Tag: The XX

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

logomakr_6gasea

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 Bonus List

logomakr_6fbm4k

As a special Friday bonus here is the Bonus List – the extension of our weekly A List (posted every Sunday) and another chance to showcase some of the other songs we’re still really liking right now.

[If you’re particularly interested, I set out how it works in last week’s debut; if not, just read on and enjoy the music] 

There are some cracking songs on here; the first seven weeks – or so – of 2017 have been rather kind to music fans. So here we go, here are 11-20 in our current chart.

 

11. The XX – Dangerous (fourth week; up 2) 

A tremendous statement of intent to kick off new album I See You. Every time I hear the opening notes I can’t help but smile at the joys this track – and the album – provide.

12.  Mixhell, Joe Goddard – Crocodile Boots (Soulwax Remix) (third week; down nine) 

A five minute industrial revolution full of dancing percussion samples and snippets.

13. Magana – Pages (new entry)

Twinged with sadness, Pages is the end of a story which seems to have come to an abrupt and not entirely mutual ending.

14. The XX – Performance (third week; up two) 

A heart-dropping, mournful and gripping track that finds The XX back on familiar ground. Romy’s vocals are – as usual – emotional in a way so few other singers can manage.

15. POOLCLVB – Waiting for You (new entry)

Waiting for You sounds very much like the child of the nu-rave scene, with memories of Delphic and Klaxons coming flooding back.

16. Stage Van H – Orange Beach – Marko Melo Remix (fourth week; down four) 

Orange Beach has a top-line that constantly teases you; dangling melodies and noises but withdrawing then before you get too comfortable and drawing your ears and imagination back to its dynamic underbelly.

17. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Sleep Drifter (new entry)

Sleep Drifter is the musical equivalent of being awake for 48 hours; everything is there but you’re not sure you can piece it all together.

18. Father John Misty – Ballad of the Dying Man (new entry)

On the Ballad of the Dying Man, Father John Misty has found himself back at his mischievous best.

19. Tall Tall Trees – Freedays (third week; down four) 

Sounds like a product of vast and hazy country landscapes, and would comfortably sound at home alongside records by Fleet Foxes and Jonathan Wilson.

20. Tourists – Masquerade (new entry)

Synths, bass, guitars, drums and vocals come together like the five Power Rangers to create a grand and ambitious record that sounds both fresh and vintage.

The Dream Festival 2017

dream-festival-graphic-1

One of my favourite parts of the summer is going along to various music festivals. The live music industry thrives in – indeed it makes – the summer and it seems that almost every weekend there’s a major event happening somewhere in the UK.

Since I started the blog I’ve wanted to write a lot about festival line-up announcements and – on some occasions – haven’t been able to resist. But rather than simply commenting every time a few new bands are announced, I’ve decided to turn this into an entirely geeky and structured exercise.

Introducing the Dream Festival 2017. This isn’t a real festival, it lives only in my mind and on this blog. But it gives me a chance to select my own fantasy line up and to discuss the acts that are touring the various festivals this summer.

Over the next few months I’ll populate the festival line up graphic above with the bands that I think are the most exciting/appropriate/amazing. I appreciate that this is a fool’s errand; no festival line up ever pleases everybody, but I will do my best to explain why I choose the bands I do, and also to flag up the others that I’d love to see (oh, and those I’d avoid at all costs).

As always, I’ve set myself some rules for the exercise. The festival will be 3 days long. It has three stages. Main stage, new music/second stage, and a dance tent. The bands/acts have to be touring – and playing festivals – this year. Bands can’t be booked wildly out of place (Kings of Leon cannot open the new music stage, that’s just silly), but other than that, we’ll be ad-libbing.

It will also give me a chance to flag up some trends in festivals in recent years, and to highlight some of the brilliant events happening this summer. But, let’s be honest, it’ll mostly be a chance for you to send abuse my way as you struggle to work out how I could possibly leave band x or act y out. I’m prepared for the backlash.

The first thing we’ll do is pick ourselves the first headliner. Some major festivals haven’t announced their lineups yet, so I won’t be announcing all the headliners in one go – in case someone awesome comes along later – but at the moment the list of options currently looks a little like this:

  • The 1975 (Parklife)
  • A Tribe Called Quest (Bestival)
  • Aerosmith (Download)
  • Alt-J (Boardmasters)
  • Arcade Fire (Isle of Wight)
  • Beyonce (Coachella)
  • Biffy Clyro (Download)
  • Blink 182 (Rock Werchter)
  • Bon Jovi (Rock in Rio)
  • Brian Wilson (Camp Bestival)
  • Bryan Adams (Eden Sessions)
  • Crystal Fighters (Secret Garden Party)
  • David Guetta (Isle of Wight)
  • Deadmau5 (SW4)
  • Foals (Citadel)
  • Foo Fighters (Opener)
  • Frank Ocean (Parklife)
  • Franz Ferdinand (Kendal Calling)
  • Future Islands (Green Man)
  • Green Day (British Summer Time)
  • Jamiroquai (Boardmasters)
  • Justin Bieber (British Summer Time)
  • Kasabian (Leeds/Reading)
  • Kendrick Lamar (Coachella)
  • The Killers (British Summer Time)
  • Kings of Leon (British Summer Time)
  • Madness (Camp Bestival)
  • Manic Street Preachers (Kendal Calling)
  • Mark Ronson (Camp Bestival)
  • Maroon 5 (Rock in Rio)
  • Metronomy (Secret Garden Party)
  • Muse (Leeds/Reading)
  • P J Harvey (Green Man)
  • Pendulum (SW4)
  • Pet Shop Boys (Bestival)
  • Phil Collins (British Summer Time)
  • Pink (Summerfest)
  • Radiohead (Glastonbury)
  • Rammstein (Rock am Ring)
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers (Benicassim)
  • Rod Stewart (Isle of Wight)
  • Royal Blood (Eden Sessions)
  • Run DMC (Isle of Wight)
  • Run the Jewels (Field Day)
  • Ryan Adams (Green Man)
  • Stereophonics (Kendal Calling)
  • System of a Down (Download)
  • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (British Summer Time)
  • Toots & the Maytals (Secret Garden Party)
  • Two Door Cinema Club (Boardmasters)
  • The Weeknd (Opener)
  • The XX (Bestival)

[I should point out that some of the acts are headlining/playing more than one festival, I just listed the one I got to first.]

At some point over the next couple of weeks I’ll be back with some thoughts on the headliners, and make my first choice. And no, it won’t be Bieber.

Until then…

Mark

The Bonus List: Monday 6th Feb

logomakr_6fbm4k

Introducing the new weekly Bonus List – the extension of our weekly A List that is posted every Sunday – which is another chance to showcase some of the other songs we’re still really liking right now.

As with the A List, these tracks are listed in order of preference. It’s the closest blogging gets to the charts. As with the A List, there is a four week limit for the tracks, so if it has been on the A List for a couple of weeks then it can only stay here for two. Some songs will also come straight into the Bonus List, from either the This Week Playlist or from our Tracks of the Day selections.

These 10 tracks have all features previously on the site and are all – as far as we’re concerned – really very good.

11. Dan Croll – Away From Today

A slightly disorientating indie pop track that could easily have been take from Bombay Bicycle Club’s back catalogue. It plays with the senses a little, never quite settling.

12. Stage Van H – Orange Beach – Marko Melo Remix

Orange Beach has a top-line that constantly teases you; dangling melodies and noises but withdrawing then before you get too comfortable and drawing your ears and imagination back to its dynamic underbelly.

13. The XX – Dangerous 

A tremendous statement of intent to kick off new album I See You.

14. Jaakko Aukusti – What If All Else Fails? 

What if All Else Fails? has all the icy and bare elements of any great Northern European glacial landscape.

15. Tall Tall Trees – Freedays 

Sounds like a product of vast and hazy country landscapes, and would comfortably sound at home alongside records by Fleet Foxes and Jonathan Wilson.

16.The XX – Performance 

A heart-dropping, mournful and gripping track that finds The XX back on familiar ground. Romy’s vocals are – as usual – emotional in a way so few other singers can manage.

17. FREAK – Cake

Loud, thrashy and suitably angry, FREAK hails from Chelmsford,  has bags of talent and kicks off 2017 with a bang.

18. Harlea – You Don’t Get It 

There’s a confidence in Harlea’s emotions – no vulnerability here, it’s part sassy but absolutely certain (YOU don’t get it) – but also a confidence in the song-writing. Nothing is too complicated, nothing is messy; it’s exactly as it should be.

19. Skott – Glitter & Gloss 

Glitter & Gloss is a little bit like eating a chocolate bar that you’ve taken from a communal fridge; it’s sweet and satisfying, but there’s a lurking sense of guilt and troubles to come.

20. Allan Rayman, Jessie Reyez – Repeat  

His voice is extraordinary; it elevates what is a slightly off-kilter r’n’b meets indie pop track into something very compelling.

The A List: 29th January

logomakr_0q2tab

Here’s the A List for this week: my favourite 10 tracks at the moment.

Every Sunday I post a new A List,  an insight into what I’m loving right now. There’s a strong dance feel to the list at the moment, with four of the top five representing the genre’s different forms. There are three new entries this week, and one track is celebrating a third week on the A List.

Quite simply, there’s a lot of good music out there right now. It was tough to get it down to 10 tracks this week, so I’ll be posting the B-List tomorrow – the 10 songs just below the A-List – that I’ve christened the Bonus List. I’ll also be posting the This Week Playlist tomorrow, seven tracks that will tickle your ears. I warn you in advance: it’s a strong list this week.

So let’s get to it. Here is this week’s A List:

1. The Black Madonna – He is the Voice I Hear (Non-Mover; 2nd week)

A lot of people are dismissive of dance music. The world of EDM bangers and superstar DJ’s has – over the past few years – led to a perception of formulaic dance-by-numbers tracks. But then every now and then a dance song comes along that completely changes what dance music can be; He is the Voice I Hear is one of those tracks, a rollercoaster ride with strings, jazz piano and disco-influences. It’s a masterpiece, and it rightly stays at number one.

2.  Mixhell, Joe Goddard – Crocodile Boots (Soulwax Remix) (New Entry)

This is a five minute industrial revolution. Full of dancing percussion samples and snippets, the spoken word sections only add to these feeling like it has transported 1980’s electronica and transported it to the future. It’s a fine record, and one I’ve enjoyed every listen of.

3. LOYAL – Moving As One (Non-Mover; 2nd week)

LOYAL’s Moving As One has plenty of layers that span different genres and enough musical ability to bring it together seamlessly.

4. Esther Joy Lane – Ever Ever (Non-Mover; 2nd week)

Ever Ever starts off on familiar terrain for Grimes fans, which is certainly no bad thing. But it then takes a different path; meandering between synth pop, electronica and dance

5. Bonobo – No Reason (Down 3; 2nd week) 

George reviewed Bonobo’s album this week and rightly picked out No Reason as a highlight.  Mournful vocals are matched by elegant electronic touches; it’s a claustrophobic listen that leaves you wanting to curl up in a blanket and hide away from the world.

6. Army of Bones – Don’t Be Long (Down 1; 3rd week) 

I’m still loving this unexpected indie treat. Strong pulsing guitars and a polished melody makes this a fine January listen.

7. The XX – Dangerous (New Entry)

A tremendous statement of intent to kick off new album I See You. I struggle to think of another band who have so effectively stated a change in direction and a stepping-up of their sound as The XX have with Dangerous.

8. The XX – Performance (New Entry)

A heart-dropping, mournful and gripping track that finds The XX back on familiar ground. Romy’s vocals are – as usual – emotional in a way so few other singers can manage; elevated by the strings and stripped back guitar.

9. Dan Croll – Away From Today (Non-Mover; 2nd week)

A slightly disorientating indie pop track that could easily have been take from Bombay Bicycle Club’s back catalogue. It plays with the senses a little, never quite settling. But for the ridiculously abrupt ending, I rather like this.

10. Tall Tall Trees – Freedays (New Entry)

Our Track of the Day on Thursday, this is psychedelic-infused indie folk – with a banjo. It sounds like a product of vast and hazy country landscapes, and would comfortably sound at home alongside records by Fleet Foxes and Jonathan Wilson.

You can listen to all ten tracks here:

This Week: seven new tracks to tickle your ears

logomakr_76k0fbI meant to get this out yesterday, but an unforeseen work crisis kept me in the office. Annoying, but it happens. If you’re super angry about the delay, here’s a cute picture of Max to pacify you:

Beyond these seven tracks we have three additional tracks lined up this week as ‘Tracks of the Day’, the First of which will appear this evening.

Anyway here is the This Week playlist; seven songs that I’ve given a couple of listens to, like, and are here to tickle your ears. Let me know what you think.

Naives – Crystal Clear 

It’s a little early to be predicting the songs that will send crowds bonkers at summer festivals, but I’m pretty confident anyone seeing Naives will remember Crystal Clear. Sitting in a ‘indie meets pop meets dance’ bracket occupied by Friendly Fires and Late of the Pier, this is a shapeshifting track that sounds carefree and playful.

Anna of the North – Oslo 

It’s bloody freezing in London right now, and the icy electronics of Oslo pretty much mirrors that sensation. There’s a strong Chvrches comparison to my ear, and a mournful euphoria at points in this record. It is certainly simple, but more than merits a few listens.

The XX – Performance

For the second week in a row there’s a track from The XX on the playlist. But whereas last week there was the bombastic Dangerous – a complete change in direction for the band – this week we have Performance, a heart-dropping, mournful and gripping record that finds The XX back on familiar ground. Romy’s vocals are – as usual – emotional in a way so few other singers can manage; elevated by the strings and stripped back guitar. I’ve listened to I See You a fair few times in the past week, and Performance is the track that grips my insides more than any other.

Sohn – Harbour 

There’s a lot of good things to say about Rennen, Sohn’s recently released album. I shall hopefully be blogging about it in the next few days. I was a big fan of 2016 singles Signal and Conrad. Harbour is the album closer and has an eery opening; like the beginnings of a science fiction movie. But then it begins to explore the electronica landscape, evolving into something that Caribou would be proud of. Sohn has an interesting habit of writing songs that have two distinct parts, and Harbour is a fascinating idea of what future Sohn albums could sound like; expansive, eery and electrifying.

Black Map – Ruin 

Time to shake away those wintery feelings and embrace the world of rock. Hailing from San Francisco, this trio all feature in other bands but have come together to make some stonking rock music of their own. Ruin starts ominously and has an early 00’s vibe to it. The internet (read: Google) tells me they’ve an album coming out in March, which I’ll certainly check out.

Mixhell – Crocodile Boots (Soulwax Remix) 

I don’t really know how to succinctly describe this record. A robot disco travelling in Doctor Who’s Tardis with Kraftwerk to a distant planet in the future? It’s the best I’ve got. Soulwax remain one of the most interesting acts in music and following a few years doing their Despacio  project it certainly seems like they’ve found their groove in the long-forgotten vinyls of 1982.  It’s certainly distinct and if you can get through it without wanting to sing ‘These are my rules’ then you’re made of sterner stuff than I.

Stage Van H – Orange Beach (Marko Melo Remix) 

I love dance tracks that make me feel like I’m on a long train journey, with scenery flying by the window and the sun setting. Orange Beach has a top-line that constantly teases you; dangling melodies and noises but withdrawing then before you get too comfortable and drawing your ears and imagination back to its dynamic underbelly.

The A List – the best 10 tracks around – 22 January

logomakr_0q2tabHere’s the A List for this week: my favourite 10 tracks at the moment.

Every Sunday I post a new A List,  an insight into what I’m loving right now. This has been a ridiculously good week for new music so there’s a fair bit of change from last week. I try not to be too hype-tastic about music – as the blog goes on there will be weeks when I’m less sure about stuff or periods where I feel there isn’t a huge amount of quality music – but I feel the stuff I’ve posted since Monday has been of a very high standard.

So let’s get to it. Here is this week’s A List:

1. The Black Madonna – He is the Voice I Hear (New Entry)

A lullaby for insomniacs. The Black Madonna has brought created a musical cosmic masterpiece that weaves in jazz, disco and strings. It’s a stunning record that has a hugely cinematic quality; bold in design and divine in execution. Well worth reading this interview with her from Mixmag.

2. Bonobo – No Reason (New Entry)

The Bonobo album is giving a lot of my friends a lot of pleasure, and No Reason is a real highlight.  Mournful vocals are matched by elegant electronic touches; it’s a claustrophobic listen that leaves you wanting to curl up in a blanket and hide away from the world.

3. LOYAL – Moving As One (New Entry)

Last Wednesday’s Track of the Day, LOYAL’s Moving As One has plenty of layers that span different genres and enough musical ability to bring it together seamlessly.

4. Esther Joy Lane – Ever Ever (New Entry)

I was a little unfair to Esther Joy Lane on Thursday when this was Track of the Day, as I hadn’t heard her debut EP from 2015, which is well worth checking out and has a different sound to the two tracks I’d heard. Ever Ever is a cracking song that – as I said on Twitter – gets better with every listen.

5. Army of Bones – Don’t Be Long (Down 4) 

An unexpected indie treat. Strong pulsing guitars and a polished melody makes this a fine January listen. It struck me this week that this sounds an awful lot like Richard Ashcroft’s Song for the Lovers, which is no bad thing at all.

6. Harlea – You Don’t Get It (New Entry)

Our first ever Track of the Day on the site, You Don’t Get It has a sturdy blues rock base and adds in a splash of rock and roll and a small pinch of pop. It’s confident, familiar and distinctive, not an easy combination to pull off.

7. The XX – Dangerous (New Entry)

A tremendous statement of intent to kick off new album I See You. I struggle to think of another band who have so effectively stated a change in direction and a stepping-up of their sound as The XX have with Dangerous.

 

8. Ed Sheeran – Shape of You  (Down 6) 

A straight up pop banger originally written for Rihanna. This is perfectly simple, yet highly effective. He’s still blowing away streaming and download records, and with a new album due soon, he’s could make 2017 his year.

9. Dan Croll – Away From Today (New Entry)

A slightly disorientating indie pop track that could easily have been take from Bombay Bicycle Club’s back catalogue. It plays with the senses a little, never quite settling. But for the ridiculously abrupt ending, I rather like this.

10. Code Orange – Bleeding in the Blur  (Down 7) 

A nice chunk of dirty rock and roll, with waves of feedback and a dark, menacing vibe. This is my first introduction to Code Orange, but I look forward to hearing more of their stuff.

You can listen to all ten tracks here: