The absurdly talented James Blake at BBC 6 Music Festival in Manchester last week. Second track (6 mins in) ‘Life Round Here’ sounding particularly great. Top line-up with so many of the artists i’m loving at the moment and you can catch most of it online thankfully. Midlake (think scruffy beards and pretty harmonies) sounded beautiful and Damon Albarn unveiled some new tracks - that man can seemingly do no wrong - it was great to see Lykke Li (where has she been?), Outfit (one of my fave new bands) and Kiran Leonard (belting it out with youthful gusto) on the line-up too. Hope it was the first of many 6 festivals to come. I am getting priced out of London pretty quickly…p’raps it’s time to head north…
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I first saw Rosie Lowe a year ago at a Sofar Sounds gig and have been keeping an eye on her ever since. Her gig last week at new Hackney-central venue Oslo was a steal at little over a fiver. I was keen to finally hear Oslo’s “state of the art” sound system but wasn’t blown away by support act Andrew Ashong (in spite of his obviously gorgeous voice). Happily, Rosie and her all-female band took things up more than a few notches.
Rosie confessed she was feeling particularly nervous about her first sold-out show, but it was a decidedly polished, atmospheric performance. She had some fun in between songs with the audience and let us in on some of her songwriting inspiration (one particularly insightful child that she used to look after who questioned whether some people “rush love”).
There isn’t too much to play just yet but every track from her debut Dave Okumu/Kwes produced EP Right Thing works brilliantly live - despite some seemingly tricky layers of production to get across - and the cover of this Nitin Sawheney song was off the charts.
There is no shortage of soulful, R&B-influenced voices around at the moment but I do think artists like Rosie Lowe stand out from the crowd. I hope there isn’t too much focus on the fact that she is more than a bit beautiful and knows how to style herself. Taglines such as sultry and sexy are entirely accurate but I wouldn’t want any comments to take away from the fact that she has killer vocals, writes her own songs and has worked with some top-notch producers to create a really dynamic, classy EP.
‘Life Round Here’ by James Blake is my new jam.
The first thing that I loved about this track was the hip-hop drum beat and piano chords - a welcome throwback to moody 90s R&B - but watching him live, you really get an idea of how carefully constructed, or rather deconstructed, his songs are, as well as how dynamic his ridiculously pretty voice can be. Not sure he was my Mercury Prize winner but I cannot get enough of this song. Worth checking out the remix with his new roomie Chance the Rapper too…
'Wrong or Right' which will feature on a 4-track EP with the same name out 3rd Feb. This will be available for pre-order from today and includes my other tracks 'Spirit Fade', 'Last Stand' and a Ben Pearce remix of 'Wrong or Right'.
Get your copy here: http://smarturl.it/WrongorRightEP
Get more information on Kwabs:
1. Arctic Monkeys: AM Unlike most bands I loved when I was in my early twenties, the Monkeys haven’t really put a foot wrong. They’ve evolved as their fans have and this album is, for me, their best since the debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. They look and sound slicker (taking some inspiration from the exceptional Richard Hawley for their clobber and their sound perhaps), introducing hip-hop rhythms, R&B swagger, a touch of Motown. Lyrically Turner is as witty and dynamic as ever, but there is even more confidence and well, it’s pretty damn sexy too. Can’t wait to see what they do next.
2. Jon Hopkins: Immunity A truly worthy nominee for the Mercury Prize, my introduction to Hopkins was via his collaboration with King Creosote on another Mercury-nominated album, Diamond Mine, but Immunity is all his own work. ’Open Eye Signal’ is a monster of a track but sits happily with the more delicate ambient sounds. A carefully crafted album.
3. Arcade Fire Reflektor A lesson in slick marketing, this band has always been a little self-indulgent and they love to keep fans and critics guessing - which usually means you’re going to piss off as many people as you impress. Thankfully, I am firmly in the latter camp. James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) was brought in to blend disco pulses and Haitian rhythms with the majestic, anthemic qualities that run through all of Arcade Fire’s work. A riotous carnival of an album.
4. Outfit: Performance Dance-floor pleasers such as ’House on Fire’ and ’I Want What’s Best’ get things off to a great start, offering the kind of quality electronic pop that we expect from bands as big as Hot Chip and Metronomy. But the psychedelic ‘Elephant Days’, the serenely soulful ‘Spraypaint’ and the experimental ‘Two Islands’ which brings the whole album to a satisfying, euphoric end, prove the five-piece has plenty of other tricks up their sleeve.
5. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories This caused the biggest stir of any album in 2013. The furore was to be expected but what wasn’t certain was whether it would get panned or applauded. I don’t think it comes close to 2001’s Discovery, but even the pickiest of critics can’t deny that ‘The Dafts’ understand melodies and hooks. Highlights are ‘Doin It Right’ (with Panda Bear), ‘Within’ (sad disco robot) and of course, ‘Get Lucky’ (the inescapable sound of the summer).
6. Unknown Mortal Orchestra: II UMO bring a lot to the table - lo-fi indie, psychedelic soul, alternative R&B, hard funk - but have still managed to create a coherent album. First single ‘Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)’ got my attention but ‘So Good at Being In Trouble’ and ‘Faded in the Morning’ are UMO at their very best.
7. Midlake: Antiphon Not many bands could survive losing their frontman but that’s exactly what Midlake have done. Guitarist Eric Pulido has taken over singer duties from Tim Smith and seems to have given everyone else an excuse to explore and expand. It still sounds like a Midlake album but it is so much bigger and beefier than The Courage of Others (which I struggled with) and is all the better for it.
8. Kurt Vile: Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze My favourite thing about this album and Kurt Vile’s voice in general is that he sounds like he just can’t be arsed. Americana is probably the natural tagline but there isn’t a hint of irritating teenage snottiness or self-indulgence - it simply feels sumptuously languid, hazy and warm.
9. John Grant: Pale Green Ghosts When you read about some of the struggles that John Grant has had to overcome you understand why it is that his voice and his words are so acutely moving, even when he’s being sharply witty or swearing at you bluntly. I still think his first, Queen of Denmark,is essentially unsurpassable, but, having moved things forward a decade from the 70s folk sound that Midlake helped to create in QoD to the 80s synths in this new album, the likes of ‘Glacier’ and ‘Vietnam’ show that he is still an intense, quirky and beautiful storyteller.
10. Poliça: Shulamith Their debut was my favourite album of 2012 and this is another accomplished album. The sound is still compact and complex both lyrically and musically, once again using an array of auto-tune, reverb and other tricks to distort Channy’s breathless, bleak and beautiful vocals, but there is also something clearer and warmer about this collection of songs. Seeing them live at London’s Troxy in February - my third time having seen and loved them at a BBC Radio 6 session in 2013 and a summer gig back in 2012.