Tag: James Blake

The A List (17th March 2019) – the ten best new music tracks right now

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A new number one this week, and it’s a good one too. Everyone I’ve played it to has fallen in love. It’s ably supported by four other new entries that are well worth your time. We say goodbye to four tracks in the A List this week, as Simon Curtis, James Blake, Dave and the Four Tet Remix of Headie One (which keeps getting better with every listen) all reach the three week limit. 

1. Rasharn Powell – Warm In These Blue Jeans [New Entry]

An absolute knock out. 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. Lily Byrd – Don’t Move [New Entry]

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.

3. Headie One (featuring Dave) – 18Hunna (Four Tet Remix) [Final Week]

Gentle jangles and echoed vocals set the tone at the beginning, and it just unfurls from there. The vocals flow smoothly and there’s even room for some birdsong in there.

4. Simon Curtis – Love [Final Week]

This tracks starts off sounding like The Weeknd but then Love develops an 80s pop obsession and as a wave of synths floats across the track we end up with a hybrid between those two sounds.

5. Dave – Black [Final Week]

Fresh off a number one album in the UK, Dave’s Black is a hugely impressive exploration of racial identity.

6. Julia Jacklin – Pressure to Party 

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.

7. James Supercave – Alarm Will Sound [New Entry]

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.

8. The Chemical Brothers – We’ve Got To Try [New Entry]

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.

9. James Blake, Andre 3000 – Where’s The Catch [Final Week]

With its unsettling, murky piano and deep beat, it questions whether the love and joy that Blake is experiencing is too good to be true.

10. Makthaverskan – Demands [New Entry]

Maja Milner’s vocals make this track. There’s plenty of urgency in the musicianship, but it’s her voice that defines the song and lets it soar and sweep down. There’s something slightly chaotic and punky in the track, despite the jangly guitars. Great stuff.

The A List (10th March 2019) – the ten best new music tracks right now

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Last week’s strong top three trade positions with Simon Curtis rising to the number 1 spot. It is incredibly hard to separate it from the James Blake and Dave tracks, which are both great. Four new entries make this week’s A List, and we have two tracks on their third and final week. Enjoy! 

1. Simon Curtis – Love 

This tracks starts off sounding like The Weeknd but then Love develops an 80s pop obsession and as a wave of synths floats across the track we end up with a hybrid between those two sounds; modern r’n’b influenced pop, and 80s pop with wispy backing vocals and programmed drums.

2. James Blake, Andre 3000 – Where’s The Catch 

With its unsettling, murky piano and deep beat, it questions whether the love and joy that Blake is experiencing really has a catch; whether it’s too good to be true. For anyone who isn’t known to be wildly positive – which I think is a category we can classify Blake in, given his previous releases – it’s an understandable and relatable feeling.

3. Dave – Black

Brixton-born rapper Dave is releasing his debut album on the 8th March and Black is the first single from it. It’s a hugely impressive exploration of racial identity and the lyrics are well worth considering in full. 2019 may just be his year for the taking.

4. Julia Jacklin – Pressure to Party [New Entry]

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.

5. Headie One (featuring Dave) – 18Hunna (Four Tet Remix) 

There’s almost nothing urgent in the music. Gentle jangles and echoed vocals set the tone at the beginning, and it just unfurls from there. There’s a beat in the background, but it’s a gentle ‘nod your head’ rather than a knock your socks off beat. The vocals flow smoothly and there’s even room for some birdsong in there.

6. G Flip – Killing My Time [New Entry]

This song is just effortlessly cool. The vocals are gorgeous, and whoever produced it was wise enough to make sure they stay front and centre, but there’s some nice production touches in the background. Superbly catchy, this is pop music that you can just sit back and enjoy.

7. Chaka Khan – Like a Lady [Final Week]

Like a Lady’s production is on point. Plenty of retro vibes without feeling in any way dated; in fact this takes a funky disco sound and makes it feel like it’s totally 2019. But the reason the Penguin loves this track is quite simply because it is full of joy.

8. ROMANS – Be Fine [Final Week]

Beautiful vocals mask the depths of angst and sadness in the lyrics, this is an absolutely cracking record.

9. Yuksek – I Don’t Have A Drum Machine [New Entry]

French producer Yuksek has put together an absolute knockout of a tune with I Don’t Have A Drum Machine. It’s an upbeat disco track that effectively narrates you through its own production. Fun, retro and extremely catchy, it absolutely makes you want to dance.

10. Sigrid – Sight of You [New Entry]

A joyful four minutes of pop that could easily have been pinched from a musical. Monstrous strings swoop across the landscape, as the lyrics tell the tale of daily tribulations (“The airline lost my luggage, still got all this weight”) being overcome by the mere sight of her love.

The A List (3rd March 2019) – the ten best new music tracks right now

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Lots of change on the A list this week with 6 new and varied entries. It was hard to keep it to ten tracks this week, there’s so much good stuff around at the moment and the diversity of the music makes them hard to compare. Still, a top three of new entries and a third and final week on the A list for Fakear. Check out this cracking top 10. 

1. James Blake, Andre 3000 – Where’s The Catch [New Entry]

With its unsettling, murky piano and deep beat, it questions whether the love and joy that Blake is experiencing really has a catch; whether it’s too good to be true. For anyone who isn’t known to be wildly positive – which I think is a category we can classify Blake in, given his previous releases – it’s an understandable and relatable feeling.

2. Dave – Black [New Entry]

Brixton-born rapper Dave is releasing his debut album on the 8th March and Black is the first single from it. It’s a hugely impressive exploration of racial identity and the lyrics are well worth considering in full. 2019 may just be his year for the taking.

3. Simon Curtis – Love [New Entry]

This tracks starts off sounding like The Weeknd. Seriously, it’s a little unnerving. The sweeping falsetto vocals completely deceived my ears. But then Love develops an 80s pop obsession and as a wave of synths floats across the track we end up with a hybrid between those two sounds; modern r’n’b influenced pop, and 80s pop with wispy backing vocals and programmed drums.

4. Jessie Ware – Adore You

Produced by Metronomy’s Joseph Mount, Adore You is full of cold electronic shudders that – shouldn’t but somehow do – aid the sensual and devoted lyrics, Adore You is a pretty impressive coming together of Ware’s excellent vocals and production that really develops throughout the track.

5. Chaka Khan – Like a Lady 

Like a Lady’s production is on point. Plenty of retro vibes without feeling in any way dated; in fact this takes a funky disco sound and makes it feel like it’s totally 2019. But the reason the Penguin loves this track is quite simply because it is full of joy. It captures the dizzying joy and elation when you meet someone who sets your heart on fire.

6. ROMANS – Be Fine 

Halfway through the second verse London-based artist ROMANS sings ‘How I wished we could turn back time’, which feels particularly fitting given the classic soul vibe he’s producing in this monster single. Beautiful vocals mask the depths of angst and sadness in the lyrics, this is an absolutely cracking record.

7. Tarantina – Heal [New Entry]

Delicate and fragile vocals barely hover above piano. There’s an almost claustrophobic sense of pain, as she repeats over and over ‘its hard for me to heal’. Tarantina will soon be hosting her first headline show at the Slaughtered Lamb in London, and you should check it out.

8. Headie One (featuring Dave) – 18Hunna (Four Tet Remix) [New Entry]

There’s almost nothing urgent in the music. Gentle jangles and echoed vocals set the tone at the beginning, and it just unfurls from there. There’s a beat in the background, but it’s a gentle ‘nod your head’ rather than a knock your socks off beat. The vocals flow smoothly and there’s even room for some birdsong in there.

9. Fakear – Nausicaa [Final week]

Listening to Nausicaa you’re transported away to a forrest, far from everyday life and surrounded by intrigue.

10. Blood Youth – Nerve [New Entry]

Yorkshire rockers Blood Youth released their second LP earlier this month, and Nerve is one of the tracks on it. Full of disgustingly large guitars that’ll knock your false teeth out, there’s menace in this track from the opening notes. It brings to mind the kind of rock that I loved in the early 2000s, notably Korn and Rammstein. Great stuff lads.

Track of the Day: James Blake – Where’s The Catch

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James Blake, Andre 3000 – Where’s The Catch 

The Penguin recently reviewed James Blake’s latest album, Assume Form. It’s an album that benefits from repeated listens, and helped to clarify the quality of some of the songs on the album.

The track that most obviously shone following repeated listens is the collaboration with Andre 3000, Where’s The Catch. Although it’s not obviously a single release compared to other Assume Form tracks, it really anchors the album and gives an otherwise generally upbeat album a gritty and striking moment.

With its unsettling, murky piano and deep beat, it turns the positives of the album on their head and questions if this really is too good to be true. Whether the love and joy that Blake is experiencing really has a catch; whether it’s too good to be true. For anyone who isn’t known to be wildly positive – which I think is a category we can classify Blake in, given his previous releases – it’s an understandable and relatable feeling.

Add in a sweet verse from Andre 3000 and you end up with a track that sounds good and makes you think.

ALBUM REVIEW: James Blake – Assume Form

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James Blake – Assume Form 

There are certain acts who always create intrigue when they release new material and James Blake is most definitely one of those artists. Whilst the falsetto vocals, electronics and intriguing beats are omnipresent in his work, his growth as an artist has seen him span genres and become as popular in the hip hop world as he is within the indie crowd that originally supported him. In a remarkably understated and underground way, he’s become an essential part of twenty-first century music.

The Penguin has been a fan since 2011, but was hugely disappointed by 2016’s The Colour In Anything, which was overly long and lacking in substance for his aquatic tastes. [Although it should be noted he wasn’t alone in 2016 in producing overly long, unimpressive albums: I’m looking at you Frank Ocean].

Last month Blake released Assume Form, and it has been on pretty steady repeat here ever since. For anyone who has listened to the album, it’s apparent that this is a very different James Blake; he is in love and – largely – a happy chappy. From the opening title track, it’s obvious he can barely believe his luck “When you touch me, I wonder what you would want with me” and the piano and soaring strings mirror his wide-eyed wonder. It’s a little soppy and slightly meandering start, but it begins our journey into Blake’s psyche.

Assume Form has a number of collaborators that help to elevate the album. Mile High, featuring Travis Scott, benefits from some superb production with the tinkering beats always teasing the ear, and the two voices mesh together nicely. Tell Them, a tale of regret about one night stands, is possibly a little overdone on the production, but Moses Sumney’s voice really shines. Barefoot in the Park with ROSALIA has been well covered on the blog is simply exquisite and continues the story of love woven throughout the album.

But it’s the collaboration with Andre 3000 – Where’s the Catch – that most rewards repeat listen and really anchors the album. With its unsettling, murky piano and deep beat, it turns the positives of the album on their head and questions if this really is too good to be true. It’s a dark moment cleverly placed within the album. And in truth it slightly saves the album, because the preceding two tracks – Can’t Believe The Way We Flow and Are You In Love? – are clearly the weakest on the album. The former is full of scatters of sound that never settle, and lyrically loses both the subtlety and quality that succeed elsewhere.  With Are You In Love?,  the vulnerability is there, but it feels meandering and slightly unnecessary.

Power On also jars slightly; it’s hard to know if we should be delighted for the person singing and appreciate their evolution into love, or whether they remain quite selfish company. Last year’s release Don’t Miss It also makes an appearance, a song with admirable emotional honesty but lacking in musical quality.

But there are other musical highlights intertwinned. Into The Red feels like it has a baroque arrangement involved and brings the strings back to centre stage. It’s an incredibly moving track in which he acknowledges a debt much greater than – but certainly not excluding – money. I’ll Come Too feels like Blake has hijacked a touring musical and appropriated its biggest number for his own. There’s a classic melodious pop song in there, but Blake gives it his own spin. And Lullaby For My Insomniac gives an almost choral ending to the album.

Assume Form is an enjoyable journey for the listener, with a central theme and some exquisite moments of musical genius. There are a few duds in there as well, but they’re generally well masked by how the album evolves around its thematic core. On that note, your tolerance for the album will largely depend on how much you can cope with Blake’s new-found happiness. The Penguin is also slightly in love with his other half after recently getting into The Good Place, so is happy to forgive, but others may struggle given how open and on-point the lyrics are at points.

At 48 minutes the album still feels a little baggy – lose two songs and we could be talking about a masterpiece – but its probably Blake’s finest album to date and shows yet more evolution. If anything, the intrigue will be even higher when his next release comes out.

7.5/10 

The A List (10th Feb) – the best 10 new songs in the world right now

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This week’s Astral Penguins A List has four new entries, but last week’s entries continue to dominate the top of the chart. The tracks by the Plastic Mermaids, Dua Lipa and Gary Clark Jr. are truly exceptional and likely to feature highly in the end of year top 50. This is the last week for the James Blake track as it reaches its three week limit. 

1. Plastic Mermaids – Floating in a Vacuum 

My favourite track of 2019 so far. From the orchestral introduction to the playful synths, this is a track that grabs your attention. But it’s the vocals and the chorus that really gets me. There’s something deeply sad and realistic living within the simple words, well beyond the alien visuals and space vibes.

2. Dua Lipa – Swan Song 

For my money, this is the best Dua Lipa song since 2015’s Be The One. From the tribal percussion and vocal snippets, this is a song of defiance and power “this is NOT a Swan Song”.

3. Gary Clark Jr. – This Land 

This Land is venomous. You can feel the frustration and anger pour out of every single note. The video is superb. The lyrics are hard-hitting and personal. And the energy is off the chart.

4. The Cinematic Orchestra – A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life 

Featuring the unmistakable vocals of long-term collaborator Roots Manuva, A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life is an emotional journey that only gets better with every listen. “Why would you hide from yourself, Belief is here to f‌ind you” Manuva sings, over the soaring sonic landscapes underneath.

5. Sunflower Bean – Fear City [New Entry]

Fear City has an assured  swagger. It sounds timeless; it could easily have been made in the 1990s or the 1970s, and it takes the essence of Veruca Salt and Joan Jett (and many other pioneers) and simply builds on that legacy. The guitars subtly drive the track, the chorus is instantly familiar and ready to be sung by audiences everywhere, and the underlying message is of empowerment and breaking away from fear.

6. Jenny Lewis – Red Bull & Hennessy 

Jenny Lewis has returned with her first single in five years and it is giving me seriously good Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks/Lyndsey Buckingham vibes – possibly with a little dose of Kate Bush thrown in towards the end – which is just about the highest compliment I can give.

7. James Blake, ROSALIA – Barefoot In The Park [Final week]

There’s something magical about the track. It feels so enticing, but never quite real. You don’t want to move in case the spell is broken.

8. Anna Clendening – Dead End [New Entry]

Sometimes pop music can be devastating. Sometimes lyrics just jump out of a song and into you, where you feel every emotion the songwriter felt. North Carolina native Anna Clendening has penned some masterful lyrics for Dead End. Simple, effective, devastating. The sense of guilt, the shame the desire to be stronger – better – shine through in every line.

9. Lil Peep, iLoveMakonnen, Fall Out Boy – I’ve Been Waiting [New Entry]

It’s a summer song through and through, with breezy instrumentation and laid back vocals. I particularly like Patrick Stump’s vocals and the pre-chorus refrain from Lil Peep, which is just drawled vocals at their finest.

10. Tarantina – Hunter [New Entry]

An incredibly assured track where everything feels essential. The drama and intrigue only grows with every listen.

 

 

 

This Week Playlist (5th Feb): 7 corking 2019 releases to light up your week

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Soccer Mommy – Be Seeing You

21 (!) year old Sophie Allison (aka Soccer Mommy) dug back into her archive last week by  releasing a demo of Blossom from her 2018 album Clean along with Be Seeing You, a b-side that was only previously available physically. I really like the fuzzy vocals and melancholic tone. It’s all very lo-fi but the melody will absolutely get stuck in your head.

Billie Eillish – bury a friend 

bury a friend is yet another winning track from this ridiculously talented young lady. With a pounding beat, creeping synths and distorted vocals, there’s a constant sense of menace and urgency. I cannot wait for the album.

Tarantina – Hunter

According to her website “TARANTINA is a self-taught singer, producer and videographer who creates dark polished pop within the confines of her home studio in Camden Town.” Hunter is certainly dark and it’s most definitely pop, but it’s also an incredibly assured track where everything feels essential. The drama and intrigue only grows with every listen.

Martha – Love Keeps Kicking 

Love keeps Kicking takes me back to the pop punk tracks that I dined out on in my teenage years. Simple effective melody? tick. Catchy chorus? tick. Fun guitar bits? tick. (if I were more computer savvy, I could probably have used a tick graphic, but no such luck). This is what summer should sound like, and if you aren’t humming and foot-tapping away on the second listen then there’s nothing I can do to help you. Martha are from Durham (although I swear the singer has a Scottish lilt) and have a new album out on the 5th April.

Vera Blue – All The Pretty Girls (Mahogany Sessions)

I’m a big fan of Vera Blue’s work and I really like this new and stripped back version of 2018 single All The Pretty Girls. It strips away all of the production from the original and leaves a delicate guitar and Vera’s luscious and vulnerable voice. In my humble opinion, it runs rings around the original.

ViVii – And Tragic

And Tragic has enough melodrama and tension to make Lana Del Ray cast jealous glances. At times it feels grandiose but then it dips out, like a fading dream. I really like the twin vocals and the guitar is a constant star, but by the end of the track you really have no idea where you’ve just been.

James Blake, Travis Scott, Metro Boomin – Mile High 

One of the highlight’s from Blake’s recent album Assume Form, Mile High is just a great blend of top notch beats, the silky smooth flow of Scott and Blake’s soaring falsetto.