Tag: Reviews

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.

 

The A List: Our 10 biggest songs right now

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If you follow the Astral Penguins Blog closely, you’ll know three key things:

  1. Every Sunday we post our top 10 favourite tracks around right now on what we call the A List;
  2. That – as songs on the A List are limited to four weeks – there was bound to be a few changes this week as a number of last week’s A List were at that limit; and
  3. The songs in contention for the A List – those that appeared on the This Week Playlist and our Tracks of the Day were really strong this week. I mean, really strong.

With that in mind, and after a decent amount of head scratching, here is this week’s A List, complete with six – six! – new entries.

1. Jacob Banks – Unholy War (New Entry)

Our Track of the Day  on Wednesday, 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.

 2. Todd Terje – Jungelknugen (Four Tet Remix) (New Entry)
Four Tet’s journey from obscure electronica producer to master of the main stage has been one of the most brilliant and unlikely stories in the – relatively short – history of dance music, and here he’s on remixing duty for the ever brilliant Todd Terje. As with his 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.

3.  Vince Staples – Bagbak (fourth week; up 1)

Fourth and final week for Mr Staples on the A List, and we think this is one of the best records of the year so far. Bagbak is Vince Staples’s contribution on racial identity and politics. He has a lot to say and – with top level production and jaw-dropping lyrics – he’s earning himself a bigger platform from which to say them.

4. Allan Rayman – 13 (fourth week; up 1)

Another track that is in its fourth week on the A List, 13 is an r’n’b inflected track that – like a lot of Rayman’s work – doesn’t easily fall into one musical genre. The standout element of the track is Rayman’s smoky soul voice is rich, pure, fragile and honest – often all in the same note. In 13 his rasping delivery of the opening verse is formidable but it’s the quieter moments that leave you breathless; in 13 he drops his voice and almost whispers some of his hoarse, sorrowful judgements.

5. Daniel Trakell – Paradise (New Entry)

Yesterday’s Track of the Day from Australian singer-songwriter Daniel Trakell is a slightly uncomfortable listen; for all it’s Simon & Garfunkel splendour, there is a layer of mystery that hangs over the melody. It is perhaps best described using the impressive dual quality of the vocals, they are both beautiful and eerie at the same time. 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.

 

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. Denis Sulta – Dubelle Oh XX (JVIP) (New Entry)

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.

9. Code Walk, Smerz – Guess What (Second week; down 3)

This track is a collaboration between two Scandinavian duos, Norwegian pair Code Walk  and Copenhagen couple Smerz. Guess What revolves around shimmering techno beats and top line percussion. Everything about this track is ice cold. Simple and yet highly effective.

10. Destructo, E-40, Too $hort – All Nite (New Entry)

Destructo is LA based former A&R/record executive Gary Richards, who helped to bring Basement Jaxx to a mainstream audience. All Nite is an instantly-grabbing party track full of fun and frolics; it has, how to put it, more than a whiff of stoner fun about it. It’s a track that Bulldozes the line between hip hop and dance; my only reservation – and the reason why this isn’t higher on the list – is some of the lyrics are not exactly forward thinking in their portrayal of women.

Track of the Day: Jacob Banks – Unholy War

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Jacob Banks – Unholy War 

Trends in popular music tend to repeat themselves; guitar music is ‘in fashion’ for a eighteen months or so before being replaced by hip hop, or boy bands, or whichever style it is we’ve been missing without realising.

At the moment the retro soul/gospel sound is back with a bang. Rag’n’Bone Man has been leading the charge, but here Birmingham-born R’n’B singer Jacob Banks provides his own contribution, and it’s rather good.

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. On first listen this stood out, and it gets better with every listen.