Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Best Tracks of 2014: 10-1

10. Röyksopp & Robyn - Monument

The album mix of 'Monument' is almost ten minutes long, and it takes its damn time getting anywhere. Robyn marshals the first section with her robotic delivery, before the track then becomes more abstract, slowly weaving its way towards the end. This is late night soundtrack music in much the same vein as Twin Peaks or Blade Runner. The latter comparison becomes particularly apparent with the arrival of a saxophone cutting through the mist - like a warped form of lounge music set to a motorik pulse. It's not hard to picture Ryan Gosling's Driver character tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.


9. Skepta - That's Not Me (feat. JME)

Skepta took it back to basics on this anthem which reached #21 in the charts, won a MOBO on the back of an £80 video, and became the basis of a hundred think pieces on the so-called grime revival. Grime never really went away, but 'That's Not Me' made the media sit up and start paying attention again. Skepta knocked up the throwback beat on Jammer's old Korg synthesiser, but it was his assured performance on the mic that took this one to the next level and gave real heft to a seriously strong year for the genre.




8. Beyoncé - XO

One of the most purely romantic pop songs of recent years. A declaration of love in and out of darkness, an urge to living in the moment. Assisted by an IMAX-sized beat courtesy of The-Dream (one of the decade's premier romantics), Queen Bey not only bested their previous collaboration 'Halo', but delivered perhaps her finest single to date. Surprise album releases have rarely felt this generous.


7. GFOTY - Bobby

Ok, ok - not strictly released in 2014 (see also: most of the PC Music tracks on this list), but we slept so hard on A. G. Cook's gang of post-Internet pranksters that we had to give them some props at the end of their breakout year. If we're being traditionalists, 'Bobby' is one of the most fully realised songs to come out of this camp, but it's still a singularly odd listen. The squeaky noises sound like a dial-up connection breaking into giggles, while the whole thing is underpinned by these ominous bass pulses. GFOTY (short for 'Girlfriend of the Year') has these wonderfully detached vocals, inviting us to look behind the words to find meaning, when actually it's all there for us on the surface.


6. Big Sean - I Don't Fuck With You (feat. E-40)

One of the year's best rap songs came from an unlikely source. Big Sean's cornball tendencies are still firmly in place, but he really stepped up his game on this one, perhaps remembering how he got so firmly upstaged by Kendrick Lamar on 'Control'. In 'IDFWU', Sean lets an ex know in some detail how he's doing just fine actually, he's got new girls and new cars and a new crib and he's doing JUST FINE. Methinks he doth protest too much, but still, there are some great lines here ("Fuck your two cents if it ain't going towards the bill"), and a brilliant E-40 verse and a soulful beat switch seal the deal. The beat, a DJ Mustard and Kanye West collaboration, sounds exactly how you'd imagine - a wonderful collision of Mustard's ratchet style and Kanye circa College Dropout. Between this and Rick Ross' 'Sanctified', I'm seriously hoping the pair have more in the vaults.



5. Mumdance & Novelist - Take Time

Wisely deciding to collaborate with Novelist after an NTS session, Mumdance used the TR-909 to construct this deceptively simple instrumental from scratch, razing the grime template to the ground and building it up again from the ashes. There's a lot of dead space in this beat and Novelist navigates it like a boxer, choosing his moment before delivering a killer punch. His flow is supremely confident, but casually so - a difficult task over such an unusual riddim. Mumdance's prolific output shows no signs of letting up this year, and Nov is perfectly placed to capitalise on his position as the hottest new MC. All hail the Lewisham Don.




4. Schoolboy Q - Los Awesome (feat. Jay Rock)

Following up the one-two strike of 'Get Lucky' and 'Blurred Lines', 2014 saw Pharrell continuing his chart dominance. From his own 'Happy' to Ed Sheeran's 'Sing', the guy's been pretty ubiquitous recently. Thankfully, 'Los Awesome' sounds like nothing else he made this year, or indeed anything since his Neptunes years. It's a nasty, snarling beat, fit for the gutter. Schoolboy Q proves up to the challenge, delivering a uncompromising gangster rap barrage. Unfortunately for him, Jay Rock's verse is nothing less than a triumph, continuing his impeccable track record of upstaging TDE artists on their own songs.




3. Future Islands - Seasons (Waiting on You)

Probably the consensus song of the year, and one of the best underdog stories as well. The (relative) success of Future Islands' massive synth-pop hit after an electrifying late night performance on Letterman was proof that, for some bands at least, years of hard graft and endless touring can pay off in spades. Lead singer Samuel T Herring performs like he's had the DNA of all the great frontmen - Bruce Springsteen, Ian Curtis, Iggy Pop - spliced into his body. But this was no cynical ploy for viral domination - Herring has been shaking his hips and unleashing death metal growls in dive bars for years - and thankfully, the song itself has had staying power far beyond the crazy dancing GIF. Herring's vocal range is incredible - not technically, but in terms of how many different emotions it can elicit. This is the key to Future Islands' success - a desire to really connect with people, a directness and a refreshing lack of irony. This is pop without the facade.




2. Hannah Diamond - Pink and Blue

 Couple With HeartHeart With Arrow




1. Todd Terje & Bryan Ferry - Johnny and Mary

The best song of 2014 wasn't actually from 2014 at all, but from 1980. Robert Palmer's 'Johnny and Mary', once used in a series of Renault adverts, became the centrepiece of Norwegian space disco wizard Todd Terje's debut album. What's more, he got the one and only Bryan Ferry to do the vocal. Ferry's delivery is fragile, quavering - perfect for this tragic tale about a seemingly paralysed couple. For Terje's part, he transforms what was once a peppy pop track into something more graceful and delicate. The synths sounds both yearning and exhausted, just as they did on Roxy Music's masterpiece Avalon.

Terje's decision to interrupt what is essentially a party record with this bummer of a song is a bold one, but somehow it works. When people talk about the heart of a record, too often they mean nothing more than simply the mid-section. Here, 'Johnny and Mary' is the throbbing, aching heart at the centre of Terje's Club Tropicana lounge bar schtick. It's Bill Murray at the hotel bar in 'Lost In Translation', Harry Dean Stanton framed by neon in 'Paris, Texas'.

This collaboration wasn't without precedent. Terje had previously done a remix of Roxy Music's 1975 single 'Love is the Drug', along with remixes of Ferry's own 'Alphaville' and 'Don't Stop the Dance'. And it may yet have more life in it. At the tail end of 2014, Ferry released a new solo record, Avonmore. Down to the Celtic font used for the cover art, it sounded and felt like a carbon copy of Avalon, the end of the party for Roxy Music and a glorious ride into the sunset. Avonmore ended with 'Johnny and Mary', extending the fadeout. Rarely has a track felt so well placed.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Best Tracks of 2014: 25-11



25. Taylor Swift - Shake It Off

Taylor sheds the last remnants of her country roots and ends up with one of her best singles to date in the form of a gleeful shrug towards her detractors. What's that, you're not a fan of that spoken word breakdown? Haters gonna hate.

24. Black Portland - 4 Eva Bloody

Breakout star Young Thug teams up with fellow Atlanta rapper Bloody Jay, and the pair just spend the whole time shouting each other out! Thugger handles the ecstatic hook, while the theme-park beat, courtesy of Tripp Da Hit Major, shoots for the charts rather than the streets.

23. Danny L Harle - In My Dreams

Heartbreak with a candy coating. 'In My Dreams' skews towards the pop side of the fast-growing PC Music canon, but never seems content to rest on a single idea for more than a few seconds. It's a buoyant mess, all tethered together by that incredible hook. Even better than 'Broken Flowers'.

22. Future - Move That Dope (feat. Pusha T, Pharrell & Casino)

This is the sort of thing that Future and Mike Will should be making all the time. Casino's verse, cruelly excised from the video edit, is easily the best one here. The beat, one of Mike Will's finest to date, is the real reason to keep coming back.

21. Run the Jewels - Oh My Darling Don't Cry

The ATLien and the NY felon deliver the year's most quotable rap song? Well, surely home to the highest number of different flows. Maybe the funniest? Certainly the only one to have a guest spot from Michael Winslow of Police Academy. One thing's for sure - I want to get a business card like El-P's.



20. Iggy Azalea - Fancy (feat. Charli XCX)

Let's be honest - the real star here is Charli XCX, whose world-conquering hook made 'Fancy' the official song of the summer. The beat is such a titanic rip-off that it's a genuine shock every time I fail to hear it open with "Mustard on the beat, ho!" But hell, it's a good rip-off, even doing enough to earn its own 'Weird Al' parody. Well, that and a seven-week uninterrupted spot at the top of the Billboard 100.

19. Young Thug - Stoner

One of many tracks where Young Thug sounds like he might genuinely have just crash-landed from another planet. The elastic snap of his cadence gives way to a codeine-addled slur at a moment's notice. His ad-libs sound more demented than ever. Yet it all adds up to an alluring smoker's anthem, helped in no small part by a numbingly simple hook.

18. Ab-Soul - Tree of Life

Ab-Soul's These Days... was a poor follow-up to Control System, and probably the worst TDE album since their profile first soared in 2011. 'Tree of Life' is a real keeper though. It'll take you a few spins just to spot all the instances of tree wordplay ("I got most of you muthafuckers stumped / Rap like I go to church but works in the trunk"), and there's plenty of other great Ab lines to savour over a shuffling, restless beat. An uncredited Joey Bada$$ on the bridge precedes the wonderful last verse. 

17. Ringo Deathstarr - Chainsaw Morning

With a little tinkering, this could be Ringo Deathstarr's pitch for the big leagues. The chorus hook is definitely stadium-sized, with drum fills and full-neck guitar slides to match. The little electronic stutter and cooing vocals that begin the track are a wonderful feint - after that it just soars. Skygaze might be a more appropriate term.

16. Sun Kil Moon - Ben's My Friend

Sun Kil Moon's Benji was critically adored in most corners, but some of those longer pieces just didn't click with me. More often than not I found myself skipping ahead to the final track, a breezy number that could easily pass for an outtake from the last Destroyer album, sax solo intact. Mark Kozelek nails the stream of consciousness style, his lyrics tripping over themselves in the final verse as his mid-life crisis unspools. Not a lot happens in this story - Kozelek gets writer's block, lunches with his girlfriend, worries about his mother, has an existential crisis following a Postal Service concert - but it's beautifully evocative, the twilight at the end of a record consumed with death.



15. Isaiah Rashad - Shot You Down (feat. Jay Rock & Schoolboy Q)

A seven-minute monster of a track. The beat lopes along, accomplished without ever getting in the way. Rashad has rarely sounded so animated, really selling the chorus where he threatens to end sensitive flavour of the month MCs. The best bit though is Jay Rock's career-high verse, further cementing his status as TDE's most slept-on rapper.

14. Real Estate - Talking Backwards

Real Estate's third album Atlas dealt in cleaner textures, lifting the gauze filter and letting us focus on the construction of the songs. 'Talking Backwards' always reminds me of Television's 'Marquee Moon' - not for the sound, but the way in which all the parts interlock perfectly. There's a crisp, autumnal feel to proceedings, which goes some way towards disguising the frustration of the lyrics, a familiar study of communication breakdown in a relationship.

13. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Shitsville

"Motherfuck euthanasia, I'll lace your food up with razors / make you gargle with saltwater, excuse yourself from my table". Freddie Gibbs is one of the toughest rappers going, and on first sight his hard-edged street bars might seem an uneasy fit with Madlib's dusty soul productions. No worry - the two veterans have been working together for longer than you might expect, and here their styles complement each other perfectly. Madlib layers seasick strings over ominous bass pulses, and Gibbs' message is a threatening reality check - nobody is invincible, so you'd better watch yourself.

12. Cloud Nothings - Giving Into Seeing

Some of the best songs have moments - 0:44 in Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah, 2:52 in Arcade Fire's Wake Up - those precious few seconds that are worth entire catalogues from lesser bands. Giving Into Seeing isn't operating at quite the same magnitude as those examples, but it's close. It's a taut, driving indie rock song that barrels its way through the opening two minutes before the texture suddenly shifts and the guitar falls to the back of the mix. The song builds again, surging upwards and culminating in a thundering rush of drums at 2:54, followed by a frantic sprint to the finish line.

11. Vince Staples - Blue Suede

Before this year, Vince Staples was probably best known as an Odd Future affiliate, in particular for his storming guest verses on Earl Sweatshirt's album Doris. In 2014 he released a bunch of songs over two excellent EPs, and 'Blue Suede' is the pick of the lot. The siren noises hark back to Dr. Dre's sinuous G-funk, and the tectonic bass reimagines it through a contemporary trap filter. Staples is one of the most exciting young voices in hip-hop, and this is his benchmark.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Best Tracks of 2014: 50-26


50. The Preatures - Is This How You Feel?

Those of us eagerly awaiting a new HAIM album had our collective limbo soothed by this gem from Australia's hottest new band. The verses are wonderfully restrained, the chorus near-ecstatic.

49. DJ Milktray - Hotel

Rhythm and grime - or R'n'G - made a big comeback this year, and this Cassidy/R. Kelly edit was one of the main players. I lost track of the number of times I listened to the radio rip of 'Hotel', so I was pretty happy when it finally got a proper release.

48. Finn - Keep Calling

The other massive R'n'G tune in 2014 was Finn's excellent Ginuwine/Aaliyah flip. Hearing it played out was always a treat, especially at Boxed, London's best instrumental grime night.

47. Cloud Nothings - I'm Not Part of Me

This indie rock break-up anthem had more hooks than a cloakroom, and was the most immediate and infectious single on an album without a moment of filler. Play loud.

46. Perfect Pussy - Interference Fits

Meredith Graves' intense lyrics are buried under searing distortion, occasionally forcing their way to the surface. Dig deep - there's real poetry under these thrashing waves:

"In the same way that shame changes love and we know it / like your body moves into mine and outgrows it / and splits me from mouth down to thigh like a gun / what am I doing with somebody's son?"


45. Sia - Chandelier

Sia might have done her best to keep out of the limelight, but there was never any holding this song back. The way she belts out that chorus seems totally at odds with her reclusive persona, and it has lost very little of its considerable power through repeated plays.

44. JLSXND7RS + Trends - The Undertaker (feat. Flirta D)

From ciphers to raves, the instrumental of The Undertaker was pretty much inescapable this year, but we loved Flirta D's crazy bars too much to leave his version off the list.

43. Tinashe - 2 On (feat. Schoolboy Q)

Tinashe is a true star in the making. Here she teams up with man of the year DJ Mustard, who softens his trademark snaps and kicks for 2014's best R&B single. Try and ignore that mood-spoiling Q verse, and let yourself float away on the year's softest ode to turning up.

42. Evian Christ - Salt Carousel

The moment when we realised just how much talented young producer Joshua Leary had taken away from his work on the Yeezus sessions. Tearing into the HudMo/Rustie template like a drill through sheet metal.

41. Cheatahs - Fall

Cheatahs combined great songwriting with lessons learnt from all your favourite shoegaze bands to give us a fine debut album. Alternating between ethereal wash, twinkling guitars and a thick, sludgy riff, 'Fall' covered all the bases.


40. Bob Mould - I Don't Know You Anymore

Mould's album Beauty & Ruin left us a little cold this year, but at least he gave us one song that ranks up there with the classics. Like all the best power-pop songs, it sounds like it's been around forever.

39. Bobby Shmurda - Hot Nigga

How many lives has this song had already? The Vine clip that spawned a thousand imitators. The dance seen everywhere from NBA games to late-night TV. A lifeline for DJs everywhere. New York does drill too, it's just more quotable.

38. Hudson Mohawke - Chimes

HudMo by numbers? Not a problem when you're cranking out widescreen trap bangers that sound just as good in an Apple commercial as they do over club sound systems. Everything's tweaked slightly into the red. Ignore the vocal remix and head straight for the instrumental.

37. Nicki Minaj - Anaconda

A novelty song sampling another novelty song, even by Minaj's own admission. I reckon that's selling both 'Anaconda' and 'Baby Got Back' pretty short. Novelty songs haven't got replay value and, well, I couldn't stop listening to either this year. An iconic song with the video to match. Dial 1-900-NICKI.

36. Meridian Dan - German Whip (feat. Big H & JME)

In 2014 felt like grime was flirting with the mainstream for the first time in ages, and this tune was one of the main reasons why. 'German Whip' has been around for well over a year now, but this time it got the push from PMR Records who evidently saw a lot more life in it. They weren't wrong.



35. Future - Benz Friendz (Whatchutola) (feat. André 3000)

'Benz Friendz' is on this list mainly because it's such a treat to hear André rapping over Mr. DJ production once again. That said, Future's call-and-response with 3 Stacks is a welcome reminder of why so many first rushed to dub him the new intergalactic prince of Atlanta.

34. Fekky - Still Sittin' Here (All-Star Remix)

The original with Dizzee is pretty great, but the remix speeds up the beat and, hell, throws ten new MCs on for fun. The chemistry is palpable - the video with everyone larking around in the studio makes it even more apparent. More group efforts like this please!

33. Miss Modular - Reflector Pack (8 Bar)

After PC Music, our favourite new label this year was Her Records. Drawing on everything from grime to ballroom to Jersey club, they put out killer releases from Sudanim and CYPHR, but Miss Modular's 'Reflector Pack' was the MVP. We've gone for the 8 Bar, but the 4/4 version is great too.

32. The Bug - Dirty (feat. Flowdan)

The Bug, aka Kevin Martin, teams up with his most frequent collaborator for this rowdy dancehall tune. Capping off the excellent Angels & Devils album in style, a chorus of muted horns surround Flowdan as he reels off menacing bars like "Someone's gonna get fucked up again so mark these words with a fountain pen."

31. Rustie - Attak (feat. Danny Brown)

The pair's previous collaborations gave us just a hint of what to expect. Rustie's beat is a masterclass in tension and release, while some of Danny's funniest lyrics ("whipping out that Black & Decker / putting lean in my Dr Pepper") are obscured by his frenetic double-time flow. An easy album highlight, Danny and Rustie got the game on lock like they changed the keys.



30. Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj - Bang Bang

A proper team effort, with everyone bringing their own style to the track. Nicki momentarily threatens to steal the show with her verse, but then Jessie absolutely nails those high notes going into the last chorus. Hit of the summer.

29. iLoveMakonnen - Club Goin Up on a Tuesday

Drake's valuable co-sign helped to draw attention to Atlanta's newest breakout artist, but Makonnen ultimately won our hearts with his relatable, everyman lyrics. Sonny Digital's woozy beat helped to ensure that Tuesday nights will never be the same again.

28. SOPHIE - LEMONADE

The bane of dull techno-bloggers, LEMONADE more than earns its all-caps treatment. It had been floating around in mixes for ages, but its release this summer spawned a hundred think-pieces about the new pop underground. The sound design is impeccable - the future is fizzy.

27. DJ Rashad - We On 1

Released just days after Rashad Harden's sudden passing, the bleak turn-up mantra of 'We On 1' will be forever tinged with a note of sadness. The track takes his usual production trademarks - heavy bass, 160bpm juke rhythms, an incongruous Steely Dan sample - and executes its ideas perfectly. RIP the footwork king of Chicago.

26. Ariana Grande - Problem (feat. Iggy Azalea)

No matter that the horns seem ripped straight from this or even this, 'Problem' is an undeniable kiss-off. Grande is on top form - seriously, she has one of the strongest and most versatile voices in the charts right now. Oh, and the whispered hook comes courtesy of an uncredited Big Sean...

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Best Tracks of 2014: 100-51

The most fun list to put together. Sequel to Your Life presents: The Best Tracks of 2014.

Well, by 'the best', of course we mean 'our favourite'. It's important to remember that this is a pretty arbitrary exercise - there's no point spending hours debating the merits of, say, Drake at #94 rather than #95 when you could be listening to more music. Hundreds of songs were considered, and the constraints of the list format mean that many great ones missed the cut.

It's also inevitably a biased list, reflecting personal preferences - mainly indie, hip-hop, grime, and a helluva lot of tracks from 2014's breakout internet label PC Music. It's a heady blend of mixtape cuts, Soundcloud uploads and album highlights. Treat it as a taster menu from the last twelve months and you won't go far wrong. Not to mention there's some fantastic music videos buried in the links.

We've printed this first instalment without blurbs so as to be able to include more tracks. Hopefully you won't be intimidated by the wall of titles. We'll go into more detail as we run further down the numbers, but for now, we sincerely hope this list helps you discover something new that you love. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin...



100. Shy Glizzy - Funeral
99. kane west - gameset
98. Dark0 - Forever Zero
97. Dej Loaf - Try Me
96. William Skeng - Visit Me
95. FKA twigs - Two Weeks
94. Drake - Trophies
93. TRC vs Murlo - You & Me (feat. Ruth)
92. Mumdance - It's Peak
91. Real Estate - The Bend



90. Alvvays - Archie, Marry Me
89. Protomartyr - Maidenhead
88. DJ Dodger Stadium - By Your Side
87. YG - Who Do You Love? (feat. Drake)
86. Schoolboy Q - Break the Bank
85. Spoon - Rent I Pay
84. Pusha T - Lunch Money
83. Cheatahs - Geographic
82. Vic Mensa - Down on My Luck
81. Kendrick Lamar - i



80. Fatima Al Qadiri - Shanzhai (for Shanzhai Biennial)
79. Joyce Manor - Christmas Card
78. Rae Sremmurd - No Flex Zone
77. Girl Talk & Freeway - Tolerated (feat. Waka Flocka Flame)
76. Sudanim - The Link
75. Guided By Voices - Planet Score
74. ZelooperZ - Thunda Cats (feat. Danny Brown)
73. Liars - Mask Maker
72. Grouper - Clearing
71. Iggy Azalea - Work



70. Theophilus London - Can't Stop (feat. Kanye West)
69. Meridian Dan - One Two Drinks
68. Yung Gud - My Guns
67. K9 - KrudStar
66. Lil B 'The BasedGod' - Fuck KD
65. Mr Twin Sister - Blush
64. Cloud Nothings - Now Hear In
63. Dreamtrak - Odyssey, Pt. 2 (A. G. Cook Remix)
62. QT - Hey QT
61. Ana Caprix - FullBody



60. Mumdance & Spyro - Don't Get Lemon
59. YG & Blanco - Block Party (feat. DB the General)
58. Murlo - Vertigo
57. Inkke - Lego Riddim
56. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Simple and Sure
55. YG - My Nigga (feat. Jeezy & Rich Homie Quan)
54. Connections - Beat the Sky
53. Rick Ross - Sanctified (feat. Big Sean & Kanye West)
52. The Bug - Fuck a Bitch (feat. Death Grips)
51. K9 - Shottas Riddim

50-26 will be arriving shortly...

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Live Review: Just Jam at the Barbican


‘The future of grime’ seems to have become a frequent topic of debate this year. For one thing, producers like Mr. Mitch and Yamaneko are releasing ambitious album-length statements that seem to have more in common with ambient and electronica than with ‘Pulse X’. Some have written about a ‘gentrification’ of grime, which seems well off the mark given that this is just one facet of the genre. Still, it’s an interesting trend to take note of. Secondly, it’s no longer just an insular London sound – grime has permeated the music of new producers as far flung as Houston and Sydney, and more importantly, those shifts are being reflected back. A globalisation of influences is apparent in tonight’s Just Jam programme, which features performers from all over the world; from Chicago to Syria, from Norway to Lisbon, from New Jersey to London. Despite being held at London’s Barbican, a huge concert hall more used to orchestras than grime MCs, the show definitely leans towards the rowdier end of the spectrum. Thankfully, the product hasn’t been diluted, and the artists seem thoroughly unfazed by the novel setting.

“The underground brought overground, for one night only”, as the programme notes would have it. But it almost wasn’t to be, after the original event, originally scheduled for February this year, was cancelled after the police put heavy pressure on the venue. Enough has been written recently about Form 696 and the Metropolitan Police’s relationship with black and Asian music for me not to have to go into detail – this excellent documentary presented by JME tells you everything you need to know. Thankfully, the event was finally allowed to go ahead with an even better lineup – here’s what went down.

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As the lights fade, Novelist strolls on stage right to the opening beats of ‘Take Time’, his first collaboration with Mumdance and quite possibly the song of 2014. The guy is all of seventeen, and yet he commands this huge auditorium with the relaxed cockiness of an MC ten years into his career. Needless to say he tears through ‘Take Time’ before Mumdance then drops ‘Shook’, the pair’s forthcoming track on XL Records, very much in the same vein. Finishing up with two great pace-shifting freestyles, the set is over all too quickly. Novelist comes into this show off the back of being nominated on the BBC Sound of 2015 longlist, alongside fellow upcoming grime artist Stormzy – just one of many important steps forward for the scene this year. Whether Nov can find the fame that’s eluded so many grime artists unwilling to compromise on their sound remains to be seen, but his talent certainly cannot be doubted.



Drippin, a young producer from Norway, plays next. His set sticks closely to the militarised grime beats of his Silver Cloak EP for Lit City Trax. Clips from some classical hack ‘n’ slash film play in the background, the flashing rows of spears and shields acting as the perfect accompaniment to the aggressive soundtrack. Drippin’s reach is broader than grime though, drawing on the industrial Night Slugs/Fade to Mind template, and feeding in some hip-hop towards the end of his excellent set, one of a couple tonight that really make the Barbican feel like a club, however briefly.

The next performance is a real treat – grime star D Double E onstage with legendary jungle MC General Levy, and garage producer Sticky on the decks. Levy throws out copies of his new mixtape and gets the whole room on their feet for ‘Pull Up’, his new tune with Sticky. His delivery is still lightning fast as he bounds around the stage. Everyone stays dancing while D Double E runs through ‘Bad to the Bone’ (his version of S-X’s ‘Wooo Riddim’) and ‘Streetfighter Riddim’, before the pair team up for Levy’s 1994 classic ‘Incredible’, which gets perhaps the biggest audience reaction of the whole night. Big ups.



Performing alongside visuals that look like the missing link between Second Life and Minecraft, Maboku is one of a number of DJs (see also: Marfox, anyone on the Princípe label) popularising the style known as ‘kuduro’. Mixed in with house and grime influences, it’s a sound that reflects his background – Angola by way of Lisbon. And like so much else tonight, it hits hard. A great set, and a name to watch out for.

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After a short interval (an interval? At a grime show? This truly is next level) we kick off tonight’s second half with a synth jam from Alexis Taylor and Brian DeGraw (of Hot Chip and Gang Gang Dance respectively). I close my eyes as the vibe shifts from birds chattering in the rainforest canopy to sticks clattering around a tribal fire. It is, to be quite honest, pretty tedious given the energy of the first half. Not even Taylor’s giant wooden ampersand necklace can save proceedings, although the set picks up some momentum towards the end when he picks up the mic and coos over a more dance-friendly 4x4 beat. Someone kindly points out to me that this is a version of a track called ‘(F.U.T.D.) Time of Waste’ from DeGraw’s recent solo album. Despite being a fan of both bands, I won’t be rushing to check it out on this evidence.

UNiiQU3 brings the bass-heavy Jersey Club sound, with edits of some of 2014’s biggest hip-hop bangers – ‘Stoner’, ‘We Dem Boyz’, and ‘Hella Hoes’ all in the mix – but out of all tonight’s sets, it feels the least well-suited. Despite her enthusiastic presence on the mic, willing the crowd on, UNiiQU3’s set never quite translates to the Barbican space in the way that, say, Drippin’s atmospheric music seems almost to be tracing the contours of the architecture. On the other hand though, fuck that – this is pure fun, and the visuals are great too, hopping between YouTube detritus and lava-lamp Ceefax shapes.



Chicago DJ Traxman has brought along Litebulb, a talented footwork dancer who takes centre stage and wows us with his convulsions. “Take ‘em to the Chi!”, Traxman yells into the mic, his face beaming with pride in his city’s output. The frenetic juke rhythms cascading out of the speakers are undercut with a tinge of sadness – it’s still only eight months since dance music lost a legend in DJ Rashad. Traxman is one of many DJs carrying on his legacy, and we get plenty of Rashad cuts tonight – ‘Double Cup’, ‘We on 1’ and ‘Brighter Dayz’ are all warmly received, as is Traxman’s own ‘Blow Your Whistle’. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a footwork set with a live dancer, and it feels very special – although in Chicago, of course, this is simply the norm, the two having evolved together. Here’s hoping the sound that Rashad and Traxman worked so hard to shape continues to get twisted in interesting ways as it travels around the globe.

JME. Big Narstie. Preditah. Two incredible grime MCs + one shining new producer = the ingredients for the best set of the night. And that’s without even mentioning Skepta, the inevitable special guest. Between them, this lot have clocked up some serious tunes, evident from the moment Big Narstie kicks things off with ‘Don’t Fuck Up the Base’. JME follows up with ‘Serious’ and ‘That’s Not Me’, halfway through which Skepta runs out for his verse and the crowd absolutely loses its shit. It feels like a real moment, a victory lap for the breakout grime track of 2014. Finishing up with ‘It Ain’t Safe’ and ‘Too Many Man’, Skepta and Big Narstie throw out t-shirts while JME descends into the crowd and raps into some guy’s phone. I can’t stop grinning.

Omar Souleyman’s celebratory set is the perfect way to end the night. The Syrian wedding singer may be an unlikely star, but his ‘dabke’ sound ups the tempo and keeps the party going. Replete in khaki robes, a red and white keffiyeh and his trademark sunglasses, Souleyman walks the rim of the stage performing tracks from his Four Tet-produced album Wenu Wenu. His presence is mesmerising, his face unreadable. He shakes the hands of those in the front row, hands out miniature Syrian flags. The music easily transcends the language barrier, and draws a line under tonight’s firmly international character.

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Hats off to Just Jam, then, for programming such an eclectic and exciting bill, and for overcoming the event’s original cancellation – tonight was a huge success on a pretty ambitious level, and everyone involved should be very proud. Proof that the underground can flourish when given a bigger platform.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Angel Olsen - "Burn Your Fire for No Witness"


Coming two years after the wonderful Half Way Home, the buzz in the lead-up to Burn Your Fire for No Witness was that Olsen had traded out gentle acoustic songs for guitar-driven rockers. Those paying attention between albums might have heard the standalone ‘Sweet Dreams’ as the first sign that Olsen would be changing her palette. Up-tempo lead single ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ seemed to confirm this theory, feeling more suited to festival stages than campfire confessionals.

As it turns out, those folk purists pre-emptively shouting “Judas!” needn’t have worried about Olsen’s new direction. Electric guitar is certainly an important part of the album, adding dirty Southern fuzz to ‘Hi-Five’ and driving the chorus of ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’, but it’s used sparingly, with the latter song an outlier on a slow album that overall doesn’t feel too far removed from the delicate spirit of Half Way Home. The differences though, while subtle, are enough to cause a few problems.

The two albums follow a similar pattern – eleven songs, with two longer ones. While Half Way Home was slightly undone by its longer tracks, with the meandering ‘Safe in the Womb’ diverting the flow of the album’s first half, Burn Your Fire avoids this problem – the seven-minute ‘White Fire’ beguils with its warm, hypnotic texture, while 'Enemy' stands as one of her best lyrical displays.

The main problem with Burn Your Fire is that it moves too far away from the intimate vibe of Half Way Home without offering much in the way of replacement. This isn’t always the case – the new set of textures is partly responsible for two of the best songs on the album, both of which start out as slow torch songs before being lifted into something much grander. 'Dance Slow Decades' begins with a particularly vulnerable passage bringing to mind the early-‘90s slowcore outfit Codeine, before morphing into something resembling Mazzy Star’s more country moments. 'Windows' is a brilliant album closer, with Olsen providing her own angelic backing vocals over a blossoming piano-led outro.



However, more often than not, the production dulls the atmosphere rather than accentuating it, and it’s rarely interesting enough in itself to warrant the increased fidelity. The instrumentation can feel sort of anonymous, whereas on Half Way Home it was right up there in the mix, almost uncomfortably, making it impossible not to imagine those songs being played by someone. Were it not for Olsen’s singing, which remains wonderfully dynamic and unpredictable, tracks like ‘High & Wild’ (the start of a mid-album lull) might feel drained of personality. As it is, all the heavy lifting is laid on her voice, which even then sometimes lacks that arresting quality of otherness that made Half Way Home such a unique document.

To add to that, Olsen’s writing talent, while remaining strong, has lost some of its quirks. Nothing here has the unexpected turns of, say, ‘Acrobat’, and there seems to be less variation in her melodies. Perhaps it’s just that she’s no longer a new artist, but the surprise of her early material is largely absent. Occasionally, as on 'White Fire', it gives way to songs that reveal their quality over repeated listens, but half the time that’s not the case. Burn Your Fire is hardly a bad album, as there are plenty of good songs, but it’s a disappointing entry in what to date had been a pretty flawless catalogue. There's nothing as good as her previous highlights, and the album as a whole doesn’t gel particularly well. By all accounts Olsen's live show has stepped up a notch, and neither her voice nor her song-writing ability is under question here, but next time round it might be interesting to see her push them some more.


Highlights: ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’; ‘White Fire’; ‘Dance Slow Decades’; ‘Windows’

Monday, 17 February 2014

"Buckfast and Rob Ford": An Interview with PUP


So, how’s the tour gone so far, what’s it been like in England?

Stefan [lead singer/guitar]: Our London show was pretty good, Glasgow was crazy! In Manchester we had our first ever heckler in the history of this band, but everyone recognised that she was kinda off her rocker. That never happens in North America. The first couple of shows we were really thrown off by it even though it was a totally friendly thing.

Zack [drums]: There was this dude in the audience egging us on, like, you should play that song again, over and over again. Super sweet.

Steve [lead guitar]: It’s been like going anywhere else in Canada for the first time – you don’t expect a huge crowd because you’ve never been here before, and you never know what kind of reach your music has had, but people have been coming up to us every night and actually calling out for songs which is just kinda mindboggling.

Stefan: We know this guy Wade from Gallows and his advice to us was when you go to Glasgow to ask for a bottle of Buckfast on your rider, so we did that and that was one of the more drunken shows that we’ve had in a long time!

Zack: I play drums so my thing is coordination, and that night just getting my legs to work was so hard!

Stefan: There’s also a lot of caffeine in that drink… you feel invincible and that’s exactly what Wade said so he was right.

Steve: I played everything at double speed, it was great.



I thought I’d ask about the punk scene back in Toronto, I know you guys are big advocates of all-ages shows.

Stefan: We all grew up going to all-ages shows from the time that we were 15 or 16. Going to those shows made me think that I could be in a band. If I hadn’t had that opportunity, I never would have tried to play music. There’s a really great bar scene in Toronto now because all the kids we used to see at those shows have started bands. You have to be a great band to get shows because there’s so much competition. Everyone’s just pushing everyone else to be better, it’s a good community.

Steve: One of the cool things I’ve noticed here [in the UK] is that lots of the age restrictions on our shows are a lot lower than they normally are, which is really cool. Last night we played a 14+ show in Nottingham, that is so crucial. I don’t know if there were actually any 14 year olds there, but just to have that option is a really important way to make that community grow in a way we can’t in North America.


The record doesn’t come out here until April, but could you talk a bit about some of the songs?

Zack: It was a very fragmented process because we started this band about three years ago and we were just cramming material together so we could have a set to play a show, so the album as a whole is kind of a mishmash. As far as recording goes, it’s all live off the floor. You wanna feel like the energy from the show is represented in the album.

Stefan: One of the highlight tracks for me would be 'Yukon', that’s my favourite song and it’s a really different one.

Zack: It’s super dirgey and it becomes almost pseudo-metal – not to put anyone off, but it’s just super heavy!

Stefan: There are little guitar things all over the record, but this is probably the only guitar solo and Steve plays it and it’s really fucking awesome and he nails it live every time as well.

Steve: I don’t know if I did in Glasgow!

Stefan: That’s true, you played it wayyy too fast! Anyway, that song is about this super isolated part of Canada that I went camping in. There’s nothing like it in Europe outside of Siberia – no roads, no people, so far north that the sun doesn’t set during the summer solstice. If you drive straight north from Edmonton for about 16 hours, and then you hike for a couple of days and then canoe down a river, that’s where I was. Me and my sister went up there and did a bunch of drugs and didn’t see anybody for a few weeks and just popped out a bunch of crazy songs. I think Yukon was the weirdest one, and when we started playing it as a band everyone was ripping so hard. It turned into something really cool that I think we’re all really proud of.

Nestor [bass]: In 'Guilt Trip', if you listen really hard, you can hear a little bit of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Stefan: That song is about an ex-girlfriend of mine. She’s a little bitch and I just like playing it and I call her a bitch and scream my head off, it’s really cathartic!


What do you guys listen to in the tourbus?

Zack: Nothing. We hate music.

Stefan: We sit back and we stare at the ceiling and we ponder our fucking pathetic lives.

Nestor: When you tour Canada you have to do a lot of driving, so we have a bunch of CDs we’ve listened to a million times so we can’t even listen to music anymore.

Zack: On the off chance that we’re in the American South, we'll to listen to Bible Belt preachers on the radio. It’s hilarious but fucking horrible, just spouting, babbling.

Stefan: I mean, the records that we used to listen to before we started hating music were like The Bronx, Queens of the Stone Age, Diarrhea Planet, they’re all amazing bands.


What other Canadian bands should we be listening to?

Zack: There’s a band called PKEW PKEW PKEW (gunshots) from Toronto. They’ve got the stupidest but also the best band name, they also just write really great pop punk songs. They pride themselves on being super literal with their lyrics, so they’re dudes and they’re hanging out, drinking a beer, watching the football game, and there’s no poetry about it because Mike their lead singer thinks poetry in music is stupid and it should just be about what it is.


Are you guys listening to any UK bands at the moment?

Stefan: I like that band Cheatahs a lot. I’ve gotta find a place to pick their record up because we can’t get it in North America. What I’ve heard of them is awesome. And Slaves, they're the one band that we listen to every day on this tour because we’re playing with them! Slaves are awesome. These guys are raw, and they don’t have any of those crutches like big light shows or a professional sound guy, and they kill it every night.


Final question – what’s it like actually having Rob Ford as your mayor?

Steve: Haha, we haven’t talked about this in like over a week! We thought no one would care in the UK. Do people know about him?

He’s got a sort of cult presence over here.

Stefan: When all the Rob Ford bullshit started happening we were on tour across Canada. At the beginning it was so funny for us, we’d be like "hey we’re Pup from Toronto" and people would be like "crackheads!" But then as it escalated, by the end of the tour it was really sad, because Toronto’s a great city and Rob Ford is making everyone think we come from a city full of shitheads. 

Zack: Yeah, like a kinda redneck dumphouse. He’s a homophobe, he’s racist…

Nestor: …and he’s a crackhead!

Nobody here can understand how he gets away with it.

Stefan: I know, it's insane. He had all his powers stripped from him but he’s still a figure which is ludicrous. He should be in prison! He’s a terrible person and he represents our city to the whole world. I mean, I still think it's funny, but I'm equally annoyed. People don’t know about the multiculturalism of our city, they don’t know about the awesome music scene.

Well, you guys are Toronto ambassadors to the UK!

Stefan: Luckily it’s an election year so hopefully… if he gets re-elected then I will stop believeing in democracy. If Torontonians are stupid enough to re-elect that guy then we deserve what we get and everyone can say whatever the fuck they want about Toronto.