Author: astralpenguins

The A List (24th March 2019) – the ten best new music tracks right now

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No change at number 1 this week but five new entries, which isn’t that surprising given four tracks reached their time limit last week. Rasharn Powell continues to sound immaculate, but the Jamie Jones/Teddy Pendergrass track is an early contender for dance track of the year.  We lose only one track this week due to the three week time limit, the excellent Pressure to Party by Julia Jacklin. 

1. Rasharn Powell – Warm In These Blue Jeans 

Everything in Warm In These Blue Jeans oozes class and style. The laid-back groove kicks in immediately, the silky smooth vocals follow. There’s some lovely electronic touches and counter vocals, and the chorus feels majestic. “If I had wings, I would touch the sky” he sings, and we can feel ourselves soaring with him. The extended outro is also a winner.

2. Teddy Pendergrass – Life Is A Song Worth Singing (Jamie Jones Remix) [New Entry]

Tuesday’s Track of the Day, this is a truly wonderful remix that can brighten up any day. Every time I listen to it I end up smiling and wanting to dance. It starts with the teasing synths, but from there it throws in all sorts of wildcards. Teasing hi-hats, cowbells, trumpets. They all make an appearance. And the vocals help to keep the track grounded whilst all the chaos happens around them.

3. The Twilight Sad – Girl Chewing Gum [New Entry]

Wednesday’s Track of the Day and from the album I reviewed this week, this track has really stayed with me. Lyrically it uses the same lines on repeat, but when you consider what those lines say, it really hits home. These are accompanied with swirling guitars and feedback, which provide the unsettling backdrop. The slightly shouty chorus is accompanied by a guitar part that viciously cuts through the record and into your soul. Even the hint of solace after the chorus is snatched away as the track becomes claustrophobic.

4. Lily Byrd – Don’t Move 

From her Number EP released in January, New Hampshire’s Lily Byrd does something rather magical with Don’t Move. It is simultaneously familiar, sad, and hypnotic. The gentle strumming of the guitar and soft vocals are beautiful, but the distorted saxophone (at least I think its a sax) keep disturbing the slumber of the track, the paralysis of sadness that the song speaks of. “Hypnotised by a lack of love” she sings at the end, and you realise you’re living every heartbeat with her.

5. Julia Jacklin – Pressure to Party [Final Week]

The Penguin has to be honest, lyrically this may well be my favourite track of the year so far. It is just so brilliantly constructed and hard-hitting. It makes you sit up and take notice.

6. James Supercave – Alarm Will Sound 

Gentle sweeping electronics, a pace that feels gentle but is deceptively quickening, vocals that feel a little jarring until you realise how perfect they are. This is a really solid effort, superbly catchy and a very welcome return.

7. The Chemical Brothers – We’ve Got To Try

With a stunning return to form, We’ve Got to Try sounds like an old soul record that has been bastardised (in a good way), because that’s exactly what it is. Taking The Halleluiah Chorus’s I’ve Got To Find A Way and giving it some electronic rocket boosters, this is a very funky track that sounds like they’re dipping into some of their earlier works.

8. Peer Kusiv – Tundra [New Entry]

German music producer Peer Kusiv’s latest EP came out in early February, and this is the title track. Full of shifting sounds – both the bass line and top end melody constantly evolve throughout the track – this is an expansive track that sounds great on headphones in the dark.

9. Tones and I – Johnny Run Away [New Entry]

Tones and I is a singer hailing from Byron Bay Australia and this is her debut release. The song was inspired by her best friend coming out to his dad when he was younger, and in Johnny Run Away she speaks of young love and the negative reaction that receives from those that are meant to love unconditionally. I don’t know whether the title is a reference to the classic Bronski Beat track Smalltown Boy, but it certainly deals with the same theme of a young man feeling isolated by his sexuality.

10. Grand Pax – Lapse [New Entry]

From the opening note Lapse feels claustrophobic. With a beat in the background that sounds heavily inspired by Darth Vader, the close and dense electronics are matched by the vocals until the chorus, when Grand Pax’s voice is allowed to shine. This doesn’t feel a million miles away from the kind of music that Massive Attack produce.

The Twilight Sad – IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME

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The Twilight Sad – IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME

In January Scottish rockers The Twilight Sad released their fifth album. The Penguin was particularly excited to hear it given the lead single from the album was his favourite track of 2018, but not even that really prepared him for the totality of this album. It’s an album that merits – and really needs – repeated listens to understand the sheer scale of ambition and emotional depth the album contains.

The band toured extensively with the Cure and it is easy to hear their influences throughout the record. This is not an upbeat record, as the album title strongly hints at, and it may be that your tolerance for sadness dictates how much you enjoy this album. 

Instead it is a journey of pain, insecurities – riddled with contradictory lyrics “And he won’t leave us alone, And please don’t leave me alone, I don’t know who to trust, Don’t let me do my worst” and anguish, with the lyrical pain amplified by the wall of despair that builds in almost every song.

James Graham’s voice is one of the finest things in music. His Scottish lilt adds an effortless poetry to their sound, his lyrics sound all the more striking because of it. But every instrument is pulling in the same direction here; this is a special album because it’s that oh so rare musical moment when a band are delivering exceptional songs and everything feels essential. The guitars and keys in particular elevate the album into something truly meaningful; walls of tormented noise leave you with little room to breath at key moments throughout.  

[10 Good Reasons for Modern Drugs] starts the album off as it means to go on. “Why can’t you remember me?” Graham sings in anguished tones over a wall of noise that sounds deeply unsettled and shifting. The accusatory nature of Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting (“I caught you kissing in the back stairs’’) veers between angry and almost child-like excitement (“I know something you don’t know”). The Arbor feels like a missing classic from the Smiths, with the addition of the swirling echoed vocals that stick around for a deeply unsettling outro. 

VTr is one of the finest moments on the album. Musically more radio friendly than many of the tracks, the softer indie edged mask the brutal honesty of the lyrics (“There’s a monster inside of you, Someone that you never knew, And someone that we didn’t choose”). I/m Not Here [Missing Face] is the band’s finest song to date, and a genuine modern classic. To capture so much despair and tension in five minutes is astounding. 

Auge/Maschine is just a cyclone of accusations “I can’t believe you hit me, I don’t know where to go” and almost oppressive tension, the guitars piercing your ears like the lyrics pierce your soul. Keep It All to Myself speaks of shame, regret and frustration “You put up with me and the love that you see, You deserve so much more” and Girl Chewing Gum is the moment when it all becomes too much “Put me in the ground, I don’t want to be here anymore”. I cannot think of another sequence of songs as emotional raw as these three. 

There’s a couple of weaker moments on the album. Let/s Get Lost struggles to follow the previous sequence of songs and Sunday Day13 feels like we’re covering ground we hear elsewhere on the album, but both are perfectly fine songs. And the album closes with Videograms, which feels like a moment of reflection, musically delicate but lyrically questioning (“Is it still me you love?”) 

Somewhat fittingly, the final words on the album are “I’m Not Sure”. I don’t think the listener is either, the album is only sneaking a glance into Graham’s tortured soul, where pain and contradictions compete for attention. The urge to want to give him a hug crosses my mind every time the album finishes. It must have been so difficult to write these songs and to share this level of honesty. That he has done so and made something so special with those feelings will, we can only hope, give him some joy.

It’s rare to hear a ‘bloke’ – meant in the nicest possible way – open up so much. Where I grew up I was surrounded by northern working class men and they generally didn’t acknowledge feelings, for fear of seeming weak, confused or because they didn’t know how people would respond. It’s a toxic culture where drink masks pain and steam builds up without having anywhere to vent. That Graham is living in a similar culture and allows that steam to form the spine of this album fills me with admiration and gives me hope that maybe things can change. Lots of songwriters can speak of love or heartbreak, but how many let you peer into their soul when they’re genuinely struggling to make sense of the world and their place in it?

This album is an absolute triumph. It may not match the commercial successes of other artists this year, but artistically few will being together an album so coherent, ambitious and brave. You feel all of the raw emotions that Graham’s lyrics give you, and his vocals really are the star turn on the album. But they’re not alone in being exceptional. Those lyrics hit you because they’re surrounded by the emotional instability he feels, only we hear it as backing music. 

It feels a little early to be talking about albums of the year, but someone’s going to have to produce something astounding to steal the annual crown from the lads from north of the border. 

9/10 

Track of the Day: Tones and I – Johnny Run Away 

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Tones and I – Johnny Run Away 

Tones and I is a singer hailing from Byron Bay Australia and this is her debut release. The song was inspired by her best friend coming out to his dad when he was younger, and in Johnny Run Away she speaks of young love and the negative reaction that receives from those that are meant to love unconditionally.

It’s a quirky – and oddly moving – track that reminds me of some of the earlier songs from Marina and the Diamonds (it may be the quirky voice). I don’t know whether the title is a reference to the classic Bronski Beat track Smalltown Boy, but it certainly deals with the same theme of a young man feeling isolated by his sexuality. 

Track of the Day: The Twilight Sad – Girl Chewing Gum

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The Twilight Sad – Girl Chewing Gum

In recent weeks I’ve been listening to The Twilight Sad’s IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME a lot to try and bring together a review. It’s not an easy record from which to distill my thoughts into a blog post; musically it’s incredibly accomplished but the lyrics detail such pain and raw emotional honesty. Given the album came out in January and I’ve had it on rotation pretty much ever since, I don’t think it’s a massive spoiler to say its my favourite album of the year so far.

The lead single from the album (I’m Not Here [Missing Face]) was my favourite track of 2018 and it’s an album with several highlights, but one track that has really stayed with me is Girl Chewing Gum. Lyrically it uses the same lines on repeat, but when you consider what those lines say, it really hits home:

I’m leaving now
Won’t see you again
I’m leaving now
Won’t see you again

Put me in the ground
I don’t wanna be here anymore

These are accompanied with swirling guitars and feedback, which provide the unsettling backdrop. The slightly shouty chorus is accompanied by a guitar part that viciously cuts through the record and into your soul. Even the hint of solace after the chorus is snatched away as the track becomes claustrophobic.

In recent weeks the band’s YouTube channel have been uploading song-by-song explanations with the lead singer James Graham. Although they haven’t reached Girl Chewing Gum yet, I’d highly recommend the series as a way of gaining an insight into the background of the album. The way he speaks of the pain he’s channeling in the songs is really remarkable and very moving. And he also goes some way to explaining the somewhat odd track names that they use.