Author: astralpenguins

The A List: 3rd April

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The A List is where we round up our ten favourite songs right now. It’s been on hold for a couple of weeks, but its back with a bang. Here they are for your listening pleasure:

1. Drones Club – Hurricane (New Entry)

Straddling the fence between dance and indie, the electronic chorus soars into the sky. Every listen feels familiar – it’s rooted in an early 90s baggy feel – and yet it feels absolutely fresh.

2. Gorillaz, Vince Staples  – Ascension (New Entry)

Ascension ends up sounding like a space age gospel infused pop track; it’s a little bonkers but that’s the fun of it.

3. Billie Eilish – Bellyache (New Entry)

The outrageously young Billie Eilish has delivered a stunning piece of electro pop that seems to be about, well… murder. From the stunning production to the simple yet oh-so-effective vocals (a la Lorde) Bellyache is just a joy from start to finish.

4. Daniel Trakell – Paradise (New Entry)

The song is both speaking of a paradise that is tangible and truly beautiful in the present, but also of a place that has yet to come in the afterlife.

5. Nightdubbing – Frontline

With perhaps the funkiest bass part of 2017 driving this track along, Frontline meanders between elements of house and disco to create what would be the perfect soundtrack to a day out in the sun.

6. Todd Terje – Jungelknugen (Four Tet Remix) (New Entry)
As with Four Tet’s Opus remix, Jungelknugen refuses to go where you expect it to, but continues to delight throughout. Building synths, layer upon layer of electronic waves and some out and out hands-in-the-air moments; stonkingly good.

7. Sun Lil Moon – Bergen to Trondheim (New Entry)

This is a song that skirts ever so close to being beyond the pale. Maybe I’ve listened to far too much Father John Misty, but to my ears this is one of the darkest, sarcastic and satirical songs I’ve heard in a very long time.

8. HVOB – Deus (New Entry)

Deus starts slowly, repetitive vocals coiled around intimidating synths; then the beat drops. It conjures up feelings of space travel and loneliness; danger and claustrophobia. I like this more with every listen.

9. Father John Misty – Total Entertainment Forever (New Entry)

Total Entertainment Forever is a catchy pop song with a familiarity that comes from a sound that has produced countless hits before; it’s sure to leave foots tapping. Yet then there’s the lyrics, and the biting take down of modern life.

10. Kendrick Lamar – The Heart Part 4 (New Entry)

The Heart Part 4 chops and changes in style, and certainly suffers from the braggadocious spirit that blights a lot of hip hop, yet spending a few minutes with the lyrics of this track is hugely rewarding.

This Week Playlist

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After a few weeks off, here is the latest This Week Playlist, ten songs that are tickling our ears right now and are primed and ready for you to enjoy:

1. Kendrick Lamar – The Heart Part 4

So I confess that I don’t share the adoration for Kendrick’s work that seems obligatory for music fans in 2017. I’ve liked plenty of his work, but his status as – in his own words – the greatest rapper alive has eluded me so far. However when friend-in-exile Miceal (who I think may have given up his Catholic faith to follow the religion of Kendrick instead) messaged last Friday to say that The Heart Part 4 had dropped, I was excited to hear it. It chops and changes in style, and certainly suffers from the braggadocious spirit that blights a lot of hip hop, yet spending a few minutes with the lyrics of this track is hugely rewarding.

The whole world goin’ mad

Bodies is adding up, market’s about to crash

Niggas is fake rich, bitches is fake bad

Blacks that act white, whites that do the dab

Donald Trump is a chump, know how we feel, punk

Tell ’em that God comin’

And Russia need a replay button, y’all up to somethin’

 

2. Gorillaz, Vince Staples  – Ascension

If you’re not a fan of the Gorillaz then it might be best you skip this blog for a few months. They’re one of those bands for me: an act that can go in any new direction and make it seem like it was the perfect choice. They combine hip hop, pop and indie in a way few other bands have ever managed, and with a new album on the way, it promises to be a big few months for them. On Ascension they’ve recruited one of the most exciting men in music Vince Staples for vocal duties. The result ends up sounding like a space age gospel infused pop track; it’s a little bonkers but that’s the fun of it.

 

3. Drones Club – Hurricane

Drones Club produced two of my favourite songs of 2016 and have delivered yet another stunning record. Straddling the fence between dance and indie, the electronic chorus soars into the sky. Every listen feels familiar – it’s rooted in an early 90s baggy feel – and yet it feels absolutely fresh. I cannot wait for them to deliver an album.

 

4. HVOB – Deus

I only discovered Austrian dance duo HVOB (Her Voice Over Boys) recently but I’ve been impressed with that I’ve heard. Deus starts slowly, repetitive vocals coiled around intimidating synths; then the beat drops. I love dance music that is simple yet oh so effective, and Deus is absolutely from that mold. It conjures up feelings of space travel and loneliness; danger and claustrophobia. I like this more with every listen.

 

5. IDLES – Exeter

I blogged only this morning about seeing IDLES recently and Exeter was a massive highlight of their set. It’s full of anger and contempt; the frustration of growing up and living in a place where ‘nothing ever happens’. It somehow combines the sort of lyrical topic The Streets reveled in, matched by a raw punk aggression and elevated by a chorus that seems to satirize Britpop.

 

6. Honey Tower – Couture

Couture is the sort of industrial electro that would have been at home in the soundtracks of either the Matrix or – for those who remember it – Hackers. It’s a pretty bad ass track; rumbling, robotic and firmly underground in its sensibilities. This is my first exposure to Honey Tower, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for the German’s future works.

 

7. Sun Lil Moon – Bergen to Trondheim

This is a song that skirts ever so close to being beyond the pale. Maybe I’ve listened to far too much Father John Misty, but to my ears this is one of the darkest, sarcastic and satirical songs I’ve heard in a very long time. It seems ever so much like Sun Lil Moon has had enough of celebrities and Twitter culture and their immediate – obvious, and poorly-considered – reactions to sad events as they globe-trot around the world. Complete with canned cheering and a refrain of “Me, we, me, we, me, we, me, we” I’m still struggling to come to terms with the boldness.

 

8. Father John Misty – Total Entertainment Forever

The joy of FJM is the numerous layers through which you can appreciate his work. There is the melody; Total Entertainment Forever is a catchy pop song with a familiarity that comes from a sound that has produced countless hits before; it’s sure to leave foots tapping. Yet then there’s the lyrics, and the biting take down of modern life. Then there’s the motivation, and the questions over where observation ends and sarcasm, satire and provocation begins. He is, for my money, one of the most important song-writers around at the moment and – with his new album out next week – we should all be excited.

 

9. Billie Eilish – Bellyache

I’ve been wanting to post this for a few weeks. The outrageously young Billie Eilish has delivered a stunning piece of electro pop that seems to be about, well… murder. From the stunning production to the simple yet oh-so-effective vocals (a la Lorde) Bellyache is just a joy from start to finish.

 

10. HalfNoise – French Class

HalfNoise is Zac Farro, formerly the drummer in Paramore. French Class is from his recent The Velvet Face EP and combines indie sensibilities with a sunny uplifting – slightly disco-y – sound.

 

Ramblings: on blogging, The XX, IDLES and Secret Cinema (Moulin Rouge)

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There were four things I feared when I started Astralpenguins:

  1. I wouldn’t enjoy writing it
  2. People would react negatively to such a weird collection of music
  3. I’d run out of music that I liked and therefore end up plugging music I wasn’t that keen on
  4. I’d run out of time/energy to keep it updated.

Well the fourth of those concerns came about around the middle of March. Work, personal admin and commitments conspired to take my time away. It wasn’t that I didn’t have time to write the blog, it was that I didn’t have time to listen to music at all.

And yet, here I am. On the other side of a strange couple of weeks. I’ve had a blog post in my mind for a fortnight that I don’t really feel is worth writing in full anymore, but it revolved around two gigs I went to – with Gig buddy Matt – on consecutive nights.

The first was seeing The XX at one of their Brixton shows, absolutely smashing it. It was a total pleasure from start to finish watching that band – a band that I’ve loved since I first heard them on the radio around 7 years ago – stand triumphant in front of their hometown crowd.

I have to be honest, I was on such a high from The XX that I feared for the following night’s acts. I even considered not going. But boy am I glad I did. First, some history: one of the ways I check out new bands is from the email lists of various venues I like; they email out a list of acts who are playing soon and then I listen to the music of the bands I haven’t heard of before.

Back in the summer of 2015 I received an email from Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen advertising a band called IDLES. They had one EP on Spotify, and it was – from memory – pretty solid indie rock. Tickets were c. £5 and I thought ‘why not?’ – I even persuaded Gig Buddy Matt to come along. We were in for a surprise…

The band had somewhat changed their sound since that EP, eschewing indie sensibilities for a considerably more brutal punk sound. The audience was sparse – probably around 40 of us – and the band were intimidating. They looked like they’d be cobbled together in some sort of prison rehabilitation programme; all pent-up rage channelled – mostly – through their instruments. The lead singer jumped off the stage and paced around the audience, who visibly recoiled.

They were, in short, rather brilliant. The kind of band you need to see; full of eccentricities and chemistry, yet always bordering on an explosion. They were supported on that night by a 2 piece called John (which, they helpfully point out, is a terrible name for a band, as you can’t find them on Google). I’m delighted we spent the £5 – it’s one of those gigs we still talk about with joy and laughter.

And then late last year, something unexpected happened. Radio 1 started championing IDLES. They were getting radio play, invited in for live lounge performances … it gave them a level of exposure they’d previously lacked. And so they returned to London (Moth Club) a couple of weeks ago – once again supported by the once again excellent but totally un-google-able John) with a considerably bigger crowd.

What hadn’t changed is their spirit. The punk ethos, the chaotic live show, the humour… it was there. They were fantastic. If you haven’t seen them, don’t hesitate. This is a band who have worked incredibly hard to get themselves to this stage, and their live show is, right now, one of music’s most provocative experiences.

That was two weeks ago. Then things in my life intervened (see above). Then someone attacked the place I work, killing a policeman and four others, and injuring dozens more.

I haven’t mentioned I work in Parliament on the blog before because it isn’t relevant to the music or anything else I’m going to write about. I am reluctant to mention it now; because nothing that happened last week was about me and there are families grieving who deserve to have their loved ones at home; who were robbed of their joy by an abominable act. My heart goes out to them and I’m profoundly moved by those who came to help the injured and suffering last week.

But – as this is a music blog – I wanted to say one thing about it. Music is usually my escape from things, the place I go to for joy. Events last week left me wanted to skip music for a little while. I didn’t want to escape from the world; I wanted to come to terms with what had happened so that – like thousands of others who work in Westminster – I could, in some way, accept it and move on.

And here I am. Finding my feet again in the blogging world and hoping you’ll forgive the absence.

There is one other thing I wanted to mention from the past week. My favourite film in the world is Moulin Rouge (closely followed by Die Hard) and at the moment in London an organisation called Secret Cinema are hosting their version of screenings of the film. Essentially Secret Cinema try to recreate the magic and ethos of the film by bringing elements of it to life. My other half bought me tickets for one of their screenings (performances?) for Christmas, and we excitedly went along last Sunday.

I’m loathe to write anything resembling a review of the night, but the top line is that I thought the whole thing was atrocious. Lacking creative direction, artistic merit or a sense of how to add value to something that is already pretty much perfect, it is one of the worst cultural experiences I’ve had in London. I can only suggest – if you are thinking of going – that you avoid it. Better to sit at home and watch the film; it’s better than the second rate am-dram drivel you’ll experience at the Secret Cinema experience, and it’ll save you from shelling out for the ridiculously overpriced tickets, drinks, food and costume.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Back soon – and I promise to stick to music from now on.

The A List: 12th March

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Every Sunday we post our top 10 favourite tracks around right now on what we call the A List. It’s our chart; and it reflects the full range of musical genres and styles around.

This week’s list is heavy on the dance and r’n’b; we’re still waiting for the first few big guitar records of the year to come and hit us between the ears.

So here it is for your listening pleasure: this week’s A List:

1. Todd Terje – Jungelknugen (Four Tet Remix) (New Entry)
As with Four Tet’s Opus remix, Jungelknugen refuses to go where you expect it to, but continues to delight throughout. Building synths, layer upon layer of electronic waves and some out and out hands-in-the-air moments; stonkingly good.

2. Jacob Banks – Unholy War (New Entry)

Birmingham-born R’n’B singer Jacob Banks provides his own stunning contribution t0 the soul/gospel/r’n’b revival that is underway. With a rich, deep and powerful vocal performance, excellent production and a more modern, electronic-laced chorus, Unholy War ticks all sorts of pleasurable boxes.

3. Daniel Trakell – Paradise (New Entry)

Australian singer-songwriter Daniel Trakell provides a slightly uncomfortable listen; for all it’s Simon & Garfunkel splendour, there is a layer of mystery that hangs over the melody. The song is both speaking of a paradise that is tangible and truly beautiful in the present, but also of a place that has yet to come in the afterlife.

4. Nightdubbing – Frontline

With perhaps the funkiest bass part of 2017 driving this track along, Frontline meanders between elements of house and disco to create what would be the perfect soundtrack to a day out in the sun. It’ll certainly work on the dance floor, but there’s enough to make this an excellent listen on headphones or – ideally -at a house party or barbecue.

5. Elliot Moss – Closedloop (New Entry)

New York singer-songwriter Elliot Moss finds himself firmly in the James Blake comparison zone with Closedloop, a creeping, discomforting, electro crawl of a pop track.

6. R I T U A L – Drown The Lovers

A sparse r’n’b inspired track with elements of hip hop, this time from London-based group RITUAL . On Drown The Lovers, the minimalist backing track allows the delicate and emotional vocals to flourish. Add in an impressive chorus that’s very much in keeping with the understated but stirring vibe, and you’ve got a pretty impressive track.

7. Denis Sulta – Dubelle Oh XX (JVIP) 

Young Glaswegian DJ and producer Denis Sulta’s track  gets a reworking from his fellow Glaswegian – and stunningly good DJ – Jackmaster. Ripe for inclusion at every dance festival in 2017, this is a track that’ll get inside your head and stay there.

8. NoMBe – Young Hearts

Young Hearts is an unusual track; it could easily be classified as electro pop or r ‘n’ b. But its most baffling element is that – despite its title, luscious guitars, sensual synths and falsetto vocals – it’s a weirdly asexual track. In different hands this could have been a sexy affair, but the standoff-ish element only adds to its appeal.

9. Allan Rayman – Shelby Moves

Pointed lyrics, lurking, ominous beats and some awesome shifts in direction, this song beautifully captures Rayman’s unique selling points.

10. Brutus – Drive 3/4s (Second week; down 5)

Drive 3/4s is a stunningly good rock track; its impressive in its ambition alone, but the delivery of intricate melodies, shifts in style and epic chorus makes this track an absolute monster.

Track of the Day: Nightdubbing – Frontline

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Nightdubbing – Frontline

I’ll be honest, ever since I first heard this track last week I’ve been excited about posting it.

With perhaps my favourite – and funkiest – bass part of 2017 driving this track along, Frontline meanders between elements of house and disco to create what – to my ear – would be the perfect soundtrack to a day out in the sun. It’ll certainly work on the dance floor, but there’s enough to make this an excellent listen on headphones or – ideally -at a house party or barbecue.

There’s not a huge amount on the internet about Nightdubbing beyond them being ‘Manchester based DJs and Producers’ and it being the first release from Liverpool record shop Dig Vinyl’s new label.

Frontline comes from Nightdubbing’s EP of the same name which came out in January. You can find all eight tracks from that EP on Spotify or on their Soundcloud.

 

 

This Week: 8 fresh songs to tickle your ears

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Our Tuesday begins with the This Week Playlist, some new songs that we’ve heard a couple of times and feel need a wider audience.

It’s a bumper edition this week: one of the songs was meant to be a Track of the Week last week but I ran out of time to post it. There’s also been some really interesting releases out this week, with – yet more – pretty impressive R ‘n’ B tracks.

So here it is. Enjoy. Let the music tickle your ears.

Tall Tall Trees – Being There

We’ve featured Tall Tall Trees before on the blog, and he released his album Freedays in February. Being There is a slightly different sound to former Track of the Day Freedays; I think this sounds more like an upbeat indietronica track with a Kings of Leon style chorus.  The psychedelic infused indie folk of Freedays does make a reappearance towards the end, in – my favourite section of the track – the playful breakdown that keeps meandering off in different directions.

NoMBe – Young Hearts

This was meant to be a Track of the Day last week but time escaped me. However I very much wanted to post it, if for no other reason than this track continues to elude my categorising brain. Young Hearts is an unusual track; it could easily be classified as electro pop or r ‘n’ b. But its most baffling element is that – despite its title, luscious guitars, sensual synths and falsetto vocals – it’s a weirdly asexual track. It’s a little like watching your auntie twerk at a party (sorry about that); in different hands this could have been a sexy affair. I like this track in part because it defies my expectations I’ve yet to work out how all the pieces come together.

Allan Rayman – Shelby Moves

I’ve written more than enough about Allan Rayman for one week. I’ve been loving his dark and intriguing new album Roadhouse 01 and Shelby Moves is one of the highlights from it. Pointed lyrics, lurking, ominous beats and some awesome shifts in direction, this song beautifully captures Rayman’s unique selling points. In his recent interview with Billboard, Rayman picked out this track as the one he most connects with:

Are there any songs that you’re particularly close to?

AR: “Shelby Moves.” It explains why I haven’t been doing many interviews and haven’t been all over social media; at the end of the day, I think fans build up these crazy ideas of celebrities or musicians or the people they’re listening to and watching and I think there’s a really dark undertone to that fandom and celebrity-ness. So “Shelby Moves,” I think, explains that at the end of the day. I’m a pretty average dude with a pretty boring story, but I can write some songs and I’m very creative — but I’m not going to wow you with my background. I often, especially recently when I’m at home, am wondering, “Why is this becoming so successful?” Because at the end of the day, I would say I’m just a regular dude, so why me? I still haven’t really figured it out.

R I T U A L – Drown The Lovers

Another sparse r’n’b inspired track with elements of hip hop, this time from London-based group RITUAL . On Drown The Lovers, the minimalist backing track allows the delicate and emotional vocals to flourish. Add in an impressive chorus that’s very much in keeping with the understated but stirring vibe, and you’ve got a pretty impressive track.

Lucy Rose, The Staves – Floral Dresses

I discovered Lucy Rose through her work with Bombay Bicycle Club – who I seem to be mentioning a lot on the blog recently; I think I’m missing them – and her obvious musical charm shines through on Floral Dresses. Nailing the gentle, minimalist folk sound that Laura Marling has perfected, Floral Dresses seems to hark back to some childhood tensions, seemingly with some female authority figure. As she sings: ‘I don’t wanna wear your floral dresses, And my lips won’t be coloured, I don’t want your diamond necklace
Your disapproval cuts through.’ 
GLASS – Vulnerable

London-based duo GLASS provide this week’s dose of electro-pop. With an incredibly catchy synth part running throughout the track, the stark contrast between what sounds like a heavier Keane style backing track and vocals that sing ‘Oh she’s vulnerable, really shouldn’t be alone’ leave an intriguing aftertaste.

Savoy Motel – Western Version Boogie

Savoy Motel caught my attention in the second half of 2016 with Sorry People, one of the most ill-fitting singles of the decade. Western Version Boogie is similarly baffling; sounding a little like Talking Heads had kidnapped both the female vocalist from Human League and a glam rock guitarist. The Nashville four piece are making music that absolutely doesn’t fit the mould of what you need to be successful in 2017, and more power to them.

Michael Kiwunuka – Cold Little Heart (Tom Misch Remix) 

Michael Kiwunuka’s Love & Hate was my favourite album of 2016; a real triumph of artistic integrity and coherence combined with beautiful song-writing. The opening track to Love & Hate is Cold Little Heart, a near-1o minute epic that truly sets the tone for what is to come. 2017 has seen the track given some – drastic – cosmetic surgery to get it down to a 3 minute radio version, and a reworking from Tom Misch. I like the way he’s helped to give it a new and slightly more carefree vibe whilst keeping that stupendous voice front and centre.

Monday’s Bonus List: 10 songs we’re still loving

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As an extension of the weekly A List – posted every Sunday – here is the Astral Penguins Bonus List, 10 songs that we’re still loving but just missed out on the Sunday list.

As with the A List, the Bonus List acts as a chart, with songs appearing in order of preference. Here it is for your listening pleasure, there’s some corkers in here:

11. HOMESHAKE – Every Single Thing (Up 1; 3rd Week)

A shimmering r’n’b track with a disconcerting lo-fi meets synths dynamic. The vocals are impressive in their range and delivery, and yet it’s the cold aesthetic of the track that makes me want to keep this on repeat.

12. Cold War Kids – Love Is Mystical (Up 1; 3rd Week)

Love Is Mystical is a cracking blues-inspired indie pop record that explodes with excitement. From it’s opening piano to it’s awesome chorus, everything is a little off-kilter and distorted.

13. Stormzy – Mr Skeng (New Entry)

Stormzy is – as George’s Word on the Street column laid out on Saturday – the centre of attention right now. With Mr Skeng it’s all about Stormzy; his voice, his lyrics and his moment. He’s not one to mess with.

14. The Attic Sleepers – Leopard (New Entry)

A beautiful piece of indie-pop from Danish duo The Attic Sleepers. Straying into the kind of upbeat sunshine sound – complete with brass – that Bombay Bicycle Club mastered, Leopard will leave you feeling both vulnerable and optimistic.

15. Blood Youth – Reasons to Stay (Down 5, 2nd week) 

Melodic hardcore trio Blood Youth have produced a real balls-to-the-wall track in Reasons to Stay. A tale of a relationship ending in a complicated way, this will be an absolute monster live.

16. Sub Focus – Lingua (New Entry) (down 9; 2nd week) 

Slower and more minimalist than a lot of his other works, Lingua sees Sub Focus straying closer to dancehall and hip hop than his usual drum and bass, but it’s a banger all the same.

17. Otzeki – All This Time (Down 7; 4th Week) 

From it’s opening hum and creeping bass, it has an eerie and agitating tone, which only increases as the organ noise and vocals kick in.

18. Bicep – The Game (Catz N’ Dogz Interpretation) (New Entry)

This sounds like the kind of track that would soundtrack a video game in your dreams, where you’re driving around all night without any sort of destination in sight. It strays into some 80’s sounds, but still feels pretty timeless.

19. Electric Guest – Back For Me (Down 4; 3rd week)

Back for Me skips along with a relentlessly upbeat tone, propelled by beating percussion and one of the funkiest bass parts around. Simple, catchy and really rather good fun.

20. Pumarosa – Dragonfly (Down 6; 2nd week) 

Creating etherial music with elements of pop, indie and dance, there’s a mystique to their work that few acts achieve.