Thursday 31 January 2019

Introducing: Fast Trains

When the conversation turns to virtual worlds that have their own languages, characters and landscapes, the first thing that comes to my mind is Animal Crossing, the social simulation game developed and published by Nintendo. So, when a new project entitled ourWorld cropped up on my radar, for a moment I thought we were going to be treated to new variants of Bells, going fishing a lot, shaking trees and Tom Nook.

Thankfully there’s no Tom Nook involved in ourWorld, although someone called Tom does have a lot to do with it, as ourWorld is based around the songs that a certain Tom Wells, formerly the bass player in the Portsmouth based indie rock band Kassassin Street, has created. Tom's project goes under the name Fast Trains.

Getting on board with Tom is Sam Brandon, his video collaborator, who has created the animated visuals that make up ourWorld. What this world is, or is meant to be about, at this stage I’m not really sure. What do the strange symbols present in the video mean? What is the purpose of the rotating box – is it a distant cousin of the Lament Configuration from Cliver Barker’s Hellraiser or the Rubik’s Cube? (There's some 80's references for you). Who are the strange amorphous creatures that appear to inhabit this world? Maybe all will become clear in future videos. Or perhaps not. Is there a mystery to solve? Or is it all just like Nik Kershaw’s The Riddle (more 80's references there) and just a load of nonsense?

Whatever it is, the song that accompanies it all, Measure by Measure, isn’t nonsense at all. It's a rather simple and lovely thing; created from looped guitars that have a vaguely summery 60’s feel to them, combined with small amounts of electronic trickery and Tom’s teasingly pleasant and harmonious vocal melody, it never piles too much in and is all the better for it. A fine opening and I look forward to hearing (and seeing) more.

Fast Trains - Measure by Measure

Tuesday 29 January 2019

New Music: Rosie Lowe - Birdsong

The last time I mentioned Rosie Lowe on Breaking More Waves (in 2014) it was in connection with dropping a cigarette butt in Leeds and how that can get you a £50 fine. Since that time Rosie released her debut album Control (in 2016) and is now gearing up for album number 2 which is entitled YU (I guess there’s a double meaning in the title depending on if you say the letters as a word or individual letters?). From it comes this single Birdsong which is not at all rubbish – so clearly she’s become a bit more litter conscious since the cigarette butt incident.

Alas Birdsong is not a tribute to my very own DJ Birdsong ambient project (taking bookings for 2019 if anyone would like a man in bird mask playing gentle calming electronic music mixed with birdsong – it is if nothing else a very relaxing experience) but instead she describes it as being inspired by "lust and desire, but with the lingering sense of insecurity and longing.”

The track was produced by The Invisible’s Dave Okumu and comes accompanied by a video directed by Jovan Todorovic. It’s a slinky piece of spacey funk that grinds and grooves in a similar way to some of Nao’s work with Rosie’s voice giving the song a half creepy half sensual feel and the multi-track  male group vocals adding to that steamy atmosphere even more.

This one’s on fire. And that fire is funky.

Rosie Lowe plays Guildford Boileroom on 10th March (where tickets are a snip at £3.80) and London's Omeara on 14th March (where they are quite a bit more).

Rosie Lowe - Birdsong 

Monday 28 January 2019

New Music: Julia Kent - Imbalance

Over the weekend a friend mentioned to me that that after the previous week’s exciting avalanche of album releases from the likes of Maggie Rogers, James Blake, Sharon Van Etten and The Twilight Sad that the Friday just gone had been a very barren affair.

Clearly that friend wasn’t aware of Temporal by Julia Kent. Released on 25th January via the Leaf label, it’s Julia’s sixth solo record, although she’s also worked as a member of Antony and the Johnsons and on film music. 

Temporal is a beautifully rich and absorbing listening from start to finish. Julia Kent takes the cello as her starting point but creates compositions that are full of deep textures and patterns that draw you in and allow you to explore a world of melancholy instrumental ambience. Like all the best ambient or ambient classical works it never over complicates things but there are enough layers and ideas within each track to make the record a deep start to finish listen. 

From Temporal, here’s the video to the second track on the record which is titled Imbalance, featuring clawing techno stabs and frantic clicks it creates an air of heavy menace alongside the stirring cello as it rises up to an almost cataclysmic climax. 

Really the only release from Friday that you need to concern yourself with. Listen to it in full by clicking here.

Imbalance - Julia Kent 

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Competition News: Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition 2019 Details

Glastonbury Festival is gearing up for its 2019 and at the moment just 3 of the acts appearing have been announced: Stormzy, Kylie Minogue and Janelle Monae. However, today there’s a bit more news as the festival announces details of its 2019 Emerging Talent Competition, which is once again supported by PRS for Music and PRS Foundation.  

Every year since 2011 I’ve been involved in helping judge the Emerging Talent Competition and 2019 will be no different as I join a panel of 29 other UK music writers to help compile a longlist of 90 acts from the entries. The longlist will then be narrowed down to a shortlist of eight artists by judges including Glastonbury organisers Michael and Emily Eavis, before the live finals in Pilton in April decide the winning act. For the past four competitions, all eight of the finalists were offered slots at that year’s Festival.

The competition gives new UK and Ireland-based artists of any musical genre the chance to compete for a slot on one of the main stages at this year’s Festival. There used to be a misconception that only folky or rock-based acts stood a chance of winning, but the last few years have demonstrated that this is far from the case. We’ve yet to have a jazz act or an ambient electronic artist win, but maybe 2019 will be the year?

The winners of the free-to-enter competition will also be awarded a £5,000 Talent Development prize from PRS Foundation to help take their songwriting and performing to the next level. Two runners-up will also each be awarded a £2,500 PRS Foundation Talent Development prize. 

Acts can enter the 2019 competition for one week only from 9am Monday 28th January until 5pm Monday 4th February 2019 via 

Recent Emerging Talent Competition finalists include Nigerian-born rapper Flohio, who features on the BBC’s Sound of 2019 list; R&B singer Izzy Bizu (a 2016 BRITs Critics’ Choice nominee and winner of the 2016 BBC Music Introducing Award); and singer-songwriter Declan McKenna, who won ETC 2015 and subsequently signed with Columbia and released a successful debut album. The 2017 ETC winner was soulful singer Josh Barry, who has since toured with Rag’n’Bone Man and Gorgon City and is due to release his debut album this year. Meanwhile, 2016 winners She Drew The Gun have received considerable acclaim for their politically-inspired psych-pop, with their latest album Revolution Of The Mind named among BBC 6 Music’s Top 10 albums of 2018. 

And even if they didn’t make it through to the final, previous longlisted acts include the likes of Nadine Shah, Circa Waves, Slaves and Fickle Friends who are all now pretty well-known names. Some of my past choices of longlisted acts include the likes of AK/DK, Cosmo Sheldrake, Wyldest and Avec Sans. I’ve yet to pick the winner (a lot depends on what selection you are asked to judge) although I have chosen acts that have made it through to the final.

To enter, acts will need to supply a link to one original song on SoundCloud, plus a link to a video of themselves performing live (even if it’s only recorded in a bedroom). As a judge here’s an important tip for any artist thinking of entering from me: make sure the links you supply work. Every year there are always acts that either provide an incorrect link or then removes the video / track before the competition. Also make sure the live performance is representative of what you do and is actually live. Ultimately if you make it through to the final, you’ll have to play live and it will be hugely embarrassing for everyone if you can’t do it well.

So, if you want to enter, set a date in your diary for Monday 28th January and get your entry in sharpish on the Glastonbury website. And good luck!

Monday 21 January 2019

New Music: Poppy Ackroyd - Paper (Max Cooper Remix)

Poppy Ackroyd is a classically trained pianist, violinist, producer, and composer, whose last work, Resolve, was a thing of absolute beauty. If you’re a fan of calming but never dull modern ambient / classical recordings and you haven’t heard the album yet it comes hugely recommended – I’d put it up there with the likes of Nils Frahm and Max Richter. It almost made my Top 10 albums of 2018 list.

Now comes news of Resolve Reimagined, a remix project of the original record featuring reworked versions of the tracks from the likes of Hauschka, Ben Lukas Boysen, and Hidden Orchestra released on the 22nd February 2019. The opening piece Paper has been re-engineered by Max Cooper and it’s hugely impressive. If ever there was such a thing as a calm banger, this is it. Cooper retains much of the looping piano and beats and clicks of the original but then adds extra electronic layers, pulses and small effects that leave the track in a very different space from where it started. I don’t feature many remixes on Breaking More Waves, but where like this they truly add something, they deserve to be listened to. Immersive stuff.

Poppy is on tour in February including a number of UK shows, which finish in her home town of Brighton on 22nd February.

Poppy Ackroyd - Paper (Max Cooper Remix)

Sunday 20 January 2019

Introducing: Arlo Parks

Just as I took a little bit of time away from Breaking More Waves in late November / December, a track from a brand-new artist went on line that was so good it would have, in normal circumstances, been an immediate priority to feature. That track was Cola and the artist is Arlo Parks, an 18-year-old from South London. 

Two months on and Cola still sounds as jazzily cool and fresh as it did in late November. Based on an unhurried groove, a beat that conveys swagger even though it’s really just a shuffle and Arlo’s exquisitely languid vocal, Cola delivers shivers down the spine no matter how many times it’s played. Probably suited to a club where tables and head bobbing are the order of the day rather than sweaty dancing, I’m fascinated to hear more from this new artist and I hope you are as well.

Arlo Parks plays the Lock Tavern in Camden, London on 24th January at a free show.

Arlo Parks - Cola

Friday 18 January 2019

New Music: G Flip - Bring Me Home

This week it really feels like the music industry has got back to work properly with a whole host of exciting new releases. There’s the debut album from Maggie Rogers (a previous Breaking More Waves Ones to Watch in 2016) which has got some very good and some not so good reviews – make your own mind up, James Blake (also a Ones to Watch way back in 2010), Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow, Alice Merton’s Mint and a new Twilight Sad record to name just a few. The beauty of streaming services really kicks in on weeks like this. Pre-streaming you might have been lucky to afford to buy a couple of these records, now you can dive in and listen to them all. If you do, please try and buy your favourites physically as well and support the artist that little bit more.

There’s also a lot of singles being released this week that have my interest including tracks from Another Sky (featured already on the blog), Little Simz, The Cranberries (new material recorded using Delores O’Riordan’s vocals recorded before her death which will not disappoint fans), Kate Nash, Deyyess and previous / current Ones to Watch Sofi Tukker, Jade Bird, Sigrid (featured yesterday), Alice Chater and two new songs from G Flip. That lot should keep you busy.

It’s the Australian that I want to focus on today.

For those who like me spend some time on Friday working their way through Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist with equal amounts of pleasure and horror you’ll have probably already heard live favourite Drink Too Much, the more upbeat and pop of the two songs she’s released this week following the dazzling Killing My Time and internet destroying About You last year. 

What you might have missed though is the second tune, Bring Me Home, a raw and emotional piece that deals with the feelings that Georgia went through in 2018, having suddenly been catapulted into a intense period of time following the release of About You. After uploading the song to Unearthed on Triple J the song blew up and suddenly Georgia’s life became a whirlwind – something that even the most stable and strong person would find difficult to deal with. 

“I've never had clouds follow me each day. Years of sun that never went away,” she begins before opening her heart to explain that not all ‘success’ brings happiness: “I am falling apart. Now I'm scared of the dark. All I can hear is my heart.” It’s an important song for if nothing else it helps remind us all that sometimes the people that you’ve always considered solid rocks, the ones that appear to have no difficulties, do. When they do, it can be hard to the point of overwhelming for them to deal with things. “I've never had problems where do I begin?” G Flip sings.

Bring Me Home is a beautiful ballad and shows another side of G Flip. She can do hooky pop tunes for sure, but there’s a lot more underneath as well. This is a powerful and captivating ballad. It might well have you in tears. It’s also the best song I’ve heard all week.

For the video Georgia wanted to capture the intensity of the song. She explained: “I needed the film clip to be emotional like the song. I wrote this song when I was breaking down so I wanted to portray that in the visual. I can’t act to save my life so I put myself in a hot warehouse on a thirty-six degree day and drummed for six hours straight until I couldn’t anymore to show that real emotion and convey what I was feeling.”

G Flip will be back in the UK this May for a show at London’s Garage and has also been confirmed to play Reading Festival. Whilst undoubtedly 2019 is going to be a busy one for her, let’s hope that she manages to do it at her pace and is given the support to enjoy everything happening to her.

G Flip - Bring Me Home

Thursday 17 January 2019

New Music: Sigrid - Don't Feel Like Crying

Today Sigrid has released her latest tune Don’t Feel Like Crying, a song which will be featuring on her forthcoming album Sucker Punch, due in March.

There’s a school of thought around some Sigrid fans / music boffins that since the initial power punch of Don’t Kill My Vibe, the BBC Sound of poll 1st place and the UK chart success of Strangers that everything since just hasn’t quite matched up commercially to those early career highs. Of course, much of this thought is based around the fact that these days we can all see the statistics for artists on Spotify, You Tube etc to get an idea of how ‘successful’ they are being. 

And of course artists themselves can also see these statistics, which sometimes must be quite soul destroying. In pre-streaming days an artist could sell several thousand records and happily blindly assume that the people who had bought them were playing them lots and enjoying them – these days the statistics might tell you a very different story about how many times fans are actually listening to the music you’ve spent hours creating, and it may not be very comforting. Alternatively it might just be telling you a story about how many big playlists the song made it to. Not that Sigrid is likely to be feeling uncomfortable about any of this - let's keep this in perspective - a lot of people are still streaming her music.

This article on Popjustice (here) talks about the statistics for Sigrid’s songs and makes the (important) point that such figures don’t tell the whole tale: “Sigrid has pretty much the same number of monthly listeners as Robyn, for instance, and Honey's streaming numbers are, to put it politely, underwhelming, but Robyn can still sell concert tickets.”

But what Popjustice doesn’t say is that Robyn is a long-established artist, who in the UK had a small flourish of hits in 1995-97 (Show Me Love being the biggest at number 8 in 1997) before releasing a string of songs that didn’t chart at all until Be Mine, Who’s That Girl and With Every Heartbeat (her number 1) propelled her back to new giddy heights 10 years later. Sometimes in judging pop  commercial success we focus too much on the here and now and not enough on the long term. Maybe Sigrid isn’t delivering massive pop hits right now, but she’s clearly super talented and perhaps just needs to keep plugging away. Besides she’s already played Brixton Academy – a near 5,000 capacity venue. Not bad for someone yet to release an album. As I said, let's keep this in perspective.

Onto her latest then, in which Sigrid grabs the strings from Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, slows them down a bit, has a go at some speaking rather than singing and generally sounds a little less ‘Sigrid-like’ than we’ve come to expect. It’s a good pop song, and as is probably going to sound very catchy on the radio. As we gear up for the album, my guess is that Sigrid’s label is trying to show some different flavours of what she can do and perhaps appeal to some more mainstream fans. I could imagine this being played on Radio 2 and Radio 1 in the UK.

However, my favourite Sigrid song (this one - click here) still has yet to see the light of day. Let’s hope it finds a place somewhere and hasn’t been tragically consigned to the rubbish bin. For that would be a true crime against pop.

Sigrid - Don't Feel Like Crying

Wednesday 16 January 2019

New Music: Another Sky - Apple Tree

When I first featured Another Sky on Breaking More Waves in March 2018 there seemed to be a strange lack of excitement about the band – very few websites wrote about Forget Yourself, despite the song being bloody marvellous. However, 10 months on and the group is now deservedly picking up plenty of traction. I hope that this will continue with new song Apple Tree which has recently hit the world in all its glory with a superb stop motion video.

“This song is for the boy who talked to daffodils and found joy in being who he is,” state the band on their Facebook page – hinting at the group celebrating men who are perhaps a little more sensitive and have a gentler outlook on life than those who exhibit macho alpha male type characteristics. Yet despite this idea the instrumentation on the tune is far from placid. The guitars kick-hard and create a joyous sort of carnage that may well leave you bouncing and breathless. 

Of particular interest to me (OK maybe not to you, but this blog is personal – it’s hardly Pitchfork) is the fact that the song was recorded at Chale Abbey Studios in the Isle of Wight. This is partly because I was born on the Island with my parents living just 15 minutes drive from the studios location but more recently, and of more musical interest, because Breaking More Waves favourite Lauran Hibberd has also recorded there as well.

Another Sky are touring the UK (a big tour of relatively small spaces) this February. Having now seen them live twice I can confirm that they are pretty special and totally formed live band. Just don’t expect to be able to see much of them – they’re big fans of hiding themselves by backlighting. But even so, grab a ticket (here) before it’s too late. 

Another Sky - Apple Tree

Tuesday 15 January 2019

Introducing: Black Country, New Road

In ‘serious’ music criticism, artists being pretentious is not often seen as an admirable quality. Pretentiousness is normally cast as the enemy of the authentic. That to be pretentious is to be fake. That the perceived exaggeration of greatness when considering such music and performance is ‘dishonest’ and that if music isn’t ‘honest’ and ‘real’ then somehow it isn’t heartfelt and capable of giving meaning to lives.

Thankfully I’m not a ‘serious’ music critic and I think this argument is bollocks. I really dislike the idea of certain types of music being more ‘real’ and ‘honest’ than others. The ‘real music’ argument is the sort of argument generally thrown around by boring middle-aged rock and folk dudes who don’t understand that pop, disco, dance, electronic, jazz or any other genre that doesn’t fit their blinkered narrow world view of ‘real music’ can be just as important, just as life changing, as some earnest bearded guy with a guitar. I'm all for pretentiousness.

Music and more generally speaking, art, needs to strive for greatness and that means creators need to believe that what they are doing is important, and therefore they will be perceived as pretentious, because if they aren't, how are they ever going to push boundaries and create something exciting and new? Otherwise all we’ll be left with is bland copies of what has already gone before.

David Bowie for example was arguably incredibly pretentious – just look at Ziggy Stardust, his strutting soul boy attitude of Young Americans or his later day jazz influence on Black Star – all completely pretentious, yet all completely brilliant. Pop was all the better for it.

However, what isn’t good for pop is pretentious rubbish. Whilst some of the best pop music comes from the leftfield there’s a lot of pretentious music that is total crap. Just because Bjork or Thom Yorke farts into a microphone and calls it a symphony doesn’t automatically make it brilliant.

It’s on that basis that I introduce to Breaking More Waves the UK six piece that go by the name of Black Country, New Road. It is very easy to describe what Black Country, New Road do as pretentious. After all, they’re not making regular mainstream pop music that you’ll find on daytime radio. I’ll be surprised if you hear their music on anything but the most progressive of radio stations. Their sound incorporates elements of jazz, improvisation, rock, some influences from Eastern Europe and North Africa, keyboards, violin, saxophone, spoken word and weird jerky rhythms. It’s not easy listening by any means and therefore unsurprising that they have already been supported by more alternative music websites such as The Quietus and have played with the likes of Omar Souleyman, Goat Girl and Duds.

The band formed from the ashes of the group Nervous Conditions, who split following allegations of sexual misconduct against their lead singer Connor Browne on social media. And whilst Black Country, New Road has yet to officially release any studio material the group has already picked up some music industry backing with the likes of a booking agent in place. This week they are playing as part of The Line of Best Fit’s 5 Day Forecast at The Lexington in London on the 18th January.

Whilst we wait to hear the band’s recordings, for now there’s a twenty-minute live video of one of their gigs at The Windmill in Brixton that’s doing the rounds and getting a favourable reaction. On this you’ll see the band work their way through their warped sonic journey that starts with a spoken word intro that dives into the algorithmic romance of the internet, skipping through You Tube: “I don’t have to search because the suggestions bar guides me – the suggestions bar knows me better than ever before and it almost like love,” and Instagram: “Tanned bikini bodies of girls that I knew from secondary school who exist now to me only as ornaments,” before exploding in a melee of heavy rock riffage and witchy jazz. That’s all just in the first four minutes. 

Pretentious?  Well, if you perceive it to be so, absolutely. But it's all the better for it.

Black Country, New Road - Live At The Windmill

Wednesday 9 January 2019

What's The Point Of A Small Music Blog Like Breaking More Waves In 2019?

Anyone who has taken time in the sweaty, sexy, awkward, grasp of pop music, having their ears f*cked by the thousands of artists trying to cop-off with them, will know that there are really only 2 sorts of pop music; the good and the bad.

The art is to be able to discern which musical bedfellows to fall in love with, which are quick one-night stands and which just aren’t worth the effort, irrespective of what pleasures they may appear to tempt you with.

In 2019 this selection process should be easier than ever. Why? Technology! Spotify playlists! The internet! You Tube! More music than you can ever possibly spend time with for the cost of one physical album! All the choice! Just click, listen for a few seconds then, approve or delete! We can now listen to every song, playlist or album like viewing a Tinder profile. Swipe. Reject. Move on to the next. It’s all so simple.

Except it isn’t, is it?

The choice has become overwhelming. The grass is always greener. It happens in dating. It happens when you go shopping. And it happens when you listen to music.

It’s one of the reasons why music blogs have decreased in popularity (although there are many other reasons as well). Who needs blogs when the whole history of music right up to this very second is just a few taps away? And if you want brand new music that caters for your tastes then Spotify has that covered with its individually curated Discovery Weekly playlist.

So, what is the point of something like Breaking More Waves? Why on earth would you visit a music blog?

It’s question that I’ve been mulling over a little whilst I took a bit of time away from the blog recently. (That time away wasn’t by choice, but a faulty heart valve I’ve had since birth meant I ended up in hospital for 27 nights following a heart attack and had to undergo open heart surgery – so I think a close to death experience is a relatively valid excuse for a pause in proceedings!)

The answer I’ve come up with is very simple. I guess it’s the same answer that any musician who isn’t making money from their music comes up with when they begin to question why they are doing what they do. I write this blog for my pleasure. I write for the sheer joy of doing it and sharing my love of music with others. Not everything we do in life needs to be about making money. Especially if the ‘work’ hasn’t been commissioned by anyone.

But besides the pleasure this blog gives me there are two things I still hope it occasionally achieves.

First, I hope that Breaking More Waves can reduce the choice. If you agree that we live in an age where technology has made things so overwhelming that they become crushingly excessive, where there’s too much, too quickly, too often, I’m going to try and just pick the really good stuff to feature here. This year more than ever I’m going to focus on quality rather than quantity. Expect a maximum of about 10 posts a month. The posts will still be about new music and particularly new artists, but there may be the occasional diversion into older records as well.

Second, I hope that the words I write give some context. That’s something a Spotify Playlist can’t give you. It’s something once again in 2019 I’m going to try to do more of. To try and give some meaning, or make some sense to some of the great music out there and some of the issues surrounding that music.. This is a one author blog, so often that context will be personal and carry some opinion. Yes, some will be the dreaded 'think-piece' - but I'll try and keep them short and light-hearted.

This is why in 2019 as music blogs continue to die off or evolve into other forms I’m still continuing with Breaking More Waves. I firmly believe there’s still a place for sites that give a few recommendations every month, but that don’t over saturate or overwhelm you with too much. Most people don't want to visit the likes of Breaking More Waves, but some hardcore music fans do.

That's the point of Breaking More Waves in 2019. Finding the good stuff. The ones to fall in love with and (sometimes) the one night stands. Giving context and personal opinion. But not overwhelming. Trying to make the selection process easier.

New music recommendations will start shortly....