Happy New Year. Sorry for the unexpected, prolonged absence here. I was simply too busy to find the time to listen to music over the majority of the Christmas period, even less so to write about it.
Where better to start in 2015 than with one of my favourite artists, Caitlin Rose, who shared a sweet, simple demo of a new track penned alongside a new name to me, Willie of The Breedings.
"Been Thinkin Bout You All The Time" doesn't necessarily give an indication of what we might expect from Caitlin's third LP, which perhaps may come this year (I can hope, after 2013's The Stand-In) but serves as a fine way to re-accustom yourself to her honey-toned voice, here paired perfectly with Willie's hushed vocal amongst softly strummed acoustic guitars. It's grey and misty outside my window right now so this little beauty does the perfect job of transporting me somewhere a little more appealing, pass me some whisky please...
It's fair to say that David Bowie wins the award for best music surprise of the year (and possibly worst album cover art too). I think even the most optimistic of fans were probably thinking to themselves that perhaps finally David had quietly retired then wham, out of nowhere on his 66th Birthday (I know) we get not just a new track but news of a new album The Next Day too. That teaser track was better than it had any right to be, "Where Are We Now?" is a reflective and philosophical beauty full of brooding mood and a whispered vocal that reminds me of some Heathen work, full of experience, depth and a genuine beauty, it introduced a Bowie who'd seemingly gained much during his ten years of 'retirement'.
The Next Day kicks off with the stomping title track, one of the years most punchy, spiky and dirty rock song full of driving rhythms and with lyrics seemingly full of self mockery/observation (the repeated cries of "here I am, not quite dying..."). It's an album that sounds warm and is full of character and soon it imposes itself on you in its own right rather than for the initial shock value of its existence. "Dirty Boys" is another great track full of funky horns and a superb chorus while "The Stars Are Out Tonight" is probably the most accessible and perfectly formed tracks on the album (and was followed by a similarly glittery video), shimmering instrumentation and bright, beautiful vocals, it's timeless Bowie through and through.
"Valentine's Day" is another winner, combining vulnerable lyrics with timeless instrumentation and possibly the albums best melody and vocal delivery, "How Does The Grass Grow" contains more ideas in its four minute length than some bands come up with in their entire existence and I absolutely love the last track "Heat" too, as haunting and reflective moment as The Next Day offers, a defiant and emotive stunner that hits right at your guts.
Now then David, how about announcing a couple of UK shows for your 67th Birthday?!
I've long documented my love of Caitlin Rose and her debut album Own Side Now (my album of 2010). I've seen her live well into the high teens (not bad for a non-UK artist) and I think her voice is the most soulful and flawless of our generation. To say my expectation for her second album The Stand-In was high would be an understatement, thankfully Caitlin has delivered above and beyond what I could possibly have hoped for.
The album highlights that of a maturing, progressive artist and the addition of a full band is a natural one, the result is stylishly crafted and full of velvety polish with a much stronger, defiant sound after Own Side Now's introspective melancholy. It kicks off with its biggest moment of all, the fantastic "No One to Call", immediately highlighting that grander scope with a kicking, percussive heart and fantastic hooks, there's a real sense of fun throughout which was previously only touched on the live version of "Shanghai Cigarettes". Caitlin's voice is at the top of its game too, smooth, expressive and when combined with the masterful arrangements it gives the track a timeless, classic feel.
As well as being a classy affair, The Stand-In is also a varied one "I Was Cruel" (a cover of The Deep Vibration) is a beautiful, aching ballad which highlights Caitlin's exceptional vocal range amongst rich, warming pedal steel and slide guitar and "Waitin'" finds Caitlin in defiant mood, delivering a wounded, country-tinged song with the ballsy edge of a rock band - the ringing melody sees heavy drums and deep bass rhythms propel Caitlin's ever impeccable vocal which soars some pretty dark emotion with such effortless ease.
The highlight is perhaps "Only a Clown", a bright, smooth pop song that sounds gorgeous stirring around chiming guitars and a luscious vocal delivery before "Pink Champagne" delivers the most lonesome and beautiful moment on the record, a faultless emotive vocal and guitars that pluck at your heart-strings. It gives the perfect reminder of why I fell so hard for Caitlin.
I could easily write about every track on the album, the heart-breaker "Golden Boy" or another of my favourites, the shining, sweetly romantic "Silver Sings So Well" and there's even time for a smoky jazzy club track "Old Numbers" but you've probably got lunch to eat or something so I'll just tell you to go and by The Stand-In now, I've even included a handy link above.
You'll no doubt be aware of The National by now, their success may have been a relatively long time coming (my first live experience of the band was May 2005 on the Alligator tour - at the 100 Club, slightly different to two nights at Ally Pally!) but now onto their sixth full album Trouble Will Find Me the New York quintet have firmly established themselves as the masters of sincere tales of broken hearts and bruised souls. It's no different this time around.
The album is immediately distinguishable as The National of course, from the maudlin guitar strums of "I Should Live in Salt" you are wrapped in Matt Berninger's deep, baritone vocal awash with a reflective sound that creates beautifully vivid landscapes around rich, plaintive melodies. The National are confident in their craft by now and Trouble Will Find Me is the most self-assured record they've produced yet. "Demons" is another tour-de-force of storytelling, a dark, brooding ballad that builds amongst luscious instrumentation and feeds off a drip of emotive power and lyrical beauty.
Both "Graceless" and "Don't Swallow The Cap" are the next installments to the bands sing-along anthems, thrilling with wall-of-sound exciting as robust percussive beat and glistening keys drive their melodies towards climaxes of outpouring emotion and mood while "Sea of Love" is another exhilarating track which bursts straight out of the gates with a heavy percussive heart around jagged guitar hooks and it keeps getting better as the tempo increases like an out of control steam train.
Their ballads have never sounded more mournful, haunting and subtle than on the exquisite "Pink Rabbits" and "Heavenfaced" is another perfect example of the bands maturing versatility and substance, melancholy has never been so brilliant than with The National in its control.
Rich and deeply layered Trouble Will Find Me grows and grows and rewards with each repeated listens, I'm pretty sure I've said something like this before but this is easily the most complete album The National have produced over an immaculate career.
Arcade Fire's reinvention of themselves as The Reflektors and a hype-laden release build-up shrouded in mysterious messages and online videos worked as well as any PR this year (aside from the bang of the aforementioned return of Bowie) and the Canadian mega-group's fourth album Reflektor stands up to every possibly line of scrutiny that can be thrown at it (and as anyone lucky enough to see them on their recent bout of UK shows will testify, it translates perfect to the stage).
An undoubted curve ball, Reflektor takes the bands Haiti roots to heart with more influences coming from dub and disco, it could have ended in disaster (and probably has according to some) but it is an album I keep finding myself listening to and on repeated listens it unveils another layer, that's the mark of an album of the year in my eyes.
You've got to start with the title-track, "Reflektor" doesn't immediately strike you as Arcade Fire, indeed the funk-laden bass-line and shuffling percussion sound more Prince or LCD Soundsystem (James Murphy produced the album after all) but as the track progresses and builds around its wonderful groove, Win Butler's distinctive vocals (equally Régine Chassagne's too) start to shine through (with David Bowie also providing a couple of backing vocals). At almost eight minutes in length the track is the very definition of "epic" and announces itself as the most wonderful of openers.
The dance-floor mood is maintained by the deliciously offbeat groove of "We Exist" with beautiful harmonies and bright multi-layered instruments, it remains an absorbing listen. The carnival atmosphere reaches its peak on the celebratory "Here Comes The Night Time" with deep bass-lines combining with Haitian drums and twinkling piano and on a similar theme "You Already Know" will have you shuffling around in your chair.
It's not all disco grooves, rock heads will be pleased by the crunching riffs on the outstanding "Normal Person" while "Porno" sounds exactly as dirty as the title suggest, thick 80's inspired chords repeat around Win's seductive vocals. Another highlight is the New Order inspired "Afterlife" which bristles with unadulterated joy that personifies what the album achieves to me. What we have (in my opinion) is a band free to express their own freedom and ideas and Reflektor might just be revered to in the same breathe as Funeral in years to come. I can't pay it a much higher compliment than that.
Caitlin Rose covering The National, just that statement alone sounds like a perfect match and on "Pink Rabbits" (taken from the latter's most recent LP Trouble Will Find Me) it is.
A stand alone release published yesterday sees Caitlin immediately put her own stamp on the track, both are singers capable of conveying spine-tingling emotion through delivery alone and Caitlin has made "Pink Rabbits" sound her own with a few simple changes, her vocal endears with a pure, slightly bruised tone whilst the melody stirs with a luscious and grand clarity. A wonderful cover delivered with such understated ease - I'll have one every week please!
Caitlin is in the UK right now and plays London's Shepherd Bush next week - tickets.
Sunday arrives in no time at all and I spend the first couple of hours packing away our tents and taking our belongings back to the car - I'm back at work first thing Monday morning, have a long journey ahead and two young children - the decision had already been made to leave before tonight's headliners so it's nice to hear a little bit of Belle & Sebastian in soundcheck.
After breakfast, a bit of shopping (I even treat myself to a nice handcrafted woolen jumper) and more circus activities (my five year old has got pretty good at hula-hooping now!) I head into the Big Top solo and listen to Crocodiles, a band I'd pretty much forgotten about since I liked their "Neon Jesus" / "Summer of Hate" singles some four years ago. I find myself reminded of what I've been missing - motorik rhythms all wrapped in fuzz, a thick, toe-tapping pysche sound that has a midday crowd happily nodding along.
We take in more of the sights of the festival next and some quiet time too. A beer or two relaxing is sometimes all that is needed.
The next act we head for are The Staves, hailing from just down the road from me I'm one of the few who 'get' their Watford based anecdotes. Their humorous and repeated profanity in between songs might seem out of place but the sun is out and the sisters' heart-melting harmonies are definitely not. It's beautiful and delicate as the crowd shuffle quietly trying not to disturb anyone. That actually sums up the general atmosphere of the festival well, very dignified and appreciative - End of the Road is a festival for music lovers, pretty much every one of the 10,000 in attendance the same at heart.
We have to rush to the Woods stage to catch Caitlin Rose, she's already playing "No One To Call" as we hit range, damn you scheduling clashes! The hour set is heavily based on her latest record The Stand-In with "Silver Sings The Blues" and "Only A Clown" winning the crowd over particular well. It's an almost new band that's on tour with Caitlin so it takes me some adjusting and there is perhaps a little jet lag on display but Caitlin has the voice, the songs and soon it's the perfect festival closure (for me) in the sun.
It's nearly seven pm and I regreat having to miss Broken Twin but we head back to the car as the kids are tired and we need to get straight onto the roads to arrive home before midnight. Thankfully we do.
Thank you yet again End of the Road, you do not disappoint.
Normally I have a long-list of potential improvements for next year, with EotR I can think of two. One, organise the beer queues better, perhaps get some Latitude style keep-your-own glasses and two, let me curate a stage!!
Straight on with part two of my acts to see at next weeks End of the Road festival. If you landed on this page and are interested in seeing the first part - you can do so here. I'll keep the writing on the brief side as every act is one I've covered previously. If you want to hear more click on the labels link at the end of the post.
This year the organisers are promising some exciting secret shows (most likely in the woods), so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for them. Also worth checking out amongst the other activities and Comedy/Cinema tents is the Rough Trade stall. They normally have some great others on releases of bands playing the festival, some exclusives and some signings too (can't say I remember any performances last year). There was a pretty cool music art stall last year too.
I'll start the second part of these tips with the most obvious pick of all, Caitlin Rose. Her first show in the UK since early Spring and I can't bloody well wait.
I recently got asked by a friend to describe Caitlin in one word, I replied 'flawless'. I've mentioned her here countless times already, the most recent just the other day so I'll keep that short. Flawless about sums it up to me.
I've not seen The Staves live since last years Latitude festival when they played a beautiful set to a packed tent as rain threatened outside.
At EotR they play the main stage on Sunday afternoon, it seems the perfect setting to grab a couple of beers and to enjoy some of the sisters heart-melting harmonies from last years exquisite Dead & Born & Grown.
I was lucky enough to see Savages four times before the hype really took over and have been smitten since. Silence Yourself delivered on my every expectation and hope, an album of exhilarating brilliance underpinned by darkly atmospheric rhythms, soaring guitars and Jehnny Beth's unique vocal delivery. It's raw, full of passion and utterly compelling throughout.
Live? Well Savages are even better - you'll be wanting to add them to your list of must see artists then.
Broken Twin originally featured here back in June after discovering her via the End of the Road initial line-up, I had this to say about her track "Beaches":
"The sparse, uncluttered instrumentation, little more than gentle acoustic and piano chords, of the opening track “Beaches” instantly send shivers down your spine as you are introduced to the beguiling tone of Majke’s pure, fragile vocals, wrapping you in a calming yet melancholic state of beauty".
One of the few acts I'm listing I've not seen before, Broken Twin promise to deliver a set that should be something pretty special.
One of my early year highlights was Serafina Steer's album launch show (and the album of course). I doubt Jarvis Cocker will be joining Serafina on stage this time around but what I do know is her set will combine fluttering harp solos with soft, delicate melodies that sporadically burst into life with eccentric, left-field instrumentation and soaring highs.
If that sounds good to you too then you'll want to head to the beautiful garden stage on Friday. Leave your chairs at the back.
Last but certainly not least in this little preview are Pins who are gearing up to release their debut album Girls Like Us. I've been following the Manchester quartet right from their debut to their most recently single "Get With Me" and live their show is the perfect continuation of an electric sound combining searing vocals, incessant rhythms and raw, brooding intensity.
Pins will hold your attention like a magnet - make sure you don't miss them.
End of the Road is almost here (look out for my festival preview later in the week if you, like me, are going) meaning my craving for a Caitlin Rose live fix will be soon satisfied, to coincide with her forthcoming UK tour the third single from her exquisite album The Stand-In has been announced, "Waitin" will be released via Names Records on 16th September.
The track finds Caitlin in defiant and bold mood, underpinned by her band who deliver a wounded, country-tinged song with the ballsy edge of a rock band - the ringing melody sees heavy drums and deep bass rhythms propel Caitlin's ever impeccable vocal which soars some pretty dark emotion with such effortless ease.
I've also added a video from a recent Noisetrade acoustic session / interview (which I discovered just this past weekend - how had I missed it earlier?!). It features five songs from the album (well one track from the bonus CD which you get when ordering the LP from Rough Trade) reinterpreted as laid-back, jazz club tracks full of soul and heart-melting vocals, the piano version of "Everywhere I Go" particularly spine-tingling. You can download the session on a pay what you like basis from the Noisetrade website.
Unless you're new to this blog (hello if so) you'll probably know Caitlin is one of my favourite artists - possibly of all time - do yourself a favour and fall in love below. She returns to London for her biggest show yet at Shepherds Bush on September 12th - you should come - tickets.
February came and went in almost the blink of an eye. It's not the shortest month of the year for nothing but we were treated to many musical treats (I'm not talking about the Brit Awards). My February was dominated by a few (familar) artists.....
Gig(s) of the month.
The Joy Formidable - La Botanique, Brussels - 1st February Caitlin Rose - The Haunt, Brighton - 25th February / Dingwalls, London - 27th February
I saw both my favourite current acts twice in February and I'm not even going to attempt to split them here (I'll be seeing them both in March to, just to warn you). The Joy Formidable started my month off with a road trip to Brussels. I'd already heard some of the new album live the previous year and also seen the band at a Rough Trade in-store in January but this was the first time I'd seen TJF on the Wolf's Law tour.
New tracks "Tendons" and "Forest Serenade" fit instantly into the set amongst main-stay favourites "The Greatest Light...", "Whirring" and "Spectrum" though no place yet (and understandably given it's orchestral backing) to my favourite from the record "The Turnaround".
The Joy Formidable are a truly excellent live act, they put their entire bodies on the line and give a 90 minute lesson in rock show performance. Deadly riffs from the new album collide with Ritzy's beautiful vocals, effortlessly shifting from ethereal wonder to venomous spite in the blink of her wide open glare. Equally appreciative of the crowd a drunk American finds her way on stage to 'dance' towards the end of the set and then remembering a lad who'd crash landed during a stage diving attempt the previous time the band were in time - that sums up The Joy Formidable perfectly, a nicer all round band you are not likely to find. As amazingly talented one too.
Despite admitting to having release day /opening show nerves during her performance at Brighton's The Haunt, Caitlin Rose never really exhibits any such traits (besides the odd ramble in-between songs), her pure vocals melt hearts as she (and her wonderful band) race through her new album The Stand-In interlaced with memorable tracks from her 2010 debut Own Side Now.
Early set favourites "No One To Call" and "Only A Clown" showcase her matured sound, polished, slick and exuberant, there's a confident swagger to her band and their ballsy country-twang riffs and then of course there's Caitlin herself. I've never heard anyone control their voice as well, and with such devastating ability as Caitlin Rose, it's perhaps why everything she's leant it too over the past three years I've lapped up like a kitten does milk. Though it's the delicious - not your wedding song - "Pink Champagne" that floors me best, full of emotive grace and beauty whilst the closing swagger of old favourite "Shanghai Cigarettes is met with heartily appreciation by the crowd.
It's a wonderful set that's memorable throughout, the opening half of the set could easily be a greatest hits set for her forthcoming festival appearances. I expect it will be. The lack of an early curfew in London led to its attendees's joining Caitlin and band in a sing-along finale of "Bottles", a superb, smirk-inducing moment to end any night.
Album(s) of the month.
Caitlin Rose - The Stand-In
I'll let the real reviewers give proper plaudits to this LP as a whole, they've already been doing in their droves but I'll no doubt give a few mentions of my own between now and my end of year lists...
My love affair with Caitlin Rose's music goes back to spring 2010 when I fell for her incredible talents with "For The Rabbits", the lead off single for her debut Own Side Now. That summer I saw Caitlin over a half dozen times in the space of a few months and fell in love with her record, it's soon become by far and away my most listened to record of recent time. Therefore it was only natural to approach the follow up with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, The Stand-In had big boots to fill, in the end, any worries were put to bed on my first play through. The album instantly hits you with stylishly crafted numbers and luscious lyrical depth.
The songs are bigger and more polished, we've already heard the rocking "No One To Call" and the albums next single "Only A Clown" follows suit, it should be the track that takes Caitlin from main-stay of blogs and critics to Nashville's biggest export, with killer hooks aplomb her clear vocals it's a track made to seamlessly flown through wireless's around the world.
Album highlights are throughout, "Pink Champagne" is a stunning heart-breaker, a cover of the Felice Brothers' "Dallas" (an ode to Caitlin's home-town) is plain gorgeous while "Old Numbers" ends the album with an unexpected jazzy stomp. The Stand-In s the album may be called, a joke about the long gestation period of the Own Side Now period, but here, a real star is found.
Runner up. Veronica Falls - Waiting For Something To Happen
Another second album that raises the bar for the artist involved, ;Waiting For Something To Happen shows a marked step-up for Veronica Falls (but also one that has much in keeping with their debut). From the opening bars of "Tell Me" to the wisful closure "Last Conversation" you are treated to a deceptively simple indie-pop sound that is pure, charming and genuinely wonderful. Part of their magic is their knack of making their tracks sound like something you're already familiar with.
"Teenage" is perhaps their finest moment to date, a pure, unadulterated pop tune that's as bright and catchy as anything we've heard from them before. "Buried Alive" is playful and infectious from the off and combines the bands infinite charm, fuzz-pop hooks and ominous sense of immediate death. All wrapped up within three minute of sweetly-sung, quick-paced wondrousness. Veronica Falls have refined their own sound and Waiting For Something TO Happen is it at its succinct, effortless best.
EP of the Month.
Bird - Ophelia
I was already pretty excited to hear Ophelia, Bird's third EP before its title-track floored me, it is perhaps Bird's most ambitious (and best) track to date, starting with a deep bass line and psychedelic guitar patterns it highlights a different side to the bands previous recorded output, one I've previously encountered in their live show, a hypnotic and sprawling groove that hooks you in even before the 'signature' Bird sound enters, soon enough Adele and Sian's majestic harmonies flutter siren-like with grace and beauty to send you to heavenly plains.
I'm as much of a fan of "The Waltz" though, easily one of the most beautiful things you're likely to hear this year, taking the ethereal and haunting comments to a new plain as it gradually builds up around a steady percussive heart-beat and orchestral flourishes. Spine-tinglingly gorgeous.
Single of the Month.
Haim - Falling
From my "Falling" post February 13th:
I often debate the necessity to post about bands that have 'made it' on my little blog, the chances of you discovering Haim here two months after they topped just about every 'tips for 2013' are minimal at best but here I am posting about the Los Angeles trio once more because they've (once again) come up with an absolute killer track...
Brimming with typical Haim confidence and adrenalin "Falling" combines all the attributes that have garnered so much attention so far, anthem like production, funk-laden hooks, gorgeous harmonies and tight rock guitars. Their topping of the BBC sound of 2013 list led me to read quite a few mumblings of dislike aimed at the act, something that was a bit of a surprise to me, I'd somewhat foolishly believed Haim had managed to win over almost all quarters. In my opinion the "back-lash" that followed was little more than playground squabbling - we can't all like the same thing, especially what's become popular after-all.
"Falling" is available now digitally with a 10" vinyl version released on April 1st - pre-order from Rough Trade - unfortunately there are only remixes on the flip-side. Expect UK dates soon. - a show at Heaven on April 24th goes on sale tomorrow - presale instantly sold-out so act quick.
Discovery of the Month.
(text below from my post of February 11th)
Lotte Kestner is the solo project of Trespassers William vocalist Anna-Lynne Williams from Seattle. Her third album (but my introduction point) The Bluebird of Happiness and was released this week via Saint Marie Records (available via Bandcamp), its lead track "Cliff" is bloody lovely too...
Essentially a bare-boned ballad made up of little more than swirling keyboard strokes and soft strings flourishes it holds its weight due to the devastatingly beautiful and intimate nature of Lotte's emotive delivery and the absorbing ambience she manages to create with her minimalistic arrangements. Blissful and tinged in sadness, "Cliff" is a track that will stay with you long after it has finished.
There's a whole treasure chests worth of Lotte Kestner music to delve into on her bandcamp page too.
My excitement level is already pretty (understatement) high for 2013, the first two months are bringing new releases by quite a few of my favourite artists, top of that list is Caitlin Rose who will release her second full-length The Stand-In on February 25th, we've already been treated to one stunning track from it, "No One To Call", now we've another...
The track "I Was Cruel" is a song I've previously heard Caitlin perform, on last years wonderful (her second) Daytrotter session, it prompted me to say this of the track "[I Was Cruel is] a beautiful, aching ballad which highlights Caitlin's exceptional talent and vocal range, I don't know if it's a cover or a new track but hearing her singing a new song makes my heart go a-flutter all over again, her voice just brings me goosebumps".
Now upgraded to a polished, recorded version with rich, warming pedal steel and slide guitar led instrumentation it's even better. I now know "I Was Cruel" is a cover, of a song by The Deep Vibration, oozing with timeless Americana and Caitlin's voice, a voice that could melt of soul of steel, heart-felt, velvety gorgeous and exquisite - yeah, I love it.
I also found a great live version of the track which I've embedded belowl. I CANNOT wait for the live shows which kick off on album release day in Brighton - see you there!