Sunday, 19 November 2017
Pale Waves might have come to prominence at the start of 2017 with the ultra-hooky There’s A Honey but the band's origins date back as far as 2014 when they were operating under the name Creek before changing to their current moniker in 2015 and being picked up by a handful of early adopter blogs.
Much has been made of the involvement of Matt Healey of The 1975 in the development of Pale Waves, although he has been at pains to point out recently that whilst he has helped with the production and editing of the songs, he’s not some sort of svengali. The songs were already there before his involvement and even in 2015 early reviews were making comparisons of the Pale Waves sound to The 1975, as well as the likes of Peace and Swim Deep.
Pale Waves deal in accessible indie pop anthems with chiming guitars and rousing choruses, but the emphasis is on the pop here; lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie not only has the looks of Robert Smith of The Cure’s daughter but her band take the same path as the more upbeat end of the goth-pop masters music. Just don’t expect and Disintegration or Pornography bleakness quite yet.
With three songs out there in the world, the aforementioned There’s A Honey, Television Romance which sounds to all intents and purposes like There’s A Honey and recent release New Year’s Eve, a two months supporting The 1975 in huge US venues, their own headline tour of the pubs and clubs of the UK and a forthcoming US headline shows Pale Waves are carefully stepping upwards, maybe not towards global domination, but at least to a point where they have enough of a fan base to release an album to.
Pale Waves - Television Romance (Video)
Saturday, 18 November 2017
“The future’s bleak, but at least we get to decide it’s soundtrack,” state The Blinders. And what a soundtrack. Take one listen to Brave New World, a gritty and raucous mix of punk, psychedelia, shouty indie and a hint of Carter USM’s Bloodsports For All and you’ll see. It’s the stuff of sweat, blood and tears. It’s the sound of a band who, if they have ever been told that guitar music is dead, have clearly decided that it’s fake news.
Having released their debut EP Hidden Horror Dance back in 2016 The Blinders have been slowly growing an audience ever since. 2017 saw them doing the business through hard gigging, support slots with Cabbage, one of last year’s Ones to Watch, and festivals such as Great Escape, Reading and Festival No.6. Next year will see the band hitting the road for their own headline tour which is likely to be an explosive and highly energetic affair.
Manchester-based, but Doncaster born, The Blinders have had comparisons thrown at them ranging from Arctic Monkeys to Jimi Hendrix Experience and they're a band that are not afraid to address the current state of the nation. They’ll be bringing a mosh pit to a town near you soon. Ones to Watch in 2018 for sure. They bring the noise.
The Blinders - Brave New World (Video)
The Blinders - Murder At The Ballet
Friday, 17 November 2017
Over the last few years there’s been a noticeable shift in the music industry insofar as the vast majority of commercially successful artists seem to be solo ones. From a certain perspective you could argue that bands are on the way out. Which is what makes Superorganism such an intriguing prospect - as they fully buck the trend. They’re almost a supergroup.
An eight piece from around the world Superorganism initially formed through online forums before they started making music by sharing tracks via email. Then they finally came together to live in the UK in East London. They make askew oddball pop music with equally left of centre videos. Earlier this year I described buzz single Something For Your M.I.N.D as ‘simple, inventive, hooky and lackadaisically cool,’ and that description seems to fit well with much of their quirky cartoonish sound.
Since first arriving on the scene a deal with Domino Records has been signed and without further ado the band sold out their debut show at London’s 600 capacity Village Underground. There was no messing around slogging round the regional toilet circuit here. The reviews back from the London gig were 100% positive – not just because of the music, but because of the band’s stage presentation. Superorganism had a clear vision of how to present themselves – something that even now a lot of bands don’t particularly think of. At Village Underground they all dressed in colourful raincoats in front of psychedelic visuals, creating that same sense of occasion that bands like The Flaming Lips, Jungle and The Polyphonic Spree have managed to create in the past. Gorillaz meets The Moldy Peaches is possibly the best approximation of their sound.
During 2017 Superorganism have created a unique space in the universe of pop. It’s why as they continue to expand that space in 2018 they have to be regarded as Ones to Watch.
Superorganism - Something For Your M.I.N.D
Superorganism - Nobody Cares (Video)
Thursday, 16 November 2017
Jade Bird first appeared on this blog back in 2016 before she’d even released a single, having come to my attention via a You Tube TEAFilms Live Session for a song called Madeline. She then impressed me when I caught her live at an early afternoon set at Brighton’s Great Escape playing to a room of mainly music industry representatives 2017. Then in summer there was the release of her debut EP Something American, which took the classic sounds of country, folk, americana and the delta-blues and framed them in the world of teenager in 2017 who has spent time in South Wales, Germany and Chesterfield.
Jade’s impressive vocal delivery, musicianship and talent hasn’t gone unnoticed. A few months later she was the recipient of the prestigious ANCHOR award at the Reeperbahn Festival International Music Festival. This award identifies the most promising emerging music talent from the festival’s program and serves as a label of excellence and guide for fans and music professionals alike and is described as a springboard into an international career.
More recently she took on the challenge of covering Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill for Radio 1's piano sessions and came out victor (you can see the video of that below).
With bags of talent and a highly likeable chatty stage presence the only question with Jade is (as I’ve discussed before) where does her real audience lie? She’s very young but many of her songs are possibly a better fit for an older and possibly American audience, in the same way as say a band such as First Aid Kit are.
As we go into 2018 and Jade releases more material, maybe that question will become clearer, but whoever’s ears her music falls upon the chances are they’ll be charmed.
Jade Bird - Cathedral
Jade Bird - Running Up That Hill (Radio 1 Piano Session)
Wednesday, 15 November 2017
To any new music fan the selection of Norwegian pop singer Sigrid Solbakk Raabe (who just goes by the name of Sigrid) as the first of Breaking More Waves Ones to Watch for 2018 probably feels a little bit old hat. After all her songs Don’t Kill My Vibe and Plot Twist have achieved seemingly international recognition in 2017 and she’s already been pulling large enthusiastic crowds for both headline shows and festivals.
Yet it’s probably worth remembering that despite her success so far Sigrid only signed to Virgin records in 2016, has released just 1 EP plus another original song Strangers and that Don’t Kill My Vibe achieved a highest chart position in the UK of 62 in 2017. She’s still a long way from being a huge international popstar.
With a voice that manages to display elements of tenderness and delicate emotion alongside a slightly throaty raspy fullness Sigrid has the versatility. She can do big belter pop songs or fragile ballads of intimacy. There's a hint of another Scandinavian pop singer - Robyn - in what Sigrid does. Combine that with an enthusiastic and endearing stage presence something akin to a punchy gazelle and a bunch of strong still to be released tunes and it’s clear that of this year’s Ones to Watch she’s possibly the one with the most commercial potential.
Just in case you've been living under a rock, you can see the video for Plot Twist plus a rather lush remix of Don't Kill My Vibe by Gryffin below.
Sigrid - Plot Twist
Sigrid - Don't Kill My Vibe (Gryffin Remix)
Tuesday, 14 November 2017
Ever since I started this new music blog in 2008 I have, around this time, published a tip list for the year ahead. I’ve always called it my Ones to Watch list.
This year is no different. Over the next 10 days, starting Wednesday 15th November, I’ll be publishing 10 artists who ,for a variety of different reasons, I believe will be worth watching in 2018.
Over the years, in choosing these selections, I’ve come up with a number of questions, challenges and difficulties. If you’re like me and interested in this geeky kind of stuff about how the lists are formed read on. If not it's probably just to come back here on Wednesday. If any of you have read my previous ponderings on how to form an album of the year list you'll know that I probably spend way too much time thinking about stuff like this.
Here are some of the questions that have gone through my mind when forming my Ones to Watch lists, and the answers I've made to resolve them. Feel free to criticise my thoughts / ideas, but remember, this is my list not yours, so I can do what I want. Go and start your own blog. OK?
1. The basis of choice.
Do I choose acts I love or acts I think will be successful (commercially or critically), irrespective of if I like them?
I have relatively commercial tastes, so this isn’t too much of a problem for me. You’re unlikely to find me tipping an underground screamo noise band that are currently playing to six people in a cellar bar in Lithuania. Generally (although not exclusively) acts I like make music that is reasonably accessible to most people. So I tend to choose acts I love at the time and hope the success will follow. In choosing acts I like it also means that the vast majority of them will have already appeared on the blog in the last year or so. In many ways my Ones to Watch list is a summary of some of the best acts I’ve introduced on the blog in the previous year.
2. How new is new?
This is a difficult one. Acts I may perceive as new may to others seem as old hat and vice versa. For example one year I tipped Clare Maguire as an artist to watch on the back of some demos on Myspace (remember that?). A year later she still hadn’t released anything. She was too new. Likewise I tipped Rag N Bone Man as One to Watch in 2014. Last year he cropped up on the BBC’s Sound of list. My criteria for newness is largely centred around if the artist has had any UK Top 40 chart hits and have they released an album. If the answer to either of those is yes, then I probably won’t consider them new. But most of the acts I’m tipping will have released a number of songs either through labels or independently.
3. Tip what everyone else is tipping or go off-piste?
These days every website and publication has its own tip list. Do I try and tip acts that are different from every other site, or follow the pack as there are always certain artists that everyone seems to be tipping? I try and negate this as much as possible by writing and publishing my list early – that way I’m not influenced by other lists.
4. Balance and diversity
If you look at the BBC Sound of list (to be published later this month) you will see that the producers make a real effort to engage a diverse voting panel. I can’t do that. This list is just compiled by me and therefore is ultimately based on my tastes and specialisms. So you’re unlikely to find any heavy rock on the list and very little grime – although last year I did include grime act Dave on the list as I really liked what he was doing (and still do). This also means there is likely to be a higher number of female vocalists on the list than male as that’s where my tastes tend to sit at the moment. The list is also likely to feature far more British acts than other countries – as that’s where I am based and even allowing for the internet, it’s easier to tap into acts from this country.
5. Tipping is perilous.
Look back at any so called ‘tastemakers’ list and you’ll find as many hits as misses. Nobody ever gets it ‘right’ all the time, whatever ‘right’ actually is. There's a few acts that I've tipped in the past that I look back now and think 'what was I thinking?' But by and large the majority of past choices I'm happy with - even if some of them never achieved long term careers as artists of merit.
Check back tomorrow and at around 8.30am and every day after that for the next 10 days to see Breaking More Waves Ones To Watch 2018.
Here’s a list of all my previous selections from the last 9 years on the blog.
Alabama Shakes, Alessi’s Ark, Alice Jemima, Aurora, Avec Sans, Banks, Beth Jeans Houghton, Billie Marten, Cabbage, Coasts, Charli XCX, Chasing Grace, Chloe Black, Chloe Howl, Chvrches, Clare Maguire, Clock Opera, Curxes, Dave, Declan McKenna, Dot Rotten, D/R/U/G/S, Delphic, Elderbrook, Ellie Goulding, Eva Stone, Foxes, Florence & The Machine, Flyte, Gabrielle Aplin, George Ezra, Haim, Hazel English, Holly Miranda, Hurts, Iyes, James Blake, Jerry Williams, Jospeh Salvat, Jungle, La Roux, Lane Del Rey, LANY, Lapsley, Laura Doggett, Laura Mvula, Let’s Buy Happiness, Lianne La Havas, Little Boots, Liv Dawson, Loyle Carner, Lucy Rose, Luke Sital-Singh, Maggie Rogers, Majik, Marina & The Diamonds, Matt Corby, Michael Kiwanuka, Mirrors, Misty Miller, Mononoke, Mumford & Sons, Mura Masa, Nao, Outfit, Passion Pit, Pumarosa, Queen of Hearts, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man, Ren Harvieu, Ryn Weaver, Seinabo Sey, Savages, Seramic, Skint & Demoralised, Skott, Sofi Tukker, Sons & Lovers, Sophie Jamieson, Spark, Spector, Starsmith, Stornoway, Rachel Sermanni, The Milk, The Night VI, The Shires, The Staves, The Vaccines, Tom Odell, Unicorn Kid, Valerie June, Visions Of Trees, White Lies, Willy Moon, Wolf Alice, Xylaroo, Yes Giantess, Zyra.
Monday, 13 November 2017
If British TV show Skins was still running then the new video from Dream Wife could easily have featured in it for sure. There’s dancing! Snogging! Music! More dancing! More snogging! More music! It looks great. The way all the best prom parties should be.
Unfortunately Dream Wife don’t look like they’re having a particularly good time through it all, but at least they can be happy with the knowledge that their debut album arrives at the end of January, so there will be more opportunities for celebrations and possibly making out (with consent of course) then.
Dream Wife - Let's Make Out (Video)
Saturday, 11 November 2017
Portsmouth, my home city, doesn’t have a great track record of artists crossing over to the wider mainstream and national stage. However, right now it certainly feels like Pompey’s Jerry Williams has all the potential to break the mould. She's managed to get on the big old important Spotify New Music Friday playlist this week, which shows somebody is taking notice, and she’s certainly one of the best, if not the best, unsigned artists from the south coast central area.
New single Grab Life is an even more convincing argument to that last statement. It’s a snappy, good to be alive indie pop song that finds Jerry singing about seizing your time on the planet before it all ends: “Don’t watch the sunshine from your bed.” With its bright musicality and Jerry’s mellifluous voice Grab Life is the musical equivalent of Mr Motivator and after listening you’ll probably want to go and hug a stranger or at least do a little dance with one. Filled with personality and joy, this is a cracker.
Jerry will be playing on the same bill as Sam Fender and Love Ssega at the Courtyard Theatre in London on the 22nd November and headlines another London show at The Lexington on the 5th February next year before she flies out to play SXSW Festival.
Jerry Williams - Grab Life
Friday, 10 November 2017
Here’s a little warning for you. Having listened to the casual downbeat grooves of Leicester’s Easy Life and their debut single Pockets, do not go on to Spotify (other streaming services are available) type their name and then play the songs I’m Fading Away, 21, Light Me Up or I’ll Leave You Behind. Same band name, very different sound and band. Your ears may bleed if you do.
However, if rather than having to endure that pain you’d rather have them coated in something akin to fur trimmed ear muffs - music that is warmer, smoother and altogether more pleasant - then do listen to Pockets. A modern-day commentary on over consumption, material greed, excess and questioning the way they’re used in society to over compensate and anaesthetize for what’s missing - it’s a jam and then some. It reminds me a little of a late night, soulful version of Jamie T.
Unsurprisingly the release comes via Chess Club records who now have a 10-year history in seeking out a widely eclectic mix of brilliantly fresh and eclectic music. Pockets certainly meets those criteria. A brassy, effortlessly cool debut that stands out from the crowd.
Easy Life - Pockets
After managing to work the Don’t Kill My Vibe EP for virtually the whole year, finally there’s some new music from Sigrid. Hurrah!
Strangers isn’t the best song in her bag (anyone that has seen her live will know that she still has some even bigger bangers to come) yet it’s better than probably 95% of other pop music released this week. Why? Because: 1) It does what all good pop songs should do and gets straight in your head. 2) You can dance to it with your hands in the air. OK, maybe not the mellow beginning, but once it fires itself up and starts pumping big electronic pulses out, you’ll be raving. 3) The mellow beginning is lovely: “Just like in the movies, it starts to rain and we’re the broken beauties.” Perfect.
She’s mainstream pop music's brightest hope for 2018 for sure.
Sigrid - Strangers
Wednesday, 8 November 2017
For those of you who have been with me since virtually the beginning of the blog you might remember the name Alessi’s Ark cropping up as far back as 2008. I’m very pleased to see that Alessi is still making music and this latest cut, Desert, finds her on strong form with her always agreeable voice being backed with a classic scruffy indie-pop sound; if you’re a fan of bands like Alvvays then the chances are you’ll love this tune.
As much as I enjoy this song, what really strikes me is the new video, for quite personal reasons, as it is in the form of a rapidly changing photo collage which documents a journey from London via my home city of Portsmouth (you’ll see pictures of the harbour including HMS Warrior and the Spinnaker Tower) to the Isle of Wight - a place that I have very strong connections with. In particular a lot of the photos are taken in the seaside resort of Ventnor, a charming idiosyncratic cliffside town that can lay claim to having more sunny days than pretty much anywhere else in the UK. Alas it appears the weather when the photos were taken wasn’t so good, but the pictures give you an idea of the wonderful vistas, it's homeliness and its old-fashioned lure. If you ever get the chance to visit the Isle of Wight make sure you spend some time in Ventnor. For a place with a population of around just 6,000 it has an awful lot to offer including some great restaurants and the Ventnor Fringe Festival.
Alessi's Ark - Desert (Video)
Tuesday, 7 November 2017
There were a few questions asked of Manchester’s Pale Waves in these quarters at least when their second release Television Romance sounded like a copycat version of their rather brilliant and hooky debut There’s A Honey. Add in a slightly stilted and samey debut London headline gig and I was beginning to question if the indie-buzz in the UK around the band was really justified.
Thankfully the third song out of the bag, New Year’s Eve gives more hope. Sure, it’s not radically different from the other two and there’s still the nagging suspicion that lead singer Heather’s vocal delivery might become a bit tiresome over a whole album, but New Year’s Eve is undeniably catchy, from its chilled ambient beginning through to the 80’s jam-pop funkiness which sounds not that dissimilar to Breaking More Waves favourites Fickle Friends.
The music is certainly upbeat and confident, but it’s not that way lyrically on the song: “I don’t want to be alone on New Year’s Eve, do you even wanna be with me?” sings Heather doubtfully.
A sad fact for you all – whilst Heather is worrying about New Year’s Eve studies show that for a lot of people New Year’s Day is even worse – and I don’t just mean because of bad hangovers. In the UK December 31st has one of the lowest suicide rates of the year, whilst January 1st is the day with the highest rate. There’s a suggestion that this is because of the ‘broken promises effect’, when hopes of a new beginning are not met.
New Year’s Eve is the first track to come from Pale Waves forthcoming debut EP, released in early 2018 on Dirty Hit.
Pale Waves - New Year's Eve
Friday, 3 November 2017
Today sees the release of a brand-new song by The Staves and it’s a fascinating piece of work, the band having collaborated with orchestral chamber pop six-piece yMusic (who have previously worked with the likes of The Tallest Man On Earth, Paul Simon and Ben Folds) from New York. Even more intriguing is that this is not just a one off single – a whole album between the two groups, The Way Is Read, is due digitally on 24th November with vinyl following on the 1st December. The record comes about after The Staves and yMusic were first commissioned to work together on a live performance piece for Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) Eaux Claires Festival and have followed that through to a full record.
Trouble On My Mind is a weighty yet restful piece that showcases The Staves pure and arresting vocals, against a backdrop of the ensembles bewitching orchestral arrangement. I’ve always thought that The Staves could do a perfect Christmas album (and The Unthanks as well) and whilst this isn’t one its sound is about as close as you could get, with its crisp wintery music and warming vocals it brings in those sort of festive feelings, in a very different way to that which Mariah Carey ever could. Gorgeous.
The Staves - Trouble On My Mind (Video)
Wednesday, 1 November 2017
Back in 2014 I wrote a piece about Fickle Friends and their single For You. The post alluded to the fact that whilst the band was doing very well online in terms of attracting lots of blog and website praise they still had a long way to go to achieve any sort of real world success, such as selling lots of tickets for larger shows and developing a real-life fan base. 3 years on from that article it gives me absolute pleasure to see the band continuing to work hard and achieving that success, as a recent sold out show in London’s Kentish Town Forum (2,300 capacity) attests to.
Hard graft and putting the hours in is undoubtedly part of the reason why the band are doing so well, but let’s not ever underestimate the power of a hooky tune, and Fickle Friends seem to be churning them out by the bucket load. Current single Hard To Be Myself might on a casual listen sound like a piece of throw away pop with Natti asking you to ‘party with me’ but a closer listen will find that there’s something deeper going on, with Natti touching on insecurity and anxiety – the idea of being the life and soul of the party, but the reality maybe isn’t quite the same.
Today the band released a video for the song, which explores these ideas further. Director Daniel Harris explains: “The split-screen concept for Fickle Friends' Hard To Be Myself was built off the structure of ‘Expectation’ vs ‘Reality’, all based around a ‘90s American Frat House party aesthetic. From the beginning of the two narratives, I wanted to create a clear point of difference in the behaviour of our lead, Leo, by directing a left-side character that was relentlessly decisive, unapologetically confident and free from social inhibition versus a right-side character that was uncomfortable in his own skin and nervous. Then we surrounded him with the same character-set in the two different realities, one inside the party and the other on the doorstep, uninvited. These played side by side created a really beautiful juxtaposition. Alongside the narrative, we peppered in a gorgeous telephoto performance of Natti and shots from the band that flow along with the story.”
For lovers of all good pop music around the world, it’s time to enjoy some more Fickle Friends.
Fickle Friends - Hard To Be Myself (Video)
This new video from Grace Lightman is for a song she released earlier this year and is described as a ‘Live Karaoke Performance’. All I can say is that Grace has attended some far better Karaoke sessions than me. There’s no evidence of a drunk bloke shouting out the lyrics to Mr Brightside* as he’s cheered on to shouts of ‘go on son’ whilst necking five pints of lager. No this is Karaoke by way of a scene out of Twin Peaks. Given its eerie, ghostly sound and visual atmosphere I’m not sure if Halloween really is over in Grace Lightman’s world, but nonetheless this is unsettling in a good way.
*Footnote. Mr Brightside is a great song, but it's now become the 00's equivalent of Wonderwall in the UK at least - over played to the point of annoyance.
Grace Lightman - Halloween Is Over (Live Karaoke Performance)