Tag: Ramblings

Ramblings: peak excitement levels for new albums from The Twilight Sad, Foals and the return of Bombay Bicycle Club

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One of the exciting things about January is that every music publication gets to run two lists, the new(ish)/lesser known artists they think will be big in the year ahead and the list of more established artists that are set to release new material and albums in the coming year.

In truth, the ‘breakthrough star’ lists seem to be losing a lot of their appeal and ‘guaranteed hit’ status (pure speculation on my part, but I’d guess this decline is through a combination of how we consume music nowadays and how social media has changed how we interact with and receive information from artists directly. Plus there’s about a million of those lists now, which inherently makes them less impactful).

Similarly the album lists are often preempted by the – now very early – announcements of major festival headliners (case in point, I was discussing albums coming up with a friend the other day and he said ‘Tame Impala are headlining Coachella, so I assume they’ve got something new coming out’)

Bu leaving that aside, I could barely hide my excitement when I went through the list(s) of acts with new material this year. Two acts I really admire (The Twilight Sad and James Blake) are releasing new material on Friday. The year’s not even three weeks old and we’re getting stuff from critically acclaimed and adored artists.

The Twilight Sad 

I’m particularly looking forward to The Twilight Sad release, partly as they made my favourite song of last year but mostly because I think they suit the LP format beautifully and rarely make a wrong step on their albums.

They have done a phenomenal job on Twitter creating a buzz for the release. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band create momentum and excitement in such an organic way; they and their fans are building up to Friday as a real key milestone for an underrated band. And the initial reviews certainly seem to indicate that the buzz is worth it.

Foals

The band I was originally going to centre this post around is the mighty Foals. They went big on a teaser last week for their new material that had rock and indie fans everywhere salivating. Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost is the name of the new album, and it will come in two parts, one in March and the other in the autumn. They must have a lot of faith in the albums to give it that title, it’s a reviewers dream to have something like that if an album – particularly a double album – isn’t very good… 

I’ve been a fan of Foals since I first heard 2008 single Cassius on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 show. They sounded unusual and brilliant, and their singles became highlights whenever they were released. But the other side of the coin was that they seemed a sloppy live band. I remember watching them on TV (it was probably a Glastonbury set) and it sounded pretty rough. Yet their albums seemed to continue getting stronger, and I thought 2015’s What Went Down was a very good album – with a monster single of the same name – that was widely overlooked.

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In fact I thought they were ready for big festival slots, they were a band who had honed their live set into something wonderful – I saw them at Wembley Arena and they were absolutely fantastic – and they had enough big songs to justify top billing. Yet the big festivals didn’t quite agree. Glastonbury put them on the Pyramid stage below Muse, which I think was very much the wrong way round. Leeds and Reading did give them a headline slot, but as co-headliners alongside Disclosure. Certainly not a bad set of slots, but they deserved to be up there on their own.

And now we come to their new album(s), and I’m at peak excitement levels. The little teaser they’ve put out is impressive, and I keep my fingers crossed that this is the album that lands them on the top of the British music scene.

Bombay Bicycle Club

Speaking of fantastic bands, I lost my shit yesterday when I saw the news that Bombay Bicycle Club are back together and making new music. They were one of my favourite bands in the world when they went on hiatus (I saw their last tour three times) and I think music has missed their contributions. Seeing that they’re back together was my favourite moment of 2019 so far.

Until next time ….

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.

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.

Ramblings: On Allan Rayman, R’n’B and what’s coming up

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Regular readers of the blog will know that one of the artists we’ve been most excited about in 2017 is Allan Rayman.

I discovered him slightly by accident. My Spotify Release Radar playlist told me that Jessie Reyez had a new song out (Repeat); but I was immediately blown away by the male voice on the track and wanted to know more. It was, of course, Allan Rayman.

He’s a man who I previously described as an international man of mystery. When I first googled him, the top hit was about how mysterious he was, how he didn’t give interviews or appear in videos or chat to the audience at gigs. He released 13, a stunningly good single that’s still in the A List after four weeks, and his album Roadhouse 01 came out recently.

As part of the promotion for the album he has given his first interview to Billboard, which you can read here. It’s a great read, and helps to get you a little closer to understanding his artistic vision. But – again – there’s enough distance, enough things unsaid, that leave a hefty layer of intrigue around him.

Last week I went to see him live (with Gig-Buddy Matt) at the St Pancras Old Church. In the pub beforehand I said I was looking forward to finding out if I knew more about Allan Rayman at the end of the evening, or if he remained an unsolvable problem.

The most important thing to say is that it was a stunning gig. He possesses one of the most impressive voices I’ve come across in a very long time; its unique in its range, power and style. I’d go as far as to say the recordings don’t actually do it justice.

The second observation is that he sits across a range of musical styles and genres in a very exciting way. Combining hip hop beats, guitar parts that could belong in prog, rock, funk or electro pop tracks, vocals that range between pure power and an R ‘n’ B style shimmer. Even within the same song, he can display a range that’s bafflingly good.

My final comment is that I’m not sure I do know anything more about Allan Rayman the man behind the music. He stood in a small church in North London, illuminated by red lights, and seemed to let his satanic demons take over – especially on the newer songs (for which he’s adopted a darker alter-ego). But, even though he spoke to the audience a lot more than I was expecting, he didn’t necessarily say anything that gives us any greater insight (perhaps my favourite between-song comment was: ‘I’m not much of a talker’).

But I am more than a little bit in love. With his art, with his voice, with his style. Every now and then an artist comes along who leaves you hooked; simply wanting to know more. Allan Rayman is the latest addition to that very special list.

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Onto different matters now, and we’ve got a big week lined up on the Blog. Later today The Bonus List is coming up, and tomorrow morning the This Week Playlist will be live. I’m also hoping to get around to updating the Dream Festival, which is proving to be trickier than I thought.

Tam went to see White Lies at the Troxy last night, so I’m looking forward to reading his review of that. Similarly George is positively bursting at the seems with new albums to review, so expect one or two of those to drop this week.

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Finally, speaking of George, if you didn’t see his monthly column on Saturday Word On The Street, I highly recommend you give it a read. Covering a mind-blowing number of genres with his passionate style, he brings you up to date on everything in the world of ‘urban’ – a term both he and I hate – music for February. It’s fab. Go read it.