My music of 2016

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See, it’s not all bad! Here’s my playlist of 2016: 

Radiohead – Decks Dark/Identikit

It was not always inevitable that the band that shaped my musical awakening in 2000 would lead the pack sixteen years later, but Radiohead isn’t every band. With Burn the witch, Radiohead made me aware of col legno, where you purposefully make a screechy sound by smashing away at your strings with a cheap bow. Burn the witch wasn’t the highlight of A Moon Shaped Pool, but it was a stunning attention grabber. The album is by some distance the most subtle thing Radiohead has ever produced, and it is absolutely gorgeous. I would be a fool to say that I prefer Decks Dark over anything else on the album, but it really a very special piece of music. So is Identikit, which easily boasts the most thrilling section of a song this year, when a choir starts to sing “broken hearts make it rain” as the EQ of the track slowly but surely becomes more treble than bass and the dub sounds of the track buckle under the thunder of the drums. Thom arrives back on the scene singing with a Thom army mumbling in the distance. Moments later a muddy but spectacularly Eno-esque guitar solo kicks in. Both of these tracks have been on near-constant rotation since May and for good reason. There’s been nothing nearly as affective or touching all year.

PJ Harvey – The Ministry of Social Affairs

At Field Day 2016 the sun was setting over London’s Victoria Park and PJ Harvey came on stage, like some jazz witch. In absolute control, she eschewed anything like traditional behaviour and barely spoke to the crowd at any point. And she needn’t even bother because she bought her new album The Hope Six Demolition Project with her. The Ministry of Social Affairs is not the most immediate of the albums charms, but it’s the most exciting. It is fitting that she followed this up at the live show with 50 ft Queenie, which may be the most exciting thing PJ has ever done. These two songs might seem to have little in common but both are perversely thrilling in how they showcase PJ’s incredible talent. 

David Bowie – Lazarus

What can be said? The death of David Bowie was a devastating loss to the world. He was once-in-a-lifetime genius, a man so in control of his legacy he fought cancer while making a clutch of new songs that left us all wanting so much more. Lazarus is a masterpiece of misdirection, with the opening lyrics “Look up here, I’m in heaven” suddenly making literal sense two days later. I recall someone saying that instead of mourning the death of Bowie, think how lucky we were to be alive at the same time as him.

Röyksopp – Never Ever

Though no pop song has come close to the near-perfection of Marina and the Diamond’s Froot from 2015, this is a stand-out of 2016. Röyksopp change the fundamentals of their sound with every album, veering from pop to dark grooves. Here, they channel vintage Madonna and use the wonderful Susanne Sundfør as their muse. Evil rumours swirl the universe suggesting Röyksopp have decided to stop making albums. On the strength of this single, let’s hope they don’t give up music altogether.

Imarhan – Imarhan

In April I visited Algeria, a fascinating mixture of exotic and exciting. The people were warm and hospitable, time didn’t run by clocks, but more by some mysterious ability of things to be where you need them when you needed them. This was a holiday where we were not in control of events, but wonderful events happened nonetheless. When we were invited to a wedding, we were welcomed like honoured guests. It was a day i’ll never forget. I was also struck by the music played at the wedding. The urgency of the beats was hypnotic and one of my tasks when I got home was to find out more about Algerian music. Imarhan hail from deep inside the Algerian Sahara, in a town called Tamanrasset. They play music derived from the Tuareg traditions, but add elements of rock, blues and jazz to appeal to the new generation shaping Algeria. It sounds familiar yet evidently foreign. The music coasts along on the exciting beats of the music I heard in Algeria, giving me a chance to  remember what an exhilarating place it was to visit.

Metronomy – Old Skool

After the slow-burning charms of Love Letters, Metronomy came back, but just in the form of Joseph Mount. Old Skool features cow bells and some record scratching, so it’s already onto a winner. The video features Sharon Horgan hosting an old school swingers party, which only improves things further. This is the sound of being at a twisted disco.

Wild Beasts – Big Cat

Wild Beasts discovered the simple joys of sex on Boy King. They’ve never been shy about coital matters in the past, but the world of 2016 is not able to deal with subtlety. Out go the beautifully crafted mini-operas and in come straight-forward stomping bangers. This is both a sad thing and a fantastic thing – a band can’t evolve without some of the best ingredients being thrown out for new ones. If Boy King was an album, it’d have some serious shoulder pads on, and it’d be dancing wildly in a neon-lit club. Big Cat still features the dual vocals of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming, but Hayden’s soaring falsetto is used more sparingly, choosing to sing close to the mic so every breath is part of the fabric of the song.

Ed Harcourt – Loup Garou

Ed Harcourt spoke for an eternity about an album’s worth of “evil songs” he was going to unveil to a horrified world. If Furnaces is evil, then the devil must have some excellent Spotify playlists. Harcourt is a mixture of sweetness and abrasiveness, bringing his trademark melodies and overwrought emotions. Loup Garou, about werewolves, is bristling with energy, from the restless percussion to the tumbling pianos, marching band drunks and Ed’s multi tracked vocals. Put this on when the apocalypse comes, if it already hasn’t.

Jamie T – Power over Men

Jamie T has never really lost what made him so interesting to begin with, but Trick is as slick as Jamie’s hair. Power Over Men is a calmer cut from Trick. Tinfoil Boy is a statement opener, featuring the angry young man stuff that comes across as fairly lazy to these ears. Drone Strike is a festival of skittering beats and rapping; allowing me to realise my music tastes don’t need this.

Warpaint – New Song

Like Wild Beasts, Warpaint have chosen to use 2016 to ditch the complex stuff and embrace the light. Well, maybe that overstates the case, but at the very least Warpaint is singing in a technicolour haze. New Song is a storming and danceable track a world away from earlier classics Billie Holiday which focused on breathy vocals, and Disco//very which still sounded like a band with guitars and a drum kit. New Song uses distorted vocals, a lightness of touch and a clearer sound palette. Their third album, Heads Up, doesn’t abandon their old sound entirely but they are offering an exciting path for where they are headed to next.

Anohni – Crisis

Tickets for the Anohni show in London may as well as sold out before they went on sale, such was the level of demand. And it’s no surprise. The album is completely gorgeous and Crisis is a prime cut, all atmospheric electronics, the beautiful vocals of Anohni and that nagging concern with the state of the world carrying on from the equally gorgeous single Drone Bomb Me.

Sia – Move your body

The world needs pop stars like Sia. She’s like a more fun version of Adele – she even wrote Alive for Adele, who turned it down for something presumably middle of the road. Her vocals are so explosive she is the karaoke enthusiasts worst nightmare. on Move your Body she tackles the dance floor in a song originally meant for Shakira. You can hear the latin influence in the marching drum beat, but despite the song being made for someone else, Sia stamps her authority on this with authority. It has a great chorus, a quiet bit that erupts with some booming drums and a general feeling of elation.

Yeasayer – I am Chemistry

Another comeback, another ticket I failed to get. Yeasayer shouldn’t be playing venues as tiny as Hackney’s Oslo, not with songs of this quality. I am Chemistry is a fantastic piece of music, where an entire band’s repertoire is crammed into five minutes. There’s guitar, there’s synths-a-plenty, a choir pop up. It’s all brilliant and never feels too OTT.

The Fall – All leave cancelled (X)

As each year passes, I become more amazed at the brilliance of The Fall. Mark E Smith may piss himself on stage and appear to be very much out of it, but he’s a tyrant in the studio and coaxes out tremendously tight performances from his band members. All Leave Cancelled (X) is a relatively subdued instrumental compared to the album track. There isn’t a particular thing this song does to warrant its inclusion here, it’s just somehow very good.

Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate

Goodness me, what a treat this was. I first heard this on 6 Music and thought it was some old gem from the 1970s, but I was delighted to find out this was a young Londoner in the modern world. While mournful, this is also soothing and is a quieter moment on this list, full of beauty. 

Zayn – BeFoUr

It’s always the quiet ones. Zayn may have looked bored senseless when he was in One Direction, but he has also looked bored being a solo star. Thank goodness then that he has his voice, a thing of strength and beauty. On BefoUr his falsetto makes a grand appearance and the memories of One Direction fade away into the background as the sound of an artist coming into his own comes into view. It’d be silly to not mention Pillowtalk as another song of the year. It’s brilliant.

On Dead Waves – California

I love Polly Scattergood, and this off-shoot sounds pretty much like Polly Scattergood being all dark and mysterious. California sounds like she’s having a laugh, and the results are great, even if the lyrics include everyone being dead in California. And the band’s name hardly makes 2016 a more cheerful year. It’s a welcome respite from the gloom, in short.

Foxes – Money

You could argue Foxes really should be more well known and if this wasn’t the topsy-turvy world of 2016, you’d be right. Money is a magnificent pop tune, but if you listen to the Top 40, you’ll realise that quality isn’t a necessity to do well. This is a joyous torch song full of moments precision made to be danced to.

Porches – Be Apart

Kind of dreamy, kind of gloomy, Be Apart is a perfect Sunday afternoon song. 

Patrick Wolf – Islington Assembly Rooms

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Somewhere in the National Portrait Gallery, there’s a picture of Patrick Wolf and Twelve Ballerinas by Tim Walker. It was shot in 2008, when Wolf was making some attempt at becoming a pop star, what with The Magic Position’s glittery intentions being visible from space. The public, as unobservant as ever, didn’t see that he was the next big thing so he went away and made The Bachelor in 2009, a collection of songs in the key of doom. The lead single, Vulture, saw him discovering leather, because that’s the natural progression after pop loses its shine.


This didn’t get the public banging down the doors either, so he went away and came back with  Lupercalia in 2011, the album where Wolf toned down the theatrics and managed to become a pop star on his own terms, producing The City, Time of my Life and House. Each of them was a masterclass of pop writing, of glorious choruses and of a wild soul embracing love and sailing a ship into calmer waters.

Five years later we find Wolf in a position of being able to sell out Islington Assembly Halls to an adoring crowd of 800, but the pretence of Wolf being a serious contender in the charts is surely dead in the water, if being in the charts is even something to aspire to anymore.

His position in the music scene of 2016 is of a consummate performer, with his youthful rage lower in the mix. After all, his debut album is a teenager. Gliding onstage, Wolf retains all of his immense presence and starts with acoustic renditions of Augustine and Godrevy Point. His voice is a magnificent tool, whooping, wailing, deep and resonant and then gliding into a falsetto without a hint of stress. Throughout the show, his vocal delivery hits a note that sets off goosebumps and is always captivating. Soon, he is joined by a bassist and a drummer; the setup of the show is far removed from the early days of him and a laptop, or him and a ukulele. The laptop comes back into use for Bluebells with its firework sounds and his brilliance as a musician is screamingly obvious when To The Lighthouse arrives, full of anxious beats and vocal gymnastics.

His new tracks, Constant Sorrow (seemingly being played for the first time here!), The Watcher and The golden Gate all showcase Wolf’s biggest gift, his incredible ear for a melody that can be sweet and foreboding all at once. His mashup of Jacob’s Ladder and Tristan gave him the chance to have a minor hissy fit, perhaps engineered to appeal to the fans wanting a taste of his dramatic side. A slight hand movement, a firm “no!” and the band stop. “This is rubbish!” and they start again, with Wolf crouched on the floor or gyrating by the drums to the driving bass and insistent drums as he screams “I am Tristan and I am alive!” again and again. As he bangs his chest and pushes his voice further into guttural squeals, I am struck by the thought that perhaps his temper is born out of an artistic perfection and frustration at his limits. Short of an alien exploding out of his chest, there really wasn’t much more he could do to entertain us.

The encore consisted of Get Lost with new lyrics and forthcoming single Wake the Wildsound, which sounds utterly spellbinding with its glorious piano and giant chorus. Even if the commercial acclaim has remained illusive, Patrick Wolf is one of the best pop stars we’ve got. 

Goodbye, David Bowie

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bowieHow do you choose your favourite ten David Bowie songs? With immense difficulty, it turns out. I have put my ten at the bottom of his post (Spotify Playlist here) and I am bereft at how much is left out. Where’s Station to Station? Where’s Five Years? Starman? Ashes to Ashes? Breaking Glass? 

He was an artist for every season and few can hold a candle to him; any attempt at a definitive ten is bound to fail and I know my selection is only how I feel today. But what a joy his back catalogue is, even in the face of the heartbreaking news that he has died.

As I sift through his formidable legacy, I can’t help but smile to myself as each new song starts, because so many are dark, sexy, edgy, ethereal, uplifting, danceable, brilliant pieces of art. And as I catch myself smiling, another tear forms for the loss.

The New Yorker captured the sentiment by writing “This was not supposed to happen. Ever” And why should it? It’s not as if anyone really believed Bowie was one of us.

The outpouring of love, raw emotion and overwhelming gratitude that has been expressed today is hard to quantify. He was a man that changed the world again and again, always in his own image. Scarcely has anyone existed that has managed to affect culture in such a profound way and so many people have so artfully been able to vocalise their feelings; my Mum, a massive fan since she was twelve added that when you put his music on, you could be whoever you wanted to be. How beautiful that this man could have touched the life of my Mum as she grew up, he allowed her to dream of what could be. He let so many dream, though.

I am so thrilled that I took Mum to the Bowie exhibition at the V&A so we could share our love for him. Especially good were the moments when the wireless headphones we wore for the show cut off one song and started another abruptly- always betraying Mum singing along just like so many others. Today she told me how she loved it when visiting me at Christmas, I went to my room to wrap presents and played Bowie loudly, keeping that connection we have going. 

Surely we all feel a personal loss today, because for me it’s as if an uncle I was awfully fond of has made his exit.

My boyfriend and I have listened to Criminal World endlessly, I have idly wondered that if we went down the traditional route and had a first dance at our wedding, I’d be thrilled to have it to this. Why? Because even if nobody else at the wedding knew it, it didn’t matter because it’s Bowie and he sort of transcends things like a room full of people going “I don’t know this. Why are they moving about to this?” You never need a reason when it’s Bowie.

This exit is tragic and untimely. Yet Bowie has left behind a body of work that will endure, a body of work fit for a hundred men, not just one. Genius is something we may never understand, but the story of Under Pressure, in my eyes the best song Queen were ever involved with, exposes what genius is. Bowie dominated Queen, as Brian May explained. “It was very hard, because you already had four precocious boys and David, who was precocious enough for all of us.” You can read the story here. He called the shots, created a masterpiece that and got his way. Just imagine one man taking on Queen and winning, when one of the members of Queen is Freddie Mercury, who could sing everyone out of the park.

It is fitting that Bowie was able to get his own way to the very last, launching a musical and a beautiful new album as his goodbye gift to us whilst battling the cancer that could only take him when he was done with his business. Like the story of Lazarus, Bowie was a miracle.


Moonage Daydream

Cracked Actor

China Girl

Let’s Dance


The Secret Life of Arabia

A New Career in a New Town

Modern Love

Criminal World

2015 – My top 20 of the year

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2015 has been a great year for music and Radiohead even snuck their Bond theme in when we least expected it, but putting together a top 20 of the year has proven to be an absolute devil to get right. In fact, just a few minutes before I got the list finalised, one song was swapped entirely for a formerly absent track. It just goes to show much much good stuff has been going into my ears.

The Spotify playlist is here

1 Sufjan Stevens – All of you wants all of me

The song that put me through the emotional wringer more than any other this year. In the simple but devastating  line “you checked your texts while I masturbated”, Sufjan produced more heartbreak than Kleenex can comfortably deal with. ‘Carrie and Lowell’ is a rare album that is more than the sum of its parts, one that deserves to be listened to without distraction, repeatedly. Of them all, this track stands tall in an album that has towered over 2015 like a Sequoia amongst shrubs.

2 Marina and the Diamonds – Froot

The greatest pop song of the year by a glittery mile is also a shockingly well produced song. Put on some headphones and be blown away by the warm bed of synths and sounds of a real band working in harmony with Marina’s effortless falsetto ducking and diving into a diva-worthy chorus.

Everything here is a blueprint for how pop songs should be written and performed; Marina needs to get the patent on it. ‘Froot’ is Marina’s most coherent album yet, thanks to her inspired decision to ditch the major label disease of multiple song writers, choosing to write and compose everything herself. It’s paying off.

3 Beck – Dreams

Unbelievably, Beck made this straight-up accessible, funky masterpiece as “something that would sound good live” and I can attest that it sounds good at any time and in any place. Armed with a chorus audible from space, Beck is doing a giant u-turn on his previous album’s introspection, reminding his fans of his incredible versatility.

4 John Grant feat. Tracey Thorn – Disappointing

It’s John Grant. It’s Tracey Thorn. They both sing. That is all that you need to know about this. Well, there’s also the superb video featuring a birthday cake in a gay sauna.

5 Brandon Flowers – I can change

Brandon Flowers has always been a fan of British pop; the Killer’s debut album ‘Hot Fuss’ sounded like the best Manchester 80s band that never existed. Now, Flowers has come full circle as a solo artist, sampling one of the best 80s pop songs on one of this decade’s best pop songs. It is incredibly catchy, mixing the best sort of synths with a beat propelling you ever closer to the dancefloor. And that chorus is a thing of great beauty. I’d wager this song will age gracefully.

6 Tame Impala – Let it Happen

When I first heard of Tame Impala, they were doing some excellent psychedelic stuff, but the opening notes of Let It Happen declare that a major upgrade has taken place and this is a very good thing indeed. Let It Happen seems to gain its magic by being a smooth synth-rock track embedded in a disco track inside a dreamscape. The dream breaks up dramatically around four minutes in when the songs starts to loop itself and then release itself again. It’s headphone music, and for a song pushing seven minutes, it’s remarkably accessible.

7 Carly Rae Jepsen – I really like you

An impossibly catchy pop masterpiece that would feel at home dropped into any of the past 25 years. If you inserted this into an 80s teen movie, would anyone notice? No. Because they’d be too busy dancing along. The video is a joy, with the peerless Tom Hanks dancing about the streets of New York being all Tom Hanksian. What a great combo.

8 Grimes – Flesh Without Blood

I get the distinct impression that 2015 is the year that I fell deeply for warm bass, beats that propel songs endlessly forward and crystal clear production. Flesh Without Blood works because it has so much going on but succeeds in making space for every little note, every unexpected clatter, all of Grimes’ utterances and swooping notes. Grimes’ is in a league of her own when it comes to making layered, complex pop with SCREAM being another notable track from her ‘Art Angels’ album.

9 Everything Everything – Distant Past

Did you know that bands used to make albums full of great songs to be listened to sequentially? It’s hard to imagine now when switching between devices and streaming services is so easy but so perfunctory. There is something almost romantic about putting on an album, deactivating shuffle and focusing entirely on the music and Everything Everything’s third album is one such album to get lost in. From the opening bars of To the Blade, the album’s intent is clear: this will be rock and roll but with added jaggy edges, electronic bleeps and songs you can dance wildly to.

10 New Order – Tutti Frutti

Who knew! The award for the most remarkable comeback of the year goes to New Order with ‘Music Complete’ which I hope isn’t their way of saying this is their last effort. To go out like this would be to go out on a high though. The album is liberally sprinkled with their genius but this is also an album free of New Order trying to keep up with the new kids, or trying to use their past as a springboard – rather, they are refining their signature sound on opener Restless, providing a masterclass in how electronica can merge with rock on ‘Singularity’ and on Tutti Frutti they have produced an outstanding disco track, with a relentless bass that builds throughout the song, some lovely vocals by Elly Jackson and a lightness that has perhaps evaded them in the past. It’d be fair to say the new album is a high watermark for New Order; ‘Music Complete’ is easily their best work in two decades and they sounds reborn.

11 Duran Duran – Pressure Off

Hurrah, for it’s another wondrous return to form! Duran Duran already did a great comeback record with ‘All you Need is Now’ but ‘Paper Gods’ somehow doesn’t hit the same heights. Pressure Off is a taste of what could have been if Mark Ronson had stuck with production duties. With Ronson and Nile Rodgers on board, magical things happened. If another act was to release this, it’d have been a huge radio hit but regardless, this is sublime pop. I was touched to find out that the album’s main producer, Mr Hudson, is a Birmingham resident, nicely reflecting the band’s association with the city.

12 The Wkend – I Can’t Feel My Face

A pop song that ate the competition, with Tom Cruise lip-synching it on the telly, perhaps not grasping that he was miming along to a song about cocaine. But this song is the sort of thing that stops wars, brings tribes out of the Amazon and into the clubs and induces people to write drivel like this about it. It’s as if Michael Jackson has come back with a hell of a tune. Woah, mama! Video’s a bit crap though.

13 Chairlift – Ch-Ching

An afternoon power-walking through Stockholm with this cropping up regularly embedded this in my head for the back-end of the year. A heady mix of pop and RnB that demands you dance along.

14 Ghostpoet – Off Peak Dreams

One of Britain’s best lyricists who also spent lots of time living in the West Midlands, thus scoring highly in my books. I’ve been following Ghost Poet for quite some time and his third album moves his sound into interesting corners, all the while still focusing on everyday struggles, running out of cash and “mugs of tea and bacon sarnies”.

15 The Chemical Brothers – Go

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that an act releasing some of their greatest songs 15 years after their heyday is a rare thing indeed. Go is that rare thing; an absolutely rollocking blast of sound that shows the Chemical Brothers have lost none of their skill at making dance music that is both complex and fun.

16 Django Django – Giant

I find myself bored of guitar bands for large chunks of most years. Giant is the sort of music that draws me back to indie bands. Guitars, drums, singers wooing and aaahhing, piano and a build up that dreams are made of. This is superb.

17 Foals – Lonely Hunter

Foals tend to come back on the scene with a massive beast of a song – they did that this year with What Went Down which is as raucous as they’ve ever been. But noise fades where beauty flourishes and Foals are so much more suited to songs like Lonely Hunter that highlight Yan’s warm vocals and the wall-of-sound-chorus.

18 Will Young – Promise Me

I bloody love Will Young. His last album, Echoes, stood out for the chilly electronica and stunning vocal performances, and his latest effort, ’85%’ can’t reach those heights, butt does have a clutch of tracks that show a more adventurous side to Young that he’d be wise to pursue. Brave Man, Love Revolution, U Think I’m Sexy and Thank You all redefine his sound but none so much as Promise Me. There’s a fast tempo, clattering drums and keyboards that hint at acts like Disclosure and some serious falsetto work going on.

19 The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It

Included purely because it sounds like the band went to the seaside, took out the Wurlitzer organ and played all their instruments incredibly fast and loud. Believe me, it works.

20 The Wombats – Greek Tragedy

I’d always had a soft spot for The Wombats, but their third album, ‘Glitterbug’ offered a more nuanced take on their ever-chirpy pop. I suppose it’s called growing up, and on tracks like Greek Tragedy, it works really well because the band have evolved their sound but haven’t forgotten why people liked them in the first place. There is first-rate song writing going on here and other tracks like Emoticons manage to pack in a sense of excitement and urgency into four minute gems.


BST Hyde Park – tits and hits

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grace jonesI saw a headline on Facebook flash up – Hyde Park summer gigs had tickets available on a donation basis. Immediately, I hurled money at the Prostate Cancer charity and chose to see Kylie over the Stroke and Blur. All great headliners, but with Grace Jones, Chic and Foxes on the lineup, it’s just not a decision I had to make.

Arriving to a dribble of people lounging around, we headed to where Foxes was playing and with ten minutes to go, the dribble became a herd and Foxes pranced out to a respectable rabble. Her debut album Glorious was chock-a-block with brilliant pop tracks, so much so that she didn’t become a massive star. You can’t force feed this sort of music on the masses, but for those of us in the know, she’s a joy to see on stage. Starting out in 2012 with ‘Youth’, Foxes was signed to a label run by Simon Fuller, leading to the release of her debut in 2014. Her stage presence is something of a cross between a cheerleader and the most energetic kids enetertainer ever; her beaming smile gets the crowd moving and her between song banter makes her ludicrously endearing. Like Marina and the Diamonds, Foxes is one of those rare British pop acts that deserve a chance to shape the genre and from tonight’s performance, I can’t see that being a big task for her.


Moving to the main stage, 4 miles back from the VVVIP, VVIP and dreaded VIP zone, us in the poverty park spotted Grace Jones. She has done her work at re-shaping music but in all honesty, she’s one of a kind. Put another way – she’s 67, she’s straddling a pole with her tits out and inbetween songs complains that her nipples are sweaty, asking around for a spliff. This self-belief comes from somewhere we humans have no access to and her stage presence is beyond magnetic. From riding a security guard around the arena, dancers bums were fondled with leaves and she controlled the stage with elegance and a healthy dose of insanity. Iconic, sexy, eccentric, wild…all words that sort of go near Grace but don’t quite touch it.

The staging is one thing but she also possesses a rich, booming voice with a set that is a joy to behold, made all the better by choices like her cover of ‘Love is the drug’  and the eternal classics ‘Pull up to the bumper’ and ‘Slave to the rhythm’ where she hoola-hooped like the terrifyingly brilliant woman she is. Not for nothing was her last album called Hurricane when the most accurate way to describe her is as a force of nature.

Kylie Minogue - Kiss Me Once Tour 2014

Ah, Kylie. Her last album was called Aphrodite – just your standard goddess of love. Same sex couples, opposite sex couples, mates, strangers, everyone was just unconsciously enjoying the finale to this most marvellous of days and the whole site just filled with love and joy. Maybe everybody was on drugs – definitely the woman in front of us was. But euphoria, unbridled joy, 60000 people all transfixed by pop music; how can Kylie make this so good? It’s witchcraft, built on an effortless performance and personality so warm and bubbly even cynics can’t help but be drawn into the embrace. Looking around Hyde Park, people were laughing, smiling and singing so loudly it would be hard to determine where we began and Kylie ended; but that’s the magic of pop music, this sense of togetherness.

Kylie delivered a brilliant but at times too-technically good performance at the Roundhouse in February, but here Kylie was looser than I’ve ever seen, giving the set a spark that’s best described by the picture below.


Elbow at the Roundhouse

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Finding out I’d been offered last-minute tickets to see Elbow at the iTunes festival had me wondering if the hassle of re-arranging my evening plans would be worth it. Despite them being one of my most beloved bands, I didn’t feel terribly excited until they strode on stage bang on time. Could it be that the Apple watch, showcased that very week, had made the band so very punctual? As they launched into Charge, all my memories of their live shows flooded back to me. Elbow isn’t simply a good live band, they offer a life-affirming set, filled to the brim with love, hope, beauty and warmth

With my excellent view of Guy Garvey, I could see his confidence as a frontman pour out of him; both assured of what he can do and at ease with the audience. He playfully used the space of the Roundhouse to point to members of the  audience and smile, something I’m sure gets lost in translation at their arena tours but here it felt like we could all grab a second of his attention if he pointed our way. But of course he’s assured; with a voice so rich and powerful, it’s a thing of beauty that is backed up by a band who gel effortlessly together to create sublime walls of sound.

elbow 2Playing a mixture of songs from all their albums but highlighting The Seldom Seen Kid and The Takeoff and Landing of Everything, we were treated to Fly Boy Blue/Lunette, inducing in me a surge of emotion I wasn’t expecting while audience members hugged and kissed. About halfway through the set, The Loneliness of the Tower Crane Driver gave Guy another chance to push his range, hitting high and low notes with incredible ease. His voice resembles gritty honey and few other live artists can come close to something that sounds so entrancing and physically big. The band have practiced their formula of epic songs, stomping tracks like Grounds for Divorce to excite the audience and mass singalongs  like One Day Like This where we come close to being cult members. They have honed their craft to perfection and on leaving the gig, it felt like nothing could have been improved until a quick dig through their back catalogue reveals classics like Fallen Angel, Red, Mexican Standoff, Leaders of the Free World and more were left out. Elbow’s back catalogue is a wonderful thing.

As Guy noted, London audiences can be a bit London about gigs, but here the audience was really invested in the band and the audience reaction was terrifically loud throughout, with no sense that this was a corporate gig with multiple VIP areas full of bored freeloaders. Consider the endless hospitality options for the Kate Bush comeback and Kylie arena tour and consider that this room was full of people who simply got the tickets for free. This was a real show for the people.

Craig Potter, the keyboardist and prolific Tweeter obsessed about bins, got married the other week and didn’t tell the band. As another song ended, Guy gave him a big hug and kiss to congratulate him. One of the many delightful things about Elbow is the sheer bonhomie and love that surges not just through their songs, but also the band as a unit of friends. They might have ascended to the ranks of arena bands, but the intimacy and beauty of their music matched the scale of the Roundhouse perfectly. In their spirit and in their music, Elbow is the most beautiful band in the country.

A love letter to Portishead

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Dear Portishead the band,

When I was just 12, you scared my mum with your music that I loved. I remember fondly being in the NAAFI (big shop for Army folk) and Beth’s face came on one of the TV screens and I stopped in wonderment. My mum was concerned as up until this point I hadn’t really shown an interest in music that was distinctly different. And you were so apparently different, yet so familiar. It is like you have been around forever. Mum liked ‘Glory Box’ by the way.

Another time, we went to Wembley to see Birmingham play football, and I hate football. I hate how it makes my Dad so cross; all his bad emotions spill out along with everyone else’s. His joy is the displeasure of others doing bad, but my joy was being able to hear ‘Sour Times’ twice on the top 40 because Radio 1 played it first, followed by Capital.

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I have such powerful memories of you, I even remember hearing a radio DJ (I think it was Richard Allinson) saying that “whenever Portishead release a song, it’s an event” as you released ‘Cowboys’, one of the scariest songs ever. The opening sounds like a horror film, but even now in 2013 it sounds as fresh as anything out there and you have such ambition to not just push the boat out, but set fire to it and fill it with scorpions, too. Listening to ‘Half Day Closing’ now, I cannot believe the sound quality, so crystal-clear and icy. Brilliant! I bet I tried to sing to that song in my bedroom, but it’s not possible to get that high, not ever.

When you released Third, I have no memories of it…which is weird. That said, I know that if I ever get married I want ‘Machine Gun’ played at the obligatory disco and whoever is foolish enough to wed me best get used to dancing to this most/least danceable of tunes. ‘Machine Gun’ is just like my head sometimes, all full up of noise and nonsense, but it’s such a good track. Oh, Portishead, you are official geniuses, and I haven’t even mentioned ‘The Rip’, a track endowed with such power that in the awful heat of Ally Pally one summer I had genuine chills when you played this. No air con could touch me the way seeing you live touched me.

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Thanks for being a bit grouchy, a bit “don’t wanna” when it comes to making new music, a bit fearless, a bit brilliant…please come round my house for tea.


Editors – The Weight of Your Love review

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Editors v.1 – explosive guitar riffs that were the embodiment of singer Tom Smith’s akward jerks.

Editors v.2 – Glossy, big-budget rock that smooths out the exciting youthful edges of debut.  Still ace though.

Editors v.3 – Doing a mini-Radiohead and producing an underrated album. ‘Papillon’ is one of their very best singles.

Editors v.4 – The biggest missed opportunity of their career, slap in the middle of the road.

Listening to the new Editors album, it is hard to believe that Tom Smith is just 32, such is the torpor that accompanies much of the music here. While the band have made something of their recording sessions in America, you couldn’t pinpoint an emerging style that offers the audience much new to be excited about. The Weight of Your Love finds Editors neither able to recreate the excitement of their debut, nor find solace in the cold electronics of In this Light and on this Morning; this time they seem to flounder and never fully focus on what they want to achieve. Considering I have been a fan of Editors since I first heard them, it pains me to be so critical of them but after 3 years away, they needed to come back with a bang, not a comfortable jumper. Lead single ‘A ton of love’ is a fine song indeed, with Tom’s delivery rawer and rockier than ever with the American influence really evident. If robots were asked to make a perfect slice of arena rock, they’d invent this.

‘What is this thing called love’ finds the band pressing the “emote” button, and surprisingly doing quite well. The star though is Tom’s voice, with him showcasing a lovely falsetto with a rough edge. Through his career, he has developed nicely as a singer and this song is the best example of that. However, the music never really inspires or picks up enough to push the song into genuinely emotional territory. ‘Two Hearted Spider’ finds us in familiar, but fertile, territory as the band produce some down-tempo background for a story of doomed love, with the heavily-reverbed vocals leading to the big chorus and wailing background.

‘Sugar’ opens with a riff straight out of Bjork’s ‘Army of me’ and it’s one of the more aggressive tracks on the album, with an Arabic-sounding note in the mix that adds genuine interest to the track, with an excellent final 30 seconds. If the band had produced more songs this forward and alive, the album would be much more exciting.

‘Hyena’ frustrates for two reasons because it is so nearly brilliant. Firstly, it may have been stolen from Interpol but only if Interpol had decided to add unnecessary instrumentation that makes the song sound too crowded, when it would sound far better if it were razor-sharp. When the chorus comes in, and the vocals get more frenetic, Tom never quite hits the spot. It’s the aural equivalent of a near-orgasm.

The album ends on ‘Bird of Prey’, another quality track that remind us of where Editor’s strengths lie; straight-up rock tracks that use Tom’s distinctive voice to great effect, and bringing the drums to the forefront. On reflection, it is a pity that this album is about four tracks short of greatness. Take ‘The Phone Book’ as an example of how the band missed the spot. This track takes inspiration from their American adventure in full, and while not great, it’s at least a deviation on their sound. Sadly, The Weight of Your Love is the sound of a band not confident or ambitious enough to throw out the rule book and embrace a new direction. ‘The Phone Book’ is  placed as the penultimate track, which is just bizarre when sandwiched between two tracks that are so clearly in the vein of Editors. It almost seems like they have buried it, almost too scared of what could have been.

Music from the mains

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I like bleepy music a lot. We were always promised jet-packs and aside from the future becoming briefly real at the LA Olympics, there have been few around since that Utopian moment. So, I listen to music that sounds vaguely from the future and it pleases me greatly. Though it’s a bit more muddied because what I’m currently loving is not just bleeps. It’s mostly bleeps and something else. When I was a teenager I only really liked rock or indie, but now the balance has changed so much I look at my teenage years with an appropriate sense of bewilderment and “Meatloaf, really?” floating around. So, let’s appraise what is currently acting as ballast in my ship of music:


Bloody hell. I have liked Modeselektor for years, and yes, it’s mostly down to Thom Yorke’s involvement with them and all, but I was only slightly aware of Moderat being a trio of Apparat and Modeselektor in the past month. Now I’ve spent the last few years gobbling up stellar bits of music like Rusty Nails and Les Grandes Marches which appeal to my taste in mid-paced chilled out electronic bleeps. There’s snatches of commercial Aphex Twin in Rusty Nails and a highly catchy tune to sweep you along.

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Wave Machines

Maybe this shouldn’t be here, but Wave Machines are excellent and mix a traditional band structure with layers of bleepy stuff very elegantly. I saw them live at the launch of Club Attitude at Village Underground and they have a sharp knack of building up layers of sound that builds until it either abruptly stops of eats itself. Nothing is terribly angry or loud, but Unwound hints at a direction I hope they take on album three, namely, a further integration into electronic territory aligned with sweet harmonies. Their new album Pollen has had super reviews, deservedly so, but they’ll be unlikely to smash into the mainstream because they’re not…whatever it is that makes people mainstream – which is probably a massive major label advertising binge innit.

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The Knife


Don’t for a second think this post wouldn’t be touched by something Swedish. The Knife is a great example of how complex electronic music can be. Sometimes they veer towards the unlistenable (see 2013’s Full of Fire) but they are also capable of songs of intense beauty, like Colouring of Pigeons from 2010.

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M83 only have one track, and that track is Kim and Jessie. Good job it’s a brilliant track, and their latest, from the new Tom Cruise flick Oblivion, is a mid-paced beauty that is almost a euro-ballad. No, stop screaming, it’s a good one with big lyrics and big fake drums cracking all around.

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Sigur Ros

I finally got to see Sigur Ros at Brixton last month and they proper blew my mind with every single thing they did. They then unleashed this bad boy and blew my mind again. It’s a much more muscular sound, making everything on Valtari sound like a scared mouse. This sound suits them, and around halfway in, the song changes tack and opens up the prospect of them releasing tracks you’d hear in a club. Look, just listen and be amazed (or hate it cos it’s not the song from the telly you know)

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February Jukebox

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Music! It’s great! As an antidote to the insipid tripe that is The Brits, here’s what’s been livening up my ears in the last few weeks!

– Wave Machines – Counting Birds, from Pollen

Hurrah! I saw Wave Machines a few years back and have kept an eye on them since and they have finally released album 2. Marvellous is what it is, especially Counting Birds and Blood Will Roll. It’s a denser and darker sound but it shows a great progression!

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– Poliça – Lay your cards out, from Give you the ghost

If I didn’t read it on Wikipedia, I’d never have guessed this band is American. So, in a purely anti-American sense, that’s a very good thing. They remind me a little of The Knife, but they are individual enough to stand up on their own merits. The album is one I’ve been making my way through slowly without ever realising how good it is, but now I’ve seen the light!

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– First Aid Kit – Emmylou from The Lion’s Roar

If I didn’t…see above…Sweden!! Who knew? This is just gorgeous. It’s country-tinged and beautiful to listen to in the early morning as the sun rises. Hopelessly in love with this.

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– Sexy Fi – Loro on Loro from Nunca Te Vi De Boa

A Brazilian band – why not? I had Brazilian wine the other week, so it makes sense to start to listen to more stuff from a nation that is only going to grow in the global spotlight. This is a glorious album with some drawbacks; as one reviewer put it, recording in the US may have sanded down the edges of this album. Simply put, it sounds reasonably Western, so a bit more tradition wouldn’t go amiss. That said, Loro on Loro is a fantastic cut from the album. I ordered the CD nearly two weeks ago, and it still hasn’t arrived. I hope they get that sorted out soon! This is a band that deserves more attention.

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– Ultraista – Small Talk Four Tet remix from Ultraista

A band with the mighty power of Nigel Godrich is never going to disappoint. Add to that a Four Tet remix and you’ve got yourself an almost flawless 6 minutes.

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– Atoms for Peace – AMOK!

I wrote about this yesterday, so here’s a link to the entire album: