sub pop) Alicia Bognanno’s band have come a long way since their sometimes saccharine poppunkish debut album Feels Like in 2015. There was still plenty of primal howl to it; even more so from the flammable Losing two years later. No commentary of those releases escaped without some ’90s references, primarily because of the touchstones (Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Pixies) but also Bognanno’s speakerthwacking self-production style (she spent time working at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio in Chicago). A significant adjustment this time: Bully invited more collaboration on the recording of SUGAREGG to concentrate on the songs – and that37 relaxation of responsibility has paid dividends. Musically it’s still a racketing ride, recalling Sonic Youth, Mitski, Courtney Barnett and ...Trail of Dead, but Bognanno comes across as liberated. Where she previously sounded coiled with frustration and
Albums injustice, SUGAREGG is characterised by a level of controlled anger – like the loosening of tension in the process has translated into a more concentrated outcome. The result is often unburdened, like on ‘You’ and the thrashy ‘Not Ashamed’. Meanwhile ‘Come Down’ and ‘Hours and Hours’ mark an adventure into slower territory. That’s not to say any of Bully’s flame has been extinguished, or that Bognanno isn’t still in a rush to make a point. ‘Where To Start’ reckons with a relationship: “You turn me back into a child / Erratic, desperate, sad and wild,” rasps Bognanno, sounding like someone who’s been through it all to find a patch of clear mind. 7/10 Greg Cochrane
Various Artists – Alterity (houndstooth) The new compilation from Fabric’s Houndstooth imprint looks to pull together many disparate strains of electronic club music from across the globe. The release can be framed as a distillation of the various dance mutations developed over the last decade or so, a largely online progression challenging the irrational gulf that had formed between soundsystem bass culture and techno experimentation. It’s a collection of globally-diverse artists that produce work less tied to geographical signifiers and more in-tune with the creatively anarchic sprawl of Soundcloud demos and oddities. The compilation excites most when it relishes the bombastic potential of modern electronic music. AYA’s ‘DaRE u to sour lips with me’ is an immediate stand-out, with its hyperactive lurch and giddy sharp turns. Having re-established the possibilities of sound design disguised as club music last year with her release And Departt From Mono Games (under former alias LOFT), here she once again
stakes the claim of being one of the UK’s most inventive producers. Elsewhere, Amazondotcom & Siete Catorce’s ‘Absent City’ slips seamlessly from foreboding dancehall chugger to jittering halfstep, enjoyable indecisiveness culminating with a blown-out industrial 4x4 kick for good measure. Gooooose melds the hard drum percussives of UK funky revivalists Nervous Horizon with the footwork of ‘Vapor City’-era Machinedrum and the house romanticism of Lone. E-Saggila’s ‘Shd’ recalls Actress’ moody workouts on Ghettoville, the dread only intensified with lacerating percussion and militant low-end. Overall, the collection shines a light on many corners of the current online electronic landscape, much of which may be previously inaccessible to outside casual listeners. Though not every track hits, the release puts forward a relatively strong case for the ongoing developments in modern club music. 7/10 Oskar Jeff
I LIKE TRAINS – KOMPROMAT (atlantic curve) I LIKE TRAINS’ last album, The Shallows, came out in April 2012. Just think about how much water has passed under the bridge since then. Let’s see: you’ve had two Olympics, the Scottish Referendum, Brexit, Trump, Kanye West, coronavirus. Once you factor in that this Leeds-based quartet tend to base their songs around huge thematic tent poles, the real question here is how it took them so long to pick something. KOMPROMAT is old KGB slang for blackmail material, and this record aims to shine a torchlight to the murky divideand-conquer tactics that have fuelled the rise of populism. As their medium, I LIKE TRAINS have rehashed the synth-laden disco-leaning post-punk you danced to
back in 2012. Some moments are pleasant enough; brooding slow jam ‘The Truth’ and radio-friendly banger ‘PRISM’ both compare to classic Interpol, but as a collection of songs, it ends up feeling dated by today’s standards. Basically, KOMPROMAT is the Mueller report set to music – and just like that mess, it has its thrills, but is somewhat unsatisfying when taken as a whole. 3/10 Dominic Haley
Lafawndah – The Fifth Season (latency) After her ambitious, eclectic breakthrough on Ancestor Boy last year, it was thrilling to imagine where Lafawndah might go next. It was a record overflowing with ideas from a globally-minded musician who could pivot seamlessly from pop to ambient, singing to choreography, poetry to percussion. Part of her appeal is her clear skill in multiple disciplines, and an abundance of styles to pull from. On The Fifth Season, rather than look to her nomadic background for influence, Lafawndah goes off-world completely. The Fifth Season takes its inspiration from N.K. Jemisin’s award-winning Broken Earth fantasy trilogy. In its conjuring of those books’ desolate atmosphere and the sharp allegory of their universe, it’s a record with surprising focus and restraint. The change of pace works well, allowing Lafawndah a chance to dive deep into her theatricality and vocal flare with a more patient backdrop. Her voice is captivating throughout; fierce, calming and elevated across these six languorous tracks. ‘Old Prayer’ sets the tone well with its operatic sense of scale and surreal sway. Backed only by light percussion, trombone, tuba, effects and ambience, there’s an elemental pull to the instrumental her band create through their hushed tones and stark presenta-
Albums tion. It captures the mythos and scale of the universe it is influenced by. Her work with pioneering Japanese composer Midori Takada is an obvious influence, especially on ‘The Stillness’, an eight-minute percussive piece built from subtle polyrhythms. The sounds aren’t quite as vivid as needed to keep you in a trance for its entire runtime, but the track is an admirable attempt to capture the sparse wonder of Takada’s 1983 album Through the Looking Glass. Lafawndah’s palettes don’t quite live up to those heights – the end of ‘Don’t Despair’, for example, begs for a dynamic shift that never arrives. Good authors and musicians can build fully-realised worlds for their audience to inhabit; some can do so with pared-down language and just a few contextual clues. Lafawndah’s voice alone has the range and nuance to let you understand the exact emotion a character is feeling on a song like ‘You, at the End’. The song’s words are repurposed from one of Kate Tempest’s best poems, one I’ve read many times. The performance here is just as knotted and intense as those words when I read them. Her ability to capture a mood or transform a sound into a tangible space is impressive across The Fifth Season, where she adds actor, director, and world-builder to her already long list of accomplishments. 7/10 Skye Butchard
Everything Everything – Re-Animator (infinity industries/awal) Averting their gaze from the Trump administration and post-Brexit Britain, there’s a refreshed sense of wonderment inspiring Manchester’s Everything Everything. They’re well-versed in spontaneous and sophisticated guitar-wrangled art-pop; the frantic pace and dynamic inflection of both 2015’s Get To Heaven
and its 2017 Mercury-nominated follow up, A Fever Dream, each prophesised a world accelerating towards catastrophe with little hope of slamming the breaks. Re-Animator opts out of scrutinising the immediate present and instead deflects its attention to our distant past. Taking inspiration from Julian Jaynes’ theory of the “bicameral mind”, ambitious sentiments theorising nature and our ancient evolution are sprinkled over slower, albeit equally grandiose, arrangements on ‘Bird Song’. Jonathan Higgs’ cloud-busting falsetto soars over absurd narration on ‘Planets’ singing, “To the bigots in the bat cave / I think some of you are permanently off my Christmas list.” Well-known for wearing their influences firmly on their sleeve, it’s difficult to ignore Re-Animator’s incessant impulse to impersonate. Whilst Higgs’ faultless Thom Yorke impression on ‘It Was A Monstering’ is so uncanny it’s almost commendable, such shameless imitation ultimately devalues the album’s wider composition. To put it bluntly, Re-Animator reaches its best when Everything Everything sound like Everything Everything, instead of masquerading as someone else. 6/10 Oliver Rankine
Working Men’s Club – Working Men’s Club (heavenly) Syd Minsky-Sargeant, Working Men’s Club’s bracingly outspoken teenage frontman, will not entertain the idea that his outfit are a Manchester band, despite forming there at music college. You wonder whether he’s protesting too much; the spectres of The Fall and of peak New Order hang heavy over this ten-track debut on Heavenly, regardless of the fact that the band cut their teeth in Calder Valley community hubs like Hebden Bridge’s Trades Club and
Todmorden’s Golden Lion. There is, in fairness, now a stronger connection with Sheffield, with Ross Orton handling production duties and Moonlandingz guitarist Mairead O’Connor part of a new four-piece lineup that confirms MinskySargeant as the group’s lynchpin. Working Men’s Club is an album born of personal and political tumult, and it speaks to the singularity of their leader’s musical vision that it feels so cohesive, given the clashes of egos between himself and former members of the band and also taking into account that his lyrics wander – sharply, specifically furious one minute (‘Cook a Coffee’ takes scathing aim at the BBC’s Andrew Neil) and frustratingly unoriginal the next (‘Be My Guest’’s “Let me out, let me scream out!” is teenage angst 101). The record is scored through with a brooding urgency that breathes new life into well-worn influences, particularly on early single ‘Teeth’ and the foreboding post-punk maelstrom of ‘A.A.A.A.’. There’s subtle variation to the central palette of dark synths and clanging guitars; both opener ‘Valleys’ and ‘John Cooper Clarke’ flirt with doomy disco, whilst ‘Outside’ and closer ‘Angel’ hint at stylistic restlessness – slower in pace, broader in scope. Working Men’s Club is nothing we haven’t heard before, but the sheer force of Minsky-Sargeant’s conviction makes it difficult to resist. 7/10 Joe Goggins
Sneaks – Birthday Party (merge) During ‘Sanity’, one of Birthday Party’s highlights, Sneaks proclaims: “I need some time for my vanity”. Time’s something that Sneaks never needed much of before. The Washington D.C. post-punk and spoken word artist’s first two albums, 2016’s Gymnastics and 2017’s It’s a Myth, were built on
Albums bursts of bass and her refreshingly direct lyrics that registered roughly a minute a track. 2019’s Highway Hypnosis traded the post-punk minimalism for meditative electronic sounds, yet songs still hovered around the two-minute mark. However, Birthday Party smashes the timer altogether – with liberating results. The aforementioned ‘Sanity’, the longest track at six minutes, is an entrancing slow burn with a dense dreamy soundscape that’s ridden like a wave by the versatile shake-up of rapping, singing and spoken word which opens up new sonic possibilities for Sneaks. Length isn’t the only barometer of progress here; Sneaks also demonstrates a growing experimental majesty over her briefer cuts, infusing ‘Faith’ with a contagious LCD Soundsystem-like groove and circumnavigating ‘Mars in Virgo’ through a zodiac of soaring synths. But it’s the caustic ‘This World’ and earnest album closer ‘You’ve Got A Lot Of Issues’ that stand out, with Sneaks utilising the larger canvas to articulate her indignation at society, with cutting lyrics that supplicate for “A better humanity for you and you and you / For all the black people / A better humanity”. Not everything here is flawless (‘Slightly Sophisticated’ should have been a sub-two-minute banger, not a three-minute slog) but overall this is a daring and rewarding record. Time well spent. 7/10 Robert Davidson
The latter is more problematic. In common with the Cardiff duo’s entire debut album, Aleph, the track is so backto-the-future that it goes full circle into being future-to-the-back. The band have perfected the sound of sophisticated 1980s synth-pop, with the high production sheen on ‘Blue Spirit’ and the gated reverb drums on ‘Spine’ being virtually indistinguishable from tracks that were genuinely released during the period. This is combined with Tom Sanders’ vocals, which recall the blueeyed soul of Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley, and the pop-funk instrumentation of Tears For Fears. The aforementioned ‘Hypnagogia’ even has that most ’80s of features: a saxophone break. The only thing to possibly separate Sanders and drummer Harry Jowett from those bands is that, with the possible exception of ‘Somethin’ Special’, they concentrate on mood over memorable choruses. This places them in the same lineage as Talk Talk or, on some of the ambient synth waves, the proto-ambient of Brian Eno. Their lack of innovation to the era’s sound means it’s impossible to tell if Aleph is an elaborate parody. Whether it is or not, the material is so well executed they would sound equally comfortable on an ’80s nostalgia package tour as they would on a contemporary Spotify playlist. 5/10 Susan Darlington
Private World – Aleph (dais) Private World describe former single ‘Hypnagogia’ as, “a mid-late ’80s RnB/Madonna song, without sinking too far into a feeling of parody.” The former part is fairly accurate, although it eschews the choruses that made Madge the decade’s undisputed Queen of Pop.
Anjimile – Giver Taker (father/ daughter) “Nothing dies” is the mantra at the climax of ‘Your Tree’, the opening track on this debut album from Anjimile, and with it, the record’s cast is set. Giver Taker is an examination of life, a tale of birth and rebirth, self-discovery and survival.
Anjimile Chithambo, the Boston-based singer-songwriter, wrote this album while in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, but also during a period when they were beginning to live more fully as a nonbinary trans person; every moment on Giver Taker breathes with both the pain and wonder that those experiences involve. The title itself embodies this duality, as does the title track, as nervous, fluttering piano gives way to the warm, rich watercolour wash of Gabe Goodman’s production with great ease. ‘Maker’ reads like a conversation between Anjimile’s identity and their parents’ strong religious beliefs (“Why don’t you do what you’re told”), whereas ‘Baby No More’ finds Anjimile wrestling with their own internal reckoning (“Am I dead… Am I sick in the head… Am I wrong… I can’t be a baby no more”). The existential anguish of these tracks is mirrored by the confidence and contentment of ‘In Your Eyes’ and ‘Not Another Word’, the latter capturing the beauty of being alive. With life experiences such as Anjimile’s, this is no self-help seminar paying lip service to the power of positivity; there is legitimate, raw love for life on this record and it is infectious. It is at times impossible to ignore the overbearing similarities to early Sufjan Stevens on Giver Taker, from the pastoral, woody instrumentation and breathy vocals right down to the mystical, quasi-religious allusions, but as Roger Ebert said about the movies, at its finest art exists as a machine for generating empathy. In that regard, this album is a finely engineered tool. 7/10 Max Pilley
Bill Callahan – Gold Record (drag city) Perhaps the best thing about Bill Callahan’s new album is that it works as the perfect entry point to a vast and
Albums intimidating discography. The Maryland-born wise guy has been among the most wry and acerbic characters in US indie rock over the last three decades, but with Gold Record we have a concise, sharp and quintessentially Callahan gateway album. Dreamt up as a compilation of ten singles when Callahan was preparing to tour last year’s Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, Gold Record is a group of ten fairly memorable tunes that showcase the ex-Smog songsmith at his best – pastoral, personal and patient. “All killer, no filler” would be a reach, but in this wry and unassuming set of songs lives a unique voice that never outstays its welcome. Callahan’s sense of humour is warm, his baritone supple; he opens the first track, ‘Pigeons’, with the line, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”, and from there the songwriter potters from strength to strength. Whilst the personal lyrics touch, and rural balladry of ‘Let’s Move To The Country’ has its twee charm, it’s when his wit shines through that Callahan’s at his best. The best lines come on penultimate track, ‘Ry Cooder’, when Callahan laughs, “English rockers, all their money goes straight up their nose… while Ry just smiles and tries another difficult yoga pose.” 6/10 Cal Cashin
Sophie Hunger – Halluzinationen (caroline) More than most, Swiss songwriter Sophie Hunger knows that constant motion is key to avoiding creative stagnation. Daughter of a diplomat, the artist spent much of her youth moving around, and it’s been the same in adulthood, though she’s settled in Berlin for the moment. This is album seven of her career, and her way of fueling forward propulsion is to introduce an element of jeopardy: she’s done that by teaming up
with producer Dan Carey (boss of Speedy Wunderground), booking two days at Abbey Road Studio 2 and limiting the recording of this collection to a handful of live takes. Those self-imposed red lines work – you can hear a delicate tension in the atmosphere – and give the record a healthy, precise focus. The whole work wears crisp but eerie clothing, not unlike Portishead’s best output. Earlier this year Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters almost broke Metacritic, such was the rapturous critical reception; along not-too-distant lines, there’s a bountiful amount of idiosyncratic songwriting to enjoy here, too. ‘Liquid Air’ is a motoring krautrock song, until it adds psychedelic layers like Caribou; ‘Everything Is Good’ floppy-eared fairground pop with a defiant undertone. It’s restlessly versatile stuff: one minute Hunger showcases a knack for quickfire wordplay (‘Bad Medication’), the next a soft-touch subtly (‘Rote Beeten Aus Arsen’, ‘Maria Magdelena’). “Don’t forget who makes the music / don’t forget who writes the music,” she nods on the pacey, crackling ‘Alpha Venom’. It’s damning that some people still need reminding. 8/10 Greg Cochrane
Nana Adjoa – Big Dreaming Ants (bloomer) It’s difficult to grapple with subjects as big as humanity or modern society through song. It invites your audience to be hyper-critical, analyse why you are worthy of playing the preacher. Nana Adjoa has nailed the art of undressing self-importance on her debut, Big Dreaming Ants. It’s why she gets away with bold songs about national identity and protesting authority. That, and the songs are very good. The album is elegant and hookladen, but still full of colour and detail.
‘National Song’ is a swooning, slowmotion lullaby of an opener, backed by fuzzed-out strings, guitars and lolloping drums. “You know how to barricade your classroom doors,” she sings. “You know the words to your national song / but you don’t feel it at all.” Her whispered delivery is completely disarming, but the words don’t lose their bite. There’s an intimacy to her performances, even when they are grand in size, that contrasts well with the universal scope of the album. ‘Every Song’, and ‘Love and Death’ are about our unimportance in the face of unending time, told with a warmth and sincerity that places us at her level. This is not an album that talks down to the listener. There are flashes of The National, Solange and Elliott Smith throughout Big Dreaming Ants; a record full of wideranging ideas, by an emerging artist with the talent to make talking about the big stuff seem easy. 8/10 Skye Butchard
Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess (jagjaguwar) Once again, Angel Olsen has managed to create an intensely personal album that will illuminate what you’re already feeling but didn’t know how to say. Olsen is known for making music that acts as an uncanny mirror, reflecting emotions with which fans can sympathise on raw, visceral levels, and this new record is no exception. The songs on Whole New Mess are gritty but solid, showing how ambitious of a task Olsen set herself when she decided to head to a church-turned-studio in the Pacific Northwest for a personal reckoning. Listening is to be invited on an intensely private trip. Olsen’s vocals take precedent in every song, from her heartbroken crooning on ‘Chance (Forever Love)’ to the belts of ‘Lark Song’ and the
Albums echoes that reach us through the murky waters of ‘(New Love) Cassette’. Nine songs will sound familiar to fans, as they were the blueprints for her 2019 album All Mirrors. In trying to satisfy only her own musical needs, Olsen has somehow made a record that will appeal to fans across the board: those who loved All Mirrors now get a new twist on their favourite songs, and those who long for Olsen’s earlier, more strippedback sound after hearing that grander, busier record get what they want too. Angel Olsen grapples with emotions of staggering power – showcased with exquisitely tense vocals and rolling rhythm guitar in ‘(We Are All Mirrors)’ – but the intimacy with which we share in her struggles, confessions and absolutions makes this album compulsively engaging. 9/10 Isabel Crabtree
Mint Field – Sentimiento Mundial (felte) The Spanish language is having a renaissance in alternative music this summer; Pamplona quartet Melanas’ lysergic garage pop sophomore Dias Raros fizzed with all the joy of The Modern Lovers this June, Madrid royalty Hinds then debuted their mother tongue in arena-ready lo-fi on The Prettiest Curse, while Mexican psych duo Lorelle Meets The Obsolete’s Re-Facto re-worked their synth-heavy De Facto storm on Sonic Cathedral to sound like a cornerstone of krautrock. Tijuana-via-Mexico City fuzz twopiece Mint Field make an exhilarating addition to the list with their second album Sentimiento Mundial. Its heart is deft and dreaming shoegaze – foggy dissonance wormholes through feverish guitars, feedback and a rhythm section bolstered by collaborators in Cathy Lucas (Vanishing Twin), Callum Brown (Ulrika
Spacek) and Nathan Pigott. Estrella del Sol’s softly supernatural vocal recalls the late Trish Keenan of Broadcast with an eerie beauty, unifying Mint Field’s harvest from the ambient ‘Le Hable a La Ola Del Mar’ to the ‘Sister Ray’-era proto-punkcum-Spacemen 3-worthy noise-throb of ‘No Te Caigas’ and Morricone-twang of ‘Delcadeza’. Sentimiento Mundial flies through harmony and discord with the gaiety of shoegaze’s fuzzed-out best. Even its quieter moments could nestle alongside Slowdive’s Pygmalion as noteworthy slices of escapism. But there’s an energetic, driving pulse that makes these hypno-jams a strangely propulsive and contemporary listen; in a genre typified by floating structures and hazy atmospherics, Mint Field are cloudbusting for clarity. 8/10 Tristan Gatward
Thurston Moore – By the Fire (the daydream library series) His postSonic Youth career may have begun on a misfire (the meandering, largely acoustic Demolished Thoughts) but since 2014, Thurston Moore has bunkered down in North London and exalted further and further upwards towards a kind of high noise rock transcendence. This is the cacophonous in pursuit of the celestial: By the Fire may mark little deviation with records like 2017’s excellent Rock n Roll Consciousness, but God it’s thrilling. Much of this is down to a killer lineup including his old band’s Steve Shelley, My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe and the truly voodoo guitarist James Sedwards. Listen on the twelve-minute ‘Siren’ as Moore and Sedwards are locked into something repetitious but pensive, the accumulated weight of their staccato electrics mirroring the spiritu-
ally aligned free jazz of which Moore is increasingly a student (he specifically referenced Albert Ayler as an inspiration on this record). Moore sings on just over half of the tracks, and the lyrics are concerned with nature, flowers, and the earth (maaaan). There’s blissy stoner psychedelia with terrific opener ‘Hashish’, whilst single ‘Cantaloupe’ riffs on an unexpectedly fun metal hook. By the Fire is an imposing record – three tracks alone take up some forty minutes – but there are endless rewards in its divine discord. 7/10 Fergal Kinney
Uniform – Shame (sacred bones) This is a nasty, frightening record from a band who specialise in nasty, frightening records. Few heavy acts have cut such a distinctive niche for themselves over the past few years as Uniform, with their brutal melding of industrial music, hardcore, thrash, noise, black metal and no wave, all oppressive guitars, relentless drum machines and desperate vocals. Shame, their fourth LP and first as a trio – founding vocalist Michael Berdan and producer/ guitarist Ben Greenberg newly joined by drummer Mike Sharp – is a worthy addition to their intimidating canon. Although Shame is unmistakably Uniform in its overall tone, it’s definitely their most straight-up metal album yet, partly thanks to the utilitarian live drums of Sharp largely supplanting the processed heft of their previously electronic percussion arrangements. Opener ‘Delco’ is a case in point; a stiflingly heavy vision of classic Big Four thrash played at halfspeed, squealing guitar solos subbed out for yet more subterranean riffs. Uniform are doomier than ever before here; a nihilistic grunt outmuscling the wild-eyed panic that’s characterised much of their
Albums previous output: the eight-minute behemoth ‘I Am The Cancer’, for example, has as much in common with Electric Wizard as frequent Uniform collaborators The Body. It’s masterfully dark, invigorating stuff. 9/10 Luke Cartledge
International Teachers of Pop – Pop Gossip (desolate spools) Produced and recorded by the band themselves in Sheffield, Pop Gossip pertains to the city’s historical association with synth-pop; indeed, it wouldn’t sound out of place during the early years of electronic music. Because of this, Pop Gossip often teeters on the precipice of parody, but seemingly, knowingly so. It’s this subtly playful irony that gives the album its charm. To the wrong ears, however, it can sound trashy, out-dated and mildly irritating. International Teachers of Pop have gone deeper into the realm of club music on their second album, bringing their dynamic live performances to record. The focus here is on outright, hedonistic fun, which brilliantly opposes the surly earnestness of a lot of today’s music. There is a time and a place for Pop Gossip: if possible, sweaty basements in gritty neighbourhoods. Indeed, International Teachers of Pop are very much a band best suited to a live environment where anything can happen and inhibitions disappear. Topics remain frivolous – from the dystopian world of clean nightclubs, to the accusation that Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson stole someone’s plimsolls – but there are moments that tread a less superficial path: ‘A Change’ sounds like a modern RnB classic, with its leisurely slow-jam qualities, all carried by a particular special vocal collaboration between Katie Mason and Teachers singer Leonore Wheatley.
There are so many reasons to love ITOFP, but Pop Gossip isn’t necessarily one of them, depending on your stance on sickly-sweet synth-pop with a comedic edge. 5/10 Hayley Scott
down the overkill. A Simon & Garfunkelstyle meditation on incest, it nonetheless lacks the spirit that’s so charming when they’re being musical dandies. 6/10 Susan Darlington
The Lemon Twigs – Songs For The General Public’ (4ad) Since emerging from Long Island in 2016, The Lemon Twigs have lived by the motto that ridicule is nothing to be afraid of. The D’Addario brothers wear trousers so tight they fit beneath the epidermis, and their second release was a rock opera about a chimpanzee going to school. Third album Songs For The General Public continues their outlandish journey by walking the fine line between superb musicianship (their hero Todd Rundgren guested on their last release) and being pastiche pranksters who take what they do very seriously. It doesn’t take the band into new territory, but digs deeper into their madcap revision of ’70s soft rock. Although only three of the twelve tracks clock in over the four-minute mark, they all have an epic quality in their arrangements and use of semi-operatic backing vocals. There is the baroque inventiveness of Sparks on the likes of ‘Why Do Lovers Own Each Other?’ but, as ever, their references reach far and wide. ‘Live In Favor Of Tomorrow’ sees Byrdsian guitars combined with the headbobbing pop of The Partridge Family; ‘Leather Together’ has the bluesy campness of New York Dolls with added melodic craft and golden harmonies; and ‘Moon’ starts like The Who at their most pompous before tapping into the spirit of Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’, a recurrent touchstone on this classically glam-influenced record. Closing number ‘Ashamed’ demonstrates what they’d be like if they dialled
Sparkle Division – To Feel Embraced (temporary residence ltd) Timing’s a funny thing. For those who primarily know William Basinski for sprawling ambient works like The Disintegration Loops, our current state of flux might seem like it’d be perfectly soundtracked by another in his long line of dislocating, diffuse audio essays. We’ve all been isolated and introspective, right? Happily, Basinski knows better. He and his collaborator Preston Wendell have been sitting on To Feel Embraced, their debut record as Sparkle Division, for a while, and only now have chosen to release it. Apparently, they had reservations about dropping what they saw as a “euphoric” album into an increasingly troubled world, but as Basinski commented recently, “Well, damn it, if the time ain’t right now, it never will be!” It’s a totally disarming listen – though “euphoric” doesn’t quite seem the right word – a disorientating cocktail of lounge jazz, hazy psychedelia, warped funk and misremembered Studio 54 hedonism. Against the odds, it’s pretty much perfect. There are traces of Basinski’s former work in the delicacy of the production, the vinyl hiss and pulsating compression betraying the soundworlds in which his previous interests have been focused. One can also pick out intermittent shades of influence here and there – Leyland Kirby’s work as The Caretaker looms over some of the sleepwalking jazz arrangements, and there are parallels to
Albums be drawn with the wistfully overdriven nostalgia of Aidan Moffat’s Lucky Pierre records – yet taken as a whole Sparkle Division feels like something very distinctive indeed. The unobtrusive conventions of 21st century ambient music, and particularly the more vaporwave-adjacent strands of the contemporary classical canon, are upended, their glazed inertia replaced by a maximalist approach to making you relax, forcing a good time out of you rather than allowing some more abstract euphoria to do the heavy lifting. Considering such abandon has been rather hard to come by in recent months, it’s hard to resist. 10/10 Luke Cartledge
Freak Heat Waves – Zap The Planet (telephone explosion) It can be hard to make an argument in favour of nostalgia in music. While some bands have, at times, utilised the magic of the past to great effect, on the whole music’s relationship with all things retro is painfully counter-productive. With Zap The Planet, Freak Heat Waves tackle this issue head-on, in the process making a convincing case that nostalgia can be fresh and exciting. These Canadian masters of lo-fi have avoided the imitation trap by reminiscing about a past that never actually existed. A past full of drooping VHS reels, analogue drum machines and sun-melted guitars. The sort of past that makes you wish you could fire up the DeLorean and (re)visit after a particularly dreary afternoon in the office. By ignoring the agreed history of pop, the group have in essence bought themselves space to toy with nostalgia without succumbing to it. On ‘Busted’ drawling vocals sloop around, trickling down the side of 808-inspired rhythms
that feel like they’re going to fall apart as you listen. It’s a celebration of a hazy, fictionalised 1980s. That’s not to say the record is all fun and games. While the album may, on the surface, sound perfectly satisfied, deep down, underneath it all, there is a tinge of sedated dread. The Peaking Lights-inspired ‘I’m Zapped’ in particular oozes this feeling. The drum beat rolls and rolls without ever reaching its destination, suggesting all is not well in the group’s imagined history. Freak Heat Waves have shown that nostalgia, used wisely, can be a powerful tool. The blueprint is clear: stay away from the tributes and delve into the imaginary. It couldn’t be simpler, really. 8/10 Jack Doherty
Hen Ogledd – Free Humans (domino) Hen Ogledd – Rhodri Davies, Dawn Bothwell, Sally Pilkington, and Richard Dawson – have a lot to say about Free Humans. Paraphrasing the press release, Free Humans is a sprawling musical map of mysterious lands: beaches, holy cities, discotheques, graveyards, bogs, lochs, and forests. It’s the song of human folly as heard by the worms wriggling underfoot and the leaves flapping overhead. It’s an expression of friendship and fellowship; an egg within an egg... All this is true, but Free Humans is also the collective’s second album and has some pretty huge shoes to fill. Refining the magpie’s approach to songwriting found on Mogic, this record returns to the rivers and the lakes that we’re used to. The result is an album where each song lands like a tiny vignette in some mystical soap opera. I’m always a sucker for a pop hook, so ‘Trouble’ and ‘Crimson Star’ are my standouts, with their heady mix of C86 indie and ABBA. But whether
it’s ethereal folktronica or weird medieval glam rock, Hen Ogledd easily pull off every stylistic trick. Simply put, if Free Humans was a film, then it’d be The Goonies directed by Werner Herzog. It’s a surreal, heartwarming adventure through the hedges and hedgerows of Britain’s musical fringes – an absolute masterpiece. 9/10 Dominic Haley
Bent Arcana – Bent Arcana (castle face) Astral polymath John Dwyer stands as a singular talent, the closest thing that modern rock music has to a Da Vinci. A titanic presence with his everevolving and prolific collective of garage rock brain-melters Oh Sees, he’s also lent his name to an array of imaginationcapturing musical projects over the last few years. Remaining idle never, we capture John Dwyer in some kinda renaissance; on July 24th, he released an album of Michael Yonkers covers under his gizmo tomfoolery Damaged Bug moniker. A crucial slab of electro-brutalist through wacky lenses, yes, but his August project, Bent Arcana, betters even that. Recorded over five days of electrifying improvisation, Bent Arcana is an album by a collective of free-minded and virtuous musicians that traverses spacey jazz, motorik psychedelia, and everything in between. Featuring Dwyer alongside a superstar arkestra, consisting of drummer Ryan Sawyer (Marshall Allen, Thurston Moore), violinist Leana MyersIonita (Feels) and modular synth player Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio), alongside many others, there’s a real instantaneous and transportative joy to this ensemble’s every note. Ten-minute opener ‘The Gate’ features a terse, stony Can shuffle on the percussion, as sax and guitars noodle
Albums freely and spontaneously, like Sun Ra on a hot tin roof, whilst more of that brassy fantasia can be heard on the atmospheric ‘Outre Sorcellerie’. Meanwhile, ‘Misanthrope Gets Lunch’ has a real malignant and frenzied groove, atop which malfunctioning modular squalls and orbital guitars wail towards the stars. An accomplished and exhilarating galactic battering ram of an album, Bent Arcana might be the finest John Dwyer record for years and years. 8/10 Cal Cashin
Various Artists – Blue Note Re:imagined (decca/blue note) The proliferation of high-calibre young jazz musicians in the UK has been one of the unforeseen joys of the last five years, and now the entire generation has received the ultimate establishment endorsement. This is their lap of honour. The iconic Blue Note label (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman), which celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2019, has granted the new breed full access to raid their peerless archive and compile an album of reworked new versions of classics of their choosing. Aficionados will relish the chance to indulge in Nubya Garcia unleashing her husky tenor sax all over Joe Henderson’s ‘A Shade of Jade’, Melt Yourself Down’s more frantic take on Henderson’s ‘Caribbean Fire Dance’, Shabaka Hutchings tapping into the mellow, percussive glory of Bobby Hutcherson’s ‘Prints Tie’ or Ezra Collective slowly building Wayne Shorter’s classic ‘Footprints’ into a cool frenzy, Joe Armon-Jones’ keys lapping at the crispness of Femi Koleoso’s drum rhythms. The vocal cuts rise to the bait too, with Jorja Smith’s take on St. Germain’s ‘Rose Rouge’ casting light on an overlooked, more recent chapter of the Blue Note catalogue, while Nottingham’s Yazmin Lacey delivers a knockout rendi-
tion of Dodo Greene’s ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’ in the finest smoky club tradition. Perhaps most exciting of all, though, is the platform the album allows for the next wave of artists, with Steam Down offering a thrillingly contemporary take on Shorter’s ‘Etcetera’, complete with girl group harmonies and sharp Josh Davis drum breaks. 8/10 Max Pilley
IDLES – Ultra Mono (partisan) It’s hard to think of the last time a British band rose from local obscurity to national fame in such short order. In 2017 and 2018, IDLES skyrocketed out of the sweaty clubs of Bristol and into the middlebrow consciousness with their first two albums, dragging a swathe of the faltering British guitar scene along with them. Indeed, for better or worse, every other new band now has some trace of that IDLES DNA in their constitution. This third album is more of a consolidation of their leader of the pack status rather than any reinvention of their identity: Joe Talbot is still raging, the band are still thrashing, the message is still abundantly clear. Talbot’s lyrics hover around familiar themes – class inequality, openness around mental health, a sense of community – but also settle on a striking new motif of self-acceptance: “I am I” is a recurring mantra on ‘Grounds’ and ‘Mr. Motivator’ and the sentiment recurs throughout. Once again there is a chance to play random public figure bingo with Talbot’s references too (David Attenborough, Flavor Flav, LeBron James and Delia Smith are among the lucky winners this time), as well as a choice sample of jukebox singalongs, from Daniel Johnston to Lynn Anderson (“I beg your pardon, I don’t care about your rose garden”). It is true that IDLES have never met a nail that they could resist sledge-
hammering repeatedly over the head, but it would take a cynic to disbelieve their authenticity. On ‘Model Village’, for example, Talbot sings, “Just give them an anthem and they’ll sing it / Still they don’t know the meanings in it,” as if it might be an original thought, or on ‘Anxiety’, the laser beam turns to the suppression of the working class: “Given drugs you can’t afford / So the poor can’t afford the cure”. It won’t bother the Nobel committee but still it’s hard not to enjoy the prospect of being part of a future live crowd as he sings it. “This is your dance space,” he bellows on ‘Ne Touche Pas Moi’, the title lyric sung with Kathleen Hanna aggression by Jehnny Beth, tackling head-on the issue of sexual assault at gigs. Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan’s guitars are redoubled in their muscularity, especially on the steamrolling opener ‘War’. The only track to break with the formula is ‘A Hymn’, a foggy post-punk prowler that suggests where the band might head when they tire of the pattern that appears to come so easily to them. Their schtick isn’t tired yet, the humour is as enjoyable as it ever was, and the world is still in a grim enough state that every emission from Joe Talbot is welcome. Ultra Mono is not a record to change anybody’s mind about IDLES, nor is it a sign of any dropoff in form. 8/10 Max Pilley
Nubya Garcia – Source (concord jazz) As such a collaborative movement, it’d be difficult to single out one pioneering figure in the new generation of UK jazz. But if you had to, Nubya Garcia’s name would be near the top of the list. Her incendiary style is uncompromising, and her passion is awe-inspiring. Garcia’s debut album, Source, takes the reins from the likes of Ezra Collective, the radio-friendly gateways
Albums into this scene, and shows the places it can go. Calypso rhythms, two-step jitters and bluesy hard bop fill a record dense in feeling and bristling with confidence. But though Garcia’s name is on the cover, it isn’t just her album. Her band, including Sam Jones, Daniel Casimir and Joe Armon-Jones, all get their turn in the spotlight. The album’s collaborative spirit is most keenly highlighted in the epic, pan-global title track. Featuring Ms MAURICE, Cassie Kinoshi and Richie Seivwright of SEED Ensemble, KOKOROKO and Nerija, it feels like a herald of this generation’s ethos. Dipping and diving between dub and jazz, Source weaves an intricate tapestry, connecting the influences that surround the community into an expansive history. Each player feeds off the next with a freedom to experiment, to cause a little chaos, but always with an end goal in sight. Garcia’s force as a saxophonist and as a bandleader seems like it could be a challenge. And at times it is. But it’s a challenge worth taking on. Source is unashamedly, almost gleefully, London to the core, complete with the city’s transnational essence. For Garcia, the revolution has already happened – this is the sound of modern jazz now. 8/10 Chris Taylor
Fenne Lily – BREACH (dead oceans) Whilst the creation of Fenne Lily’s second album predated the coronavirus lockdown, it was itself a product of isolation. During a month spent alone in Berlin, Lily wrote the record as she wrestled between a fear of loneliness and desire to be comfortable in her own company. From its dreamlike intro ‘To Be A Woman Pt. 1’, BREACH is emotionally turbulent and raw, its lyrics full of insecurity and doomed romances, stead-
ied all the while by Lily’s warm, quietly confident vocals. At times compassionate, at times derisive, the record captures some of Lily’s most musically compelling moments yet. Lead single ‘Alapathy’ – its title a blend of “aleopathy” and “apathy” – embodies a mood of overthinking and anxiety, its impenetrable beat and driving percussion reminiscent of Julia Jacklin’s frantic post-break-up track ‘Pressure to Party’. Elsewhere, the lush ballad ‘Elliott’ sees Lily’s own insecurity turn to counsel, as she reminds the song’s subject, “Remember to forget / Everyone you ever wanted to be / Is dying the same death.” Her careful lyricism also looks inwards to her very beginning, its title inspired by her own breech position in the womb. She respells the word as breach, meaning “to break through”, intending to capture her own escape from walls she had built around herself. Throughout BREACH, harsh realities and existential questions sit side-by-side, creating a stunning record that is as relatable as it is profound. 8/10 Katie Cutforth
Bright Eyes – Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was (dead oceans) “Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” says a voice in Spanish, over the noise of a ringing soundsystem and the warm bustle of a small room. “We are very excited you’re here with us tonight. Join us as we walk through the long hallway and exit through the doors of memory and forgetfulness. Let’s give the warmest welcome to the stage to ‘Your Vivid Nightmares,’ performing their latest composition ‘Pageturner’s Rag’.” It’s nice to find Bright Eyes keeping with their own tradition, newly reformed from a decade’s hiatus. Most of their albums across the last twenty years begin like this, with a found sound or spoken
word monologue which loosely preambles the music to follow. Fevers and Mirrors, a record about emotional upheaval, starts with a child reading a book about a dinosaur moving house; Lifted opens its hourlong meandering with the gentle lull of traffic, and Saddle Creek’s Rilo Kiley finding directions; the double release of I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash spiralled through the dying panic of an aeroplane crash through to a waking dream (“shhh… don’t talk”). It sometimes feels that you’re not really meant to be encroaching on these parts of Bright Eyes’ worlds. Take Cassadega, whose muffles are titled ‘Clairaudients’ – noises that exist beyond the physical capacity of hearing – or The People’s Key, mystically preaching “you have to believe in the future”, before the band promptly disappeared for the next decade. But Bright Eyes’ tenth starts with an announcement in the public sphere. It’s the first time that you feel actively invited in; that this is something you’re meant to experience (even if the only words an English-speaker will recognise are “Your Vivid Nightmares”). ‘Pageturner’s Rag’ plays out like an eerie waltz in the depths of a horror film – a sicklysweet dance that never ends. When chatter breaks through, it’s uncannily pedestrian; a middle-class voice philosophises the need to maintain hope, swiftly interrupting itself with pictures of her children, questions of where to find the best nannies and how to look after a rosebush. There’s no second part to this introduction as has come to be expected. Usually a cheery strum breaks out from Bright Eyes’ fantastical beginnings like a camera panning back to the main story. Here it just ends. So much of the album follows suit. Oberst’s sentiments feel artificial; his characteristic penchants for lyrical surrealism, wading into the depths of minutiae, are swapped with a straighttalking, clichéd vocabulary. ‘Dance and Sing’ breeds inaction, finding a placid existence despite living through crisis: “All I can do is dance and sing” is music’s equivalent of fridge magnets that tell you to “dance through the rain.” ‘Just Once
Albums in The World’ continues the apathy; the world is dying, we’re fucked, so let’s just forget everything and have one more good night out. His usual poetic refinement is overridden by platitudes, like he’s desperately trying to say as many things as he can in under an hour. “I’ll be your shield!” “Walking on air!” “Scream from the mountain tops!” “This will go down in flames!” The frantic rush doesn’t damage the silverware, though. The singles are as good as Bright Eyes has ever sounded. ‘Persona Non Grata’ is quietly reworked from the single edit, with the piano brought forward in the mix, engulfed by its own gorgeous slow dance. ‘Mariana Trench’ is an evocative story of human damage. So many of the band’s great lyrical conquests have set out with an aim of finding the physical point within an abstract, from the bottom of everything to the centre of energy, existing on the precipice where drunk talk meets genuine profundity. Bright Eyes have a knack for making music that gets better with age. Their catalogue is filled with a precocity that stays timeless for an adoring literati. To view Down in the Weeds within their own context, Oberst’s defeatism adopts a satire at the brink of earthly collapse, finally admitting their ruse: “if it’s not that important then why make a fuss at all?” (or indeed, why make a 14-song album?). And then we warp back into the opening scene, with the chatter and indifference, and a man tells them to turn off the microphone. 7/10 Tristan Gatward
Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song (smalltown supersound) In 2017, Kelly Lee Owens emerged with her self-titled debut, determined to prove that she was more than just a voice you heard on other
artists’ albums. She more than succeeded, with tracks like ‘Bird’ and ‘Arthur’ demonstrating that she too could craft the kind of undulating rhythms and mesmeric techno that peers Daniel Avery and Ghost Culture were gaining recognition for. Fast forward a few years, and it seems that this time around the battle has been proving something to herself. “I wasn’t sure if I could make anything anymore,” she’s admitted, “and it took quite a lot of courage to get to a point where I could create again.” The result of that struggle is stunning. On Inner Song, she’s stepped on, not away, from the dreamy pop and techno influences that had informed her output so far, and pushed them to places she can definitively call her own. It’s not to say her previous work didn’t have anything to say, but it takes a heady mix of confidence, purpose and ambition to spin samples of melting glaciers and people skating on thin ice, and convert it into a juddering comment on climate change as she does on ‘Melt’. Even if you take that track without that context, it still stands as a bona fide banger with its thudding car-door-slamming bass battering you to a point of screwed-face, techno-fist satisfaction. Elsewhere, Owens’ vocal tendrils wisp and twirl in the downtempo electronic haze of ‘Re-wild’, ‘Jeanette’ starts off in the world of Aphex Twin’s ‘On’ before reaching for the lasers without breaking stride, and ‘Night’ hits like an ice-cold version of Jon Hopkins’ ‘Open Eye Signal’. The points of reference abound, but make no mistake, Inner Song is a showcase of Owens’ rich repertoire that sheds dream pop layers for deep, progressive house and barging techno. The subaqueous rhythms of her debut have evolved, and melodic spoken word intensity is explored on the John Cale collaboration ‘Corner of My Sky’. Whatever she needed to exorcise to reach this point, it was worth it: this album is a leap in artistry that sees Kelly Lee Owens return fully-formed, hopefully more fulfilled, and damn near flawless. 9/10 Reef Younis
Dream Nails – Dream Nails (alcopop) London-based band Dream Nails describe themselves as queer, feminist “punk witches” who write “hexes not songs”. It’s true that their output does often seem to transcend the musical, and the group’s self titled debut album is almost closer to a zine or a sketch show than a traditional LP. A lot of this is down to the inclusion of ‘skits’, 10-30 second interludes between songs, incorporating chants, affirmations and news segments; which could feel gimmicky but instead give context and depth to the rest of the album, and the moment it exists in. Dream Nails are a feminist band in the tradition of Riot Grrl, in the sense that feminism forms the band’s raison d’etre, and for the most part, their subject matter. But the landscape has changed dramatically since the early days of Bikini Kill. Intersectionality is an essential part of feminism in 2020, and Dream Nails are well aware of this, creating spaces both virtually and physically which include people of all orientations and gender identities. The ‘Women and Non-Binary People to the Front’ skit offers a taster of what a Dream Nails gig entails: “The next song is called Vagina Police, but we want to make clear we stand in solidarity with all our trans siblings.” Elsewhere, they take on homophobes who watch lesbian porn (on ‘Kiss My Fist’), and capitalist culture (on ‘Corporate Realness’). There are lighter moments too, like recent single ‘Text Me Back (Chirpse Degree Burns)’, which laments digital dating culture, and ‘Jillian’, a sapphic ode to celebrity fitness instructor Jillian Michaels. It’s by no means a subtle record, but on their debut, Dream Nails are having a lot of fun. 6/10 Jess Wrigglesworth
Albums Live So this is the world of the virtual live show: June 18 – July 19 creativity against the confines of their set-ups, our attention spans and having no income, to shape what underground live music might look like in 2020.
I see the argument against it. Or, at least, the slightly disjointed enthusiasm. Really, there’s little to differentiate Laura Marling “Live from the Union Chapel” from stumbling across another lovely, as-beforeunseen video on YouTube. Even the platform’s the same. But there’s something about this world that, after a heavy week, makes an hour in the company of her latest album feel worth the gig-priced paywall; Marling being the first artist to do this, selling 4,000 tickets in the process. It’s an equation that goes beyond the novelty ‘Live’ button flashing in the corner of the screen, or the warmer than usual queue at the chapel doors (here, they’re replaced by an image of a gate leading into the wilderness). There’s no “this is weird, isn’t it?” stage chat, and at the end of the set no uneasy deflated silence at the lack of encore. You don’t expect to get more from a YouTube video; it just ends. And then there’s maybe a gambling advert.
Anyway, if you’re not going to say it, Laura, I will. It’s weird, this, isn’t it? Transience is now the only difference between an event and content. Across the summer, music’s elite join the action: Nick Cave’s playing solo piano in Alexandra Palace, Fontaines D.C. are teasing out their new album from the caverns of Kilmainham Gaol to raise money for Focus Ireland, Paul McCartney can’t get the microphone on his laptop to work. In a digitised universe, pixelated workers in the videogame Fortnite are constructing a stage in real time for Travis Scott to premiere a new concert experience, mutating into trap music’s CGI Godzilla. Minecraft too, with Block by Blockwest, a virtual festival hosting Pussy Riot, Cherry Glazerr and more. When IDLES headline, their servers crash in a beautiful feat of British engineering: one of the best-selling games of all time, beaten by the AF Gang. As headlines subside and your mate’s Zoom background stops being really funny, a slightly more niche group of artists come together to pit their
A two-dimensional image flickers and rotates, its edges cut-out like a car air freshener, or a piece of plastic you might’ve once found in the bottom of a crisp packet. A hologram of Dante, the frontman of South London punk-disco five-piece Sweat, appears to balance as a one-legged praying mantis in the middle of a metallic boxing ring. This is the underground club the band have coded from their flat in Peckham, to show off their new single ‘Drink Drive: \’. Each Monday in July, Sweat is joined by a cast of holographic performers, flat as a screen, shrouded in blue light and VHS-lines. Haich Ber Na opens the club with his new broken pop banger ‘By Floras’ (“you realise this is real life”); Glasgow-based “future medieval” duo Kelora slow down the beats and turn two acoustic guitars into something for the space-age; Nuha Ruby Ra is a blue-haired highlight, her jolty theatrics penned as Grace Jones meets Fat White Family; a digitised exorcism. To the left of the screen, an arrow guides your own apparition slowly around the stage towards a merch table, offering PVC tote bags, glow in the dark shirts and links to each of the performers’ Bandcamp pages, a couple of days after their fee-waiving. It feels like a club where the leftfield can experiment without factoring in a live response (Lynks Afikka, for one, looks absolutely at home), and an audience can experience without the alienation of needing an opinion. All you need to do is press “[enter]”.
Albums Live The Red Velvet Sessions
Sunday evening, a couple of minutes past six. For universality’s sake, the sun’s creeping in through a rustle of leaves on a nearby tree. The fourth week of lockdown is about to start. Adam Beattie and Fiona Bevan’s living room is dressed up in red velvet throws and fairy lights, courtesy of their temporary flat mate and set designer Simon Minnett. Saturday evenings in this den are Bevan’s residency, and Sundays held for Beattie. Both being musicians’ musicians, the limbo of livestream gig-etiquette is barely a reckoning; with Beattie perhaps best known as a multi-instrumentalist in Rough Trade-signed PicaPica, and Bevan as an acclaimed songwriter, both become the session player in the other’s band as if it was their mother tongue. On the passing of John Prine, schedules are forgotten and duet sets become the norm. Their repertoire changes to cover the music of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Leonard Cohen, John Prine and other great songwriters. Both of their own solo albums-in-themaking, too, have an unwritten communal urgency that acknowledges music as the final bouncer checking your ID at insanity’s gate. “Change your tuning,” types Beattie’s dad from Aberdeen in the
Facebook chat. “Shut up, Dad. I’m in the middle of a show.” Ten weeks later, the set-up graduates to Vimeo. Minnett is controlling three cameras and a self-constructed moving rig. On government guidance, guests are invited to play at a distance. The host of London’s Lantern society test-runs the Gabriel Moreno Trio, debuting songs from his new album Whiskey With Angels. For situation or substance, his reveries have a painful sadness to them, and a duty to activism. A song about İbrahim Gökçek of Turkish band Grup Yoram resonates, who died from a hunger strike after their government imprisoned members of the band for free speech. A Gibraltarian expat himself, Moreno’s latest single is a plea: “If you’re tired don’t go away, we can write England all over again.”
Pure Luxury is sonically a strange album to release in lockdown, for the same reason Hot Chip don’t have a team of people handing out flyers in Siberia. Its virtual release party compensates for the still life outside the window, though, and its tongue-in-cheek takedowns of pining for a luxurious life make for a good party.
Charlotte Adigéry’s support set is absorbing, and thrumming your fingers on the table waiting for the next act to start doesn’t feel so all-encompassing when you have album-themed breakout rooms to get to – Pure Luxury, Real Good Time – and everyone’s dressed-up as Barry White.
Supersonic Sofa Weekend
As the weekend comes back around, Supersonic Festival is renamed Sofasonic, where live streams interweave with panel talks and DJ sets. Late Junction’s Jennifer Lucy Allan hosts the hardest music quiz outside of the Lexington, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs dress up for Bingo Bingo Bingo Bingo Bingo Bingo Bingo (“monolithic riffs, sixty-six”) and there’s another chance to hear John Doran’s excellent Aphex Twin lecture “Selected Ambient Walks”, only now with a green screen and Zoom backgrounds. We end with DO.OMYOGA: literally just yoga performed to doom metal, drone, avant-garde ambient music. It’s kind of like watching Vikings play Twister. It comes back to this: when events were first getting cancelled and everything seemed really annoying, Drift Records and Babak Ganjei teamed up to surmise the all-new experience around their annual Totnes event: “I went to Sea Change 2020 and also I didn’t go to Sea Change 2020.” (Five minutes into that one and you’d already seen Billy Bragg performing on a veranda in an Americana-stitched shirt.) So, back at the Union Chapel – notebook open, ready for the next one. There’s a little more on offer at my local cornershop than their own tuck-alcove, I guess, alcohol-free in the Lord’s presence. Those domed chocolate marshmallow biscuits always sound more delicious than they are, and the sofa is a little comfier than the hardwood church pews circling the chapel’s stage like an amphitheater. Marling’s the bull ready to fight. Has it started yet?
TV and Books
Nirvanna The Band The Show (available on all 4) I need your help to save my favourite programme. As is the way with some of the best television, the Canadian mockumentary Nirvanna The Band The Show is in development hell. After Viceland, their network, went into administration, its stars and creators Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol were left with nowhere to air its third season. That was back in 2018. In the two years since, I’ve joined every fan forum I could to learn more about what was happening with season three. I took a YouTube deep-dive and found archives from the selfmade online version of the programme to get more of these wonderfully silly characters. It’s an easy show to fall in love with. The series is a sitcom mostly improvised in public with a barebones crew. It follows an up-and-coming band as they plan various schemes to get a show at the Rivoli in Toronto. They’ll do anything to play there, baring learning actual songs. They’ve broken into the venue to try to get themselves on the bill. They’ve gate-crashed a Christmas parade to draw a following. They’ve embarrassed themselves publically on countless occasions for our entertinment. It shares its unhinged awkwardness and reliance on public stunts with other cult favourites like Nathan for You and The Eric Andre Show. As plans begin to escalate (buildings are set ablaze in the first episode), you begin to question how they got away with any of this. Part of the fun is guessing what was scripted with police permission and what was made up on the fly. Being a fan of the show feels like being in on the joke while it’s in the editing room. The band will frequently soundtrack the programme while filming, with changes in tone based on how a conversation goes when they’re hashing it out. The duo set
themselves apart even further through their joyful, fanboy parodies of films that frame many episodes. They’ll jam in bizarre asides and meticulous editing gags to nod at their favourite films. At one point, during a glorious parody of Home Alone, they cut in a clip of them running through an airport even though that’s not where they were a few seconds ago. Some episodes will end with them fumbling their lines and breaking character, realising they’ve taken a gag to its limits. It’s a progamme about the joy of making something. You can see the inner workings of their process throughout, and the lack of budget is right there in its premise. Watching it gives me the same giddy excitement I got making daft amateur films with my friends in school. It’s no wonder its developed a following of people willing to fight for the third season. It’s sure to live past cancellation. Skye Butchard
Utopia Avenue — David Mitchell (sceptre) There’s a party at the center of David Mitchell’s new novel, which follows a band (the titular Utopia Avenue) at the end of the 1960s from humble origins to an inevitable dissolution. Midway through their career, the band swings by a gathering fit for fanfiction. Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Keith Moon, Brian Jones, John Lennon – everyone from your dad’s (maybe even granddad’s) record collection is there. Though the party itself is a minor episode, it’s a microcosm of the novel at large. Stuffed to the gills with rock star cameos, Utopia Avenue offers famous faces and fun, but odds are you leave without getting to know anyone. Utopia Avenue is a Franken-act built from recognisable stereotypes and real world analogues. There’s Dean Moss, the bassist from a working class back-
ground, Elf Holloway, the lead singer with a folk background who evokes a closeted Dusty Springfield, and Peter ‘Griff ’ Griffin, the drummer with jazz bona fides. Last but not least is Jasper de Zoet, the guitar genius possessed by a malevolent spirit. We meet de Zoet at a Pink Floyd concert, the first of many explicit parallels between the character and Syd Barret. Each chapter is a “song” told from one band member’s point of view, batched into 3 “albums”. It’s a playful narrative conceit that fits Mitchell, who writes postmodern novels that operate like intricate Rube-Goldberg machines. Even more typical is the abundance of references to his other books. Fans of Mitchell will have clocked that the guitarist is related to the protagonist of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Dedicated readers will also spot allusions to others. But The Thousand Autumns is Utopia Avenue’s real forebear. There’s the de Zoet connection, but perhaps more importantly, both are historical novels, the former taking place in 18th century Japan. In both cases, Mitchell is conjuring the spirit of ages past. The world of The Thousand Autumns was rich and imaginative to go beyond the history in which it was set. The same cannot be said for Utopia Avenue, which gets tangled up in the ’60s time period it conjures. There have been other novels set in the realm of classic rock. Utopia Avenue has Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street and Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet for company, among others. All three of these books use the rock and roll scene as a playground for their trademark literary interests (where Mitchell explores the intersection of structure and world-building, DeLillo obsesses over Americana and language, and Rushdie, globalisation). But where Great Jones Street and The Ground Beneath Their Feet used rock culture to develop bigger themes, Utopia Avenue simply name checks stars without reflecting any of their light. The day may come when David Bowie or John Lennon get their I, Claudius treatment in fiction. But in Utopia Avenue, they’re just two other guys at the party. Colin Groundwater
Race Gender Class
ustry d n i c i s u m e h t n i s r e Removing barri r the next o f n w o d r e d d a l e h t g and leavin generation.
Stay Tkay Maidza had a weird enough year in 2016 that, despite everything, sheâ€™s still feeling good about 2020, by Katie Beswick. Photography by Mathias Alexandrou
“I’m very deep into astrology,” Tkay Maidza tells me, “and numerology cycles.” Maidza is the Australian hip hop artist making waves with her latest project, Last Year Was Weird – an EP trilogy, a series of music videos and a clothing collection that reflect on 2016, her weirdest year to date; the year she released her debut album, before she’d even turned 20. The second EP dropped last week, but given the project was conceived before the shitshow that is 2020, I’m keen to get her take on the current weird year, especially since she’s telling me about numerology, the divine art of understanding life through numbers, and how she’s come to think about her recent experiences in light of it. Like astrologers with stars, numerologists read numbers as meaningful to people’s lives – making predictions about personality traits and future paths by imbuing numbers with deep significance. One aspect of this is seeing life as a series of nine- or ten-year cycles. According to numerology, we can all take better control of our experiences by understanding these cyclical rhythms. “You go into this new world in the first year, and then you reap what you sowed in the previous cycle in the second, third and fourth years,” Maidza explains. “In the fifth year you have a big lesson you have to learn – and then in six, seven, eight and nine you’re dealing with it and finding a way to fix it. Then in the tenth year you should have sowed enough to start reaping again.” It’s no surprise for Maidza that 2020 is throwing us in unexpected directions. “I think for me it’s the end of a cycle, the beginning of a new one,” she says. “Because before you can start learning new things, becoming a new version of yourself, something has to shake you up completely.” Certainly, the events of this year have done that. It’s been such a crazy period that the unprecedented Australian bushfires, which ravaged the country, destroying thousands of homes and killing billions of animals, already feel like a distant memory. “I was spending a lot of time in Sydney and that’s where it was affected the most,” says Maidza. “I mean, you’d just leave your house and the sky was red for, like, a month. And it was really odd – after another month you’d leave your house and like, ‘Oh wait, the sky is still red, this is not great.’ And there was a lot of trips when I was there, and then I went home and I came back and I was like, ‘Wait, the sky is still red’. There’s animals dying – that was very worrying for sure. But because I wasn’t really staying in one place too long, and when I was I was in Adelaide, where there weren’t too many bush fires, I didn’t really feel that affected. But there were a lot of festivals and stuff cancelled obviously, and a lot of artists did a lot of stuff to raise money for relief funds… I forgot that even happened this year! So much has happened!” So how does that square with numerology? “2020 feels like ten years. 2020 is the new cycle: we’re about to enter the new period – we’ve spent years working really hard and building up to the new era. And I think that everyone felt that that’s what 2020 was: ‘Ok we’ve had a whole decade, time for a reset.’” She laughs, still optimistic. “I think lots of people have worked hard and are like, ‘I’m gonna go for it in
2020’. That’s what it felt like for me. And it still does. Professionally, I’m in a much better place than I was five years ago.” Five years ago, Maidza was still making dance music, and although she’s reluctant to go into too much detail about the personal aspects of the last cycle, which included a change in management, she does say that one major shift was finding an outlet for her authentic creative voice. In her late teens, she began to tire of the brand of dance-pop she was known for during the writing of her debut album Tkay. When that record dropped in 2016, she realised it was time for another direction. “I was in the dance world basically, and more of my music was dance focussed. But I grew up listening to hip hop – I like pop music, but it hasn’t always been the focus for me, and dance was really foreign. When it started it felt really exciting, and then over time I personally just got a little sick of it. I think it was also the way the landscape was moving as well. Everyone just became sick of dance music at one point because it was so oversaturated, and I found myself in this pond where I was like, ‘I don’t really like this music, I wanna do some soul music, I wanna think about what I have to say.’” When I ask Tkay what the big lesson was that she had to work through, she says: “I was just really unhappy with
“It definitely was tough growing up, but I just learned to block it out and do my thing”
the development of my sound. I wanted to say more, or to feel more when I made the music. And that’s not discrediting what happened in my career at that time. A lot of great stuff was happening, but I just wanted to regain control – I felt that every time I made a song it was too easy. I had a lot of yes men around me saying, ‘This will totally work’. And I’d be, ‘Are you sure?’, and they’d say, ‘Yeah’. And in a lot of those situations I wasn’t one hundred percent and the fact a lot of people were saying yes to me didn’t make sense, especially when it didn’t go to plan. So I just wanted to rearrange it and take a second to just revisit and rethink about what my intentions were. So that was a big part of the Last Year Was Weird story really.” — Shook — There was a certain amount of fear involved in making the switch from dance to hip hop and R&B. Maidza’s early success was immediate (the vocals from the first song she ever recorded, aged sixteen, were picked up by a local producer in Adelaide and made into a track played on Triple J, Australia’s national altmusic radio station) but there were sacrifices involved. She had given up a promising tennis career to pursue music, and dropped out of an architecture degree once her music started to take off. The thought of giving up a so-far charmed path and the possibility of failure, or at least of not being taken seriously, had held her back from creating the music she most wanted to make. “You could say I was scared,” she says. “If I was doing pop music, then people who liked rap didn’t have to judge me for being this hybrid thing. But then that’s actually just who I am, and I need to embrace it. And that’s a lesson I’ve learnt over time. But I think when I was making the album [Tkay], I was like, it’s a pop thing and that’s so easy and I can just do whatever I want really quickly, but I don’t think that’s what I was meant to do. I think sometimes taking the easy road isn’t the right thing.” Tkay’s new sound, as showcased on LYWW, is genrebending, taking in hip hop, pop and RnB, and most notably influenced by old school US rap and UK grime. There are also parts that remind me of ’90s UK garage, such as the syrupysweet track ‘24k’ on the latest Vol. 2 EP, and there are references to the US alt-hip hop scene too, with a guest appearance from breakout Baltimore rap collagist JPEGMAFIA on ‘Awake’. It’s hard to tell if Maidza is a better rapper or singer, as she does both so well; almost cutesy on playful diss track ‘So Sad’, yet venomous when spitting bars through the warped ‘Awake’, the banging single ‘Shook’ and the distorted ‘Grasshopper’, the latter two hitting like classic Missy Elliott and current Skepta, respectively. But despite the clear influences, this is an original artist, finding her own methods and giving voice to the African Australian experience, which is so far almost completely invisible in popular culture. The experience of the Black diaspora is often understood as a single, unified one – partly because of the dominance of the African American experience in film and music, and the influence of US imagery not only in popular culture but also in the
“Even if you’re not really saying a lot and you’re heartbroken and you just want to lay in the grass, that’s fine. I want to do that too!”
conceptual horizons, conditioned by political and media debate, through which we can imagine ourselves. The stories of Black lives that gain global exposure limit the horizons for experiences that don’t fit a preordained narrative. As Maidza explains, this means finding a Black Australian hip hop voice that feels genuine has been difficult, especially since the mainstream Australian hip hop scene has traditionally been dominated by white men, such as the ’90s group Hilltop Hoods. Tkay describes them as “like Eminem, except that there’s three of them instead of one.” “They’re classic Australian hip hop,” she says. “They’re like the beginning basically. There’s that kinda landscape where it’s more like classic Eminem, you know – big chorus with the cool rap verses, boom-bappy, just kind of old school. There’s that kind of stuff happening and obviously their stories are based on Australian lives, and I feel like it’s hard for me to say what the Australian life or the general Australian story is, because I don’t feel like that is my story. But there is that scene where it’s like white men who rap about their thing, and then there’s the new wave, which is more like African Australians, that are more influenced by the UK and the US, and that’s probably where I sit within it. I think most of the ones that do really cool things are more on the alt side. Because I feel like even if you’re African Australian you’re not going to tell a story of gang violence, or police corruption or all that stuff.” If hip hop was born from a sense of shared struggle in the US inner city, then the Australian hip hop that Maidza is pioneering finds room for the individual story in a national identity that’s almost entirely white. “I just don’t think there are a lot of us here yet,” she says. “And we still have a long way to go in terms of claiming our culture and living and experiencing before the rest of the world can really relate to us.” — Something bigger — Maidza arrived in Australia in 2001, emigrating from Zimbabwe with her family when she was five years old so that her parents could find work in the Australian mining industry. They lived in a small town in Western Australia, one of only three black families there, before they moved to Adelaide, a larger city that is a hotbed of creative talent (Sia and Orianthi
are notable Adelaideans, as well as writers like JM Coetzee). But as Maidza points out, most of the talent swiftly move away once they gain success, leaving Adelaide feeling culturally barren – a sprawling suburb as opposed to a bustling metropolis. The pull to move elsewhere is one Maidza has felt, and one that seeps into her songwriting, which also has a distinctive edge shaped by the local culture. “I feel like a lot of my songs are about amounting to something bigger,” she explains. “So a lot of my songs are about wanting to leave. I think a lot of people from Adelaide are on the hipster side, so they like UK sounding music, the clubs play a lot of alternative, so if it’s rap it’s alt, not mainstream, so that probably caters to my taste of music, and what I make is just a bit more alternative, a bit left. There are a lot of stoners – I’m not really a stoner, but everyone [in Adelaide] is kind of spaced out and has too much time.” Mostly, when she’s home and has a little free time, she likes to hang out at Grange Beach, reading and eating ice cream. Of course, this isn’t to say the Black Australian experience is an easy one. The racism Maidza experienced during her early years in the country felt not so much systemic as personal; a result of her neighbours’ fear of difference rather than a looming, hostile state. “Obviously, if you’re one of three or four families living in a country town, a lot of people are just gonna be like, ‘Who is that person and why are they here?’. And I definitely do remember experiencing racism when I was growing up – I experienced it quite a lot, and probably to the point where I just started to stonewall it and pretend it wasn’t happening. I just became so accustomed to it that if someone said something, I almost didn’t hear it. And I think with the whole Black Lives Matter thing, it just triggered so many memories of these things – of people saying so many things to me. And I’m just like, ‘That wasn’t ok.’” She smiles tightly, shrugging off the past. “It definitely was tough growing up, but I just learned to block it out and do my thing, because it just seems like the problem is them just not understanding how to interact with people they have never seen.” This brings us back to the other problem, which is writing music about a way of life that most people are ignorant of, and for which there is no clear collective struggle that’s already been widely documented in the media. Nonetheless, if police brutality
has rightly dominated the Black Lives Matter headlines, there’s surely an equally important daily injustice in having no cultural point of reference for your own life. “If anything, a lot of Australians probably tell a story that’s similar to UK artists,” Maidza explains. “We still don’t have crazy gang violence or anything, but more like daily life feelings, emotion. For me I just write on how I feel – feeling betrayed by my friends and just wanting to amount to something, wanting to prove I’m more than what people think I am — that’s like the base of my story, and then there’s like relationship stuff, and I think that’s what a lot of other Australian rappers that are on the new wave talk about really. I don’t think we’ve lived here long enough to have the stories that Americans have, and the people who rap here, I don’t think we have the same stories as Americans do, so we can only talk about our daily lives, feeling left out, having dreams.” That’s one reason she sees her sound as a work in progress. “I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m still learning about the world and I feel like the only story I can tell is my own, and I can only speak about what I would like to happen, and I think from that I hope other people can listen and be more affirmative about who they are. And if you feel underestimated that’s ok because I do too. I’m just trying to tell my story and that story is: I’m just trying to figure out who I am. So, it’s just everyday: everyday people, just mutual experiences, love and friends and that kind of stuff.” — Super Tkay — Experimenting with the visual aspects of her creativity through clothing design and making her music videos has been one way of keeping control of her voice, and staying true to the art she wants to make. Drawing and art has also been an escape during lockdown, when music studios have been less accessible. “I think for me I’ve always kind of just followed other people’s orders. So, for me [this hybrid LYWW project] is my way of saying, ‘Wait, I wanna say what I wanna say about what I see, and how I feel’. And I think in a lot of situations I’ve never been confident enough to speak out. And this felt like the place I could do it without anyone judging what I said. It was just my thing and I can be who I want in this sphere. So that’s why I do it – because I want to see things and document things. I wanna be free and
show other people they can do the same thing as well. Even if you’re not really saying a lot and you’re heartbroken and you just want to lay in the grass, that’s fine. I want to do that too!” Her sound is still developing, but Maidza feels most confident on stage, so the recent restrictions on live performance have been a real blow. “I feel the performance version of myself is just super Tkay. A lot of people go, ‘Oh I didn’t expect you to be like that!’ because I’m always climbing things and crowd surfing and just screaming at people, and in my daily life I’m never like that. I think that for me, when I play a show, there’s the challenge of doing something that the people, and the team, hasn’t seen. Because then it’s like an inside joke with the people that are on stage. They’ll say, ‘I didn’t think you were gonna climb the scaffolding’, or, ‘I didn’t think you were gonna crowd surf this time because the crowd was being weird’ or whatever. So, it’s always about me and my band having fun on stage first, but also seeing how crazy we can go. You know, because then it’s more fun for us for when it comes to the whole tour and stuff.” As we speak there are signs that Adelaide might be opening up a little, but a second wave of COVID soon threatens to extend the lockdown. During these past four months, Maidza has had to become a one-woman operation, shooting her own photos, making green-screen videos, taking the time to really appreciate how much she’s changed and developed since that weird year. It hasn’t been a totally negative experience. Despite everything, 2020 looks like it might be a good year. “I feel like I’ve spent the past three years rearranging, learning, just improving. I feel like I’ve grown so much as a person. I’m more eloquent with my ideas and it’s evident what I want to do. This year my music feels so much better. Everything feels clearer than it did a year ago.”
James Acaster is obsessed with end of year polls from 2016, so I asked him what he made of ours, by Stuart Stubbs
A Year of Magical Listening 60
At the end of February 2020, I met James Acaster in what used to be BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge studio, but is now a basement restaurant, to record an episode of the Loud And Quiet podcast Midnight Chats. That episode has since become available on all the usual podcast apps, and features James and I discussing a new podcast series that he was putting together at the time. A lot has happened since then, including the completion and launch of James Acaster’s Perfect Sounds Podcast, available now on BBC Sounds. Or maybe it’s not complete yet – it’s a big project, the latest enabler of the comedian’s obsession with the music of 2016. Perfect Sounds has already existed as a 2019 book (entitled Perfect Sound Whatever, named in homage to the Pavement EP Perfect Sound Forever), and both it and its new audio counterpart come from a deeply personal place. 2017 was not Acaster’s year from the very beginning. His girlfriend dumped him. His agent dumped him. His career hit a wall. He started to seriously question if he wanted to be a comedian any more. And it was still only January. As a kid he’d found solace in music, inspired to become a drummer by watching the Christian band in his local church, and going on to play in groups that covered Nirvana and Pantera and later leaned into nu metal originals. But he hadn’t bothered with new music for years. And then he started to read the Albums of the Year lists that were still floating around from December 2016. He read all of them, and as he did he started to believe that 2016 was the greatest year in the history of music. At his last count (he’s still buying), he has bought 600 albums released that year, from giants like Lemonade and Black Star to Bandcamp curios, like Howdilly Doodilly by Okilly Dokilly, a metalcore five-piece devoted to The Simpsons’ Ned Flanders (who all dress like him). He treats them all with equal respect, which is why each episode of his new podcast is dedicated to a different one, played to that week’s guest. After we finished recording our podcast, I wanted to get James’ take on some of Loud And Quiet’s favourite albums from the year, playing him snippets to jog his memory if he needed them. We began with our 2016 Album of the Year, by Anna Meredith.
VARMINTS – ANNA MEREDITH So, one of my constant things is that I love music with lyrics, and stuff that doesn’t have lyrics on it, I struggle a bit more. There are some records from 2016 that I loved that are instrumental albums, like Crystal Machete by Wes Borland and Discordia by Bologna Violenta, but with Anna Meredith, I love the stuff with her vocals on it, and I don’t connect to her instrumental stuff as much. ‘Taken’ on this record, I think is brilliant. But I prefer FIBS, her latest album, which is more PC Music – I like that she’s taken her contemporary composer roots and gone that way with it. With Varmints I wasn’t able to love it even though I wanted to, but I could tell that I could potentially love what she does next, and then FIBS comes out and I’m like, “oh, now this is brilliant.” TEENS OF DENIAL – CAR SEAT HEADREST In 2016 my friend Henry texted me and said, ‘Do you want to hear the best album of the year?’ and he sent me a link to Teens of Denial. [Car Seat Headrest] is a fucking awful name, but I got into it pretty quickly. Songs like ‘Drunk Drivers’ and ‘Destroyed by Hippy Powers’ you instantly want to go back to and listen again. And I eventually felt like that about the whole record. It’s such a dense album. I love how it’s put together – there’s always something going on, like a second guitar line in the background, or a little flourish here or there, but it’s never overkill. Lyrically it’s brilliant, I love the sound of his voice, and these songs are like monoliths – they’re all so big. UPSTEPPING – OLIVER COATES No, I didn’t buy this. But I’ve heard of it, and I like that bit you just played me, so maybe I’ll end up getting it. I remember Oliver Coates cropping up on a few lists and me listening to it a few times and there not being anything on it that grabbed me. When you’re doing what I’m doing, going down list after list and listening to so much, there needs to be something that hooks you in that makes you justify buying another album from 2016. But he does cello work with Thom Yorke, right? And Radiohead released an album in 2016, so bad luck Oliver – I’m going to go with that instead. Although I’m very slowly getting into Radiohead, to be fair. It’s hard to form your own relationship with a band that everyone else already has a strong relationship with. The Beatles I’m the same with – and then it clicked and I was like, “oh, this is mine as well now.”
SHOO – LIONLIMB I don’t know this at all. But the little bit of out of time drumming on that song that you’ve just played is what will make me go and check it out. It’s become more and more the thing – because I’ve listened to so much stuff now, that’s more appealing to me than someone playing the perfect drumbeat and singing perfectly. It’s weird how doing this project has resulting not just in me liking things that I wouldn’t have liked before, but I’ve realised I don’t like thing that are too polished. I like production that is dodgy and music that’s a bit out of time.
CASHMERE – SWET SHOP BOYS With British rap and grime, I’ve struggled to find stuff that I like from 2016. I’ve got this album, and I like it, but I haven’t listened to it enough. I like Riz [Ahmed], but I got into him as an actor first, so it’s weird hearing his voice as a rapper. They’re another thing where I’m excited by what they’re going to do. I love how both of them sound – Riz and Heems. Nish Kumar got me into this album – there are a lot of records from 2016 that he recommended to me. We lived together in Edinburgh for the summer that year, while we were at the festival, and he first played me Frank Ocean, the day ‘Ivy’ came out. He’s one of my closest friends, and he was aware that I was doing this project, so whenever he got into an album from then he’d play it to me. 22, A MILLION – BON IVER I wasn’t a Bon Iver fan at all until this album came out. I didn’t give a shit about Bon Iver. I’d heard ‘Shinny Love’ and thought that’s a nice song, but I don’t want to hear an album of it. And then my friend Steve Dunne, who does a podcast with Joel Dommett and is a professional musician, I asked him what was his favourite album of 2016 and he said Bon Iver. And I was like, “Argh. What was your second favourite?” And he said, “No, no, honestly…” He didn’t even tell me anything about it, so I thought it was going to be a ‘Skinny Love’ album, and then I listened to the track ‘33 “GOD”’, and I was like, “Oh my fucking God. This is brilliant.” I just love the drums on it… And also, it’s just great that a folk artist who then guests on an album of Kanye’s came out completely changed from it, and then made this album that’s
basically, imagine if Kanye made a folk album. It’s fucking great. And I feel like even though it’s a big one and it did get a lot of recognition, it didn’t get enough. I think in the future, people will be like, “hold on, no one ever did that before, or since.” At their heart, these are still simple, emotional folk songs, and you’ve cut them up and you’re fucking around with these songs in a way that you shouldn’t when you’re making folk music. I think it’s such a great record, and it’s one of the ones that excited me about modern music. This guy’s huge, he’s got so many people listening to him and watching him, and he’s done this. He must have thought, “yeah, I love it, but everyone else might tell me to go fuck myself.”
BODY WAR – SHOW ME THE BODY This is an album that I discovered on [YouTube channel] The Needle Drop. I got into that pretty late, but his top 50 was a real treasure trove. His number one was Danny Brown, and he’s really into the Drones, and that’s also how I heard Show Me The Body. I love that they get a banjo in there, but they’ve also got this spirit of nu metal in them but do in this post-hardcore punk way. They seem to have all of their ingredients measured out to the perfect amount. It never gets cheesy, and they don’t seem to take themselves 100% seriously. This album is one that I really like, but it’s borderline. I can’t quite love it. I wouldn’t buy this on vinyl. Although, y’know what, if I was in a record store and I saw it, I’d buy it, but I’m not going to order it. But I do go back to it a lot, actually.
Final Third: Infinite Login The strange appeal of vaporwave – and why it still matters 10 years on, by Luke Cartledge
All that is solid melts into air Even if you’ve never heard vaporwave before, it’ll sound familiar when you do. Most of its central components are well-known to any Western listener: the sound of adverts, shopping centres, slowed-down pop classics, hold music and turn-of-the-millennium computing. Over the last decade, the amorphous, glassyeyed aesthetic of vaporwave and its apparently endless family tree of subgenres (hardvapor, vaportrap, mallwave, Simpsonwave, future funk) has embedded itself deep into the subconscious of not only the extremely online, but millions of pop music fans the world over, whether they’re aware of it or not. Though long derided and frequently declared DOA by its original fans, vaporwave remains, if not alive and well exactly, truculently undead. But what is this strange, shape-shifting microgenre beneath the claims of its inherent hauntology and time-bending power? Ten years on from Daniel Lopatin’s Chuck Person’s Ecco Jams and nine years from James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual, arguably two of vaporwave’s most significant foundational works, it’s worth investigating how this stuff developed, why it “died”, and what makes it endure as such an important cultural touchstone in 2020. — What is to be done — Let’s start with an often-abused term, these days as readily associated with the rightwing conspiracy theories of professor Jordan Peterson et al as it is with its actual definition and social meaning: postmodernism. The American theorist Fredric Jameson describes postmodernism as “the cultural logic of late capitalism”, the dominant aesthetic and intellectual expression of the hegemonic economic conditions of the West. Following the scorched-earth future-building of modernism, in very general terms postmodernism is less dogmatically progressive than its predecessor, more given to irony, juxtaposition, kitsch, and nostalgia. In the conception of Jameson and his fellow travellers, postmodernism emerged from modernism in the latter part of the 20 century as the world sped towards the neoliberal settlement that, ailing though it might be, we’re still grappling with th
today. Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 proclamation of “the end of history” is its most telling piece of rhetoric. The narrative goes something like this: Nazism defeated, the Soviet Union dissolved, the years of Clinton, Blair and things only getting better beckoning – liberal democracy has won out, and the eternal question of what is to be done has an answer. The “final form of human government”, as Fukuyama puts it, has been achieved, and the political struggles that constitute the raw material of history settled. Modernism, having emerged around the turn of the century amid a blaze of technological progress, radical politics and utopian thinking, was deeply enmeshed with the deviations from liberal capitalism listed above, as the cultural logic of those political projects. Now that they were apparently dead and buried, modernism has no more future left to build, and all that remains for culture is an embrace of this formless, time-warped present: the era of postmodernism. There is far more to postmodernism than these qualities, and doubtless any scholar of the subject is sweating with rage at the messy summary above. But this broad-brush understanding of postmodernism is useful for anyone curious about vaporwave, where it came from, and why it still matters. Vaporwave is, at base, a nostalgic genre. It’s not alone in this: a great deal of indie and rock, for example, remains stuck in the 1970s and ’80s, endlessly rehashing the great ideas of Ian Curtis, Lou Reed and Patti Smith with diminishing returns. But it’s what vaporwave is nostalgic for that’s so interesting. It’s the sound of people born in the 1980s and ’90s – significantly, shortly before or not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall – reaching back to a version of not just their youth, but their infancy. Like the objects of most nostalgic impulses, these visions of the past can’t be said to have actually existed in any meaningful way, but that doesn’t diminish their rose-tinted appeal. It’s also, perhaps more than any other music genre, inherently capitalist. That’s not a value judgement, nor a comment on the politics of its creators or fans, but the simple fact of the fabric of the music itself. Almost every sonic element that vaporwave either lifts wholesale or draws heavily upon is commercial to the core; whether it’s call centre hold music or an advert score,
Final Third: Infinite Login
this is the sound of transactions, of purchases, of consumption. Vaporwave riffs upon the symbols of capitalist placation and exchange, a sonic analogue of the dopamine hit of a perfect buy. — New dreams, limited— I first properly encountered vaporwave around the middle of the 2010s, while I was at university. I’d been vaguely aware of it for a while, but it took a couple of years of living with an extremely online friend for me to immerse myself in it fully. When it clicked, though, I was hooked – Blank Banshee 0 was the soundtrack to my late-night dissertation sessions in the library – and remain so. I was a few years late to the party, unlike my housemate. Chuck Person’s Ecco Jams and Far Side Virtual were well-established classics by the time I came across them: warped, disjointed things that longed for the familiarity of the recent-ish past while subtly taking the piss out of that nostalgic impulse. Listening to those albums, one feels you’re being let in on a sophisticated joke, without ever being explicitly told the punchline.
“I always hoped [music like this] would be something people would just do – it’s kinda folksy by nature,” Daniel Lopatin said in a 2013 Reddit Ask Me Anything Q&A (an appropriate medium, considering the centrality of forums like Reddit to the genre’s development). His hopes were largely borne out: in the years that followed the release of Ecco Jams, an increasingly populous corner of the internet exploded with vaporwave, and its fast-evolving derivatives. A great deal of the best stuff was by one person: Ramona Andra Xavier aka (deep breath) Macintosh Plus, Vektroid, New Dreams Ltd, PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises, Laserdisc Visions, dstnt, Sacred Tapestry, 情報デスク VIRTUAL – the list goes on. Depending on how and what you count, Xavier released twelve or more albums between 2010 and 2013, under almost as many pseudonyms. Perhaps the best-known product of this flurry of invention is her now-iconic 2011 record as Macintosh Plus, Floral Shoppe. You’ve probably seen the cover art referenced in countless memes or lurking in your YouTube recommendations: the mounted head of a classic statue gazes, pupil-less, from its hastily-photoshopped position in the foreground of a pink-and-black chequerboard-floored room. An indeterminate distance behind, a generic cityscape image is “hung” on the “wall” – as if this artist’s impression of an interior has such things – the kind of artwork at which one might gaze idly while waiting for a dental appointment. The artist name and album title, in neon green Japanese text (other than the suffix “MAC”) complete the picture, in its top-right corner. It’s the perfect visual accompaniment to the album itself: vaguely familiar, vaguely reminiscent of X or Y, but uncannily dislocated from whatever referents it might bring to mind. Floral Shoppe might be the quintessential vaporwave album: AOR synths and gated drums trundle in and out of earshot like badly-rendered background characters in a video game, the tempo and key constantly bumping up, down and sideways. Its unrelenting shifts echo the restlessness of the millennial and Gen Z attention span, darting here and there as if between browser tabs and group chats, rarely if ever achieving the resolution to which so many of the ’80s and ’90s ballads that Xavier samples are designed to build. It’s disorientating, unsettled, and, like so much vaporwave, weirdly comforting. Not long after Floral Shoppe, somewhere between 2012 and 2014, the rumours of vaporwave’s death began to circulate. It had escaped its online niche, started populating people’s YouTube recommendations, become endlessly memed. It had
Final Third: Infinite Login
reached the online equivalent of Middle America and England. There was still some widely-acclaimed vaporwave or vape-adjacent music released around this time – the aforementioned Blank Banshee album, for example. But it did undoubtedly become more popular, more mainstream, and as is always the case when a genre explodes, it gave rise to its fair share of rubbish imitations. Hang on, though. Imitation, and indeed rubbishness – if we’re talking production value and technical accomplishment – are both sort of integral to vaporwave. So are the commercial netherworlds of small-town America, out-of-town retail parks and shopping centres. This is music that is borne of consumption, with simulacrum one of its most-used tools. Wider exposure, greater consumption, cannot kill it. As such, whatever the purists may say, vaporwave of varying kinds has continued to be made ever since, and its influence is everywhere. Daniel Lopatin himself, better known as Oneohtrix Point Never, may have moved away from straightup vaporwave into a wider variety of experimental electronic music, not to mention becoming an in-demand Hollywood film score composer, but the time-warped unheimlich of his early work remains identifiable. The intensity of the recent Safdie brothers’ thriller Uncut Gems, for example, wouldn’t have half its bite were it not for the otherworldly synths of Lopatin’s neonlit, muzak-gone-maximalist score. Elsewhere, the distinctly vapey nature of early PC Music is self-evident: it situates itself in the same artificially-lit shopping centres and arcades of vaporwave, but doses the latter’s tranquilised atmospherics with poppers, speed and helium to create a hyperactive copyof-a-copy of turn-of-the-millennium bubblegum pop. Considering the world-bestriding prominence of PC Music affiliates and fellow travellers like Charli xcx, Sophie, 100 gecs, Grimes, and even Caroline Polachek and Carly Rae Jepsen, not to mention the ubiquity of the backlit, day-glo aesthetics that vaporwave significantly helped bring back into fashion (see Stranger Things, Drive, Arca, Kim Petras), and the extremely online, highly referential and consumer-lethargic nature of so much contemporary rap, it’s hard to suppress the notion that a decade on from its advent, we’re still living in vaporwave’s world. — Ahistorical materialism — In Esquire’s 2016 history of vaporwave, Scott Beauchamp draws a parallel between the genre and punk rock, reasoning that, “It’s political. Its first priority isn’t making the charts; in fact, its identity is bound up in resisting commercial success, in mocking it. It’s really simple to make.” Yet this is based upon an
entirely aesthetic analysis of the politics of punk and its relationship to commercial success, as opposed to a material one. It’s useful to contrast this with Dave and Stuart Wise’s flawed but provocative 1978 pamphlet The End Of Music, which critiqued punk as the expression of an essentially inter-bourgeois antagonism that recuperated pop culture for capital by giving “aspects of capital an illusory radicalism”. In this reading, by aestheticizing one particular version of “rebellion” without fundamentally challenging the material conditions of the system it purported to be against, punk takes “the barbarity of the commodity at face value”, and stifles the possibility of genuine working-class emancipation. The material conditions of the time, that allowed punk to happen – comparatively low living costs, a liveable dole, enough housing stock to create plenty of space for squats and free spaces for shows and events – were already under threat, and punk didn’t (perhaps couldn’t) do much to change that direction of travel. This isn’t a simple argument about punk’s co-opting by capital as such, the classic “sellout” line that runs from an authentic original to a commercialised unit-shifter. Wise’s point is by lending the artistic landscape of the existing capitalist system a subversive veneer, punk helped that system evolve aesthetically, remaining more relevant to a new generation and further distracting from its economic underpinning. It was a form of rebellion that capitalism could easily contain and eventually profit from. Looking at what followed – Thatcher, Reagan, financialisation, a chopping-away at the welfare state which had allowed so many artists the kinds of time and space to create that no longer exists in 2020 – it’s a persuasive counterpoint to the hackneyed accounts of the singularly revolutionary punk moment. If punk built itself upon a stylised, abstracted image of rebellion (“if ” being key here), vaporwave channels a similarly stylised and abstracted feeling of consumerist fatigue and acquiescence. But what are the material conditions from which vaporwave arose, and what change, if any, is it arguing for? Punk emerged as the industrial capitalism of Britain and America was beginning to falter, the postwar settlement that created a relatively stable, wealthy working class being ruptured
Final Third: Infinite Login by conservative economics, conversant union militancy, and shifting geopolitical power. Over three decades later, vaporwave arrives at the other end of that process of deindustrialisation. Service jobs, data entry and the gig economy having largely replaced “traditional” manual and manufacturing-based workplaces, the society from which vaporwave arose was by nature highly individualised, atomised and unstable. When they once might have been working in a factory or dock, many young people had few options beyond the local retail park or fast food chain as they came of age in the early 2010s, looking for work and, in some cases, becoming interested in music. In that context – your personal and professional lives increasingly becoming intertwined, mediated by technology and stripped of agency by an economic system now decades-deep into a project of crushing worker power – vaporwave begins to make a lot of sense. Add to that the existential anxieties of our time – this music may predate coronavirus, but not climate breakdown – and the implied sense of exhaustion and retreat does too. As teenager Michael Tills says in a MEL Magazine feature about mallwave, a variant of vaporwave that makes its consumerist nature even more explicit, this music “does let me escape from the shittiness of everyday life. It’s just a couple of hours in a day where everything at least feels okay, that I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’m going to get a job, the political situation in the U.S. – all that shit. I guess it makes me think that there was a better time, or a time when people in this country felt better.” This is why vaporwave remains so significant. Its relationship with the lived conditions of life in the 2010s is complex, but arguably more materialistic than most genres that are similarly dubbed “the sound of x or y”. This is not only the music of alienation, but music as alienation; to clumsily paraphrase Marx, the further away from the means of production a worker becomes, the more alienated they become from their labour – their work is decreasingly their own, as the value it produces belongs to someone else. Now that service and retail are the dominant job providers of the global north (with the ultimate abstraction, finance, underpinning everything), such alienation becomes hegemonic. Vaporwave doesn’t just arise from these conditions, it’s made from them, every warped sample of hold muzak or commercial jingle a fundamental part of the economic system that rules our lives. Its nostalgic tendencies may be based on a version of the past that didn’t exist, but that’s precisely due to the nature of the present that does. You might notice that much of this is written in the present tense, despite this essay ostensibly focusing on what is now a decade-old genre. That’s primarily because, for all the upheaval of the second half of the 2010s, most of the fundamental material conditions haven’t truly changed. Some have intensified, and some have taken on new connotations, but economic and social life is essentially pretty similar: industry replaced by service, ever-decreasing class organisation, technological atomisation, ecological collapse, widening inequality. The great electoral hopes of the British and American left – perhaps the
last purely parliamentary alternatives to a system that’s now locked firmly into a death drive – have been dashed, and in real terms great swathes of the population remain just as alienated and helpless as they were a decade ago, however liberal pundits may protest about “populism”, “idealism”, or “incivility”. The last few years may have seen hairline cracks emerge in the edifice of the post-1991 consensus of free-market economics, liberal statecraft and hawkish foreign policy (what Mark Fisher described as capitalist realism) but its predicted – and necessary – collapse has failed to materialise. Vaporwave is as pure a musical reflection of the material and aesthetic conditions of our time as you’re likely to find. As wonderful as so much vaporwave might sound to its fans – this writer included – its continued relevance is deeply troubling.
James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual Vaporwave at its sprightliest and most surreally optimistic, The Wire made this their album of the year in 2011. Daniel Lopatin – Chuck Person’s Ecco Jams Arguably the record that kick-started vaporwave, from the artist also known as Oneohtrix Point Never: woozy, warped, utterly addictive. Macintosh Plus – Floral Shoppe The iconic document of Peak Vaporwave, and the ultimate example of the a e s t h e t i c you’ve seen in endless memes. Blank Banshee – Blank Banshee 0 Of all the artists who took the original sound of vaporwave and pushed it into fascinating new directions, Blank Banshee may have been the most accomplished, and his debut remains his most exciting piece of work. Vektroid – Neo Cali Another release from the artist also known as Macintosh Plus, this is vaporwave at its most serene and dreamlike.
SHIT & SHINE
GNOD & JOÃO PAIS FILIPE
DEAFKIDS & PETBRICK
PIGS X 7
‘MALIBU LIQUOR STORE’
‘FACA DE FOGO’
Final Third: The Rates
Final Third: The Rates
Nubya Garcia Each month we ask an artist to share the 3 musicians they think have gone underappreciated, and 3 new names who they hope will avoid a similar fate. Saxophonist Nubya Garcia discussed hers with Sam Walton, who also photographed her in South London
Ask any of the new school of UK jazz musicians whether they play jazz music, and they will blench. In these very pages, protestations are repeatedly made by the movement’s leading lights that genre labels are passé, and that there’s so much more to their music than “jazz” (the word itself often presented in scare quotes). On the one hand that’s fair enough: after all, listen to We Out Here, the early-2018 compilation that’s fast assuming era-defining status in the story of British jazz music, and you’ll hear pieces as much in thrall to grime and G-funk as they are to Coltrane and Mingus. On the other, perhaps it all comes down to definitions. If the popular conception of “jazz” is noodly show-off back-slapping music, or the sound of an overly tasteful suburban dinner party, then steer clear; but if it’s less about a codified sound and more about its practitioners’ approach, about interacting with surrounding music and using nuanced training to re-carve it into something progressive – well, maybe the term isn’t so terrible after all. Saxophonist Nubya Garcia is another such jazz-sceptic luminary. Despite graduating with honours from a degree in jazz performance and appearing on five of We Out Here’s
nine tracks, she’s far happier discussing the soul, boogie, and hip-hop that permeates her choices for The Rates than she is her accomplished and admirable jazzer background. That’s understandable, too: her new record Source is full of dub reggae and cumbia duelling with her tenor sax, and the RnB of her picks below is clearly audible too. “It’s my culture,” she explains from atop Telegraph Hill Park in New Cross, overlooking a gradually unlocking London. “Yes, I’m a Londoner born and bred, but I also went to the Caribbean loads when I was a kid, we always had a lot of reggae at home, a lot of dub. There was calypso, soca, all that stuff, so it’s all in my brain. “This generation of musicians just has so many sides to it, especially when their parents aren’t from here – you’ve got family parties with music from their culture, then every decade there’s something new, and we’ve got all that in us. Whether you’re hearing it off someone’s phone on the bus, or you’re at the rave, it’s just around you.” Listening to Garcia talk through her choices, with infectious excitement, you sense that whatever jazz means these days, it’s in safe hands with guardians like her.
Final Third: The Rates where she did a solo acoustic version of ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ which was just… ah, one day she has to record it just so I can listen to it over and over. The whole room went silent, there were goosebumps, and then I was just so gassed I was like, “oh god Taiwah’s here”, just really excited that I got to see her in that setting. S: That’s a cool song choice – it’s nice to see jazzers engage with pure pop music... N: Well, she doesn’t really come from a jazz background – she went to the Brit School and grew up in gospel choirs. She’s also an amazing songwriter, and her solo shows are really special – just her and her hardware – and it’s really hard to do that! I managed to see a couple of those shows and it’s such a pure sound. Her new stuff, Starts Again, is cool too. AKENYA N: Akenya is a deep cut. Deep-deep-deep. There’s that one track on Spotify – I’ve listened to it so many times now, I’m like, “please, give us more” – but she’s also been on bare things: she’s in Resavoir, that band from Chicago, she’s on my new record, and she’s on Noname’s earlier stuff too. She keeps it all super low-key, but often does IG Live, which is great. I met her a couple of years ago, and I’ve seen her live a lot. Her writing, her piano, she’s just phenomenal. Her tone, her voice, her lyrics, her improvisation – it’s all really unique. There’s a bit of early Erykah Badu in there, for sure, but she’s got amazing jazz chops as well. Her vocal runs are mad: in Resavoir the band’s quite horn-heavy, so she often emerges from underneath the horns, improvising with them, like an instrument would. Usually the singer is super up front and all like, “here are the lyrics to the song”, but she’s part of the band, less lyric-based and more sound-based, and I really like that. S: How did she end up on your LP? N: We crossed paths a few times. I first met her when Ezra Collective were the house band for the Worldwide awards, and I was on a few tracks with them, and Noname was around that year so she had come to perform with her. She came into the rehearsal and we just had a really nice time, then I heard her voice and was like, “woah, you’re amazing”. I bumped into her again when I was in Chicago playing with Makaya [McCraven, drummer and bandleader], and then she came through London for a few days with Resavoir. When I was making my record, I just wrote to her asking her to sing on a track, she recorded it in Chicago and sent it over. TAIWAH N: Taiwah’s been around for time – she’s from Battersea and I came up listening to her. I found her through Eric Lau’s stuff – she’s on his record One Of Many and another EP called Love Call. I was a big Eric Lao fan and thought the singer was amazing, and so, as you do, I wanted to hear more, and from there I became a real fan. Madly, I managed to see her live in her early days,
EMMAVIE N: Emmavie is such an incredible producer. She did a record with Alfa [Mist, pianist and rapper] that was amazing if you haven’t heard it. And she sings, too. She’s had an amazing trajectory so far. She’s going to get busier and busier, and I can’t wait for more. I came across her because she’s a friend of a friend – we sort of move in the same circles, dipping in and out of other people’s tours, and we were playing at a bunch of the same places. She’s not really a jazzer, but you can tell she probably likes it. It’s a lot more of an RnB thing, although those labels matter less and less these days. Everything’s a lot more nuanced now because we all grew up with so many different things. Like, I see some people call Moses Boyd jazz, but I can hear so many different things in his music, and it’s the same with all of us – people assume that you’re jazz because you’ve been put in that box and because I play the saxophone I couldn’t be doing anything else. S: That’s definitely true, although, alongside that, you’ve had a kind of training and play with a technical sophistication that, say, a DIY punk band hasn’t necessarily had or needs. N: Yeah I forget that I went to college, and I forget that
Final Third: The Rates
people assume I do jazz, because I see my life in 360 rather than just a small part of it. Sure, I guess I am an accomplished and highly trained musician, but it really isn’t that big a deal to me because I know a lot of musicians who didn’t go to uni to do music. There’s a breadth of musicians around us – some are classically trained, some trained within the jazz idiom, trained composers, trained artists. So I did that and that’s the root, but the genres are more diffuse now. LYNDA DAWN N: Lynda Dawn is so sick, oh my gosh. I adore it. People might be surprised, but I think ’70s and ’80s stuff is dope. Her EP just appeared to me through the Spotify algorithm, and it’s been on repeat since then, because it’s perfect for so many situations. Like, sun’s out? Lynda Dawn. Driving? Lynda Dawn. Wanna dance? Lynda Dawn. But that first track [‘Move’] is everything. I do believe that you can hear the sun in some music, and that’s in Lynda Dawn. Plus, boogie and disco, it’s just great to dance to. You know that if you have 100 disco records in your bag, no one’s leaving the dancefloor. S: Nice to hear that Spotify recommendations work for some people – I find them really hit and miss N: The trick is to skip every track you don’t like until the algorithm is on point. But I also need multiple places to find music: like, everyone has their recommendation bubble on Spotify, sure, but then lots of people have been doing playlists recently too, which is a good way to get into stuff. For example, Touching Bass have a new curator every month. Digging on Bandcamp has been cool for me as well, especially on their Bandcamp Fridays, so I’ve only been buying my music from there on those days. I really like just typing in a genre or something random into Bandcamp and then just digging, because I don’t think there’s an algorithm. It’s a totally different experience there, so big up Bandcamp – they seem like the good guys in the streaming thing, or at least the better ones. They’re fully
immersed in the music: when I put my record up there, they were really helpful. I had no idea what I was doing, and they were really useful and present. DEMAE N: At the moment there’s only one song on Bandcamp, but she did a collaboration record with Eun, she was in [British jazz-leaning rap group] Hawk House four or five years ago, and now she’s got a new record coming out. I’ve only heard the new one because I’m friends with her label bosses (Touching Bass are putting it out and I went round for dinner!) but it’s an amazing record, and I like that she’s taken her time, which is why I picked her. It’s really beautiful music. I haven’t heard anything like it musically or sonically for ages. I’m not just doing this feature to plug my mates though, I actually rate them! S: Is the new one like the demo that’s on Bandcamp? That reminded me of J Dilla… N: No it’s nothing like that, but we do all need more Donuts in our lives, don’t we! She’s calling it an EP but it’s a bit longer than that – 6 or 7 tracks. It’s just a really beautiful story of her journey over the last few years, about self-discovery and life. It’s really honest and truthful, and that’s what music’s meant to be. EUN N: It’s pronounced like “Ian”. Straight-up Ian. I appeared on a project of his a couple of years ago just when he was starting out, and he was quiet and humble and really talented. He’s got a really sick track with Georgia Anne Muldrow on the same project. He thinks about things differently as a producer, really pushes it, doesn’t mind going grunge even, gnarly in a good way. Similar to what I do, he’s not boxed in by people thinking of him in a certain way, and I’m always excited to hear what’s next. He’s got such a breadth of work already.
Final Third: In Conversation Last October, Angel Olsen released her most orchestrated and highly produced album to date, All Mirrors. Only upon repeated listens did the album’s inner truths seep out. Beneath the seeming detachment of Olsen’s archly chilly vocals and luscious string arrangements lay hidden tales borne from the turmoil of a difficult breakup. Indeed, the contradiction between a set of lyrics detailing achingly real sentiments and the icy sheen of the record’s aesthetic was paramount to the album’s mysterious spell. That central riddle has to some extent been answered with the release of her new record, Whole New Mess. It is comprised of nine of the songs from All Mirrors plus two that did not make the cut, but this time in the form that Olsen first recorded them nearly two years ago, during the period when their emotional
pain was very much a live presence in her consciousness. Olsen’s voice croaks with anguish and her guitar is presented raw and unadorned. In many cases, the very sentiment of the songs seems diametrically opposed to that of their All Mirrors counterparts. Olsen spent an intense ten days secluded in a remote studio in Anacortes, Washington, with her friend and producer Michael Harris, capturing the innate pain that first brought the songs into existence. Ahead of the release of Whole New Mess, I spoke with Olsen to discuss the nature of releasing multiple versions of the same songs, moving forward following a painful breakup, and using your energy to make a positive influence in the world, especially in a US election year.
Whole New Mess A long talk with Angel Olsen, by Max Pilley Photography by Kylie Coutts
Final Third: In Conversation M: The circumstances around this album are very interesting. Could you just explain why you wanted these songs to exist in the two formats? A: I wanted to show the process of something that is raw and still being worked out, and still isn’t quite yet finished or polished, and then take it to other people and collaborate and make it grow and make it this big statement. And then I thought it would be interesting to go back and look at how it started. So that’s why I decided to release Whole New Mess after All Mirrors. M: When you were making the recordings that we hear on Whole New Mess, did you already know that one day you’d release these early versions? A: I wanted to keep the production as shaky as possible [laughs]. I wanted it to sound as close to the demos as possible, but while also being inspired by Arthur Russell and stuff like that. This was more of an exercise for me. I wanted to have an edition of these songs that felt really raw and intimate, because I know that when you take demos to a producer, a lot of the time things just change so much. I wanted to show the full-spectrum process of it. M: One of the most interesting things about these two records is how differently the sentiments of the same lyrics can come across. A: I think the tone of performing something alone with a guitar, the context of the words changes, the meaning and the feeling behind it. When I was recording Whole New Mess, I was still in the process of crying a lot and dealing with all that stuff. For the recording of All Mirrors, I had to force myself to share with people so I had to put up a shell, so in order to do that I created this theatrical thing with loads of people involved. M: So then, with the earlier, raw recordings about to be made public, does that still feel vulnerable? A: Yeah, it sounds vulnerable to me, but I don’t feel the same fears or difficulties. Those problems I was going through at the time, they’re just things to reflect on now. I’ve moved through them. M: Do you think that’s because you’ve already released these songs in the other format, or because you’ve moved on in your own life? A: Probably both. Yeah, I mean, for me, I’ve got to the point where I really am thankful for all of the things that I’ve learned about myself through the things that I have lost. I got into music because I thought it was fun and beautiful to share with people, but to continue sharing it requires all of these other invisible mechanisms that people don’t really see, and because no one sees them, you can’t talk about them or describe them; they’re not really
real to anyone. It’s thankless in a way – I mean, it’s not thankless because I have people showing up and hearing my music, but what I’m talking about is the amount of personal growth that a friend needs to hear from a friend, not from a fan. And I needed that. I didn’t have boundaries, I was trying to play mother hen about everything, and in the end I got bitter that the only people who were seeing me were my fans. That’s not a reality. M: So you were reaching out for friends and they weren’t there? A: I think what happened was I got caught up in enjoying the successes that were coming to me and feeling confused about how to communicate with people through that, and because of that the friendships just got harder. There were friendships from home that I couldn’t be present for because I was so consumed with what I was doing. Which leads me to why I would write a record called Whole New Mess or All Mirrors. To me, it’s just been a cycle of not dealing with stuff unfortunately, and I don’t want the process of making music to feel that way. I’m learning to not make it that way. And now in this time of crisis in the world, and especially how our government in the US is handling the pandemic, it’s a time of forced reflection, which has its good days and its bad days. On its good days, I get to finally reflect on all the things I’ve written about and all the times that I’ve had touring with so many different people, whether they’ve been my good friends or if we’ve had fallings out. But sometimes it’s too much and you’ve got to get out of the house and distract yourself. I haven’t had that much time to reflect over the years, and this record is about not being able to reflect and not really having time to be present or knowing how to navigate those relationships. That was where I was at at the time. M: One of the songs that is most striking in its two versions being so different is ‘Too Easy’. On Whole New Mess it comes across as earnest and heartfelt, but by comparison the All Mirrors version seems almost distant or disillusioned. A: Part of that is when we were recording it for All Mirrors it sounded too much like a rock ‘n’ roll song – it kept feeling really mundane to me. We added synths to it and it created a whole different energy. It’s almost like I’m talking in a baby voice, but it’s a demonic baby voice! At the point of recording All Mirrors I was at the point of the grieving process where I was angry, and at the point of Whole New Mess I was still in it and I was crying a lot, and even when I wasn’t crying, I was in the mode of hours would go by and I’d realise I was just looking at my shelf [laughs]. I don’t know if you’ve been there but that’s where I was. M: It must be interesting for you to have these two versions of your own state of mind preserved. A: Yeah, there are so many ways to look at your life, although at a certain point you do have to make a decision to move forward. In time, looking back, that’s when you really start to know. You can’t know when you’re in it. The things I’m saying to you right now I’ve never said. I don’t sit around thinking about Whole New Mess because I’ve already finished it. When I talk about it, it’s like a therapist is talking to me about my childhood, it seems so far away now. I’m already writing another one!
Final Third: In Conversation
“I think that’s part of what’s so ingrained in my generation; it’s almost stylish to be defeatist”
M: So you’ve been writing in lockdown? A: I had a little bit of a slump in May but now it’s picking back up. Unfortunately, when I write a lot, it gives me so much energy and adrenaline, because I’m editing and listening and it gets stuck in my head and I can’t stop thinking and all of a sudden I’ve only slept five hours. So that’s where I am now. That’s the only part of writing that sucks. M: It’s nice that you’ve has something to fill your time with though. A: Yeah, I take breaks, and for most of the spring I’ve been mostly taking it easy and cooking and going on long walks and reading, trying to make the days go by and forget somehow that we’re living through this weird, surreal dream. But yeah, I’ve been recording a lot too, and doing live streams. M: You’ve been working with [anti-Trump group] Swing Left for the live streams. Why did you want to get involved with them? A: I think because the election is coming up it’s important to steer some of the attention that I have on me and share some of that with what’s important to me, which is making sure that people my age and people in general get out to vote, and not just because they don’t want Trump to be their president but because they are thinking about all of the candidates. It’s super important right now for people to pay attention and vote. M: When you think about the election at this point, does it fill you with hope or with dread? A: Right now I feel hopeful. I can’t tell if that’s just my own reality and my own effort, but I feel hopeful. When I watched The Hunger Games for the first time, I thought, ‘thank god the world isn’t like that’, and now the world is a lot like that. But you don’t want to get defeatist. I think that’s part of what’s so ingrained in my generation; it’s almost stylish to be defeatist. I don’t know how we change that, we just have to educate ourselves to stay motivated and to admit that it does nothing to be defeatist. It’s cool to say, ‘everything sucks, maan’. That kind of attitude, that’s great, but what can you be doing with your energy that day in your own fucking community instead of just talking about it?
What can you actually be doing in the room with your family and your friends and how can you have non-violent communication about it with people you love and respect. I think that’s the real work. M: It’s probably some form of coping mechanism for some people, right? Like, it’s easy to feel that you’re powerless or you can’t have any impact. A: Yeah, that’s a luxury to feel that way. It’s a strange time and a lot of stuff in the world is happening and it always has been but I’ve just been becoming an adult and I’m just starting to really think about how the whole world plays its part. It’s not just the US election; we’re all affecting each other. It’s a lot of information and it’s easy to think you don’t know where to start. But I think starting to connect to other people is where to start. I’m doing my research and trying to correct myself when I fuck up publicly, looking through the stuff I’ve said and done in the past and examining it again. That’s my work. M: With the state of things at the moment, have you got any idea what the next year or two might look like for you? A: I don’t know, honestly. I’m preparing myself for releasing music for a while and not performing it in a live way. M: Will you miss the touring? A: I think financially I’ll miss it more than emotionally. It is nice to have the break. I’m wondering how it will be sustainable in the future though. If we can get people together in a studio in a big way that would be great. Some people are doing that and it’s a risk. That’s part of why the election is so important too. Not only is this person – our president – fucking it up, but so many other people are behind him. That’s the scariest part; how many people support him and how he’s just the face of this thing that stands for so much more than him. We have to do something about it but everyone is forced to stay inside. It’s hard to not spiral when thinking about that, but we’ve got to do something.
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Final Third: My Place
Inside a snail shell A special Zoom edition of our My Place feature, with Furture Island’s singer Samuel T. Herring, by Greg Cochrane
Almost more than any other contemporary group you can name, Future Islands are known as a road band. That’s because for more than a decade the trio barely came off tour. At last count, around the release of their fifth album, The Far Field, in 2017, the Baltimore unit had played in excess of a thousand shows. They played relentlessly – until people noticed them. For their charismatic frontman Samuel T. Herring, a third of his life has been spent in those mobile routines. So much so that he’s been renting the same Baltimore bedroom from a friend since 2012 (a few years before his band’s breakthrough), “because I was just never there”. “My snail shell” is how he describes it, revealing that he recently daydreamed about booking into a local hotel to recreate the strange, dislocated feeling of comfort he’s grown to love from being away. 2020 was full of promise and plans before covid-19 came along. In June, Herring was due to marry his partner, actress Julia Ragnarsson, and move to her native Sweden. Instead, months have gone by and he hasn’t seen her – there’s heartbreak in his voice as he explains the helpless situation: “We’re used to distance but this one is different because there’s not a foreseeable end. It’s really sad.” Then there’s the release of Future Islands’ new album, As Long As You Are, due out in October. Ordinarily that would be supported by a packed schedule of live performances; right now, who knows when Herring will get the opportunity to coil a microphone lead around his wrist and crab his way around a stage in his recognisable manner. Since March, the place he calls home, Baltimore, like many other major U.S. cities, has been in and out of lockdown. One of the first to enforce the wearing of masks, local authorities were also quick to open back up when the financial repercussions of closing down the area’s economy became clear. “I’ve only gone to maybe four stores in the past four months,” says Herring, who’s taking a cautious approach. “Two groceries and a couple of liquor stores where I get my tobacco. My drive is to get back to my lady, and if I don’t stay healthy then that doesn’t happen.”
He admits this spell has been tough on the brain, but that there have been positives: “The biggest thing I got out of this quarantine is probably growing stronger relationships with two of my roommates. We had to reach out to one another to have our human interactions. We started having dinner together, watching movies together, things we hadn’t done before that made life easier. Before this, they were used to me not being here.” It means he’s spent a lot of time with the same four walls of his bedroom. At least it’s a bright space – three large windows inviting daylight in, illuminating the many pieces of art hung about the place. In one corner there’s a desk (the one he’s sat at, before graciously giving me a walking “Zoom tour” of his stuff); in another the bespoke set of shelves he made for his impressive vinyl collection. Either side of his neatly-made bed, a closet stuffed with shirts and a bunch of artfully arranged crates stacked with books, from Philip Larkin to Charles Bukowski. “I just finished tidying my room just a couple of minutes ago,” he says. “I’m hoping the people at Loud And Quiet can Photoshop some dust out of the shots. This is my cave!”
Final Third: My Place
Complete Swedish – A language guide I’m learning some Swedish while I’m on lockdown. I was ahead of the learning curve when I started this book, learning bits here and there because I spent so much time with Julia’s family. But then, after I got about 70 pages in, I got to all the stuff I didn’t know and I got lazy and let off for about a month. I gave into my apathy. Still though, I’m starting again. I can order a beer in Swedish. Ram horn lamp and middle finger ashtray These are a couple of gifts from my father. This ram horn lamp, my dad gave that to me when I was probably 15. Where he went to college, which is the team I grew up rooting for in basketball, is the Carolina Tar Heels. That’s where Michael Jordan went before the pros. The ram is their mascot. It’s kind of like a religion in North Carolina – college basketball. A big deal. The way college football is a big deal in Texas. My dad gave me the ashtray when I went to college, and it’s just really fucking cool. Lyrics and ideas notebooks These are a bunch of filled notebooks from my writing over the years. Lots of Future Islands songs in there. They’re probably not completely full but they’re jam packed. If you ever lose a notebook that’s 80% full it’s heartbreaking, so they get retired. That’s the old folks home of my notes. Usually I have three notebooks going at once. It’s like whatever is closest at hand. In my bag right now I’ve got two. I always called myself ‘the writer who never has a pen’, I’m that guy. I’ve got all this paper and no pen whenever I have a good idea.
Final Third: My Place Half of a record collection These are my record stacks. The other half is in storage. It’s all cream – so many good records. I built these shelves myself. When I moved in I was still working in this concrete shop in Baltimore. I used to make concrete countertops and sinks, that was my day job. Luckily my boss, when I got off work, he would let me use the tools from the shop. I cut up and puzzle-pieced this together. There’s probably about a thousand nails in the wall. There’s about 1200 records in this room. Then I’ve probably got about 1000 in storage. Future Islands’ Post Office Wave Chapel I could get some good money for this! This was the one and only remix record we ever did. I guess we did 500 [copies]? Victoria Lagrande is on one of the remixes. It was good friends who did them. The front is an image that I found in an old psychology book – I always loved this weird passage about dreams. I was like, ‘this couple does not seem to like each other very much’.
“My drive is to get back to my lady, and if I don’t stay healthy then that doesn’t happen”
Teenage artwork This is a drawing that I did when I was 17. It’s about the passage of time. This guy’s parents are behind his eyes. As you see, it’s slowly slid off the backing it was attached to, so it’s an ongoing art piece. Signed copy of Busy Bee’s Running Thangs This is one of the only signatures that I have. Busy Bee was one of the first rappers that I ever loved. He’s really old skool. Most famously, he was in Wild Style [1983 hip hop film directed by Charlie Ahearn]. He lives in Baltimore. I found out a buddy of mine
knew him and I told him I was a huge fan, and he said, ‘if you have anything, I’ll get it signed for you’. It says, “To Sam, enjoy hip hop and have fun, okay”. I love this guy. I met him once. In Baltimore there’s this thing called hacking – if you’ve ever seen The Wire you’ll have seen it. Basically like unlicensed taxi hailing. I drove past Busy Bee hacking, so I flipped around the block. I pull up to him – the thing is, it’s not really a thing in the white community, it’s in the black community far back – and he starts walking away probably thinking ‘who is this motherfucker?’. I was like ‘Busy Bee Busy Bee, come back! Where’d you need to go, I’ll take you anywhere. Jump in.’ I was geeking out.
Final Third: My Place
Collection of baseball caps I’m a man of many hats. The funny thing about the hats is that my favourite hats get lost on the road. These are all my least favourite hats! Most of these don’t fit my head quite right. That’s why they’re up there. RØDE home recording microphone My pro station for recording is here. I did the vocals for the DJ Shadow record [Our Pathetic Age in 2019] in this room. I never thought he would actually use it. I thought I was just recording a fancy demo! I set up here in front of the vinyl to do vocals. I think it’s cool because I’m doing it in front of all the music I love. At some point you just want to get a bit more professional with the way you do things. There’s some things I learned early on. If you’re doing a feature for example, if you don’t do as much as you can, you might end up with something you don’t like in the end. I enjoy recording from home, it allows me the freedom to not have to be on somebody else’s time. I can take all the time I need to get things right.
Nathaniel Roney painting I bought this at a record store in 2015, right after we got off the Singles touring. I was really sad at the time, and I went to this record store feeling very lonely, and I was going to Ashville, Carolina, to visit my brother. One of my goals was to spend too much money in a record store. I picked out maybe $100 of records, didn’t break the bank, but I found this drawing. Black ink on butcher’s paper. I said, ?who is the artist?” “Oh, it’s this guy Nathaniel Roney.” My buddy built this gorgeous frame for it and made it into a triptych, so I got all three framed and I gave one to Garrit [keyboards, Future Islands] and one to William [bass]. They each have a piece in their house. It’s like the Hellfish Crew on The Simpsons – the last remaining Future Islands member gets all three pieces.
Copy of Carl Sandburg’s Slabs Of The Sunburnt West This book is really important to me. It is the first book of poetry I ever consumed. I was about 13-years-old. I put out a record with my buddy Kenny Segal last year, and there’s a song on there called ‘Slabs Of The Sunburnt West’, which is named after this book. Carl Sandburg is a famous American poet, but he’s also famous for writing this epic biography on Lincoln. He’s very American. He used to ride the rails and learned the hobo songs – he collected American culture. That book is very much about love of old America. It also has a surrealist edge to it. There’s a line in one of my favourite poems about this 50-foot giant who crumbles marble slab in his hand and sprinkles the dust on the earth. I read it, and you know when your head explodes as a kid? That. The feeling when you understand what you’re supposed to be doing.
As if you needed proof of our hyper-accelerated times, where today’s “trending” is tomorrow’s “aren’t they dead?”, let me remind you of 19 April 2020. It’s the date that paid for lockdown, when Elton John reinvented sound as we then knew it. It was radical stuff, and needless to say there were some people that didn’t fully understand what Elton was doing when he performed ‘I’m Still Standing’ beside his beloved regulation basketball hoop on One World: Together at Home. But I did. I got it, and so did anyone who’s spent any time with Elton’s Greatest Hits album from 2000, One Night Only (other Best Ofs are now available but they do feature some new songs). This is a sleeve that says, “I will not conform!”. “I will play the piano with my feet!” (!?) “I will NOT take advise on my hair piece!” Notice how the piano is on the piss – and this is back in 2000!!! Suddenly, that One World performance makes a lot more sense. The story goes that this shot was taken in Elton’s second floor chillout room, “as is”. A set for the planned shoot had been assembled on the lawn, consisting of a massive shoe and 101 flamingos, but Elton thought it “Fucking OTT” and locked himself inside for 8 hours. Captured on a BlackBerry Bold by David Furnish, this photo was taken as Elton was vowing to “never fucking play this beast again”, as he stretched his hands as far away from the keys as possible (a span of over 3ft). They coaxed him out with Benny & Jerry’s Phish Food.
A great movie... if you like animal CRUELTY!!! I’m someone who actually likes Stephen Speilberg films, so I was excited to see this “classic”, signing up to a Prime trial (I’ve already cancelled it from renewing) to ensure it arrived within a week for my wife’s birthday. What a waste of my time! Jaws, it turns out, is a film of extreme animal cruelty, when it ends with a great white shark blowing up and people cheering. I looked out for the ‘no sharks were harmed during the making of this film’ disclaimer but one never came, which suggests that at least one shark WAS harmed. When it was blown up!!! I know it was the ’50s, but come on, mate! Will use the case as a spare.
You won’t believe what the lamp from Jerry Maguire looks like now
illustration by kate prior
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ALUNA â€“ RENAISSANCE THE DEBUT SOLO ALBUM FROM ALUNA FRANCIS OUT 28TH AUGUST @ALUNAGEORGE / @ALUNAAA
Featuring: Tkay Maidza / Emma-Jean Thackray / Angel Olsen / East Man / James Acaster / caroline / Moonchild Sanelly / Working Men's Club / J...
Published on Aug 14, 2020
Featuring: Tkay Maidza / Emma-Jean Thackray / Angel Olsen / East Man / James Acaster / caroline / Moonchild Sanelly / Working Men's Club / J...