Beirut, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Jerskin Fendrix, Orville Peck, Otha, Self Esteem, Womanâ€™s Hour, Squid
Nothing breaks like a heart
Contents Contact firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Loud And Quiet Ltd PO Box 67915 London NW1W 8TH Founding Editor: Stuart Stubbs Art Direction: B.A.M. Digital Director: Greg Cochrane Marketing & Sales Manager: Dominic Haley Sub Editor: Alexandra Wilshire Book Editor: Lee Bullman Contributing writers Abi Crawford, Adam Badí Donoval, Aimee Armstrong, Andrew Anderson, Alex Weston-Noond, Brian Coney, Cal Cashin, Chris Watkeys, David Cortes, David Zammitt, Daniel Dylan-Wray, Derek Robertson, Fergal Kinney, Gemma Samways, Guia Cortassa, Hayley Scott, Ian Roebuck, James Autom, Joe Goggins, Katie Beswick, Liam Konemann, Luke Cartledge, Max Pilley, Mike Vinti, Ollie Rankine, Patrick Glen, Rachel Redfern, Rosie Ramsden, Reef Younis, Sarah Lay, Susan Darlington, Sam Walton, Tristan Gatward. Contributing photographers Brian Guido, Charlotte Patmore, Colin Medley, David Cortes, Dan Kendall, Dustin Condren, Gabriel Green, Gem Harris, Heather Mccutcheon, Jenna Foxton, Jonangelo Molinari, Matilda Hill-Jenkins, Nathanael Turner, Nathaniel Wood, Phil Sharp, Sonny McCartney, Timothy Cochrane, Tom Porter. With special thanks to Adrian Read, Alex Putman, Frankie Davidson, Rob Chute, Sinead Mills, Zoe Miller.
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 2019 Loud And Quiet Ltd.
ISSN 2049-9892 Printed by Wyndenham Grange Distributed by Loud And Quiet Ltd. & Forte
This month’s coverline is also the title of the recent single by Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson. It’s a great trad country pop song with a better video that doesn’t really speak to the lyrics at all. At one point Ronson jumps out of the sunroof of a pursued car and through the passenger window of another. I’m not sure that heartbreak has ever felt like that. Surely Ronson should have bounced off the window frame, then the road, then gone home to watch a made-for-Netflix romantic comedy from 2015. Julia Jacklin’s new album is more familiar to all of us, I’m sure. It’s a record about breaking up and moving on – honest and sometimes devastating. Cyrus and Ronson cruised through L.A.; Julia and I drove to Dungeness in the rain, exactly as heartbreak should be. Stuart Stubbs
Squid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Otha . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jerskin Fendrix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Self Esteem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Reviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Orville Peck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Julia Jacklin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Woman’s Hour . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Cosey Fanni Tutti . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 03
. 12 . 16 . 18 . 22 . 27 . 44 . 48 . 58 . 62
Our uninspiring future “The 50/50 gender split is brave, but only if you’re going to put on world class female acts.” “This is all very ‘clever’ but you’ve ruined what was a good festival by now being forced to book some terrible female acts just to keep it 50/50. These acts would never normally play there.” “You are not promoting gender equality by filling spots with any female artists just to get the 50%. The quality of music is what matters.” “Somethings (sic) are better left up to meritocracy, otherwise we are heading into a very bland, uninspiring future.” Like the words from a Ghost of Christmas Past, these are only some of the stanzas which composed the loudest private carol that The Internet – the network, not the band – dedicated to Primavera Sound this last December. The cause of their indignation: our lineup for the next edition, to be held at the end of May in Barcelona, which has been proudly curated to be the first from a major music festival with a 50/50 gender split. As it should be, as it should have been maybe before, and as we’ve been slow but firmly aiming to achieve in the last years. But, most importantly, without name shoehorning. There’s no place for tokenism at Primavera Sound: with a solid reputation as one of the best festivals in the world, the booking department only swears by quality. And by Shellac, of course. Let’s take a walk through the “best of” lists in 2018. Loud And Quiet’s praised Tirzah and Marie Davidson, and dedicated their last cover to Nilüfer Yanya. Mitski was Pitchfork’s #1, with Robyn, Rosalía and Snail Mail as her maids of honor in the top ten. BBC placed 7 women in the highest positions, 5 of which are playing at Primavera. Janélle Monae, Christine and the Queens, Cardi B… all of them have delivered some of the most disruptive, imaginative and compelling albums of the last year. So are they really speaking about lack of quality, or is there something else hiding under the surface? 2018 was, undeniably, a year that made things easier for us. With loads of great music made by women and a global context with no “classic” acts on tour – name them Radiohead, name them Arctic Monkeys, as you wish – the paradigm of what we understood as “headliners” up until now is changing. Music shouldn’t be the “pale, male and stale” playground any more and, of course, it hasn’t been at Parc del Fòrum for quite a while. But whereas no voices were raised in the past against Björk, Patti Smith or PJ Harvey – or Lorde and HAIM, to mention a different generation and keep comparisons fair – it seems that some think that miss Erykah Badu, Neneh Cherry or Solange deserve differently. Spot the seven differences. Or spot one. Nevertheless, haters gonna hate… and love will prevail, from headlines that state that “diversity rocks”, to thousands of individuals who feel that this is a lineup that finally represents who they listen to and how do they feel. All
words by marta pallarès. illustration by kate prior
colours, all musical genres, all sexual orientations, all nationalities – not “all”, but you get the point – are shown in this, our “new normal” statement. Probably, those who say that music should be “only” music never felt the need to find refuge in a song, to feel safe in a community of misfits, even if it was online, who never struggled to be represented because they have always lived in the bubble of their privilege. Because music is not “only” music. Because music killed fascists in the past, and nowadays it should kill prejudice, misogyny, homophobia, racism... Or maybe we didn’t kill fascism completely, so let’s keep shooting. But this doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about who we, as a festival. The new normality is to display trap alongside Stereolab, to welcome yet again Interpol, Deerhunter, Solange and Tame Impala, and to say hi for the first time to Carly Rae Jepsen, to host a live poll about who’s the most charismatic J on stage: Cocker or Balvin? We haven’t forgotten you, diehard Primavera fans. This is the same, good ol’ Primavera, only improved. Come for the likes of Guided By Voices, stay perreando with Ivy Queen. In a nutshell, as a brave article by James Kilpin stated, “this drive (...) serves to promote a new way of thinking that rewards and supports all manner of deserving artists, rather than celebrating former glories, facilitating complacency, fuelling mediocrity or perpetuating frustratingly ubiquitous attitudes about who is or isn’t worthy of success at the highest level.” If this is the “uninspiring” future we are heading into, I couldn’t be more excited for it to finally arrive. Janelle, Rosalía, Cardi, Kate, Janelle, Erykah, Robyn... please keep the un-inspiration coming.
Coming up for air Small towns, particularly in the North West, are so full of mods. Lads bowling along high streets with those fucking ridiculous box fringes and whips, squeezed into skinny jeans and Fred Perry polos that they’re two sizes too big and ten years too old to be wearing. It’s curious to see such a specific aesthetic, once the domain of a progressive subculture, then the beery uniform of the masses, now a bizarrely ubiquitous throwback, so resolutely hanging on to a certain type of provincial young (and not so young) man. As I write, I’ve just been back to my home town for Christmas. It’s a healthily bracing experience these days for me, wanky leftie culture snob London boy, to get back here for a good stint, and remind myself that I share just as much with the Gallagher brigade of my adolescence as my ostensibly worldlier city mates. I’m from Macclesfield, a town of 60,000 people fifteen miles or so south of Manchester, a place that feels very much in the shadow of that city, yet often much further away than the twentyminute journey. It’s probably best known as the home of Ian Curtis, but even as a music-obsessed teenager, that wasn’t something of which I was made particularly aware when I lived here, at least not until the year or two immediately before I left. It was the people I knew from outside the town, from exotic places like Stockport and Poynton, who would talk to me about “my” Joy Division/New Order connection. Nobody I went to school or college with seemed particularly bothered, seemingly more interested in The Jam, Oasis, or the handful of eye-wateringly shite blues-rock bands that the town churned out for a few years in the late ‘00s. As I got a little older and more into Joy Division et al, this disinterest became more apparent. An example: once, while working a summer job as a labourer, I laid some concrete on Stephen and Gillian Morris’ drive at their house on the edge of town, doubtless so Stephen could race his collection of tanks and armoured cars up and down his plot of land in the Peak District foothills to his heart’s content. The builder who was running the job seemed genuinely surprised that a young lad like myself was keen to meet Morris and glimpse inside his home studio once the work was done. It occurred to me recently that the reason for this apparent disconnect between my home town and one of its few scraps of cultural heritage may well have its roots in the hegemony of one version of the punk/post-punk story. All those documentaries and books that virtually begin and end with “…and then a little thing called punk happened” have completely dominated
the popular understanding of that period of British music history, but the more I think about it, the flimsier this narrative seems. I’m not the first to make this point, but it bears repeating: punk didn’t “happen” everywhere at once, nor to an immediately and unanimously appreciative audience, and neither did any of the resulting innovations about which the golden agers of half-arsed music journalism get so misty-eyed. This earth-shattering cultural singularity didn’t just arrive perfectly formed, slotting itself neatly into another unasked-for book by Peter fucking Hook. It simply wouldn’t have been possible: subcultures don’t move with such speed or consistency through entire countries. For example, we didn’t “get” dubstep in Macclesfield until Skrillex and his EDM trolls dragged their bastardised version of it into the mainstream in about 2010, a good six or seven years after its more refined ancestors first took hold in London and Leeds. Preinternet and with far fewer mass media outlets, this distribution will have been even more sluggish and uneven, even in the case of more commonly-lauded cultural moments like punk rock or Joy Division. Many people in Macclesfield might not remember that mythical explosion that followed the release of “Transmission”, because, well, it didn’t really happen like that. Perhaps this is why it can be such an oddly pleasant experience to come back to the indie discos, heroically manky toilets, Wetherspoons pitchers and Lynx Africa that characterised this Christmas’ hometown nightlife as reliably as ever. As critical and nostalgia-resistant as I think it’s important to be, there’s something refreshing about leaving the blink-andyou’ll-miss it trend carousel of London behind and reconnecting with the weirdly timeless indie-lad aesthetic of places like my dear Macc. Cultural progress here is more gradual, yet this is not necessarily a bad thing - simply the result of people getting on with life, only indulging their cultural interests when they have time. It’s easy to forget that most people don’t take all the nonsense that I love as seriously as I do, and nor should they. I’m aware that some of that last paragraph sounds patronising, but it’s meant sincerely. There are many problems with provincial attitudes, but there’s something valuable about a genuine and prolonged investment in a particular set of cultural touchstones. What’s more, those attitudes aren’t going anywhere; in polarised times, it might be useful to recognise their merits as well as their flaws. Mods do look shit though.
words by luke cartledge. illustration by kate prior
NEW RELEASES OUT NOW
NILS FRAHM ‘Encores 2’
KHANA BIERBOOD ‘Strangers From The East’
MDOU MOCTAR ‘Blue Stage Sessions’
LUBOMYR MELNYK ‘Fallen Trees’
Exploring a more ambient landscape taken from the All Melody sessions, the pinnacle of which is the astral 12 minute showpiece Spells. Recordedthrough an amplified stone well Frahm found on Mallorca.
Produced by Go Kurasawa (Kikagaku Moyo) in Tsubame studio in Tokyo. For fans of Dengue Fever, Thai Mor Iam music, surf, lo-fi garage , Oh Sees, La Luz.
One of the most compelling new guitarists of the 21st century. Mdou is a member of the Tuareg music communitygestating in the remote desert city of Agadez, Niger, “where guitars are king.” Mdou’s soundscapes are more traditionally sparse, polyrhythmic anddeeply psychedelic, with lyrics sung in the style of Tuareg nomadic poets.
The new album by singular talent and literal force of nature Lubomyr Melnyk – known as ‘the prophet of the piano’ due to his lifelong devotion to his instrument. RIYL: Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Ukranian folk music and Ravi Shankar.
Superior Viaduct LP
TRIMDON GRANGE EXPLOSION ‘Trimdon Grange Explosion’
HOLIDAY GHOSTS ‘West Bay Playroom’
KEVIN MORBY ‘Harlem River Dub (Peaking Lights Remix)’
Reissued for the first time as a stand alone LP. Now is the time for a new generation of freaks to lose their shit when settling into the cushy beat of ‘Shakey Jake’ and answer McPhee’s call with the only appropriate response: It’s NATION TIME. Riyl: Archie Shepp, John Coltrane, James Brown.
Showcasing a primitive rock ’n’ roll sound that’s been compared to The Modern Lovers and The Velvet Underground alongside current garage rock acts, and praised by the likes of The FADER, Stereogum, BrooklynVegan and KEXP
Erased Tapes 12”
JOE MCPHEE ‘Nation Time’
Guru Guru Brain LP
Cardinal Fuzz LP
Third Man Records LP
Showcasing a primitive rock ’n’ roll sound that’s been compared to The Modern Lovers and The Velvet Underground alongside current garage rock acts, and praised by the likes of The FADER, Stereogum, BrooklynVegan and KEXP
Erased Tapes LP/CD
“I wanted to do something to honor the title track off of my debut album, Harlem River, turning five years old this year. Its been very good to me over the past half decade as well as a staple in my live show. I’ve asked Aaron [Coyes] from Peaking Lights to breath some new life into it and give it a remix and I’m very happy with the results.” – Kevin Morby
APRIL 14TH – LONDON : THE LEXINGTON More dates TBC
18th May – Albert Hall, MANCHESTER 19th May – QMU, GLASGOW 25th May – Brixton Electric, LONDON
18th May – Albert Hall, MANCHESTER 19th May – QMU, GLASGOW 20TH May – Limelight, BELFAST 21st May – Button Factory, DUBLIN 23rd May – Tramshed, CARDIFF 24th May – Bearded Theory Festival, DERBY
2nd April, Broadcast, GLASGOW 3rd April, Night People, MANCHESTER 4th April, O2 Institut, BIRMINGHAM 5th April, The Dome, LONDON
Morrissey: a twisted tonic
Looking for advice on how to move on from a breakup? The internet’s good, self-help books are alright, alcohol certainly helps. Perhaps not, though, a middle aged, barrel-chested bloke who appears to be so incapable of love these days. This time last year, I was happily living with my partner of several years, and the obsessive fan worship of Morrissey that had defined my teenage years was packed up and forgotten. Both of these things would dissolve across 2018. “I will not change and I will not be nice.” There’s something in that lyric, from a 1990 Morrissey b-side, which typifies why the man is so appealing in your teens, then suddenly so… juvenile in your twenties. You can’t start dating with that approach. You can’t make a good fist of starting a job with that approach. As the late comedian Sean Hughes put it, “everyone grows out of their Morrissey phase, except Morrissey.” I was a sensitive teenager, the right wrong blend of pretentiousness and precociousness, and growing up in a mordant Lancashire town demanded some form of armour. This was the kind of town where even the seemingly innocuous act of wearing denim could be viewed as an invitation to aggression, and that’s before throwing fuel on the fire by a dalliance with nail varnish. With confidence, personality and basic social skills still very much in the post, the arrival of Morrissey both validated the way I already felt and gave me a road map (albeit a thoroughly imperfect one) to navigating a tricky situation. Time moved on, and Morrissey made it easy for me to cut the apron strings. I came to the realisation that it was worth changing, worth being nice. Morrissey decided it was worth supporting UKIP, worth telling lies about Sadiq Khan. I still heard his music out, but I fell away from listening to him for pleasure – the voice that once offered so much comfort now left me cold. Across the summer of last year, while you were enjoying that fevered, sticky heatwave, my life was cleaving in two. At first without me knowing at all, and then – one August Saturday – I did know it, and that was that. Of course, a breakup is a completely typical experience. The problem is, nothing feels typical when it’s happening to you. A past, with its own unique
codes and language, disappears. A future is cancelled. The present? Just horrible. In the immediate aftermath, I went and stayed for a week with my friend Diana in Spain. In her car one afternoon the Morrissey track ‘The Lazy Sunbathers’ came over the radio. Glistening with reverb and a twinkling, cinematic melancholy, the song landed in a way that nothing else had. The feeling was stark; after a week of overwhelming mental distraction, here was something on which I could focus, from opening chords to gentle fade-out. I stared out the window at the blue sky and the palm trees, saying nothing. Returning home I found myself in an empty flat with equally barren nights stretching ahead of me. My grieving mind could brilliantly regurgitate painful memories and rapid-fire unanswerable questions; what it could not do was let in any of the things that usually anchored my life. I tried to read, focus on a film, put a record on. Nothing. In desperation, I laid on the hard laminate floor of my flat and streamed ‘The Lazy Sunbathers’. The feeling returned – continually just about to change to another artist, in the end I listened to Morrissey all night. I soon found myself on a strict diet of Morrissey solo material; the hardest dose of despondence known to man, the crack cocaine of self-pity. I was relieved, but equally troubled. Just what was going on? The final time I’d been to watch Morrissey in concert, I’d been surprised at my inability to relate to the braying gammon with impotent quiff onstage. What had changed? Was this nostalgia? I tried other music from my teen years; it sounded as bland as it otherwise would have done a few months previously. Had Morrissey predicted this all along? “The most impassionate song to a lonely soul is so easily outgrown,” sang Morrissey on Smiths b-side ‘Rubber Ring’. It continues: “But don’t forget the songs that made you smile/ And the songs that made you cry.” There’s something in the persecution complex that runs rich through Morrissey’s writing that felt vital once again – ‘How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?’, ‘I Am Hated for Loving’, ‘Sorry Doesn’t Help’. There’s a brilliant line in ‘Now My Heart Is Full’ – “I just can’t explain so I won’t even try to” – that summons all of the exhausted inarticulacy that I now associate with that time. God, some of the advice was even wise and useful – ‘Hold On To Your Friends’, ‘Do Your Best and Don’t Worry’. My break from Morrissey had arrived through disgust at his politics; was I now supporting a man I viewed as beyond the pale? I’ve no hard answers on this – the music helped me profoundly, and I’m sceptical of why anything should come in the way of that. Buying a new Morrissey album? Watching him live? No thank you. And besides, time once again hurried on. The pain receded, so too did the need to keep chaining Morrissey. As Sean Hughes’ quote foretold, every breakup too, it seems, must also grow out of its Morrissey phase.
words by fergal kinney. illustration by kate prior
02/19 MOTH Club Valette St London E8
Wednesday 6 February
Saturday 9 February
KRIS BAHA + KIARA SCURO
mothclub.co.uk Thursday 7 February Wednesday 6 February
Wednesday 13 February
MOLLY NILSSON Tuesday 12 February Thursday 14 February
GRINGO STAR Friday 15 February
Tuesday 19 February
SPIELBERGS Tuesday 19 February
Wednesday 20 February
LOYAL Saturday 2 March
TEETH OF THE SEA Monday 11 March
FEELS Wednesday 13 March
THE LEGENDARY TIGER MAN Saturday 16 March
PINK TURNS BLUE Wednesday 20 March
BAYONNE Saturday 23 March
Thursday 14 February
OUZO BAZOOKA Wednesday 20 February
KYOTI Thursday 21 February
DOOBIE FONTAINE Saturday 23 February
Thursday 21 February
COSMO VITELLI Thursday 28 February
Friday 22 February
POM POKO Wednesday 13 March Saturday 23 February
HOLIDAY GHOST Saturday 16 March Wednesday 27 February
CID RIM Thursday 28 February
THE DUNTS Saturday 2 March
ALEX ZHANG HUNGTAI
The Waiting Room
71 Shacklewell Lane London E8
175 Stoke Newington High St N16
Monday 4 February
Thursday 7 February
GEORGIO ONIANI B2B MIRO
Studio 9294 92 Wallis Rd E9 5LN @lanzaroteworks
Monday 4 â€”Thursday 7 February
KEXP: IDLES, GHOSTPOET + MORE Saturday 9 March
RENDEZ-VOUS, FIRST HATE Saturday 27 April
KHANA BEERBOD Tuesday 5 February
SOVIET SOVIET Friday 8 February
TEST PRESSING FESTIVAL: MOON DUO, WARMDUSCHER Thursday 23 May
Sweet 16: The year Zach Condon dreamed of Europe while wishing he was in The Strokes
I was living at home with my parents in Santa Fe. We had a nice house, about 15 minutes from the skate park downtown where I’d go most days. I’d skate and chain smoke cigarettes. I was dropping out of school around that time. My insomnia would have started really bad, too. Late nights were making school nearly impossible. I used to leave in the morning, fall asleep in a park, go back home, finish up a song and go to the skate park. My older brother, Ryan, was a huge mentor. When I was 14 or 15 I remember bringing home a record, I think it was Green Day, and he just about threw it out the window and said, “you’re not going to listen to this crap.” Then he was feeding me a steady diet of records from people like Boards of Canada, plus more abstract electronic music from Europe. He was a real intellectual. The flip side was that I used to sneak in The Strokes. It was 2002 and they were maybe my favourite band. I wanted to move to New York and dress in a leather jacket. I used to wear these shiny white loafers, suit jackets and turtleneck sweaters. I remember my brother telling me once, “when you sing, you kind of sound like Julian [Casablancas].” I was like, “yes, oh my God, that’s amazing!” I was real proud. I was working at this art house film theatre. I spent two years serving popcorn and watching movies. Sixteen was around the time I got fired. There was this kid that was working the concessions stand after I moved up to box office. There was a gallery opening and he asked me to bring him some champagne. I grabbed it for him, he gave me a little cash, and the next day he turned up wasted at work and pointed the finger at me! I hated the job, but I loved the exposure. The cinematic world was a huge escape. I was a very disillusioned, super-depressed teenager. In hindsight I can tell that I was really struggling. I was finding a lot
of art house cinema. French new wave, film noir, a lot of Italian films from the Fellini-era but lesser known. That’s also where I discovered Emir Kusturica. Black Cat, White Cat, Underground… I was planning a trip to Europe. I mostly wanted to go to Paris. I had a Lonely Planet Europe guide and bought a Eurorail pass. I didn’t know what the fuck I was gonna do. I knew there were hostels. You’d get to the train station, look at the Lonely Planet and hope they had a room. It was big on my mind. I was extremely antagonistic towards school. I’m not trying to romanticise it, but I just couldn’t understand the concept of these adults telling me what to do. In my mind it was all very beneath me. My dad had gotten into scooters. My mum wouldn’t allow motorcycles so he said “well, what about scooters?” He bought two. Late at night I would be doing these recordings, then I would hop on the scooter, because I couldn’t sleep, and I would just drive to downtown Santa Fe as fast I could get that thing to go, which was about 40 MPH tops... if you were going downhilI. I was feeling so exhilarated, feeling like ‘I’m so badass!’. Santa Fe was a town where there was a lot punk, hardcore and emo bands. All my friends were in bands, so these were the concerts I was going to, but I only went for the social aspect because I hated the music. I was known as the weird kid who really loved synthesisers at the time. I’d got this Oberheim Matrix from this very famous electronic music pioneer because I knew his son. The guy’s name was Morton Subotnick. I was already fully into the music thing. My room was filled. Piano, organs, amplifier, ukuleles, trumpet and a computer… When I was done at night, I would push the microphones aside, lay the mattress down, and sleep.
as told to greg cochrane
Listen to modal jazz, obsess over Neu!, become a post-punk band, by Ollie Rankine Photography by Matilda Hill-Jenkins 12
Awkward interview locations are all too familiar. If it isn’t under the sterile glow of a garish hotel lobby, it’s a bad pub or the drab leather-bound interior of an inner city Starbucks. Clearly, Squid share a similar opinion and instead, sitting tightly huddled around drummer and vocalist Ollie Judge’s kitchen table, we wipe away any usual formalities with wine and a takeaway curry. About a week earlier I’d managed to catch one of their live shows (there’s always a lot to choose from) at Corsica Studios where, much to the delight of the audience (and some members of the band), they’d performed a spontaneous version of George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’ – on a keytar. “Let’s just say it was very impromptu. I left them for five fucking minutes to get a new string,” says guitarist and vocalist Louis Borlase. “I’ve had that keytar since I was born,” laughs brass and bass player Laurie Nakivell. “That version of George Michael has sound-tracked most of my previous Christmases.” “I think you’ll find there’s never a bad time for George Michael,” says keys and synth player Arthur Ledbetter. “That can be the tag line for this feature.” — Arse Soul and beyond— Arising from various musical projects at university, Squid were wound together by a mutual appreciation of Neu!’s debut album, some of the music coming out of ECM Records and playing to regular crowds of friends around jazz cafés in Brighton. “Before Squid, Laurie, Anton and I used to be in a funk and soul covers band. I think we were called ‘Soul Campbell’ at one point,” recalls Judge. As I nearly knock over my wine glass, Nakivell interjects. “I wanted to call it ‘Arse Soul’, but it got vetoed.” Resetting the sincerity, Judge recalls, “at the time, I’d been playing with a few bands in the same kind of scene as Porridge Radio, Garden Centre and Joanna Gruesome. But Squid never really fitted into that.” As it turns out, Squid weren’t really interested in fitting into that scene. In fact, all they wanted to do was listen to modal jazz and kraut rock alongside recording ambient music in each other’s bedrooms. “Neu! was rubbing off on us a lot, especially with Ollie’s style of drumming,” says Borlase. “Even before we’d introduced any vocals, that motorik, monotonous beat began to define the sound. It was a very important stage in realising our style.” Vocal responsibilities tend to be shared around Squid’s personnel, but more often than not it’s Judge’s yell from behind the drum kit that leads proceedings. “I’ve never had any drum lessons at all,” he explains, “so considering kraut rock and its monotonous elements, I don’t have to think all that much about
the intricacies of drumming, which I guess lends quite well to the singing.” This hasn’t been a long-standing arrangement either. As guitarist and vocalist Anton Person explains, “about 6 months ago we didn’t really have a lead singer. We had songs where it would be Ollie, Louis or myself playing the role of lead singer. It’s only recently that we’ve realised that we’re at our strongest when Ollie is doing most of the vocals.” That being said, it’s clear Squid operate as one entity, where no singular member takes any more precedence than the next. By rejecting the conventional frontman model, their approach to playing and writing music feels refreshingly fluid. And most interesting of all is their dual formula to song writing. “When we write a song I’ll write some of the lyrics and then Louis will write some of his own separately,” says Judge. “The weird thing is, often each of our narratives somehow intertwine and it ends up combining to make a completely unique final product.” “I think when we write the vocal parts we’ve established a system of toing and froing,” says Borlase. “We’ve got a track called ‘The Cleaner’, which is basically a back and fourth between Ollie’s main narrative and my counter story. We really like this idea of backwards and forwards storytelling where each part is derived from a completely different subject or perspective.” — The Cleaner — Originally written about Judge’s tenuous relationship with a cleaner during his time working behind a record shop counter, Borlase’s contribution provides a wider angle, even despite his initial reservations. “The funny thing about ‘The Cleaner’ is when we were both telling our respective stories, it suddenly occurred to me that I might be retracting from Ollie’s own personal monologue. But when he was talking about seeing the cleaner arrive everyday, alone and before everyone else, just the idea of observing this person’s day-to-day became very much about being constrained in some claustrophobic environment. That’s an example of where one of our songs has taken quite a strange turn in terms of focus. A lot of people who’ve seen our set now tell us that they don’t really know who to look at whilst we’re playing.” Treading carefully, I ask about the reoccurring theme of mental illness in Judge’s lyrics. There’s a slight reluctance but he’s happy to oblige. “Yes, I think it is something I tend to write about. ‘The Dial’ is about my girlfriend’s struggle with anorexia, something she’s thankfully through now. Our other single, ‘Terrestrial Changeover Blues’, is about social anxiety too.” There’s also a standout track in the band’s live set, although the only part of the song I can make out is Judge barking
Interview something about connecting a red wire to a blue wire. “Ah yes,” he says. “When I was working this temp job in FOPP I used to know this guy that came in all the time. I assumed he had either bipolar or schizophrenia but he’d just talk to you for an hour at a time. He once gave me a betting slip with some passages from the bible written on it and told me that I had to deliver it to the Queen. He was into good music and always bought Sonic Youth records – I had a bit of a soft spot for him.” — The Dial — In the second half of last year the band released ‘The Dial’ via Speedy Wunderground, the singles label of enigmatic producer Dan Carey. “He’s got the most child-like passion for music,” says Judge when I mention Carey’s name. “He goes away to LA to Rick Ruben’s place but you’d never know it. “Funnily enough, I was reading Loud And Quiet a while back and I saw that Lottie and Rosy from Goat Girl did that ‘Bands Buy Records’ video thing. They were talking about recording their album with this guy Dan Carey so I Googled him and this Quietus interview came up with all this stuff about Speedy Wunderground. It just sounded like everything we were looking for so I sent him an email with ‘Changeover Terrestrial Blues’ attached. Obviously didn’t expect to hear anything back. A couple of days later I got a two sentence reply saying, ‘Sounds cool, could be recorded better. When you playing next?’ I couldn’t believe it. I told him we were playing at Off The Cuff and he just said, ‘Cool, I’ll be there. Put me on guest list.’” And that was it. Squid did what Carey dotingly calls a ‘Speedy’ and it seems they
couldn’t be happier with the outcome. “In the studio, he doesn’t use a lot of words,” explains Ledbetter. “He does lots of listening and occasionally offers slight direction where he steers you and that’s when he catches it. He’ll say something like, ‘maybe just try this for a little bit,’ and then before we even feel like we’ve started back over again, he just says, ‘we’re done.’” “Our trajectory would not be anywhere without Dan Carey,” says Judge, “and the fact that he took a punt on some unknown band with 500 likes on Facebook…” With more live dates ahead this year (Squid seemed to play a show a night through December), the band will soon play their biggest yet at South By South West. The band start chanting, “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A..” The table pounding subsides and Nakivell ponders: “I think this year we’re about to see a completely different audience and experienced a completely different festival makeup to what we’re used to. I think we’ll be coming back to the UK with a completely different idea about the songs that we’re currently sitting on.” Go and see Squid play and you’ll see that they already have a handle on that. Next, their focus is on the studio. And they don’t intend to go in there alone. As Nakivell tells me: “We’ve all unanimously realised that there are loads of bands around us that we listen to regularly – like Black Country, New Road and Jockstrap – who feature so many amazing musicians that we’d really like to communicate with and ask to play on our records. When we’ve got a clearer idea about where we’re heading, we want to be collaborating and incorporating other people’s ideas into our own.” Squid’s communal approach to making music, it seems, extends to even beyond the band itself.
The BesT New Music
hOMeshAKe heLiuM Sinderlyn
homeshake’s Peter sagar has always followed his own idiosyncratic vision, a journey that’s taken him from sturdy guitar-based indie-pop to a bleary-eyed take on lo-fi R&B. Now, with his latest, ‘helium’, sagar is putting down roots in aesthetic territory all his own. Available on limited light blue vinyl in all good indie stores.
sKuNK ANANsie 25LiVe@25 Boogooyamma
BLOOD RED SHOES GET TRAGIC Jazz Life
‘25LiVe@25’ is a living, breathing, in-your-face document, proving that there is, and always will be, only one Skunk Anansie.
swiNDLe NO MORE NORMAL
it’s that time of year again, here is the annual round up of what Rough Trade loved from 2018, and this year seems to be better than ever!
swindle’s new album is a meeting ground for the vital frontiers of uK jazz, grime and hip hop, featuring a killer all-star cast of Mcs and instrumentalists. Spanning from lush, strings-laden soul to voicebox-heavy p-funk, the London-raised producer conjures his own musical world, where bass-charged rap songs are bolstered by live horn sections.
Rough Trade Shops
The fifth album from Blood Red shoes takes a giant leap away from their fuzz-rock roots with a danceable, atmospheric, electronics-laden and lyrically intimate record. Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Nick Launay (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nick cave, Arcade Fire), it sees the band reinvent themselves, whilst documenting their 4-year struggle to hold their lives together and complete their most difficult album.
electronic pop quartet Ladytron return with the release of their first new album in seven years. Distilling twenty years of experimentation into one propulsive album, Ladytron again push the boundaries of electronic pop in invigorating directions with thirteen songs that explore the disquiet of our times.
V/A: LeON VYNehALL DJ KicKs
INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP
V/A BAcK TO MiNe NIGHTMARES ON WAX
The debut album from International Teachers of Pop. A band that fuses the electronic pop finesse of Dare era Human League, the sound of Man Machine era Kraftwerk and the grooves classic MJ and puts them in a rah rah skirt and sends ‘em to a Roller Disco in Rotherham!
iconic compilation series ‘Back To Mine’ makes a triumphant return to celebrate the 20th anniversary, with the indomitable Nightmares on Wax the first to share his personal collection of music for afterhours grooving. The album - which includes three exclusive tracks - is impeccably mixed, as you’d expect from a DJ and collector of his pedigree.
international psych explorers Flamingods are back with brand new album ‘Levitation’, out on Friday 3rd May via Moshi Moshi Records.
“This is the Ladytron you remember, sleek and icy, with a wall of synthesizers barrelling their way toward you, driven by a Teutonic disco beat.” Brooklyn Vegan
Desolate Spools To celebrate 25 years of unparalleled influence, the iconic skunk Anansie release a new best of live album, ‘25LiVe@25’, showcasing their incomparable live presence over a career-spanning collection.
V/A ROUGH TRADE SHOPS COUNTER CULTURE 18
First to take the reins of the DJ-Kicks mix series in 2019 will be ever evolving uK DJ and producer Leon Vynehall. His 26-track mix features two new exclusives from the man himself as well as exclusive tracks by Ploy, Peach, and Pavillion, plus a number of hidden gems.
A classic technique.
includes tracks by idles, Khruangbin, Fontaines Dc, spellling, whenyoung, The Goon sax, Gazelle Twin, Bodega, shame, Boy Azooga, and many more.
Back To Mine
Support Your Local Independent Retailer Check www.republicofmusic.com
Moshi Moshi Records
inspired by the disco, funk and psychedelic sounds of the Middle east and south Asia in the ‘70s, the album channels these influences through a vision soaked in mysticism, positivity and sun-drenched imagery.
Interview Introverted club music, by Katie Beswick
Otha To date, Otha has self-released two singles. These introspective, propelling tracks (‘One of the Girls’ and ‘I’m On Top’) have a strange, listless energy – they’ve been described as “club music for the introverted” – and have received word-of-mouth critical acclaim, with attention from Pitchfork, Radio 1, Beats 1 and numerous European radio stations. This small body of work has established the emerging musician as a distinctive voice on the international scene and positioned her as an artist to watch in 2019, when she’s planning more releases and a series of live shows. “It was really surprising,” Otha, whose full name is Othalie Husøy, says of the response to the releases. She had not anticipated much of a reaction at all. “With ‘One of the Girls’, we just contacted Gorilla vs. Bear and asked if they wanted to premier this song. And then we got on Pitchfork.” She laughs, as she does often throughout our convocation, in a languid but weirdly nervous way. I can’t tell if it’s because she’s actually nervous, or if she’s smoked something before I called. Either way, her demeanour is very much in keeping with the music she’s released so far: a kind of laid-back, horizontal charm that you might mistake for maudlin if it weren’t for the occasional bursts of genuinely joyful laughter. “And that’s, like, one of my favourite blogs. I always read that, so we were really pleased to be on there. It was kind of a surreal experience.” The ‘we’ refers to Otha and her collaborator, romantic partner Tyler, a folk-music producer who is based in Vancouver. Otha is in Norway, talking to me over Skype from a room that is constructed, at least from the angle that I’m seeing it, entirely of wood, like a sauna. (With her long red hair and elfish face, the scene on the screen in front of me is so entirely fairy-tale Scandinavian stereotype that I half-wonder if she’s set it up deliberately, just to see if I’d notice the joke.) After a year in Canada Otha has come home to finish her degree in economics, working on her relationship and music part-time in three-month bursts between studying while the couple figure out their visa situation, and decide where they want to live. The music project emerged as a natural extension of their shared interests, rather than from any existing ambition on Otha’s part to launch a professional career as a musician. In fact, other than singing for a few bands, and harmonising with
her family around the piano, the collaboration with Tyler marks Otha’s first attempt at writing music of her own. “We were really having fun, just being a couple. There was no pressure. No ‘we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do it really good,’” Otha tells me. “We were just having fun. Trying to figure out the sound and stuff. And then it sort of kind of clicked with [‘One of The Girls’] and we kinda found our sound. And after that people were just into it, so we were like, ‘cool, we can make more music.’ So we made ‘I’m On Top’ in like, October-ish. The plan is just to develop the project together and yeah, to make more music.” She moves her eyebrows, in a ‘we’ll see how it goes’ gesture. The challenge of making music in the relationship – notwithstanding the inevitable tensions thrown up by keeping it together long-distance – has been in navigating Otha’s own selfconfessed introversion, and need to be alone for long periods of time. “I have to spend time on my own. So, sometimes I’m really bad at group projects.” She laughs again. “Because I need to have the control. I’m not easy to work with probably, I would assume. We just had to be pretty open and get used to working together. Just know each other’s boundaries. Just be open to any idea – that any idea is a good idea, even if it might not be good, the end result. But it’s a process to be comfortable with somebody, for sure.” Otha’s introversion can’t help but seep into the music, of course. The tracks are both stylistically introverted – with that oxymoronic listless propulsion that I describe above – and mediations on introversion. ‘I’m On Top’, for example narrates that peculiarly contemporary feeling of forcing yourself into a picture-perfect social life dictated by images of other people on social media – images that probably bear very little resemblance to the reality lived by the people posting them – even when you aren’t in the mood. “Especially now with the insta stories,” Otha says, “you can probably watch them for an hour. People update and update what they’re doing all the time. And it’s so easy to get caught up in what they are doing – not necessarily what you are doing. And it shouldn’t really be like that. It just becomes this whole process of, you think so much about… for example, if you have some friends and they’re out and they’re having fun and you sit at home, because you have something else to do, or because you can’t be there, you get jealous. And really you
shouldn’t know. Because what they’re doing, that’s their business. And you’re not really there.” In the PR blurb sent over by her PR before we chat, Otha’s work is described as being an evolution of a rich Scandinavianpop tradition – but really, although there are some electronica sounds that are distinctively European, I can’t detect much that’s typically Scandinavian about the sound (if there’s even any such thing as a Scandinavian sound). Perhaps it’s getting at Otha’s obvious adoration of the Swedish pop-sensation Robyn, whose ‘Body Talk’ she describes as “the ultimate album” (and it’s hard to disagree). “I just love it because I feel like every song on the album is a hit,” she says. It’s so catchy, and its so driving. And also the lyrics. Robyn, when she writes lyrics – it’s something anyone can relate to. I don’t know how to explain it. I’ve listened to that album more than any other album. It’s so driving, and every song makes you happy and sad. You could feel anything, and it would be ok to listen to it.”
In general though, it isn’t a particular strand of music that makes Otha tick – she joined a classical choir as a child, and at home her father would play what she describes as ‘rhythmic piano’. Mostly, she’s into people that invent their own genre, “and they don’t, for example, write a verse-chorus, verse-chorus kind of song. That really inspires me. Like, they’re just creative and they do whatever comes up in their mind.” All Otha really wants, as she and Tyler work to polish enough songs for a live 30-minute set this year, is to make music that people can relate to in their own lives. Music that expresses a politics of connection paradoxically disabled by a social media culture where we are more connected than ever, but mostly made to feel all alone. “I had a person write to me on Instagram. And she said – I forget which song it was, maybe it was both – that it helped her to get out of a bad relationship. And I was like ‘oh wow.’ It’s cool that it can speak to people like that. So I’m kind of not trying to change the world in the broader sense, but to speak to people more. More of a personal thing, through the music.”
Google Jerskin Fendrix and one of the first things
you’ll see is a Guardian review of an opera he helped produce for the V&A. Delve a little deeper and you’ll find a series of bizarre, extremely well-executed music videos for a set of even stranger singles. Click through to the second page of search results and you’ll start seeing listings from shows at the Windmill in Brixton and a string of tour dates with the pub’s coveted alumni Black Midi. If you discover his Soundcloud you’ll see tracks that go back years. Try and find out anything about the musician beyond a vague association with south London’s new alternative scene and his name, though, and you’ll draw a blank. There are hints of the singer and producer everywhere when you know where to look, and yet each one seems designed to beg the question: who the fuck is Jerskin Fendrix? As it turns out, Jerskin Fendrix isn’t the alter ego of some lofty academic or a disgruntled super producer, but is, in fact, Joscelin Dent-Pooley, an upper-middle-class former Cambridge student in his early twenties, now living in London. “People always talk about personas and having an identity on stage or whatever but I don’t think of it like that,” he tells me as we find a table in one of several branches of Costa below Canary Wharf. “It’s [just] a nice thing to hide behind. [Plus] it’s got the same number of letters in the first word as the second word, which is helpful.” Having been introduced to Fendrix via the video for ‘Swamp’, which features disturbingly close up shots of his beard and a scene involving baby hairless cats breastfeeding in high definition, I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed. However, Dent-Pooley has his own unusual backstory, all be it one that’s more familiar in the annals of British culture than his music. Born in Birmingham, he was raised in Shropshire, far away from the scene where he’s begun to make his name of late. Growing up he learned violin and piano, attended boarding school and relied on the Internet for contact with the world beyond the countryside. His parents are academics and preachers, religious and studious, dedicated to large books and serious scholarship. “It was a weirdly monastic upbringing,” he explains, emphasising the contrast to his new life in south London. “It takes away some things. You’re not as tuned onto things as people are in the city. I’m still scared of traffic.” His transformation into the musician sitting across the table began when he was in year ten at school. Boarding schools and country life do a good job of insulating privilege and sheltering its beneficiaries, but nothing stops the Internet. “When me and my friends were in, like, year ten or eleven, despite all being white middle-class dorks, we loved Odd Future,” he says, enthusing in the way that only those who have grown up alongside Tyler and Earl can. Discovering the hip hop collective changed the way he approached music, culture and everything around him. “We were obsessed,” he says. “I love rap in general but the sense of community, and having intertextuality and in-jokes between them in their music, was something that was so satisfying.” Ironically it was while studying classical music at Cambridge that he learned to reconcile these two influences. There he fell in with a group of like-minded students and
Jerskin Fendrix Biblical weird pop and some honesty about privilege, by Mike Vinti. Photography by Tom Porter. 19
Interview creatives, most notably the visual artist Peter Price, who now directs all of Fendrix’s music videos. — Rugby tackling audience members — Together with price and a group of first, he set about pissing off their straight-laced peers on campus by staging a production of Ubu Roy by Alfred Jarry, widely regarded as the first absurdist play. “We did this play where everyone is screaming ‘cunt’ at each other and having sex on stage and throwing shit,” he laughs. “We found the theatre with the least amount of health and safety regulations and did it there. I was fronting a punk band and we’d be assembled in the corner and people would be going wild on stage, doing coke and screaming and rugby tackling audience members.” It makes sense, then, that since graduating last year Fendrix has found a second home at the Windmill, the venue that gave rise to Shame, HMLTD and Goat Girl, to name just a few. “I’ve kind of transplanted into this very art school/fashion scene, which I can’t really empathise with,” he half jokes before clarifying. “The Windmill is great! It’s like the Hall of Miracles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame – full of weirdos.” Although it’s become the subject of much indie media attention in the last year, the importance of the pub in Fendrix’s career can’t be overstated. “No-one would ever put me on for the first two years other than the Windmill,” he says. And yet while he’s made firm friends with postmath-rockers Black Midi, the scene around the pub isn’t quite as cohesive as some believe it to be. “I wish I was best friends with Shame and HMLTD,” he laughs, rolling his eyes, before revealing that HMLTD once approached Price about a music video they wanted to make. When Price declined to lend a hand, DentPooley alleges that the group simply lifted some of the footage from the music video for ‘Swamp’ and used it for themselves. That others might want to borrow from his work isn’t surprising. Behind all of Jerskin Fendrix’s work is a palpable sense of ambition, the feeling that he’s trying to condense twentyodd years of voracious cultural consumption into bursts of energy, whether they be individual songs or critically acclaimed soundtracks. “I’ve grown up with all these big books around – huge spines,” he says. “I’m obsessed with the idea of big, almost mythologically big – almost biblical!” It’s the reason, he claims, that he only writes a handful of songs each year, preferring to
perfect each one rather than release a constant stream of new material as many artists today do. “I grew up around organ music in church,” he says, “and you can’t do that in a Soundcloud release. I love spectacle.” It’s pretentious but he knows that. “I’m terrified of boring people,” he tells me later in our conversation. “I hate the idea of repeating myself. It’s stupid because if you listen to, like, a Carly Rae Jepsen song, the chorus is repeated twenty times and it’s great, you never get bored.” — Wealthy, white, posh — Whether or not it’s stupid, it’s an approach he’s perfected on his most recent single, ‘Swamp’, a bizarre song in which PC Music and Leonard Cohen sit side by side as key influences. Basslines bang with the intensity of SOPHIE’s production while melodies and countless pop culture references appear out of the ether and vanish back into it just as quick. It’s organised chaos of the highest degree; a four-minute run of hooks, each one giving birth to the next until they all disappear into the void. Of any of his songs ‘Swamp’ also provides the clearest insight into Dent-Pooley, when, midway through, his voice swelling with desire and admiration, he declares: ‘I wanna be Ezra Koenig!’ I ask what is it about the Vampire Weekend frontman that appeals to him? “He’s taken the worst thing to be in pop music right now – wealthy, white, posh, verbose, pompous; things that you try and avoid – and owned them and everyone fucking loves him,” he says, both flabbergasted and awestruck by the concept. “It’s magic! I don’t know how he does it.” It’s clear he sees Koenig as something of a role model; an example of how he can square his privileged upbringing with an earnest love of pop culture made by those who have not shared in it. It prompts up to briefly wade into the swampy territory of privilege and responsibility, well aware that two white middle-class men may not have the best insights. Many of the bands he’s watched bloom at the Windmill have been praised for speaking out on politics in some way or another, but it’s clear Dent-Pooley doesn’t feel the need to add anything to that conversation. “I love seeing [political art],” he says as we broach the topic. “Women, artists of colour, LGBTQ+ artists – all of these people have big things to be angry about in their work. Everything my demographic could possibly say has been said hundreds of times already, though. What I have to say personally about politics, society, class, even if I had anything to say, is done.” For Dent-Pooley, the best thing to do, it seems, is to recognise his privilege, champion others’ work and otherwise shut up and get on with his. Having been afforded the space to experiment and be as weird as he likes for the past five years, he sees it as his responsibility to take advantage of it and create the best music he can. “Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t take up space; like I don’t deserve to, there’s no reason to,” he admits. “The only way I can justify my place in art is to make music that’s really fucking good,” he shrugs, still clearly struggling with competing impulses. “That’s my excuse at least.”
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Midnight chats Available via all podcast apps and at loudandquiet.com
Self Esteem Rebecca Taylor says her first pop album after 15 years in an indie band “feels like meat,” by Ian Roebuck Photography by Jenna Foxton
“I’ll just have a sparkling water,” says a rejuvenated Rebecca Taylor. New Year, new me? “Fuck that, this is a transformation, unless I get invited to the Glamour Awards – there is no way I can’t drink champagne at the Glamour Awards. It’s that, Jools Holland or a tube poster. That’s my dream.” It’s been a dream of Rebecca’s ever since she picked up a guitar aged 16 and joined the much-adored indie folk pop band Slow Club with fellow Sheffield musician Charles Watson. Now, some 15 years later, Slow Club are no more but Rebecca is still pursuing that invite to the Glamour Awards as Self-Esteem, and she couldn’t be more excited. She’s so thrilled, in fact, she knocks her San Pellegrino flying as it arrives to the table. “Look at those reactions – that’s my cricketing! Did you know that about me? I got into South Yorkshire when I was younger – that was going to be my career. I was a spin bowler but they changed the ball from a wind ball to a real ball when I was 15 so I gave it up. I haven’t been down the nets for a while.” OK, Rebecca’s new album can wait. “So there used to be a magazine called Wicket Women,” she continues. “I can’t find any evidence of this online, but I used to subscribe to it monthly, I swear. It was definitely around in the ’90s. I want to make some art out of old copies of Wicket Women. I mean, everyone goes, ‘oh you’re bi-sexual’, but Wicket Women could have told you that years ago!” Despite doing interviews for half her life already, Rebecca is warm, engaging and endearingly excitable. Maybe it’s her new lease of life. It seems Self Esteem has given her just that. “So yesterday I was out shopping, and It was funny, I heard my track being played!” she says. “Normally if I was on my own I wouldn’t say anything, but it was so loud in Debenhams on the make-up counter I couldn’t help myself, so I said this is my song and the girl was so sweet and asked if she could hug me. It was just lovely. I get obsessed by certain songs and sometimes bounding up an escalator to a certain song is the best feeling in life, so hopefully this means that someone somewhere is bounding up an escalator to my music. I am sounding a bit like Bros here aren’t I?” Yes. “… well, they didn’t have the eyebrow pencil in stock though, which is a terrible end to the story.” — Slight return bollocks — Self-Esteem is the result of some serious soul-searching. The demise of Slow Club in 2017 brought a wind of change to Rebecca’s musical outlook. “I went to Margate in search of the good life, but I am back in London now. I didn’t find it. I made my album there and met some wonderful people there who are now my friends. I loved it really, I just felt like there wasn’t enough for me to do. The way I maintain my mental health is by not stopping, ever! And there was so much stopping. You can make yourself as busy as you can, but it just wasn’t right. If I was having a child or settling down it would be perfect. All that slight return bollocks, you know – it feels like something new is happening right now and if I was in Margate I don’t think that would be happening, I would have stayed stationery, mentally.
“Hopefully this means that someone somewhere is bounding up an escalator to my music. I am sounding a bit like Bros here aren’t I?”
Being here in London I just keep going and going. I know that doesn’t sound healthy, but it works for me. I am really proud of what I made there, though.” What she made is ‘Compliments Please’, an astonishingly ambitious album of hits, bristling with pure pop intelligence. It’s a million miles from the slow-burn world of Slow Club. “Obviously, calling it that is funny – I think it’s making people not give me compliments. We are predisposed to not do as we are told. What else am I doing it for?” she jokes, forever self-deprecating. “I am so proud of it though and it’s a new level of proud that I have not experienced before as its 100% what I want to do whereas before I was compromising. I do wake up in the morning with a mad sense of respect for myself…which is weird. “Everything in the band was a compromise, and you can hear how much more me this is and how much I am enjoying it. I have spent my whole career wanting to get bigger and to have more opportunities and be taken seriously. No stone left unturned, if you know what I mean, and now I have turned over all those stones, musically.” Underneath these stones lie lush strings and big sentiments accompanied by drumbeats more in line with Destiny’s Child than Destroyer. Rebecca’s finally expressing herself one hundred per cent. “I started in the band when I was 16 with Charles and then Slow Club began when I was 18,” she says. “After that it just rolled on and on. I think as we never hit any heady heights there was nothing to fall from, it was a gradual thing. I knew that there were so many things that I wanted to do musically that wouldn’t fit there so I privately wrote songs and started making them with other people. It was always bubbling away but it never felt real or something I could do, I thought it would just be a one off bootlegy EP or something. It was after
that third Slow Club album, we’d been on the telly and things got a bit more exciting, we were on a bigger label, I really loved all that and I would like to do that again. Charles didn’t love that and I couldn’t push him. I have this knot in my stomach all the time and feel bad about it. If I am being selfish about it, though, and maybe I should be, compromising your output since you were a teenager is not good for you and I didn’t realise that. I thought that was the nature of the industry but now all that has lifted away.” — Meaty feelings — After so long on the same road, Rebecca’s brave new direction is admirable, but she must have some doubts? “Of course,” she says. “I fit into the flowery dress with acoustic guitar very easily, but that was never who I was. This could backfire massively but that’s also fine as I am quite tired now.” She laughs, demonstrating how humour is her go-to form of self-defence. “I was a drummer before I was a singer so it’s about the beat first,” she says, “I can take or leave instrumentation. I do love strings though, so there are strings. But it’s a mood and a feeling. There is so much music now we could just stop making any more, so if you’re going to make music now, you must strongly create a feeling. It’s got to be really sexy or really angry – then it’s worthwhile.” So what feeling have you created with ‘Compliments Please’, I ask. “Meat,” she says. “Meaty feelings. Which there is a place for.” This meat-based sound was created with Johan Karlberg of The Very Best, his masterful production allowing Rebecca to find her voice. “Johan was in Margate, the studio was in Margate,
I love The Very Best, we were very likeminded in what we were into – beats, sound – it was just quick, which I really need as I am lazy and impatient. He understands pop music. Too far into the cool side of things I wouldn’t have been happy, too far pop I don’t think either of us would be happy. X-factor pop is not what we wanted, although I do understand it, deeply. My whole career I wanted an audience dancing, so I really hope I get it. I have this little dream of my gigs being like a big party.” The record subtly shifts through genres and influences that act as a clue to Rebecca’s development as an artist, something she’s open to exploring. “I want to keep Self Esteem bombastic and big, heavy and emotional,” she says. “But do I want to do the same thing for every album? Do you know, I can’t remember the last time I was listening to an album and then I couldn’t wait for the next one. The only example I can give you is Alisha’s Attic when I was 11 or something and I loved the record so much but then I was mortifyingly disappointed with the next? The only other artist that I can’t wait to hear the record of now is Perfume Genius. Isn’t that weird? I have just renounced all other music. There is something about the way he writes songs that I just adore. Sonically, he has progressed perfectly.”
about what I was wearing so much. All that came flooding back! In Slow Club nobody needed to talk to me, whereas now I feel like I am hosting my own party all the time. “Being in Slow club was way more lonely than being in a band, to be honest. Working with a team of people I have chosen is a lovely feeling. I mean we haven’t done any extended touring, so we might end up not speaking to each other! I think this goes back to when I was younger, and I was never in a gang. I am wary of it but now I finally feel like I am an important member of something. This is probably what it feels like if you get married or have children or something – maybe this has been a convoluted way to finally feel popular. It’s because I am paying them no doubt.” Always the first to laugh at herself, Rebecca finishes her water and gathers herself to leave. “I am trying to take things one day at a time,” she tells me. “If people like the album, if I finally get some free clothes from Victoria Beckham, if I get invited to the Glamour awards… I don’t even know when they are, you know, why do I keep saying it? I love the UK-ness of it, actually. I want that Pixie Lott level of the Glamour Awards going on. I want to be on This Morning. I would love that.”
— That Pixie Lott level — Tonight Self Esteem graces the stage in Kings Cross, as Rebecca’s rebirth continues. It’s clearly still a rollercoaster of emotions. “It’s really weird being on new bands nights,” she says. “Going back to the start has been funny for me. I remember that wide eyed excitement, driving to gigs in Charles’ little car – we packed everything into it. I played the drum kit stood up. It was so twee and we had fake flowers everywhere. I thought
PEEPING DREXELS THURS 7 FEB BERMONDSEY SOCIAL CLUB PUBLIC PRACTICE THURS 7 FEB SHACKLEWELL ARMS TAYLOR SKYE MON 11 FEB SERVANT JAZZ QUARTERS ODETTA HARTMAN TUES 12 FEB PAPER DRESS VINTAGE BESS ATWELL FRI 15 FEB ST PANCRAS OLD CHURCH ANGELO DE AUGUSTINE MON 18 FEB OSLO HACKNEY KATHRYN JOSEPH TUES 19 FEB UNION CHAPEL YANN TIERSEN TUES 19 & WED 20 FEB ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL NATALIE EVANS WED 20 FEB SERVANT JAZZ QUARTERS JUNGLE OUT THURS 21 FEB SOLD ALEXANDRA PALACE LALA LALA THURS 21 FEB SEBRIGHT ARMS THE WAVE PICTURES THURS 21 FEB KOKO SHYGIRL & COUCOU CHLOE THURS 21 FEB CORSICA STUDIOS
PALACE TUES 26 FEBOLD OUT S VILLAGE UNDERGROUND MOTHERS WED 27 FEB OSLO HACKNEY LEIF ERIKSON THURS 28 FEB TUFNELL PARK DOME GENTLY TENDER WED 6 MAR OSLO HACKNEY GIANT PARTY WED 13 MAR OSLO HACKNEY PLASTIC MERMAIDS WED 13 MAR THE LEXINGTON JERSKIN FENDRIX THURS 14 MAR WHIRLED CINEMA ROSIE LOWE THURS 14 MAR OMEARA
GHUM THURS 4 APR BERMONDSEY SOCIAL CLUB HANNAH PEEL & WILL BURNS THURS 4 APR CECIL SHARP HOUSE KELLY MORAN FRI 5 APR PURCELL ROOM STEVE GUNN FRI 5 APR OSLO HACKNEY ART SCHOOL GIRLFRIEND WED 10 APR OMEARA BC CAMPLIGHT THURS 11 APR SCALA STATS WED 17 APR BERMONDSEY SOCIAL CLUB
BEDOUINE FRI 22 MAR PURCELL ROOM
TIRZAH TUES 23, WED 24 & THURS 25 APR SCALA
EMPRESS OF TUES 26 MAR SCALA
ROZI PLAIN TUES 7 MAY OSLO HACKNEY
SHARON VAN ETTEN TUES 26 MAR ROUNDHOUSE
GUIDED BY VOICES WED 5 & THURSO6UTJUNE SOLD VILLAGE UNDERGROUND
BECKIE MARGARET THURS 28 MAR THE ISLINGTON
THE STROPPIES THURS 18 JUL THE LEXINGTON
KARPE TUES 2 APROLD OUT SCALA S
Sleaford Mods — Eton Alive (extreme eating) It’s been a half-decade since the one-two punch of ‘Austerity Dogs’ and ‘Divide and Exit’ pushed Sleaford Mods into unexpected crossover success. Listening to those records at the time, with their wilfully stark sonic blueprint, even the most ardent of admirers would have conceded a difficulty in seeing how much longevity there could be in the Nottingham duo. Fortunately for them, the last few years have seen a grateful nation ensuring that there’s more than enough grimness and instability to keep Jason Williamson’s pen busy. Daffodils for Wordsworth; Boris Johnson, baleful high street pubs and a king sized bag of Quavers for Williamson. What happened? Did Sleaford Mods put a hex on the nation to make Britain increasingly resemble something from the darkest reach of Williamson’s imagination? If you take the arrival of Andrew Fearn for the album ‘Austerity Dogs’ as the legitimate starting point for Sleaford Mods (Williamson had released solo recordings under the name, but Fearn’s beats proved transformative to their sound and subsequent success), ‘Eton Alive’ is the group’s fifth studio album proper – a prolific run punctuated by no less than four EPs. Fittingly for an album released as an unhappy nation mires itself further into Brexit turmoil, ‘Eton Alive’ is Sleaford Mods’ most nihilistic, most bleak record to date – it’s also one of their most surprising, and perhaps most vital works yet. A typically cheery missive in the album’s press release underlines this point. “Here we are once again,” Williamson explains, “in the middle of another elitist plan being digested slowly as we wait to be turned into faeces once more. Some already are, some are dead and the rest of us erode in the belly of prehistoric ideology which, depending on our abili-
ties and willingness, assigns to each of us varying levels of comfort that range from horrible to reasonably acceptable.” Ahead of the release of last album ‘English Tapas’, Williamson gave up alcohol and drugs – the effect of this on Sleaford Mods has been him writing with renewed insight about consumption, masculinity and mental health. A key theme on the album is masculine repression and emotional inarticulacy. “We never touch the real feelings/ Just the empty discourse,” he barks on the track ‘Discourse’, and picks this up again on ‘Firewall’ (“You don’t know why you’re crying at all/ Because of your firewall”). Like the best of the duo’s work, it’s the perfectly expressed simplicity that packs the punch. Indeed, Williamson is especially good writing about his generation; the ecstasy generation hurtling into middle aged and struggling to make sense of their continuing alcohol and drug use. You saw this at points on ‘English Tapas’, but ‘Top It Up’ on this record is perhaps his best attempt at the message yet – a dank portrait of the funeral of what appears to be one of his contemporaries. “Two lines on the table at a fucking funeral for somebody who got sick of two lines on the table” is a lyric that goes straight to the small of your back. As is often the case in Williamson’s writing, his interior monologue competes with the voices of those around him: “What a nice man,” someone appears to observe, “there was nothing nice about the dickhead,” he spits back. ‘Top It Up’ also speaks to a development in the project – the furious speed poetry (what they term “rant songs”) that typified albums like ‘Divide and Exit’ have faded from view with each subsequent release, and Williamson as a writer appears to be a late convert to the idea that sometimes less can be more. Though crucially informed – galvanised even – by American hip-hop, Sleaford Mods are almost certainly not hip-hop. What they do, however, is use the spirit of the genre to communicate a personal and national comedown in a way that no other style of music than hip-hop could be a conduit for. The late cultural
theorist Mark Fisher, himself a fan of the band, wrote: “A secret sadness lurks behind the 21st century’s forced smile. This sadness concerns hedonism itself, and it’s perhaps in hip-hop – the genre that has been most orientated to pleasure over the past 20 odd years – where this melancholy has registered most deeply.” This is precisely how Sleaford Mods use tropes from the genre, and five albums in there’s little else in modern Britain that sounds more haunted or paranoid than Andrew Fearn’s donking, dead-eyed loops. Indeed, ‘Eton Alive’ is Sleaford Mods’ most sonically diverse and exciting release yet. Always understated, Fearn has been able to work ideas from dub, post-punk and rave into a framework that remains minimalist and un-busy. Its simplicity is a red herring to the beat-maker’s talent – the person who bemoans the guy “just stood behind a laptop pressing play” looks increasingly like the moron in an art gallery pointing at a Kandinsky and insisting their blindfolded child could do better. Fearn’s inventiveness is at its most skilful on ‘Discourse’, late in the album – a rattling throb of punk funk akin to ESG or even Talking Heads. At their most full-throated, like the ominous ‘OBCT’, the basslines are reigned in and snarling like a Rottweiler on a leash. Not all of the experiments, however, do work. ‘When You Come Up To Me’ sees Williamson properly singing. His hoarse, blizzardbattered croon does actually really work (as it did on 2017’s ‘I Feel So Wrong’) but the material itself underwhelms. As with Williamson’s decision after ‘Key Markets’ to stop referencing celebrities (this has thankfully waned on this record, with a brilliant line about Graham Coxon “looking like a left-wing Boris Johnson”) there’s a carefulness not to fall into anyone’s trap or become a rent-a-gob. Take opening track ‘Into the Payzone’, in which Williamson gets to have his cake and eat it, getting in a gag about hipsters (“I don’t use flavoured vapes/ they’re blow up dolls for hipsters mate”) before wrong-footing the listener and insisting that Sleaford Mods are “not anti-hipster fakes”.
Albums As usual, there’s genuine laughout-loud moments of offbeat humour across the record – the insistence that white dog shit is safe for kids to play with, Williamson’s delight at getting one over on the council by having a surplus recycling bin. There’s even occasional tacit acknowledgements of Sleaford Mods’ success and change in status – “you know I just fantasise,” he sings on the stellar ‘OBCT’, “in a house three times the size of my old one.” This also surfaces on lead single ‘Kebab Spider’ – a scathingly funny attack on experts, Channel 4 documentaries and ‘bingo punks with Rickenbackers’, which sees Williamson insist “of course we’re fucking relevant!”. So what kind of writer is Jason Williamson now? It would be a mistake to think of him as a social realist – if anything, his vision of everyday life is a maximalist, hyper-real, ultra-squalid interpretation of reality. This is something perhaps missed by some of Sleaford Mods’ older fan base, keen to align their new heroes with their old ones – the Clash, the Jam et al. This is a category error. Williamson’s voice is not one of rage or protest, but of resignation tempered with occasional disgust. There is no call to arms. “It’s not enough anymore to want change,” he sings on ‘Subtraction’, “you have to do change, but the only change I like sits in my pocket, I’m a consumer.” It’s precisely this desperation that makes ‘Eton Alive’ all the more nihilistic, all the more troubling. The protestor at least believes that there’s a chance of change. This is most explicit on the track ‘Policy Cream’, best summed up by Williamson in an interview ahead of this album’s release, where he explained that he wanted to criticise “this idea that policies are these shining beacons of hope, because they’re not. They’re a band-aid on a knackered trap. I’m still of the opinion that it’s going to get really bad before it gets better – if it ever gets better.” The journalist Michael Hann coined the term ‘furious absurdism’, for a kind of angry surrealism found in the photo collagist Cold War Steve, and also in British bands like Shame, Cabbage and Idles. You don’t have to like the above
groups to appreciate quite how much Sleaford Mods set the tone for how a certain type of British band relates to the world around them, and ‘furious absurdism’ has been one of the defining artistic responses to austerity and Brexit. And thus, at Sleaford Mods’ most commercially successful and culturally influential moment to date, in ‘Eton Alive’ they have delivered one of their strongest records so far; a hellfire missive thrown down by a band still very much at the peak of their powers. 8/10 Fergal Kinney
Better Oblivion Community Center — Better Oblivion Community Center (saddle creek) When you imagine a Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst collaborative album, you can feel the earth parting slightly beneath your feet, and see the metallic slide emerging from the soil that’s going to take you down to the nothingness. You can almost feel someone leaning over your shoulder to say: “We’re going to a party! It’s your party. Happy birthday, darling!” At the helm of Bright Eyes and Saddle Creek, Conor Oberst’s projects over the last three decades have organised confessional rock fans with the downcast enthusiasm of University activists: there were songs for you when indie found emo, when emo found Beat poetry, when Beat poetry just continued to get drunk. And then there’s Phoebe Bridgers, who reinvigorated confessional indie with her debut ‘Strangers In The Alps’, a magnum opus to digital loneliness. The one recording from that project featuring Oberst almost masqueraded the line ‘you always said that you’d prefer to drown’ as a moment of light relief. Now they’re working together to help their listeners find a better oblivion. You can only imagine. ‘Better Oblivion
Community Center’ completely avoids being a sob-fest, though, just as boygenius was a bit of a fuck you to the melancholic female soloist being characterised by sad songs while the sharp wordplay and riff-heavy choruses gathered dust in each reviewer’s appendix. It’s a surreal consultation with culture’s history books, a sarcastic narration of LA-dreaming and the troubled artist. In one track’s hook, Bridgers and Oberst ‘want to die like Dylan Thomas’, in another they dream of being buried among the celebrities in Hollywood’s best Memorial Parks, yearning for fame, even if it’s fame-for-fame’ssake: ‘the man in white slacks sure looks dangerous, and I heard the short one’s kinda famous.’ Faithful to what came before it stylistically, the album’s slower moments are its highlights. ‘Service Road’ is a cat among the pigeons, an earnest moment among the satire with Bridgers’s vocals at their best; ‘Chesapeke’ is the perfect indie movie end-scene with warbling synths; ‘Forest Lawn’ is particularly brilliant, with a laid-back guitar pattern and unassuming accounts of the wannabe musician: ‘you used to sing, with a straight face, ‘Que Sera Sera’.’ On the other side, there’s a kid wondering why his hero’s playing to no one in a parking lot. When it gets heavier, ‘Exception to the Rule’ battles through a gratuitous dystopian acidhouse bassline; a fuzz-drenched chorus on ‘Big Black Heart’ feels awkwardly mixed; a thundering J Mascis-sounding solo feels out of place above bird sounds on an otherwise excellent‘Dominos’. If you hunted out for this record before it’s announcement you’d have been met with an advert on a green bench at the corner of Sunset and Alvarado in LA, or an online form to receive a brochure. The services offered: Assisted Self-Care, Chosen Family Therapy, Dry Ice Meditation, Free Human Empathy Screening, Sacred Crystal Implanting and Removal, Pineal Gland Expression. You could call a number and hear a pre-recorded message from ‘Reverend’ Christian Lee Hutson advertising his symposium on MarcusGunn jaw winking ptosis. The album’s insides are a little less surreal, but a
Albums one-part bleak/one-part funny account of standing on the corner hoping to get recognised. 7/10 Tristan Gatward
unlistenable, ‘We Love You’ is a lesson in how to make idiosyncrasy accessible – danceable, even. 8/10 Hayley Scott
Bilge Pump — We Love You (gringo) There’s a lot to be said for bands that exist quietly in the background and plough on. Indeed, with perseverance comes musical growth and, if you’re lucky enough, the recognition you deserved all along. Bilge Pump are a case in point – generally neglected by the music press in particular (the NME once referred to them as “unlistenable guff ”) but vital to a city’s musical landscape, the Leeds band formed in the mid-1990s and have since built a reputation for possessing a disturbing ability to upstage any band they play with, via their own brand of pastoral yet heavy noise rock. Inevitably, then, the band’s first LP in ten years is an exciting prospect, and ‘We Love You’ doesn’t disappoint. Here, fractured art-punk and progressive noise remain the key themes, with vocals that border on medieval folk. It’s also weirdly pop at times, and probably the group’s most accessible record yet. ‘GUHAC’ even has a melody made for the radio, even if it does still include the usual complexities – the hard-rock drums and constant lead guitar are forever trying to out-work each other. Anyone who’s been lucky enough to see this band live will know that they are a powerful anomaly. They are loud and riffy, and their defined patterns typically collide with Emlyn Jones’s witty lyrical diatribes. Fortunately, the fierceness of their live shows translates well here. ‘The Passion of The Kid’, which borrows from Can’s jam-like repetition, sounds just as vital on record as it does onstage, with its astute assimilation of Brexit Britain. Weird, wired, and anything but
Chaka Khan — Hello Happiness (island) I’ll be honest: Chaka Khan’s back catalogue has rarely been a feature of my listening over the years, and after working with everyone from Miles Davis to Aretha Franklin in a career spanning 50 years and 22 albums, there hasn’t been a shortage of opportunity. Sure, I might have sung ‘Ain’t Nobody’ badly at karaoke once, dipped into the Prince-spirited ‘I Feel For You’ as an occasional guilty pleasure, and had the hook of ‘I’m Every Woman’ burned into my brain after featuring on more adverts than I care to remember, but in the same way I have soft spots for Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan due to my mum’s often questionable listening habits, I’ve always associated Chaka, Whitney et al. with long school holiday drives to France, sixchanger CD players and subscriptions to the Britannia Music Club. But I digress. Away from the ‘Diary of Adrian Mole’-esque pre-amble, ‘Hello Happiness’ marks Khan’s first album in twelve years. And allied with Dave Taylor’s (Switch, Major Lazer) presence on the dials, throws up some twisted, contemporary jams. Expectedly, Khan’s power vocal is the fulcrum of the album, but it’s given a dexterity by the all-angles-attack of Taylor’s production. Where ‘Don’t Cha Know’ is given a bright, soulful energy that could’ve happily been lifted from Romare’s ‘Love Songs: Part Two’, Khan plays it softer on the more minimalist ‘Ladylike’, easing into acoustic live lounge R&B before drifting into the dubby sound-system of ‘Isn’t that Enough?’.
Apparently, she had no plans to make another original record, and at just seven tracks, ‘Hello Happiness’ could have felt like a tentative return. Instead, the less-is-more approach feels measured, and while not every track is a bona fide hitter, it’s still an album that delivers highlights with little filler. The disco, R&B and funk tropes that have hallmarked her career are apparent and ever-present, but the chopping key changes, bongos, bass licks and broken beats of lead single – and standout track – ‘Like Sugar’ puts everything into an energetic orbit of Khan’s vocal in a stop/start, cut ‘n’ paste style that made Max Sedgley’s ‘Happy’ such a fun listen. But when Khan amps up the sass and swagger on title-track ‘Hello Happiness’ and ‘Too Hot’, you get a fiery glimpse of the diva dynamic on which she’s built a career and why, even at 65, and 23 albums, she doesn’t sound a step out of place. 7/10 Reef Younis
Cosey Fanni Tutti — Tutti (conspiracy international) Cosey Fanni Tutti’s background in industrial pioneers COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle lent her subsequent work with fellow TG member Chris Carter (as Chris & Cosey, and then Carter Tutti) a uniquely shady sound palette. This nicely countered an inherent tendency in new synth and drum tech that made contemporary ’80s pop and today’s EDM so saccharine and symmetrical, a sensibility much more convincingly concentration camp-like than what her groups were camply and subversively referencing in their artwork and content. At 67 years old, and 36 years after her debut solo album ‘Time To Tell’, this is still the case. ‘Tutti’ is a wonderfully free-feeling, experimental album that
Albums nonetheless retains some of the irresistible, limbic-invading low end pulse of her and Carter’s ‘Walking Through Heaven’ or ‘Dancing with Ghosts’. The self-titled opener does just this, dropping us on a pummelling bass sequence with an ace delay-inflected cornet line. It remains steadily beatoriented before a swing into something crunchier and more obtuse around ‘Split’, contemporary production ever so slightly smoothing the edges. She mumbles sweetly on a couple before ‘Orenda’ closes out the LP. This release seems fairly tightly controlled as journos weren’t allowed mp3 zips and, having spunked all my streaming log-ins, the preceding track-by-track map might be very wrong. It’s a testament of a sort that, virally bed-ridden, I had this record on repeat for days without making notes and zoned out to a musician who’s withstood the decades better than almost any peer. 8/10 Edgar Smith
Du Blonde — Lung Bread For Daddy (moshi moshi) The cover art for ‘Lung Bread For Daddy’ is the final death knell in Beth Jean Houghton’s early persona. Emerging in 2008 as a twee psych-folkster, the Newcastle musician was a parody of femininity in false eyelashes and Dadaist body paint. The self-portrait on her third album sees her denuded of artifice, her face scrubbed clean of make-up and the hues designed to emphasise her tiredness. It’s as process of stripping back that reflects her approach to composing. Songs about sweet tooth birds were replaced by aggressive directness on the grungy glampunk of ‘Welcome Back To Milk’, on which she rebranded herself Du Blonde. Her new album is less of a wholesale reinvention than a bedding down of
self-sufficiency, with her playing all of the instruments except drums. The sound remains grounded in the ’70s, with Mick Ronson’s guitar a spidery influence on ‘RBY’. Yet it’s largely moved away from glam and towards classic ’70s rock, the histrionic soloing on opening track ‘Coffee Machine’ being contrasted with lyrical alienation (“Let me breathe in my own sheets one last time”) and the bluesy licks on ‘Baby Talk’ being as dirty as the production. This musical directness is nonetheless juxtaposed with moments of space. ‘Peach Meat’ opens with just a deep fuzz bass and vocals, before alternating with garage rock. The pretty piano line on ‘Days Like These’ could have been drafted from her debut album and closing number ‘On The Radio’ has the warm muddiness of The Beatles. It’s a sound that still leaves room for dark humour, with the distorted guitar on ‘Holiday Resort’ finding her ‘Pulling pubic hairs from the crotch of my swimming costume’. It’s an image that almost literally finds her washing her dirty linen in public, an honesty that’s compelling although sometimes lacking the memorable hooks of her formative work. 7/10 Susan Darling
FEELS — Post Earth (wichita recordings) ‘You’ll have to leave all of your trash behind/ Even your plastic crucifix,’ warn Feels on the title track of ‘Post Earth’. The LA quartet’s B-movie prophesy of environmental catastrophe is part of a wider global awareness on the followup to their Ty Segall-produced debut. Fueled by the desire to topple oppression, their anger and frustration may be real but the sentiments are delivered with a healthy dose of scuzzy sweetness.
A brisk half-hour of post-punk, the band knows how to manipulate dynamics to make the heftiest of guitar riffs palatable to a wider audience. At the heaviest end of the spectrum are ‘Anyways’ and ‘Tollbooth’, which snarl along with the best of Babes In Toyland, while ‘Deconstructed’ has the furious brevity of Bikini Kill. But it’s when they let in some space that they really hit their stride, with ‘Awful Need’ being a garagerock version of The Bangles as guitarists Laena Geronimo and Shannon Lay harmonise. There are also short excursions into psych-rock courtesy of the throbbing bassline on ‘Last Chances’ and the slightly experimental, submerged chatter on ‘Sour’. These songs might not survive the Post Earth apocalypse but they make an invigorating soundtrack to its downfall. 7/10 Susan Darlington
Gobby — Beats by Gobby 2 (uno nyc) At various points in his dense, intensely confusing career, New York beatmaker and electronic music artist Gobby has experimented with techno, new age pop and general lo-fi weirdness. On his new album, ‘Beats by Gobby 2’, the producer returns to hip hop for a beat tape that’s at once traditional and mind-bendingly strange. Boom bap forms the spine of the project with elements of psychedelia, bubblegum electronics and bursts of shoegaze guitar growing off of it like ribs. The result is a body of work that sits somewhere between the gentle bliss of a lo-fi Beats to Study/Relax To playlist and the intellectual chaos of a laterday Aphex Twin project. One moment you’re lying back immersed in Gobby’s world, the next the ground has opened
Albums up and there’s a chorus of inhuman voices screaming at you. While the dynamism of Gobby’s production makes ‘Beats By Gobby 2’ an exhilarating ride throughout, tracks like ‘Marketplace’ and ‘BB Guide’, with their slightly more straightforward structures, are the ones that stick in the listener’s mind. Gobby presents so many ideas in such quick succession here that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. However, when an idea hits, and most of them do, it’s like watching the history of western popular music appear and then vaporise in front of you. 7/10 Mike Vinti
Homeshake — Helium (sinderlyn) Homeshake’s second album doesn’t get off to a strong start. I’ll be honest: I have a problem with instrumental album openers. There’s no need to open your record with a minute and a half of musical noodling. Stick it somewhere in the middle, by all means, but don’t go there right out of the gate. It’s an age old vendetta, so it says a lot that ‘Helium’ easily makes up for this foible. After the slow open of ‘Early’, ‘Helium’ settles into a dreamlike groove. Montreal musician Peter Sagar read a lot of Murakami between his 2017 record, ‘Fresh Air’, and this one, and it shows. The instrumentation here is surreal and otherworldly, blending synths and sound effects with Sagar’s far-out vocals. And the more effective, lyricless interludes throughout the record heighten the effect, from the blissed-out waterfall sounds of ‘Trudi and Lou’ to the spacey, bizarre ‘Salu Says Hi’. The latter sounds like a pair of alien robots having a conversation, all musical chirps and distorted voices. On the lyrical front, the album is rooted in the everyday. ‘Nothing Could Be Better’ is a sweet ode to total romantic
contentment, with the narrator not even wanting to blink lest he miss a moment he could be looking into his lover’s eyes. Then there’s lead single ‘Like Mariah’, in which Sagar daydreams about the way life could be if only he could sing like... Mariah Carey, obviously. Who hasn’t entertained that particular fantasy on occasion? With his new record, though, it’s fair to say that Homeshake doesn’t need to master those vocal acrobatics. ‘Helium’ floats without them. 7/10 Liam Konemann
International Teachers of Pop — International Teachers of Pop (desolate spools) International Teachers of Pop are, in fact, three Sheffield-based students of analogue-synth with long histories in the Steel City’s indie scene: the Moonlandingz’s Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer (also of Eccentronic Research Council) helm the electronics with similarly unflashy dedication to teutonic pulse as heard in their main band, while Leonore Wheatley provides more of the deliciously detached froideur she offers with The Soundcarriers. Drop in splashes of early-80s new-pop melodrama and an impressive line in playground sing-song melodies, and you get a collection – on the album’s first half, at least – of perfectly serviceable Human League impressions, which, given Flanagan’s assertions that this is the “third most important outsider pop album to come out of Sheffield after ‘Dare’ and ‘Different Class’”, perhaps represents a job well done. The album’s second side, however, broadens and slows, revealing something far more interesting than mere retro-pop fetishism: ‘She Walks In Beauty’ has a lovely phasing quality, its pack of synths beavering away separately but together, and album closer ‘Oh Yosemite’ verges on the balladeering – pleasingly dreamy,
bored, and full of longing. ‘The Age of the Train’, meanwhile, is the best thing here, a sinewy, slithering and sinister diatribe against Northern Rail’s calamitous timekeeping that perhaps comes closest to the band’s stated aim of offering “pure escape from your Brexit nightmare”. That ‘International Teachers of Pop’ doesn’t quite meet that ambition is no cause for embarrassment; that it nonetheless offers a satisfyingly nostalgic respite from the harshness of 2019 is success enough. 7/10 Sam Walton
James Yorkston — The Route To The Harmonium (domino) Having recently spent time in Cellardyke, the small coastal village in the East Neuk of Fife that James Yorkston and his latest album call home, the beauty of his work makes a little more sense. A rich tapestry of layers that at times dovetail seamlessly and at others crash together with abandon, you can hear the North Sea as it laps and weathers Scotland’s coast while Yorkston’s characters go about their business dotted around a landscape which is at turns both breathtaking and brutal. Yorkston’s music gives posterity to this dichotomy. On single and album standout ‘My Mouth Ain’t No Bible’, for example, Yorkston seems to loom above life as it goes on, reflecting on the passing of time, the ebb and flow of creativity and the artist’s own triumphs and regrets. It builds with detached menace as the narrator wryly observes the futile human anxieties of the people below, all the while underpinned by a pummelling wall of snares and strings. In its calmer moments, the album conjures up sundappled dawns and nights with edges blurred by drink. ‘The Villages I Have Known My Entire Life’ and ‘Oh Me Oh My’, amongst others, are beautiful photo-
Albums graphs of love and friendship now gone. The full kaleidoscope of life is here and it is a rich experience for it. After almost two decades of releasing albums I’m not sure Yorkston would crave the fame afforded to lesser folk talents who have achieved global success. He should, however, be in a position to shun it. 8/10 David Zammitt
The Japanese House — Good at Falling (dirty hit) It’ll be with some surprise that a lot of people register that this is Amber Bain’s debut album. It feels as if she’s been around forever, not least because her position as part of the Dirty Hit stable has afforded her no end of coverage and constant live exposure, with support slots to similarly zeitgeisty label mates like Wolf Alice and her de facto mentors, The 1975. It’s also down to the fact that, like Matty Healy’s outfit, she’s put out four EPs over the course of three years in the build-up to this first fulllength – just as The 1975 made a point of establishing a firm following in the run-up to releasing their self-titled LP, so has Bain been drip-feeding material ever since 2015’s ‘Pools to Bathe In’. Unlike ‘The 1975’, ‘Good at Falling’ is not likely to top the album chart, but the creative effect of the slow and steady gestation period is striking in its similarity: Bain sounds assured as she delivers a cohesive, smartly thought-out collection of pop songs, and doesn’t shy away from flirting with experimentation either. The one constant is her voice, which is wellsuited to electronic backdrops that she clearly has the measure of. On the likes of ‘You Looked So Happy’ and ‘somethingfartoogoodtofeel’, she channels Imogen Heap in shifting her vocals to match the mercurial sonic landscape, while the tracks that lean heavily on autotune –
‘Everybody Hates Me’, ‘Wild’ – do so without displacing Bain’s position front and centre. The instrumental palette is consistently minimalist. More or less every song is built around beds of synth sprinkled neatly with effects, very much a design in the image of George Daniel of The 1975, who played a key part in fleshing out Bain’s demos. Accordingly, by the time the sprawling, thirteen-track effort is reaching its close, it starts to sound like a little bit much of a muchness, especially when Bain doesn’t lyrically have a great deal to talk about beyond her own personal tribulations. ‘Good at Falling’, though, bodes well for her future, and provides further stirring evidence that, when it comes to debut records, slow and steady usually wins the race. 7/10 Joe Goggins
Jessica Pratt — Quiet Signs (city slang) ‘Quiet Signs’ is a record with such quiet power that you expect the world to fall silent as it plays. In one sense it is comprised of simple compositions, but each of its nine tracks is laser crafted to gently tease and pull at your control centre. Getting to know it is like becoming an addict and seeking therapy at the same time. It marks a significant departure for Los Angeles singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt, whose first two albums’ fingerplucked traditions were rooted in time and place. This time Pratt’s celestial vocals are submerged in a thick, floating force field that is electric-blanket-warm, closer to Grouper or Joanna Newsom than conventional folk. Opening with a 100-second haunting piano number, ‘Opening Night’, named after the 1977 John Cassavetes cult art film, the album is essentially uniform in its arrangement and instru-
mentation, as if it were one uninterrupted dream suite. The tracks change but you the listener just continue to drift helplessly toward a defenceless state of reverie. Lead single ‘This Time Around’ is the most direct and lyrically decipherable track, its melody entirely contained within Pratt’s sliding, seductive voice. ‘Poly Blue’ is the most deviant, with brief flashes of woodwind, but it never rocks you out of your trance. The production throughout (Pratt co-produced with Al Carlson) is soft-edged and intimate, almost as if we are intruding on something too personal. It is the purest distillation of this artist’s voice and is primed to be one of the year’s standout releases. 9/10 Max Pilley
Ladytron — Ladytron (!k7) There’s an inevitable point where bands age you. Usually, it’s when the 10th or 20th anniversary of an album is rammed down your throat in all of its remastered, deluxe limited-edition cynicism. But sometimes it sneaks up on you. Back in the giddy, guitar-driven days of the early ’00s, where The Strokes and so on inspired a generation of threechord copycats to spew from suburban garages with Weller haircuts and banal intentions, Ladytron’s noir pop was a sleek, synth-led distraction. By numbers, it’s been 19 years, one eight-year hiatus and (now) six albums of Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo’s sultry, androgynous vocals managing to sound alluring, accusing and totally disinterested all at the same time. Album number six, then, carries that familiarity but it’s also Ladytron 2.0. The robotic electro, motorik beats and Kraftwerk rigidity are still heavily at play but there’s an agitation that makes that subzero impassiveness slip. Opener ‘Until the Fire’ is rousing by their typi-
Albums cally measured standards, powered by driving drums and soaring hooks, ‘You’ve Changed’ goes heavy on the industrial Numan keys and ‘The Mountain’ veers towards Abba with its pop drama key changes. But it’s ‘Horrorscope’ and ‘Deadzone’ that showcase the dissonance, as the former goes off-key and offscript, while the latter comes alive with a disquiet that’s thawed the icy veneer in their absence. It’s not an album to instigate any roaring “les gilets jaunes” movement, but after almost 20 years of playing it cool, Ladytron’s uncharacteristic restlessness suits them. And there’s not a hi-vis vest in sight. 6/10 Reef Younis
Little Simz — GREY Area (age 101) At just 24 it feels like Simbi Ajikawo has been around for decades. Championed by Kendrick Lamar off the back of her 2015 debut, ‘A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons’, the pressure has been heaped on from all corners over the last four years. Fiercely independent in her approach, a large portion of this weight came from within and led to a period of intense selfquestioning during the conception of album number three. Arising out of what Ajikawo refers to as a time of “confusion”, ‘GREY Area’ explores darker themes as she grapples with the value of making her art despite the many obstacles and sacrifices it may entail. Though evidently painful, this process seems to have proven cathartic. Having performed just about every duty on her previous two albums, Simz has learned to embrace the skill of delegation. Recruiting producer and childhood friend Inflo she has expanded her musical palette so that ‘GREY Area’ includes contributions from string quartets, flautists and vocalists who complement Ajikawo’s
expert knack for sampling in an altogether lusher landscape. Opener ‘Offence’ provides a mini case study on this new approach. Woodwind and strings serve as streaks of colour on a rough, mottled canvas of distorted bass and uneasy drum loops. It’s a superb return and a clear signal of intent. Variously deconstructing the age of social media, the importance of being honest with oneself and the state of a nation built on equality, ‘GREY Area’ is ambitious in its scope. Located squarely in London, it balances a celebration of the UK’s diversity while highlighting the problems encountered by young black people who simply want to succeed. Reflecting on her childhood, ‘101 FM’’s melodies suggest a vibrant multiculturalism against today’s inward-looking climate, yet the lyrics warn of challenges under the surface that remain unresolved. On ‘Venom’ Simz draws attention to the irony of today’s power structures being dominated by weak males, while on ‘Therapy’ she subtly turns gender orthodoxy on its head by asserting that if her daughter turns out like her she will be a success: ‘If she’s anything like me, I’m raising a king.’ 7/10 David Zammitt
Hejira — Thread of Gold (lima limo) Born of a ‘homecoming’ trip to Ethiopia for frontwoman Rahel DebebeDessalegne, ‘Thread of Gold’ is the kind of record that you need to embrace almost as a performance piece – to find the artist’s own intent in the music, and fully accept it. And what a rich backdrop it has. The title track is a shimmering jewel, a piano-and-strings ballad that recalls Bat For Lashes at her best, while elsewhere the album’s diversity of styles is underpinned by a simple and engaging beauty, like on ‘Empire’ – poised and gentle, it’s a
smooth duet akin to Jose Gonzalez with a few more instruments in the mix. Lyrically though, it’s a somewhat patchy affair. The strength and impact of lines like ‘No church or spire spared by the walls of empire’ and ‘These broken ribs will protect you’ is undermined somewhat by some distinctly over-earnest verses elsewhere. ‘A Taxi Man’ sounds something like a creative writing class chewing over their weakest couplets while an arrhythmic and disinterested orchestra tunes up in the background. 6/10 Chris Watkeys
Methyl Ethel — Triage (4ad) This third record from Methyl Ethel is apparently the first that was intended “to be heard”, by which frontman and principal songwriter Jake Webb presumably means that it was intended for a wider audience than just former bandmates and friends within Perth’s music scene (their first two albums chronicled his uneasy relationship with both in some detail). ‘Triage’ is the trio’s most accessible work yet and feels like their most carefully-crafted, which in itself threatens to prove its downfall. For a band so often described with adjectives like ‘surrealist’ and ‘flamboyant’, Methyl Ethel suddenly sound almost maniacally committed to having everything just so. Webb has taken his cues from all the right places, though. Previous parallels were routinely drawn with T. Rex, but those will fade into the background when the conversation around ‘Triage’ begins, in favour of nods to The Cure and David Bowie, particularly ‘Scary Monsters and Super Creeps’ in the case of the latter. The sumptuously melodic ‘Real Tight’ is the standout and the track that the album hinges on, but there’s value in the spacier moments too (see ‘Post-Blue’ and ‘All the Elements’). The
Albums first truly outward-facing Methyl Ethel album should go over well with plenty – a little less restraint next time out, though, might expand their reach even further. 6/10 Joe Goggins
Mercury Rev — Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited (bella union) In 1967, at the height of the Summer of Love, Bobbie Gentry topped the American charts with her debut single, the notably un-psychedelic ‘Ode To Billie Joe’, which briefly transported pop fans from Pepperland or Brian Wilson’s sandpit to rural Mississippi and a dinner-table psychodrama. Six months later, Gentry returned with her second album, ‘The Delta Sweete’, picking up where her quietly revolutionary hit single left off, weaving a Southern Gothic tapestry of church pews, dustbowl mysteries and cotton fields with just her dreamy, bashful vocals, acoustic guitar, and smatterings of Nashville strings. The album, brooding and sweltering, was entirely ignored; as if in desperation, Gentry’s next long-player featured three Beatles covers. It’s tantalising, then, to wonder if ‘The Delta Sweete’ may have fared differently were it rendered as psychedelic rock, which makes Mercury Rev’s “revisiting” quite the science experiment, an answer to a half-century-old musical “what if ”. In reality, however, the present album is less a revisitation, more a wholesale reshaping: the jaunty guitar and homespun Southern charm of the original are out, replaced by ominous drones and fluttering woodwind, cavernous martial drums and an impressively international parade of guest voices. On the album’s darker songs, this new sonic backdrop seems inspired: the crepuscular guitars and ominous still on murderballad ‘Parchman Farm’ augment
the existing ghoulishness, while ‘Sermon’ accrues considerable menace with Margo Price’s snarl and its quietly shrieking strings. Elsewhere, Mercury Rev’s predilection for rather baroque prettiness is surprisingly welcome, here co-opted with charm to spare by the Francophone croon of Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, who moulds ‘Morning Glory’ into a stylish chanson. Missteps appear, however, on the songs that demand intimacy: album closer ‘Courtyard’ is a gorgeous lullaby in Gentry’s hands, but the combined bombast of Mercury Rev and the honk of Beth Orton bludgeon the song’s subtleties. Equally, Lucinda Williams’ ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ (not on the original ‘Delta Sweete’) is all attention-seeking melisma and vibrato, oozing with the overly florid arrangement to demolish the quiet ambiguity of the original. Thankfully, though, these miscues are few, and at its best, Mercury Rev’s ‘Delta Sweete’ manages to breathe new life into Gentry’s album while also producing material as good as anything the band have done this century. That said, there remains something rather ghostly to exhuming a long-forgotten album and decorating its simple corpse so flamboyantly; that the eerieness rather suits the album, however, is testament to Mercury Rev’s curatorial skill. 8/10 Sam Walton
an uncannily unhuman (or undolphin) point to resume proceedings for Panda Bear, but not dissimilar to his meeting with the Grim Reaper released almost four years ago. Within this transition, Lennox’s sound has become notably sparser, more reserved and sincere, glooped out by psychedelic accompaniments but sounding cleaner and more buoyant in his vocals than he has since ‘Young Prayer’. While there’s an admission to pandering (sorry) his production to a younger audience – wanting familiarity to younger ears – this doesn’t just concede to the samplebased, hip-hop-admiring indie he’s had a hand in pioneering for the last decade; there’s a toque guitar-led flamenco riff hiding behind ‘I Know I Don’t Know’ and ‘Cranked’, a flow of melismatic melody to rival Arthur Russell, and thick multi-tracked auto-tune that would sit on Bon Iver’s Trap Covers Compilation (coming soon?). ‘Buoys’ is at times a Spaghetti Western, at others an intergalactic synth battle, and then it sounds like someone’s singing a Scott Walker song through a swanee whistle. Where there’s a proportion of indie fans looking to artists like Panda Bear to keep the critical home fires burning, he’s managed to do it this time underwater. 8/10 Tristan Gatward
Panda Bear — Buoys (domino) Somewhere in Noah Lennox’s ocean-universe of a brain there’s a dolphin that looks like it’s just come out of a toothpaste tube. In the video complementing single one it performs as an approximation of the acrylic-smooth legs that made a kaleidoscopic invasion of the Isle of Man flag in Animal Collective’s ‘FloriDada’, and the slightly brusquer, silkily glib, morph-man in Adult Jazz’s ‘Eggshell’. It’s
Piroshka — Brickbat (bella union) It’s been nearly thirty years since the various members of British underground supergroup Piroshka were at their respective musical peaks. A new project made up of members of Elastica, Lush, shoegaze pioneers Moose and post-punks Modern English, Piroshka was born in the rehearsals for Lush’s final show in 2016. Depending on which side of 1990 you were born, their debut album is either
Albums a hazy tour through the best moments of British guitar music pre-2000 or a slightly languishing attempt by a group of musicians the same age as your parents to act like the last nineteen years never happened. ‘Brickbat’ was inspired in equal measure by disdain for the Internet, Brexit and being hated by the Daily Mail. While there’s nothing necessarily objectionable about any of those topics, the way in which Piroshka tackle them does come across slightly like an irate Guardian column put to music. Whether it’s the obvious anti-Brexit jabs of opening track ‘This Must be Bedlam’ or the cringeworthy ‘Hated By The Powers That Be’, Piroshka’s attempted takedowns of modern society can’t help but feel trite, especially when compared to the wealth of politically charged music being made across the UK right now. While the album’s lyrics leave you wanting more, the fusion of Lush’s shoegaze dreaminess and Modern English’s post-punk sensibility works well, particularly on the latter half. Tracks like ‘Heartbeats’ and ‘She’s Unreal’ undo some of the damage done by earlier more obviously ‘political’ tracks. Yet shiny and halcyon as they are, these highlights aren’t enough to disguise a record that seems destined for irrelevance. 5/10 Mike Vinti
RY X — Unfurl (infectious) Australian-born, LA-based musician Ry Cuming releases his third album on the precipice of stardom. With a major TV advert feature and a Maroon 5 support slot in his rear view mirror, the narrative suggests that this is his time. The record, safe and polished, does nothing to suggest otherwise. ‘Unfurl’ is made up of tracks that are just memorable enough to last for as long as you’re listening to them and
no longer. Warmly produced, the effect is that we are met with vocals that are slightly too perfect and over-slick, all a little inert. ‘Untold’ is typical, with its shuffling, soft-knocking rhythm underneath rich, layered vocals, giving a taste of Justin Vernon but without the guttural emotional wrench. The best track is ‘Body Sun’, with its stop-start drama, enigmatic refrain and hypnotic piano hook. It lacks the big move that defines most of the rest of the record, namely the lurch from Cuming’s spokesung low register delivery to the falsetto moneyshot, an algorithm that becomes all too familiar after a dozen repetitions. There are only glimpses of real emotional resonance, but it is competently made, devoid of jagged edges or artistic surprises. It’ll probably do very well indeed. 5/10 Max Pilley
Sebastian Plano — Verve (mercury kx) There’s a lot of instrumental piano music floating about these days; a pseudoambient cul-de-sac of a sub-genre drifting along within the wider contemporary classical moment. For composers like Sebastian Plano, this surplus means that to really break through all the background noise they have to offer something genuinely fresh and invigorating. ‘Verve’, unfortunately, does not. To be fair, the odds are stacked against him. The massive growth of streaming platforms has led to a much wider selection of music being at the listener’s fingertips than ever before, at the expense of physical sales. A Faustian workaround for artists and labels has been to dance to the tune of algorithmicallygenerated playlists, the new gravitational centre of the online listening experience. Much of ‘Verve’ sounds exactly like the kind of comfort food that sits so well in
these musical echo chambers. As a result, while all is technically accomplished on the surface, there’s an excess of derivative, destination-less harmonic meandering (‘Honesty’, ‘One Step Slower’, ‘Last Day of May’) – all fluff and flutter, a textural overload of close-miked prepared piano and giant, apathetic curtains of reverb. Single ‘Purples’ appears to break away with moments of genuine poignancy, despite straying dangerously close to Nils Frahm’s ‘Says’. Nothing about this album is distasteful or offensive – it’s just bland. I’d rather listen to objectively bad music made with misfired passion than I would to the kind of distended common musical denominator that Spotify has helped to birth. In the end, it’s difficult to come away from ‘Verve’ without thinking it’s an acquiescent product of a rapidly-changing music landscape. 5/10 Aidan Daly
Sigrid — Sucker Punch (island) From the buzzing beats opening Sigrid’s long-awaited debut album there is no escaping the euphoria and drama of what will probably be one of the biggest UK pop albums of 2019 – God know’s she’s grinded for it. Winner of last year’s BBC Sound Of poll, and having played what seems like every major festival from Glastonbury to Coachella, the Norwegian singer has seemingly liberated herself from the usual, constricting expectations of artists through confidence in her own image and vision, directing boundless energy on a joyous plunder and patch-working of pop history. It comes together as a massive album full of dazzling hooks and emotional lyrics. Comparisons to Charli XCX and Sia may come easy on tracks like ‘Sucker Punch’ and ‘Basic’, but a closer listen
Albums echoes with the lawless musical nature of The Slits on ‘Business Dinners’, while the influence of the epic scenery of her town (Bergen) brings a touch of the myth and mystique of Roxy Music elsewhere. Lyrically, the album brims with the excitement and hope of new love, as pop albums this polish should do. Providing that’s you’re type of thing (i.e. you like to lose your mind of Little Mix every now and then), it’ll have you returning to feel the drops again, to crest on the synths, and to listen to a debut that, even in its melancholy moments, carries an undercurrent of unbridled fun. 8/10 Sarah Lay
The Stroppies — Whoosh (tough love) Back in 2016, the Stroppies set out with the intention of making DIY musical collages in the vein of Guided by Voices. Three years on, on their debut album, the Melbourne sort-of-supergroup sound more like The Kinks by way of the Go-Betweens. Maybe not the most exciting of combinations, but the Stroppies’ lo-fi indie is not without its charms. ‘First Hand’ firmly occupies the middle of that Kinks/Go-Betweens Venn diagram, replete with Casio church organ sounds and sunny melodies, while ‘Present Tense’’s guitar work and ‘Pen Name’’s probing lyrics call to mind comparisons with Courtney Barnett. The Stroppies’ slacker-indie stylings are comfortingly familiar then, if a little unsurprising. But then comes ‘Whoosh’’s penultimate track, ‘Entropy’. After the woozy, ’90s guitar music of the rest of the record, ‘Entropy’ is a sharp left turn, stylistically – and man, it’s nice out here in left field. ‘Entropy’’s heavy bass and spaced-out vocals are effective enough on their own, but paired with stressed-out lyrics on the state of the world – like, ‘just don’t forget that luxury is built on suffering at best’ –
they make the track an absolute standout. It’s bittersweet. On the one hand, having the standout track nestled here at the end of the record sharpens its effect but on the other, it has the unfortunate effect of making the rest of the album pale a bit in comparison. It’s not that everything else is soft, it’s just that ‘Entropy’ is so sharp. If ‘Entropy’ is any hint of direction The Stroppies might continue to take, here is a promising taste of things to come. 7/10 Liam Konemann
Teeth of the Sea — Wraith (rocket recordings) Self-described as ‘antigenre’, it should come as no surprise that Teeth of the Sea’s fifth album is one of the most stylistically liberal you’re likely to come across this early in the year. ‘Wraith’ shows the London trio orbiting between progressive rock, industrial, ambient, synth, electronic and jazz, yet rarely staying gravitated to one of these niches for too long. Throughout these 47 minutes we venture into a sprawling, atmospheric universe that will feel familiar to fans of Blanck Mass and Have A Nice Life, as ‘Wraith’ plays out like the eerie soundtrack to a dystopian sci-fi film. Tracks such as ‘Hiraeth’, ‘VISITOR’ and ‘I’d Rather, Jack’ are immersive and kaleidoscopic, showing Teeth of the Sea at their most confident and most successful. However, there’s a couple of troughs alongside these peaks, with some tracks tending to meander or feel sluggish compared to the majesty and ambition of others, and it might be off-putting for newcomers to this type of instrumental music. For existing fans, ‘Wraith’ is the best the band have sounded since their debut; full of creativity and chemistry that appears to grow more refined with each album. 6/10 Woody Delaney
Stella Donnelly — Beware of the Dogs (secretly canadian) The image of Stella Donnelly, noodles hanging out of her mouth, that adorned the cover of her 2017 debut EP, ‘Thrush Metal’, was the first hint of her forthright outlook that’s become so ingratiating. It was an unbothered look that communicated ‘zero fucks given’. By that point, in her mid-twenties, the Fremantle, Australia, songwriter had seen enough to develop her own ammunition. Her learning had come playing in cover bands around Perth, and then in the rock outfit Bells Rapids. It wasn’t the right fit for her, so she retreated to her bedroom with a beatenup acoustic guitar to forge her own way. ‘Thrush Metal’ was the result, and the past 18 months have been about touring (a lot) and learning. The outcome is a debut album that sharpens that promising wit, that broadens those smirks that were so searing on first encounter. As a statement ‘Beware of the Dogs’ is seemingly free of constraint, and therefore, straight from the heart. Donnelly says she found the creation both liberating and grounding; these are songs songs that are gutsy but skittish. In terms of the overall feel, the whole thing is bulked out, owing to the addition of bassist Jennifer Aslett, drummer Tayla Valenti and guitarist George Foster. Producer Dean Tuza plays his part too, encouraging adventurousness while anchoring the songs in the intimacy intrinsic to Donnelly’s style. By now you may have heard languid lead single ‘Old Man’, the sarcastic takedown of an old creep with outdated views on what’s okay when it comes to his treatment of women. ‘Your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face,’ sings Donnelly, holding the individual to account. ‘Are you scared of me old man? Or are you scared of what I’ll
Albums do? You grabbed me with an open hand/ The world is grabbing back at you.’ That sort of defiance and resolve runs throughout the album. It’s not without humour, though. Next, she’s a stood up by a love interest on a “Tuesday afternoon” and reaches for her vibrator instead on the snarky ‘Mosquito’, reminiscent of Lily Allen at her most cutting. ‘Season’s Greetings’ tears through the exasperation of being compared to others at family gatherings. Eventually the filter’s taken off, the track trailing off with a dismissive ‘fuck up your life, lose all your friends, ok, good, fuck off…’. Generally, with striking observation, she hits on uncomfortable and bittersweet emotions generated from the everyday with a resonance not unlike Billy Bragg. Breakthrough ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ remains a standout track, having also been included on her earlier EP. Its presence here doesn’t dull the impact of the song, though – a lullaby softly sung and delicately strummed, it is melodically restrained while emotionally barely contained. It rightfully found its moment alongside #metoo with its assessment of how survivors of sexual assault are victim blamed. Like elsewhere, the track is controlled anger hitting all the harder for the playful turns of phrase. Donnelly doesn’t just do rasping takedowns, though. ‘Allergies’ is a tender love song – and shows vocally that she’s not all quips – the sound of Donnelly’s snotty nose deliberately left in the mix. The heartbreaking refrain of ‘homesick before I go away’ through the swell of ‘Lunch’ is just one of the moments in which Donnelly surfaces the feelings from being away on tour. With the added strings and the sing-song lines, playfulness again dances around the sadness, the emotions tethered despite a melodic freedom. A sparse, ringing guitar lift ‘Tricks’ as Donnelly strikes back at the fickle yet demanding industry she finds herself in, while title track ‘Beware of the Dogs’ is full of warm tones and reaching vocals, the percussion strangely echoing in the spaces between guitar lines. On ‘Watching Telly’, meanwhile, there is a homemade ’80s pop sound in the tinny rise and
fall melody, and the raw electronic drum. Building on the promise shown with ‘Thrush Metal’, ‘Beware of the Dogs’ presents Donnelly as an artist confident in her voice and unafraid of serious talk delivered with wit. This is no simpering chanteuse but understated empowerment delivered forthright on an album full of brutal honesty – suburban songwriting which manages to stir the deepest emotions through everyday observations. And musically, it’s deliberately imperfect. Echoes and background noise are all part of the patchwork. Few albums released in 2019 will sound this relevant. 8/10 Sarah Lay
Xiu Xiu — Girl With Basket of Fruit (upset the rhythm) Unsettling. That is the first (and kinda only) word that comes to mind just after listening to ‘Girl With Basket of Fruit’, Xiu Xiu’s eleventh studio album, recorded with a new lineup comprising founder Jamie Stewart, Thor Harris, Jordan Geiger and Angela Seo, and produced by Seo together with Greg Saunier of Deerhoof. It’s unsettling as most current reflections on art, death and society tend to be, starting with the title itself: a gender-swapped reference to the famous painting by Caravaggio (a true and revolutionary master of art with a reprobate biography) depicting an apparently innocent kid holding Mother Nature’s gifts, who is, instead, a lascivious boy offering a luscious bouquet of fruit. It is both a metaphor and a blatant manifesto of Xiu Xiu’s will to take out the worst residing inside each one of us and sing its praises. Musically, it’s made up of voodoo passages, techno rhythms, broken voices singing desperately over low and deep strings from a horror musical, screams, stripped down beats with synthesised
vocals and house music intermissions. If I was to add an item to the long list of possible descriptions that introduces this dark record, ‘Girl With Basket of Fruit’ is the sound of Mark Fisher quoting Children of Men in his seminal Capitalist Realism. 8/10 Guia Cortassa
Yann Tiersen — ALL (mute) Yann Tiersen has been living in the channel island of Ushant for more than fifteen years now. There he started an exploration of the Celtic culture, which he carries on with and takes outside the cultural and geographic boundaries of Brittany in his new, tenth album, ‘ALL’ – the first recorded at the Eskal, the recording studio and arts center he built out of an abandoned discotheque on the island. Offering his take on the Anthropocene we are living in, and tackling the themes of environment, ecology and nature, the French musician went field recording in a forest in Devon for his track ‘Koad’, travelled to a very particular (and significant to him) spot in Northern California’s Lost Coast to record violins for ‘Usal Road’ and found inspiration in Berlin’s dismissed airport of Tempelhof for a track named in its honour. It’s ‘Tempelhof ’ that opens the album, with its bikes softly screeching over Tiersen’s rounded piano arpeggios and the sound of children playing and laughing, shook at the end by electric guitars and synths, like thunder breaking the sky, just to open up to the romantic vocals of ‘Koad’. Tiersen’s Celtic epic bursts in ‘Gwennilied’ and ‘Aon’ like a godly saga, breaking the rhythm of an otherwise placid and calm collection of tracks, as is the following ‘Prad’. And in the end, despite the deep concerns about the health of Earth standing at the core of
Albums the album and its bittersweet lyrics, ‘ALL’ feels like a contemporary pastoral idyll rather than a cry for us to change all that much. 6/10 Guia Cortassa
HEALTH — Vol. 4: Slaves of Fear (loma vista) Back in 2015, L.A. noise rock conspirators HEALTH released their third album, ‘Death Magic’. It was, for the most part, a cohesive and intoxicating release, doubling up as a plunge into the fear of civilisation entering a new era of free fall. It was also the sound of a band doing something completely different – out was the experimental noisecore they honed in the now defunct DIY venue The Smell, which stayed true to the band’s rule of throwing out anything that resembled previous artists; in were easily digestible electronics and vocals that sounded like The Pet Shop Boys. Boldly angled as a “document of just how frightening it feels to be alive right now”, ‘Death Magic’’s follow-up overstretches right from the outset. Despite a conveyor belt of deft, disorientating production (not least on sample trigger-heavy opener ‘Psychonaut’, strutting mid-album peak ‘Loss Deluxe’ and the masterfully stifling ‘Wrong Bag’) ‘Vol. 4’ feels a little bulky and, sadly, a lot bromidic. At twelve tracks, one-third of the album veers off into textbook nondescript territory (something you never thought them capable of in their early atonal days); no amount of repeated listens can help to undo this. And for all his moments of pithy incision elsewhere, vocalist Jacob Duzsik’s refrains often sidestep plain wisdom in favour of falling through a trapdoor of tedious end is nigh cliché that could only conceivably resonate with, say, energy drink-guzzling diehards who buy their headphones from Game.
Despite arguably succeeding in creating their “heaviest, darkest and most aggressive” music to date (good luck not wanting to inexplicably smash something up mid-way through the likes of ‘Strange Days (1999)’, HEALTH have come up a little short. Of course, ‘Vol 4.’ is not without its own brand of death magic, but with such a potent past to their name, the band have failed to sustain what once set them apart. 5/10 Brian Coney
Cass McCombs — Tip of the Sphere (anti-) Across nine records now, US singer-songwriter Cass McCombs has progressed from lo-fi indie to one of folk rock’s leading lights, dealing in an austere Americana with a focus on storytelling. ‘Tip of the Sphere’ follows career-best ‘Mangy Love’ from 2016. Where that album was as ominous and acerbic as the US Presidential election it was released into, this record is more thoughtful and detached. Finding McCombs abroad again in his native America, travel is at the crux of the record – take, for example, the journey on ‘I Followed the River South to What’, which is underlined by its gorgeously repetitive, lolling swamp groove. Here and at other points, the jazz-pop mysticism of ’70s Van Morrison feels like a touchstone. As is often the case in Cass McCombs’ work, all of human life is found on the journey. There’s sex (the brilliant, jangle folk of lead single ‘Estrella’ sees McCombs moodily scowl ‘I was roused and aroused/ Only you can rouse me in that way’) – and death, in the ominous Southern gothic of ‘Sidewalk Bop After Suicide’. Though figures like Ryley Walker might be marking the same territory but with more edge and darkness, McCombs is one of the most masterful proponents
of Americana working today, although that’s not to say there aren’t surprises here – ‘American Canyon Sutra’ has an elliptic spoken word section over an admittedly mild hip-hop loop, and the exposed Latin rhythms of ‘Real Life’ suggests a growing world music influence might be seen on McCombs’ work next. 7/10 Fergal Kinney
James Blake — Assume Form (polydor) James Blake – Assume Form (Polydor) Falling in love could be a bad career move for an artist who’s built his reputation around minimal electronic emo. On his fourth album, however, James Blake shrugs off his cloak of isolation and depression to embrace his relationship with actor Jameela Jamil. The 12 tracks don’t precisely chronicle the Londoner’s newly opened emotions but there’s a quickening of the musical pulse that replaces his erstwhile glacial crawl with a sound approximating soulful warmth. This is most obvious on ‘Can’t Believe the Way We Flow’, which is built around a sample from RnB vocal group The Manhattans. The harmonies swoon while Blake appears to be pinching himself in disbelief at his good fortune. It’s a technique that’s repeated on ‘I’ll Come Too’, the rhapsodic strings tracking Blake as he promises to follow Jamil from “the brink” to LA. The brink is one of many references to mental health: on ‘Power On’ he remembers that ‘I thought I might be better dead/ I was wrong,’ while on ‘Where’s The Catch?’ he’s anxious that ‘everything’s rose’ won’t last. From the list of guests (including Andre 3000 and Travis Scott), Rosalía adds the most passion to spacious beats of ‘Barefoot In The Park’. Overall, this is James Blake newly content to let go of introspection and let in love. 5/10 Susan Darlington
Albums Live Adrianne Lenker Union Chapel, Islington 15 January 2019
D Double E XOYO, London 17 January 2019
If you know anything about grime you know that D Double E is one of the best MCs to ever do it. He might not have the popularity of Skepta, the pioneering credentials of Wiley, or the lightening flow of Ghetts, but he doesn’t need any of those things – he’s the Newham General. And on stage at XOYO the day before his birthday, he is grime personified in a skinny, thirty-eight-year-old body. His first London headline show since the release of his debut album, ‘Jackuum!’, the night is destined to be a big one. A short but sweet set from Bluku Music protégé Halo and resident producer/DJ Diamonds opens the night, setting the pace before Double, accompanied by 1Xtra resident and fellow big town icon Sir Spyro turn XOYO on its head. For the first half an hour of D Double E’s set there are no rewinds, no cyphers and the only guest MC that appears on stage is Smoke (nee Section) Boyz’ Littlez who joins for a relatively sober rendition of ‘Lookman’. Running through the album almost track by track, the opening of Double’s set feels more like a hip-hop show than an old school grime rave. Shoreditch might be gentri-
fied to fuck but it’s still east London and it’s not long before the album’s highlights are wheeled out and tracks like ‘Flatmate’ and ‘Dem Man Dere’ start to ignite chaos. Album tracks dealt with, D Double E settles into his older material, with every trademark ad-lib echoed back to him by the now sweat-drenched crowd. When Footsie appears on stage for a storming rendition of ‘Hard’ it feels like the floor of XOYO is about to cave in under the weight of the most joyous mosh pit this side of an IDLES show. The deeper into his back-catalogue Double goes, the darker Spyro seems to get in his selection of beats. By the time ‘Street Fighter Riddim’ lands its K.O. – after no less than three rewinds the bass is crashing through XOYO with lungcrushing intensity. Yet even the reception to Double’s biggest hits pales in comparison to the response when Jammer, P Money, Tempa T and a host of old school grime names steps up for an impromptu run of cyphers over grime’s greatest instrumentals. You want ‘Murkle Man’? You got it. ‘Next Hype’? It’s yours. Every single MC on stage going back to back over ‘Morgue’? Absolutely. The only respite comes from Jammer leading the crowd in a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ before we were all sent, rattled, battered and grinning from ear to ear, into the night. Mike Vinti
Even high up in the gallery of Union Chapel Adrianne Lenker’s soft vulnerability is deafening in the muffled silence. Standing solitary beneath the ornate pulpit and faintly illuminated stained glass windows, she sips tentatively on her lukewarm mug of tea. She’s not played live since touring in Big Thief in late October and the church’s gaping and grand interior must loom as a little daunting. “I’ve just come out of hibernation, like, two months of it,” she murmurs gently. “This is a bit like jumping straight into ice cold water for me.” The natural reverb that carries her voice is an embodiment of her latest solo record, ‘Abysskiss’: soft and understated, warm yet cold and intimate enough to feel her breath as she whispers softly in your ear. She doesn’t really have a set list planned; instead she just rolls with whatever feels right to play next. Often she’s indecisive and even forgets the lyrics to a few of her more recent, yetto-be-released, tracks. That doesn’t matter though; Lenker’s staunch realism is just another thread in her tightly sewn tapestry. Ollie Rankine
Laurel Meets The Obsolete MOTH Club, Hackney 17 January 2019
Hackney’s Moth Club is pretty much the perfect venue to host Mexican dronerock merchants Lorelle Meets The Obsolete. Its low ceilings and intense sound deepen the hypnotic grooves and jagged psychedelic tangents in which this band excel. This is the kind of show where it doesn’t really matter whether you’re actually looking at the stage or not, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just that all photography by mukesh mistry
Albums Live of the sensory stimulation in the room comes aurally. In a set drawn mainly from superb new album ‘De Facto’ there’s a pleasing weight – a heaviness – to this performance, like the astral buzz of a collapsed star. Tonight LMTO hook easily into that relentless, universal drone groove. Some bands seem to be able to just open the tap and out it flows, a seemingly effortless combination of something so simple and yet so exquisitely complex. To both the band’s and the crowd’s surprise, the show ends with the smell of burning amps in the air. It’s a good way to bow out. Chris Watkeys
Art Brut The Garage, Islington 17 January 2019
So Eddie Argos has “90%” of The Garage crouched on the floor during “the song we don’t play anymore” – ‘Modern Art’. Knees are creaking, joints aching, but you must stay down. He’s telling a story about being in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam where he tries to lick the painting ‘Wheatfield with Crows’ before security take him down in a lift to the basement (hence the proximity to the sticky floor). This is during the second
photography by rhi lee
encore in a victorious return to London for Art Brut. It’s a celebration. Of what was (their heyday in the early 2000’s), and what is (their new album ‘Wham, Bang, Pow, Let’s Rock Out’, which is as Art Brut as it sounds). Any thoughts that this might be a bit of an after-the-Lord-Mayors-show affair are quickly dashed when, in only the second song, ‘My Little Brother’, Argos stops everything to have a bit of a catch up and explain his brother was 22 when the lyrics were written but is now “nearly 38 with a Beach Hut” and now their parents are worried about him instead. “Shouty music is back. Have you heard of Sleaford Mods?” his Mum asks him down the telephone. It’s easy to scoff at them. Coming from a time when Ricky Wilson was goofing around but wanted to be taken seriously, Art Brut were The Pigeon Detectives that knew how to have a laugh. They still do, and the songs stand up beyond nostalgia. The hits, which Eddie suggests they didn’t ever have (‘Formed a Band’, ‘Bad Weekend’ and ‘Direct Hit’) are all bellowed back with gusto by a crowd of people who used to be somewhere between 16 and 25. There’s the odd bemused face of a loved one dragged along but it’s mainly a mobile free and engaged audience. Oh 2005. James Auton
The Lantern Society Betsey Trotwood, London 11 January 2019
Every so often the L-shaped attic of a Farringdon local hosts a night that feels a little disingenuous to write about. A stage that looks like a semi-circle cut from a trigonometry set squashed into the corner of a tightly packed room, thick mustard curtains and black bunting introducing “London’s finest folk club”. Nick Cave rarities play through the monitors, but also freak-folk, Joanna Newsom and Jackie-O Motherfucker. The Lantern Society is the alt-folk, new roots rising equivalent to the capital’s mushrooming jazz and post-punk scenes; a safe-haven at the Betsey Trotwood, a Dickensian open mic night for folk music’s outlaws where stage times and curfews are a late-night confusion and experimentation sees loving eyes. If you think for a minute that folk music is dead and irrelevant to modern times, one night here will be enough to change your mind. The host is a Gibraltarian poet called Gabriel Moreno, a grinning Charlie Chaplin look-a-like who sounds like Leonard Cohen with a thick Spanish accent. He introduces the night’s first debutante, Fraser Cattini, as a Lantern virgin. “So this is what it feels like to lose your virginity,” the 16 year-old replies. But there’s an age to his songs, Bob Dylan’s urgency and Elliott Smith’s melancholy (which he apologises for before someone tells him he’s too young to be happy, anyway.) It’s only two-songs each, but Ali Warren & the Sound Machine up next have you transfixed on an intense falsetto as he paces around the room half-remembering his microphone. Adam Beattie’s Aberdeenshire lilt is gypsy-folk that comes with a Burns-inspired residency at Union Chapel; Annie Rew Shaw (Austel) floors her usual multi-tracked electronica for Mitski-like poignancy; Dominic Silvani’s thundering baritone makes Bill Callahan sound like a chorister. The night does end at some point. Tristan Gatward
FilmAlbums and Books
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (archer cray) The word ‘curmudgeon’ could have been made for biographer Lee Israel – a stubbornly old school New Yorker until her death in 2014, whose bitterness was brazen to begin with and stoked by her growing poverty, alcoholism and desperation. A loner. A pusher of the cat lady stereotype. A victim of career sexism and ageism but also of herself. Mostly of herself. Can You Ever Forgive Me? – the raw
and classy adaptation of Israel’s memoir of the same name – lays out the writer’s unsavoury self during the most remarkable period of her life, as, quite by chance, she developes a skill and perpetual desire to forge private letters by deceased literary icons and satirists, including Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward and Fanni Brice. It’s a low budget indie that’s practically a two person show, with Melissa McCarthy in the lead role and Richard E Grant as Jack Hock, Israel’s partner in crime (literally) and only friend in the whole world (also literally). Both performances are incredible and could have made something of much less of a story than this one. We’ve seen McCarthy expertly deliver flashes of vitriol in her comedy before, as Susan Cooper in Spy, say, or in her Sean Spicer send-ups on Saturday Night Live. Here she dials it down and slowly churns away at it. It’s almost funny here and there, but really it’s sadder than
that, which undoubtedly sums up Lee Israel’s lonely life. And McCarthy shows it for the front it probably was, too – regarding romantic relationships with women in a couple of heartbreakingly awkward scenes, and in her abject loneliness. Cue Jack Hock and Richard E Grant – something resembling companionship. Hock is basically Withnail thirty years down the line. An aging, perma-drunk chancer who’s gotten by on his looks and charm until now. ‘Rogue’ would be his term, although perhaps he’s not quite ruthless enough for that. Presuming it’s an accurate portrayal, only Grant could have played the part, as Hock’s chipper refusal to wallow drags the humanity out of Israel as they become friends. Underneath these two star performances lies an issue of sexism that is only subtly considered within the film’s real focus – the journey from young ambition to plain survival. Stuart Stubbs
Jamie Reid — Xxxxx: 968-2018 (l-13 light industrial workshop) Xxxxx: 968-2018 gathers the complete oeuvre of the artist responsible for the graphic punk rock aesthetic; the man who put a safety pin through the Queen’s nose and whose deceptively simple cut-and-paste technique sent reverberations through pop culture. The book covers Reid’s work from art school to right now and proves there’s far more to him than snarling nostalgia. Refreshingly, no interviews, explanations or articles accompany the work on display, leaving nothing but page after page of surprise and delight in the company of an artist who has consistently marched to the beat of his own drum. Lee Bullman
This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash — Malcolm Wyatt (this day in music) A lifetime ago The Clash took the sound of the Westway to the rest of the world, left punk rock behind early on and reimagined what a band could look, feel and sound like. Wyatt’s book digs deep into the band that spawned a million others and breaks it all down to a series of moments, some glorious, some sleazy, but all necessary to build the story that’s as real as it is fantastic. Extensively researched and augmented by gig tickets, magazine covers and rare photos, Wyatt has put together an ideal accompaniment to some of the finest rock-based music of the 20th century. Lee Bullman
Imagine John Yoko — Yoko Ono (thames and hudson) Few tunes have captured the collective psyche like John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, the track he recorded during an intense burst of 1970s postBeatles creativity inspired as much by Yoko’s adventures in the arts as John’s in the hit parade – a song she re-recored last year for her ‘Warzone’ LP. In Imagine John Yoko, Yoko Ono raids her private collection of artefacts and keepsakes in order to provide context for the song, delving deep into the backdrop it was created against and pulling in hitherto unseen images and untold tales of those who were there in order to tell the story of the song that will outlive all of us. Lee Bullman
Interview The outlaw country singer who believes effort is king, by Max Pilley. Photography by Gordon Nicholas Even trying to establish the most basic facts about Orville Peck is tricky. “I’m kind of based all over the place, I move around a lot,” he responds when I ask him about where he comes from. I know for a fact that he is in Toronto as we speak, but he’s quick to blur the lines. “I have lived in five different countries now. Just in the last four years alone, I’ve moved nine times.” In one moment he will tell you that he isn’t interested in trying to create a narrative of mystery, in the next he will point blank refuse to engage in a conversation about his earlier life. “To me, those biographical facts are probably the least interesting thing about me,” he insists. The singer-songwriter, who is never seen in public without his trademark fringed leather mask, is set to release his debut album, ‘Pony’, on Sub Pop in March. His music is bursting with personality, a 21st century-ready re-imagining of the classic outlaw country tradition, wherein tales of lost love are as likely to involve same-sex relationships as they are desert highways and worn out gamblers. To Peck, it’s about keeping control of the whole package. “I really like to put in an effort on the full story,” he says. “I want to tell stories that are rich and that evoke something in people, and that includes a look and a sound. I think those things help tell a really good story.” But don’t be fooled into thinking that everything about this guy is constructed. On the contrary – he is at pains to point out that his songs are bitingly real. “Everything I write and sing about is based on a real experience of mine. I think it’s really transparent when artists are not putting in a full effort, or trying to construct something that isn’t authentic. “A lot of people will look at something like Orville Peck, because I wear a mask, and think it’s a theatrical, constructed thing, but I think the really nice quality about seeing Orville live is that people really, really connect with it. It’s coming from a truly authentic place and it really seems to resonate with people.” He has fourteen masks now, all self-made, and while he claims that the mask is not a comment on our image-obsessed society, he does lament the lack of effort that he sees amongst some of his peers. “The thing I don’t like that I see a lot now is this return of a kind of nonchalant attitude to being a performer. I really just appreciate effort. If I’m going to pay a lot of money to go to a show I want someone to give me the full experience of what I pay for.” He mentions Janelle Monae and Poppy as two from the current crop that seem to “get it”. —Know your country — From the outside, there may appear to be inherent contradictions in Peck’s arguments, but the effect is as intended. ‘Pony’ is a coherent, intriguing record that plays with your expectations
and resists cliché or easy categorisation. He himself admits to being heavily influenced by the outlaw country of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, but it doesn’t stop there. “I think if you know what you’re listening for, you’ll hear elements of Reba [McEntire], or ’80s and ’90s country, too,” he explains. “The kind of country that I’ve always liked has always been rebellious in some way. Willie Nelson inspired me a lot, he was definitely very counter-mainstream as a country musician.” Peck’s music might struggle to be fully embraced by the Nashville radio powers-that-be, but he is quick to point out that what he is doing is nothing new. “For a long time, country was dominated by white males, and to some extent it definitely still is. But there have always been queer country artists and female artists that push the boundaries. Now you have people like Kacey Musgraves, who just won a CMA. “There’s more of a need for that mainstream part of the genre to start embracing fringe sounds and minorities, because every other genre in music on a mainstream level has embraced the differences. I think they’re slowly starting to realise,” he continues, although he is eager to call attention to the fact that country can be as much a victim of stereotyping as it is a purveyor of it. “You get that classic response from really open-minded people that don’t get country music because they have already made up an opinion about what country is, or that it’s about being conservative. I think country music has had a hard run at times. When I think of the country I like, it makes me think of breaking boundaries and rebelliousness and a lot of freedom.” —The influencer’s influencer — Inspired by such freedom, Peck took an auteur’s approach to assembling his debut album, self-producing and playing the majority of the parts himself. He decamped to The Noise Floor Recording Studio in the picturesque Gabriola Island in British Columbia, a remote getaway that allowed him to emerge with a finished product that is in step with his vision of what Orville Peck exists for. ‘Pony’ is far from an album for genre purists, though. Tracks like ‘Hope to Die’ call to mind the folky dream pop of Mazzy Star and Peck speaks of the influence of shoegaze and ’80s alternative bands on his compositions. In a rare, tantalising glimpse into his younger years, he admits to having played in punk bands that were formed out of his love for the Californian hardcore bands Angry Samoans, Adolescents and the Descendents. When I ask him whether he was part of any groups we might be aware of, he fails to deny it. So much for not creating a narrative of mystery. He later divulges that he lived in London for four years earlier this decade, including periods when he made music and “performed in other ways”, but, regaining
“If I’m going to pay a lot of money to go to a show I want someone to give me the full experience of what I pay for” composure, refuses to narrow it down any further. His tastes extend far wider than that, too. As well as naming Whitney Houston as “one of my top five artists of all time”, he proclaims a seemingly legitimate love for the recording artist Paris Hilton. “I think it’s incredible that somebody can so genius-ly tread the line between having everyone think that she’s an idiot and keeping everyone so intrigued at the same time. People used to laugh that she was famous for nothing, but
we live in a time when someone can just be an influencer, that’s standard now. No-one even had a term for it back then.” The Hilton influence on Peck’s music is a little harder to trace, but perhaps the attention to public display is not. Where the constructed meets the reality is surprisingly hard to ascertain, perhaps even for Peck himself. The more you know about him, the less you can get lost in the story. His success may just depend on keeping the mystery alive after all.
Worlds End On Britain’s strangest stretch of coast Julia Jacklin recounts the last two years that led to an album called ‘Crushing’, and what that word can mean, by Stuart Stubbs Photography by Gem Harris
On a late November day in 2018 I picked up Julia Jacklin in
east London and we drove two hours to the edge of the country, to Dungeness. It felt like the right place to go, despite a number of things. If I was trying to make Julia feel at home, I was doing a bad job of it, even by the usual standards of a British winter day welcoming an Australian visitor. The Blue Mountains that border Sydney, where Julia grew up, will have never seen a sky so low, or felt a wind so cruel. The Blue Mountains are luscious and green and impossibly beautiful and, as mountain ranges never fail to be, continuously undulating. Dungeness, chinning out from the Kent coastline into the freezing Channel, is exposed and grey and so flat and empty you could see a pigeon a mile away if it was standing on the ground. Its answer to the
mountain’s famous, monolithic Three Sisters rock formation is a nuclear power station owned by EDF. “Actually, it’s very me,” says Julia as we stare out of a restaurant window. “Beautifully bleak. Not me as in my personality, I mean, but it’s what I enjoy aesthetically.” Of course I wasn’t expecting Dungeness to compete with or be remotely similar to the Blue Mountains any more than I’d expect Julia or anyone else to only feel contented in a place that reminds them of where they spent their childhood. And besides, it wasn’t until she moved into Sydney and became involved with the live folk scene there that she “found her people”. What Dungeness does have, though, which I intrinsically attach to Julia’s music, is wilderness. Alt. country built from folk traditions often does, but on her 2016 debut album, ‘Don’t Let the
Interview Kids Win’, Julia managed to imbue a sense of the great outdoors on tracks straight out of suburbia – on songs like the waltzing ‘Pool Party’, about a boyfriend who gets stoned too much. Julia wasn’t pretending she was sat on a back porch singing to the prairie, it just sounded like she was. It still sounds like it on ‘Crushing’, her startlingly open second album. Its slow-rolling lead single, ‘Body’, lives more explicitly in the wild in its perfectly pitched road-movie video full of shots of Julia at the wheel through the rearview mirror and wide angles of single-lane tarmac slicing through grassland. Where music is concerned, the road is all part of the wilderness, and so we drove two hours to Dungeness. — Jesus Christ Superstar — Julia knows the UK well. Her father is from Northampton – a fan of Billy Bragg and The Cure, who Julia grew up listening to alongside stars from the ’40s and ’50s, The Andrews Sisters and Doris Day. “My parents weren’t helicopter parents at all,” she says, “they were totally cool with me disappearing for days.” Still, by the time she was almost a teenager the moment she cherished most of all was when her mum’s car would pull out of the driveway in the direction of the grocery store. “Because it meant that I had half an hour to sing at the top of my lungs,” she says. “I’d be so excited. A lot of the time it would be to the opening song from Jesus Christ Superstar.” She became a fan of musicals out of necessity. From the age of eleven she had decided that all she wanted to do was sing, and, in a school without any bands, the one available opportunity came via the drama society. She was a fan of Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne and Evanescence but singing Andrew Lloyd Webber was better than not singing at all. So her mum would pull out of the driveway and she’d scream the house down. She asked her parents for singing lessons and got them. Again, they weren’t exactly what she’d hoped for, but the only type of classes available in her town were in classical singing, so she took them. Scales and arias were better than not singing at all. “I’d had one lesson and I thought I have to show my dad how good I am now, to prove that it’s worthwhile. So the way I decided to show him was, I sat in the back of his car as he was driving me somewhere, I put on my Discman to Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’ and I just thought I’d sing along out loud. I’d then take my headphones off and dad would be like, ‘woah, your voice is amazing’, and I’d be like, ‘oh, sorry, was I singing? I didn’t realise.’ I planned this all day, because I knew I was seeing dad that night. “So, it went so wrong, because I took my headphones off and dad just goes, ‘oh, is that what we’re paying for!?’ It was so brutal and so sad. It was like a knife to my chest. And I did this twice. I wanted to show my sister I could sing, and we went to a Sanity – a CD store – and you know you could put headphones on to listen to new releases, I did that and it was Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’. I sang along to that in the record store and remember
my sister grabbing the headphones off me and yelling that I was embarrassing her. “It’s moments like that where I have a lot of affection for my younger self. I was so desperate to perform, but I was too shy to know where I could do it. I didn’t want people to think I was showing off.” — 24 revisited — Fired in an existential crisis, ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’ was perhaps always destined to become a sleeper hit, not that Julia knew how relatable it was when she was experiencing her own panic attacks about why her life wasn’t working out as she thought it would. Twenty-four is a shit of an age, really – the first number you reach when you’re no longer referred to as “only…”. People can be shocked that you’re “only 19”, impressed that you’ve done so much and yet you’re still “only 23”, but by 24 you’re just 24. Suddenly you feel like you’re behind if anything. Having begun harmonising in folk groups at the age of twenty, the growing anxiety of years playing weekly open mic nights where “people were just pumped that you knew how to plug your guitar in” made ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’ simmer with the nervous energy of a last chance saloon. Julia says, “I feel a lot younger now than I did then”, and that she’ll now never dismiss anyone’s concerns about their age. “But I also don’t buy into it when people say, about musicians, ‘you have all the time in the world.’ You don’t have all the time in the world. This is a young person’s game – look at the industry, it totally favours young people – and having the fear of age is very motivating. So I think it is ridiculous but it can be necessary to get things done.” ‘Crushing’ is relatable for its own reasons – predominately the frankness in which Julia presents the breakup of a long-term relationship – but its motivation is completely different to that of ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’. Her debut had to work or else, and you’d think that that pressure would have either remained or intensified. After all, if there’s one thing more stressful than attaining what you most desire, it’s holding onto it. “But it wasn’t the pressure of writing a good second record,” she says, “it was the pressure of being out there and people calling me a songwriter. ‘But I haven’t written a song in a year and a half. So I’m not a songwriter.’ This is going to sound crazy, but I felt like I was a person impersonating my old self. Like, ‘but me now – 26-year-old Julia – is not a songwriter. She was.’ “I felt like I was performing a cabaret version of who I used to be. I’m still wearing the same clothes and singing songs about a boyfriend I don’t love anymore and haven’t for a long time. You’re performing these emotions every night that you don’t feel anymore. “And so I never felt the pressure of having to write something good for a second album. It was more that being a songwriter was who I am and I was not able to do that anymore. That was devastating.
Interview “Once I accepted that that album was perhaps all I had in me I started writing again and it was fine. But ‘Crushing’ isn’t the sequel to ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’, because ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’ feels like someone else wrote it. I’m such a different person now. That sounds so wanky, but I was just so glad that I could still write songs.” — Aesthetics and opera — I previously met Julia when we filmed an episode of Loud And Quiet’s Bands Buy Records video series in 2016 (when she confessed that she used to fill her iPod with obscure music that she didn’t listen to, in case another kid at school picked it up and scrolled through it), and I spoke to her again the following year for our Sweet 16 column (where she told me about all the rugby she played at that age). In person, she has a cool, dry sense of humour, is patient and familiar to be around, and kind of shy but never awkward. A stereotypical, easy-going Australian, I guess. When talking to her about her father I ask if he has any traits that she’d attribute to him being British. “I guess he’s not very good at communicating,” she says. “Is that an English thing?” Yes, I say. “My dad is famously tight with money. He said that his dad had a pocket book and every expense was written in this book. Like, if they went out for the day and he bought him an ice cream it would go in the book. My dad kind of does the same, and I’ve found myself being really weird with money. Like, I overthink things. I couldn’t impulse buy anything, and I don’t think it’s a good thing. “For example, I wore the same clothes for a decade.” She laughs. “All the clothes I had as a teenager, I wore them well into my mid-twenties. I was like, these still work. I like them. They fit. They’re me. But I was wearing the scummiest T-shirts. Honestly, it’s only since I became a musician that I’ve realised that new clothes, a.) make you feel happy and clean and good, and b.) you’re getting photos taken all the time, you’re on stage every night for months on end – you need to have variety of clothes.” Although you didn’t for ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’, I say. ( Julia was rarely seen not in the clothes she wore on the album’s sleeve – a Jamaican bobsled top, tartan skirt and white Reebok Classics.) “Yeah, I wore that for a year,” she says. Julia has the kind of eye for aesthetics that tricks you into presuming she employs a team of stylists; not that she simply didn’t throw out her clothes from ten years ago. When we arrive in Dungeness she springs open her suitcase and begins to consider what to wear for photos. She does have one visual collaborator, and she’s always been quick to credit Nick Mckk’s input. It is Nick, after all, who directs, shoots and edits all of Julia’s videos, and acts as her official photographer and karaoke duet partner. ‘Crushing’, Julia decided in response to the current colour trends of baby pink, baby blue and brown, has been set at green
“I felt like I was performing a cabaret version of who I used to be. I’m still wearing the same clothes and singing songs about a boyfriend I don’t love anymore”
Interview and orange. In an increasingly visual world, these become important calls, and yet once you hear the record you’ll see how much Julia’s voice belittles the point. Throughout ‘Crushing’ her vocals are quite incredible, and it’s here where the limited resources of her hometown and her desperation to sing anything at all come good for all of us. On opening track ‘Body’ she keeps things low and husky, her voice hanging in the air like a curl of smoke as the track trundles on and never reaches a chorus. But an octave or two higher is never far from reach and she can get there quickly within the same song. Like on ‘Head Alone’, where she glides from a breathy beginning, through the kind of pretty birdsong phrasing found in mid-’60s pop songs, into an impassioned section that borders on operatic. Whichever tone she choses, she’s boldly high in the mix throughout, and says that she didn’t want any studio tricks getting the way of the album’s simple elements. It makes her vocal performance all the more unbelievable. — Intense songs, by Julia Jacklin — In the restaurant I tell Julia how much I like ‘Crushing’ by blurting, “it’s brutal,” at her. My brain had tried to be more sophisticated in segueing into her searingly honest record, but it gave up almost instantly and went for “brutal,” said in italics. She laughed. It is a brilliant record, largely drawn from a breakup, but not only that. I must have listened to it nearly a hundred times now, and I’d probably still blurt “brutal”, despite ‘Crushing’ deserving something far more nuanced than that. Maybe I can blame it on the title – when I heard that it was called ‘Crushing’ my mind went to a place of welcomed romantic agony; of harmless infatuation that doesn’t feel harmless at the time; of one dreamy possibility that’s only ever one un-replied text away from you hating yourself and then them; a place where you’ll send one more text just incase, and replay your last interaction until they respond or kill you. Crushes are fun and awful, and Julia Jacklin has written an album about how stupid but real they are – this will be breezy. ‘Crushing’ has one or two near-breezy moments (relatively speaking), but it is very clearly a record full of pain, delivered so directly that you will experience it all. I seemed to have overlooked another sense of the word – ‘crushing: causing overwhelming disappointment or embarrassment.’ Julia says it’s a bit of both, admitting that she also needed a title weeks ago. “Classic me,” she says, “I had a hard deadline for the album title that I had passed many times, and I just couldn’t think of a title for this album. The first one was immediate – ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’ summed up how I was feeling. Nailed it. This one, I was looking at the song names but none of them are great. “I had this word ‘crush’ in my head because when something is crushing it’s that chest-caving feeling, but also ‘crushing’ in terms of being single again and meeting people and having these devastating teenage crushes… The highs and lows of a post-relationship time.
“I love how that word can also be, ‘you crushed it tonight,’” she adds. “It’s always said in such an intense way and this album is, in a word, intense. But calling a song ‘Intense’ wouldn’t have been good. ‘Intense Songs, by Julia Jacklin.’” Which song is the most intense is hard to say. Six of the ten are undeniably about Julia’s breakup. ‘Body’ gets the split going following her boyfriend’s arrest on a plane when he’s caught smoking in the toilet – ‘That’s when the sound came in,’ she sings, poetically marking the final straw. ‘Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You’ is similar in its slow-burn feel but sadder in its inevitability – the story of how predictability has killed an overly familiar relationship that’s gone from comfortable to boring to dead. ‘Good Guy’ is straight up about loneliness after the fact and craving a one-night stand. ‘Turn Me Down’ – dreamy and a little ’60s in its flange guitar – is the stand-out moment that Julia found most difficult to record, breaking down between takes and eventually turning in a cracked a beautiful middle section vocal performance that’s practically unaccompanied as she begs to be turned down. Closing lullaby ‘Comfort’ is sweet and optimist, as is the ragged indie-rock of ‘Pressure To Party’ (about getting back out there), but even that track has a nervous energy to match the awkwardness of being tossed back into the dating pool by braying friends. The tempos fluctuate but all the songs are intense in one way of another. “It’s so funny,” says Julia, “because I’m not necessarily a very intense person. It’s funny that that record came out of me.” — More intense songs, by Julia Jacklin — It’s not just Julia’s voice that blows you away here but her turn of phrase and ability to cover the disintegration of a relationship from all angles. “It’s not like I’m saying this stuff happened and now the world is fucked and love is dead,” she says. “That’s not how I view the record.” We can all relate to being dumped and being forced to dump, but while sometimes your arrogant boyfriend makes it easy by smoking on a plane, other times love just seems to run out. It’s on ‘Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You’ – perhaps because of its complete lack of melodrama – that Julia feels most relatable of all, the line ‘I want your mother to stay friends with mine’ being a true representation of what people really fret over when they know it’s over. ‘Comfort’ is just as concerned about how the other person’s doing, and isn’t that really how it is? ‘Crushing’ follows the aftermath too, in all its highs and lows, and saves room for a few other types of relationships that can be just as, y’know, crushing. Julia says that, unlike ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’, which she still hasn’t listened back to once, she’s been proudly playing her new album, with the exception of one song. She wrote ‘When The Family Flies In’ about a late friend to whom she also dedicated her first album. It’s beautiful, sparse and heartbreaking; her first piano-led song and ‘Crushing’’s midway point. Away from that song, she says: “The album is about changing relationships, and part of that is my changing under-
Interview everyone else gets a handshake. It seems like not a big thing, but after two year, when you have a lot of photos with people, they’re always touching you a lot. There’s so much touching.” I hadn’t thought about it, but of course Julia is right. Photos of male celebrities with fans consist of the fan weirdly leaning beside their hero with that ‘holy shit it’s J Mascis’ look on their face; photos with female celebrities often include an arm around them, “but it’s usually around your waist, or just under your breast,” says Julia, who’s also kissed on the cheek by a lot of strangers. “It doesn’t seem like a big deal,” she says, “but those daily intrusions into your space can make you feel like you’re just tiny.” Julia’s shutting all that down. And working on how to deal with all the unsolicited advice – from dudes unable to buy a T-shirt from her at the merch stand without setting her straight on how she could “really fulfil her potential.” Of course, it really does only ever come from guys. — Get my body back —
standing of what a friend means – what is required to be a good friend, and what you can expect from friends.” No doubt ‘You Were Right’ is the song that came out of that train of thought, a smart, fast-paced takedown of a friendship turned toxic. These last two years have made Julia look at herself, too, and, she says, toughen up. She grew tired of being a “people pleaser”, in interviews where journalists presumed her open lyrics meant her personal life was inbounds, and on the road as band leader, employer and manager of other people’s emotions. “This time I’m more confident in myself,” she says. “In interviews I’m more confident in potentially coming across as a bit cold. I don’t think I am cold, but I’m not as worried now about what people might think.” On tour she’s calling out bullshit, too, on her band if she needs to, and anyone else who treats her differently for being a woman. Which does happen. “I think a lot of women experience daily micro aggressions that end up making you feel like you’re going crazy,” she says. “You’re thinking, is this person treating me differently because of my gender, and because you’re surrounded by men who aren’t experiencing it, you’re like, ‘did you see that?’, and they’re like, ‘oh yeah, but I’m sure it’s fine,’ so you’re like, ‘oh, yeah, you’re right, you’re right.’ I think a lot of women experience that where you’re going against your gut because no one else is there to validate it.” ‘Head Alone’ is, in part, a related track – its chorus: ‘I don’t wanna be touched all the time/ I raised my body up to be mine.’ “It’s about how, even with your close friends, as a woman it seems ok to give you less space. It’s hard to explain but the way people touch you when they interact with you is different –
The more you listen to it the more you realise there is no better title for ‘Crushing’. It might have been a panicked suggestion well past deadline, but how else could you sum up its raw emotions; devastated, lost and defiant. If Julia had looked down the track-listing and found a title there, you imagine it would have been ‘Body’. It would have looked terrible on the sleeve, but it’s a word that rings through ‘Crushing’’s first four songs, in turn blunt and intimate, and strongest of all when Julia first sings, ‘Heading to the city to get my body back,’ on the opening track. That line seems to represent a lot of what Julia has been through since she turned her quarter-life crisis into the career she dreamed of since belting out Jesus Christ Superstar in an empty house. Crushes are fun and awful and stupid and real, and love is pretty much the same. When it’s gone wrong and you’re heartbroken it’s the only thing in the world. And that might be the greatest thing of all about ‘Crushing’ – how unapologetically selfish it is. How Trump-free. How void of a bigger picture, because when you’re crushed by love, is there one? “I’ve been worried that what was going to happen, especially with the first two songs [‘Body’ and ‘Head Alone’], I was going to get a whole bunch of shit from people saying, ‘here we go, a post-#metoo album. And as much as I’m a feminist I hate how basically being a female person who has a mouth, every time you sing about your personal experiences it becomes this thing that you’re making a statement about the world rather than I’m just expressing something that’s happened to me. I’m just singing about my life. I’m a folk singer who writes songs in that tradition. “None of the songs are preachy,” she adds, “and I’m not telling anyone how they should feel. I’m just singing them to myself and trying to process everything. But I’m aware that if you’re not me, you’d be like, ‘woah, this girl is intense!’ But we all can be pretty intense, I just have this outlet to capture that intensity, and then I can be like, yeah, sweet, and now I’m me.”
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Woman’s Hour The story of how a new band breaks up and moves on, by Daniel Dylan Wray Photography by Matilda Hill-Jenkins
It’s rare that we get to hear bands talk about their own demise and break-up because, well, they break up. They stop releasing music and stop doing interviews and they disappear from public view. Maybe we hear about the sour implosion of a previous band when one member goes onto a new and successful project, or we get to see the fraught, niggling, palpable tensions and egos of a monster band in turmoil like Metallica via a warts and all documentary. But the reality is, most bands don’t have the money and luxury of time that Metallica do to work shit out. When they disappear, they often do so quietly in a toxic meld of burn out, disappointment, resentment, low finances, broken dreams and cracked friendships. For a period this story could have almost applied to Woman’s Hour, the London via Kendall three- (previously four-) piece. They combined an essence of dream pop with pristine electronics, sensory grooves and a whisper-in-your-ear intimacy that during the early 2010s led to a string of successful singles that created a notable buzz around them before they signed to Secretly Canadian and released a debut album in 2014. They then collapsed during the making of their second album in 2016 and broke up. However, after an absence from making music – and one another – they started to think about the unfinished album that had caused them to part. “The thought of it just sitting in someone’s hard drive was heartbreaking,” says singer Fiona Burgess. “It needed to be out there.” So, after scrubbing up the unfinished tracks, the band (or ex-band, as is still the case) are now finally releasing ‘Ephyra’ and healing old wounds in the process. —When the buzzing stops— We’re sitting in a London pub mid afternoon and Fiona is joined by her bandmates, brother William Burgess and Josh Hunnisett. The atmosphere is as much counselling session as it
is interview. It’s the first time they have spoken collectively to anyone else about this and it’s still close enough in everyone’s minds to be fresh. They are careful not to step on each others’ toes whilst speaking, apologising for perceived interruptions in a clear attempt to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and understood. This is crucial because a fundamental communication breakdown in the first place was a contributing factor. “Everything was getting misheard or misinterpreted,” Fiona says. Things being misinterpreted was deeply exacerbated by the situation they found themselves in after their debut album came out. The buzz had quietened; the album didn’t sell as well as hoped, the tour dates weren’t there and a lingering sense of failure permeated in the heads of each member. The early interest had built up a sense of hope. “There was a sense of momentum around us,” Fiona says. “That contributed to a bigger feeling of a comedown once the record was released.” Josh remembers a conversation with the record label after their debut came out that stuck with him and seemed to cement any feelings of disenchantment. “I’ll never forget being told ‘your second record has to be exponentially better than your first record.’” He still sounds mildly wounded from the comment. The band found themselves having to work on their follow up quicker than planned. “I wanted to be touring for two years after that first record,” Fiona says. “It was an unrealistic expectation but I expected to be doing the festival circuit, not writing a second record.” The band then began the process of making a new record with the vexations of their first still red raw, which led to not only more pressure but also falling into the trap of losing sight of who they were making the record for. “There was part of us wanting to create something different and challenge ourselves, about doing things for us,” says Will, “but there was also a part of me that was having struggles and asking, ‘why are we making this?’ and ‘how do you measure success?’ Because of the reputation we had prior to that first
Interview record, unless it reached these pretty high goals that we all set for it, it suddenly became a failure. I felt so conflicted because in a rational way I step back and I don’t judge it as a failure but at the time it really felt like one.” By this stage Woman’s Hour had been sucked into the music world and were being spun around the churning guts of industry mechanisms – years of commitment and creative input spent, a taste of success, an audience, a record label, and a need for it to be financially beneficial. Artistic impulses were being eclipsed by a creeping careerist mentality. “There were definitely thoughts running through my head, like: how is this going to sound to an audience? Is this going to take us to the next level as a band? Are we going to move up that festival line-up poster?” admits Will. “I didn’t realise at the time but I felt like a bit of a fraud. I’m really fucking happy with the second album and I don’t think it’s fraudulent in any way but some of the thoughts I had whilst making it, I look back and they were the wrong ones.” Fiona too recalls trying to turn songs into hits. —Aiming to please— Their situation is not uncommon. When a passion turns into a profession it can often create situations of compromise, second-guessing, aiming to please and confusion. Priorities get disturbed and mixed up and this impacts on motive. The reason so many second albums can be prone to disaster is because debut albums are born from desire and a need to document a band’s fledgling path to date. Second albums are just what is expected next. The sessions for Woman’s Hour’s second album became intense and obsessive with that weight of expectation hovering over them like an apparition. “We wrote so much material, oh my God,” says Fiona. “We made, like, fifty songs, often with about ten versions of each one. It was quite overwhelming.” Josh says he struggled to shake the pressure around this time. “All those things are simmering away under the surface, so it’s not like you’re thinking about them directly, like, we definitely need to make stuff that is going to be more financially viable. Yet at the same time, it is kind of in your every waking thought. That this needs to work.” Blame began to surface too, both towards other people and themselves. “As soon as one area becomes a failure, you start to question things in other areas,” says Will. “My first reaction was to look for other people to blame: label, management, bandmates. Then you start to blame yourself and it becomes this cycle. Something as fucking beautiful and brilliant as making your first record becomes this really horrible thing. Looking back now, I wonder how we let it get like that. It’s nuts. Lack of self worth became a massive thing for all of us.” The more they threw themselves into the album, the more difficult the situation became. “Making stuff was hard,” Fiona says. “One person would like one part of a song, the other person would like the other bit and then a third maybe wouldn’t like the song at all. I think we’d drained our resources too, it felt like we’d
“There was a sense of momentum around us. That contributed to a bigger feeling of a comedown once the record was released”
Interview been spun in a drying machine for too long.” Josh adds: “We thought the path after the first album would be a little smoother but it wasn’t, so we just ended up burying ourselves in work and losing all perspective of what we were doing.” —The end — At this point the cracks weren’t so much starting to appear as much as they were giant gaping holes that were swallowing the band whole. “It was taking so long and it was so draining,” says Will. “It was fucking horrible, to be honest with you.” Fiona adds: “There’s nothing more heartbreaking than working with people who you love but you know that your affect on them is such a negative one. There was so much blame and so much hostility and weirdly underneath it all there was so much love, but we just couldn’t seem to tap into that.” The impact of all the tension soon manifested itself physically, as Fiona recalls. “One time my back went as a physical reaction to all the stress. Then another time I had a panic attack as we were having a band conversation. I had this episode where I couldn’t breath and I was on my hands on knees and I was paralysed. I felt awful because I knew Will would feel awful but I just didn’t want to look at him, I wanted to walk out that room and cry my eyes out and then this outpouring came when I did. It was all this pent up emotion.” However, they carried on in the hope that the end was in sight and the second album would be finished and they could revert back to some semblance of normality. “I was desperate to get to the end of it but it was just like we were spiralling in circles,” says Fiona. “You felt like you were damaging relationships. I didn’t even know what our relationships were going to be like after it all. We’d all compromised so much and then you begin to ask yourself if that compromise has been worth it.” Josh recalls years earlier proudly telling people at the deli he was working in that he was in a band, but later this became a constant reminder of the bleakness of his situation. “It was part of the ego at the time when we were ascending, you know – ‘actually, I’m in a band and I’m going to America next week.’ Then that question of, ‘how’s the record coming?’ It made me fucking miserable to be asked about it all the time. It was relentless.” Fiona is quick to share the pain. “Nobody could ask me a worse question. I hated people asking me that question. It was humiliating.” Soon a pub meeting was called, with Will and Josh arriving first. “We had the weirdest and most basic conversation that we’ve ever had whilst waiting for Fiona to turn up,” recalls Josh. “I knew that something more evil was afoot.” Will announced that he couldn’t do it anymore and the band was effectively over, unless they chose to carry on without him. Josh says he was “completely destroyed” and Fiona was heartbroken. “It wasn’t a decision that I would have made at that time,” she says, “and it felt like someone had pulled the rug from under my feet. I was…” “This is really difficult to hear,” Will confesses.
“It’s okay, man. We’ve talked about all this stuff, it’s fine,” says Josh. “I’d be lying if I was saying anything else,” says Fiona. “I knew it was shit, I knew it, but I clung onto it. The six months after that were hard. There was an element of relief that I didn’t have to spend every day with these guys, although there was a sense of grief because we were so close and I couldn’t let go of that for quite a while.” —Epilogue — The pain and anguish around that period aside, the break has done them all wonders. “It felt more like an admission as well,” says Fiona. “Accepting that things were shit. At least the break up was honest, it was sincere and it was the right thing. When it comes down to well-being and happiness and putting yourself first, it was a brave thing to do. I’m grateful you [Will] made that decision because I wouldn’t have. It was only when the band ended that I had to look at myself. I did nothing other than the band; the band was my everything, it was my trajectory. When that wasn’t there any more, I realised there was too much pressure on it because it was everything. It made me freer because there was this financial element of having to make money from it, and you are looking for radio play and touring and generating income. As soon as you take the heat off that, I realised it was the right decision because it brings it back around to the music.” And the music is a success. The mixing that Josh spent a year on has resulted in a record that sounds as crisp as it does glowing. The band’s trademark closeness and glistening synth work remains but a more ambitious, and often electronic, scope feels present: a more panoramic intimacy. The band are contemplating a few shows but in what set-up and capacity remains to be seen. Likewise, they are unsure about their future at present; instead they are focusing on the joy and camaraderie that has returned from simply enjoying the music they have created together again. “It’s not about the ego anymore,” says Josh. “It’s just nice to have the music out there and to be heard after it was so insular for so long.” For Fiona, the break up has been necessary in order for her to see what the strengths and priorities of a band should be. “We write the best music when it’s not about trying to please someone. It’s got to be something that wholeheartedly feels right and is an expression we want to make, a feeling that releases something. It has to be a selfish endeavour.”
Cosey Fanni Tutti
Vintage toys and positive nostalgia, by Stuart Stubbs Photography by Timothy Cochrane Past what feels like the same flat field a hundred times over, into Norfolk and almost out the other side to the sea, we look for an old schooling house that’s been converted into the home of artist, musician and writer Cosey Fanni Tutti and her partner and collaborator Chris Carter. Cosey and Chris (or Chris & Cosey as their names appear on twelve of their records together) escaped London thirty-two years ago for somewhere near King’s Lynn, to the school house that we do find, almost isolated but not quite. When they arrived from Tottenham the builders Artexed around them and their two-year-old son. One of the school’s classrooms was converted into what is now a lounge and kitchen, the other an impressive home studio. In the garden (kept immaculately by Cosey and featuring a “cat graveyard”) the old toilet block remains, a row of cubicle doors facing the house. But to escape Tottenham first they had to escape Hackney; in the late ’70s a crooked and industrial area of London so perfect for Cosey’s and Chris’ pioneering work in Throbbing Gristle, alongside Genesis P-Orridge and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson. In speaking, Cosey always shortens the band’s name to “TG”, and likewise hers and Chris’ more recent collaboration with
Factory Floor’s Nik Void, Carter Tutti Void, to CTV. Discussing her previous home, she says: “I love the London that I knew, but that London isn’t there anymore.” To some extent or other the same applies to Hull where Cosey was born and grew up – the place from her life that is directly referenced across her first solo album since her 1982 debut. Simply titled ‘TUTTI’ (and conceived while Cosey wrote her autobiography Art Sex Music), it’s a record that was originally commissioned by Hull City of Culture in 2017 as a live soundtrack to an installation about Cosey’s early life, featuring family photographs taken in and around the port city. For its album release (out this month via Conspiracy International), the eight instrumental tracks – slow, cloudy numbers that are brooding and warm on ‘Drone’ and eventually techno-propelled on ‘Moe’ and the album’s title track – have been adapted and enhanced for release without their visual element. As Cosey welcomes us into her home full of books, vintage toys, musical equipment and ancient symbols that represent the power of woman, I ask her if she’s a nostalgic person. “I am a little bit, yeah. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia for me because I don’t want to be back there.”
Two headed dog My two headed dog is from Congo. It’s called a kozo and it’s a ritual fetish object that people use for protection. They would burn herbs in it and then hammer a nail in, and the nails are connected by rope. A friend of mine got this one and he came to visit and said: “I held this and I felt immediately that this should be yours. Place him where he’s happy.” So he’s here. And he’s missing an ear so I’ve called him Lugless Douglas.
Sheela-na-gig I wear Sheela-na-gig around my neck, too [Cosey shows me a smaller figure on her chain] – she’s very beautiful. Very empowering for woman. It was a symbol that was on a lot of stone work on churches going way, way back [and has subsequently been adopted by feminists as a symbol of empowerment]. I’ve got no crosses, you’ll notice. With the woman giving brith, this is a little female table when I think about it.
Signed picture of Edward James Olmos That’s Adama from Battlestar Galactica. It says, ‘Chris & Cosey, I freaking love TG.’ A friend of ours went to Comic Con and he was there. We were really big on Battlestar Galactica. When it was there, it was great. Woman giving birth She’s from Mexico, when we were on a Chis & Cosey tour in the ’80s. I put the corn row on – it’s all part of Pagan rituals and particular rituals that various cultures have, really. I kind of embrace all of that. I’m not into organised religion at all; I just like things that come from the culture itself and deal with the world.
20 Jazz Funk Greats painting We met the girl that did this through Twitter. She did a painting of ‘20 Jazz Funk Greats’ and was going to put it on mugs. We were like, ‘yeah, we’ll buy one off you.’ We have a mug as well, and bought a few for friends for Christmas. I think it’s really nice. It felt like a really honest, genuine appreciation of TG, rather than a bootleg just to get a load of money off the back of us, y’know? She declared it immediately: “I’ve done this picture of all of you.”
Rattle from a rattle snake I would have gotten this in the late ’70s, for a birthday, because we used to have birthday parties at Martello Street [Hackney]. Everyone used to get together from all areas of our life. Stan Bingo gave it to me [one of Throbbing Gristle’s roadies, who, in 1982, release the two-track album ‘What’s History’ with the band’s Genesis P-Orridge]. The blood is fake – for menstruation, probably.
Tutti Box Chris build me this in 2010. That happened to be the end of the regrouping of TG, when I used it the first and only time. What we’d done is design a little ‘gristleism’ machine [a small music box that you can still find to buy online], which had TG loops in it, and we were going to do a sound installation of loads of gristleisms. We said that we’d each take it and make it into something else, so Chris and I did ours but Sleazy and Gen didn’t do it. This one has been built in one of those horrible, fake radios that’s been made to look old. But it had a built-in speaker so it lent itself instantly to something we could use.
Home studio We record all of our music here, and have since we moved in 32 years ago. We went from Hackney to Stoke Newington, to Tottenham, to here. London just became too much. And then the 1980s were really summery, colourful days, through the eyes of our child, because Nick was two and a half. So you’re starting every day through the eyes of your child. We’d record here, and then when it got to the final stages I’d take Nick off to the woods or somewhere for a day out and Chris would get on with the essentials. We’ve always worked very well as a team like that.
Lenitcular image of Alexander McQueen We never knew it but Alexander McQueen used to design while listening to TG. So we went to see the exhibition at the V&A. Did you see it? It was unbelievable. Something else. I’m not into fashion at all but he was an artist. The intensity of his passion was just palpable in that exhibition. They had this there, designed by his nephew, I think [as you move left and right McQueen’s face fades to a skull], and we bought it and framed it in memory of someone who had worked outside of everything and then became consumed. Which is sad.
Cabinet of vintage toys and figures We’ve told ourselves that that’s it now, we won’t buy anymore toys, although Chris did buy those 2001 figures for himself for Christmas. But this cabinet is full of things we’ve pick up along the way. There’s some original Planet of The Apes figures sat down – I really loved Planet of The Apes – a lot of E.T., considering I didn’t really like E.T., but I watched it with my son and we cried… That’s a freaky one – you see the one sat on top of the little radio, I think he’s from Germany. Looks nasty, doesn’t he?
Art Sex Music This is the copy that I use for readings. So it’s got all of these tabs in it for different sections, because I’ll try to choose a part to read that relates to where I am. Writing it was one of those things – at times it was really enjoyable and at others there were real moments of constipation. It’s just like making music, really. It feels cathartic now, but it didn’t at the time because I wasn’t in a cathartic mood when I wrote it. I was just writing about what had happened in my life so I wasn’t trying to get anything off my shoulders because I’d already done it in one form or another – through music, art or in my diaries. But it was something that I needed to do because I’ve had a few brushes with death and I’ve lost people recently, and I thought I need to document what’s happened in my life so far and then I can carry on with my life. It was important to me because there’s so much rubbish written about me and the things I’ve been involved with.
Later on this month Busted are releasing a new album. Not McBusted. Real Busted. With Charlie. How long’s it been? Fifteen years? Twenty? It’s been forever. I’m not talking about McBusted here. BUSTED Busted. It’s actually been three years. I had no idea either, but Busted kinda released a comeback album in 2016. Not kinda – they did. I’ll be honest, I missed it, which was probably the fault of the sleeve as much as it was my limited interest in McBusted. I mean Busted. I’ve just checked into it and on that record the band members were in silhouette and they didn’t even use the famous Busted stamp logo. It could have been a record by anyone, and was quite disrespectful to Charlie’s return. Finally he’s getting the homecoming he deserves on the sleeve of ‘Half Way There’ – a cryptic title that has led conspiracy theorists and Busted fans alike to believe that Busted have committed to releasing 8 albums in total, with a cavalier disregard for demand. I think Busted might have just invented the word ‘unsilhouetted’ – that’s how bold this cover is in light of their last. It’s definitely them, isn’t it? I don’t mean that just in terms of how clearly they’ve been photographed
with their heads popping through nine glory holes – I mean that Busted energy is totally back. Go and have a Google of “Best of Talking Heads” and look at that sleeve. It’s very similar, but, y’know, VERY Talking Heads. It’s very arch, isn’t it? All their faces seem to sum up what a drag it was being in Talking Heads. The photographer on this Busted shoot would have said, “let’s have some fun with it, lads,” and boy did they run with that (except for the middle shot of Charlie, which must have been taken either at the very beginning of the day or the very end). It’s a cover with so much to look at and yet so little, with what I believe to be a not so hidden story... Charlie (top left): “Busted are back, baby!” James (top middle): “BUSTED!” Matt (top right): “Is my lip doing it?” James (middle right): “I’m still kinda mad about Fightstar, though.” Charlie (middle): Matt (middle left): “Was I in Fightstar?” Charlie (bottom left): “Dude, let’s sack Matt.” James (bottom middle): “That does make sense...” Matt (bottom right): “You guys still digging The Darkness?” I hope they work it out.
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