Monday, 18 January 2021

ALBUM NEWS: William the Conqueror - 'Maverick Thinker'

I feel a bit like the proverbial kid in a sweetshop at the moment, desperate to write posts and to share something but instead staring at a list of ideas, which, just a couple of weeks into the year, is already full with so many brilliant new releases. This one keeps coming back to me though. Quiet Life, the latest single from trio William the Conqueror, lifted from their upcoming record Maverick Thinker, due via Chrysalis Records on 5th March. The new record was writte in the English countryside and recorded in LA alongside producer Joseph Longe at the legendary Sound City Studios, ahead of March's lockdown last year. 

I've been following the band, and frontman Ruarri Joseph's solo music, admiring from afar, for a few years now. I saw the trio playing a brill show for us in Oxford a few years back. This one is maybe my favourite so far. A reflective, blues-y, rock-n-roll conversation as song, made for pub basements and festival stages alike. On the single, Ruarri explains "with Quiet Life we wanted to step outside the sound of the trio and build some walls, add some layers for this one. It's a trippy, fuzzy wander down someone else's memory lane, so we went cinematic." If the song-writing here entices you - check out the William The Conqueror podcast (on... podcast places) - it's essentially an audiobook, a reading of a fictional account of an 18 year old musician, written and narrated by Ruarri himself. 

Pre-order the new record Maverick Thinker here.

Follow William the Conqueror - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Friday, 15 January 2021

WATCH: Lokoy ft Emilie Østebø - 'a mistake'

Forgive the slight time travel, but as I was glancing through my (always growing) list of things that I want to share here, I rediscovered this absolute tune which was released back in November. It's taken from Norwegian artist and producer Lokoy's debut album Badminton, which is due a week today (22nd.) The record sounds as if it'll an eclectic exploration of pop bringing together a bunch of fresh Norwegian talent (the likes of Nils Bech, Moyka and Safario) and on this tune, Oslo-based 20-year old Emilie Østebø is blowing my mind a note at a time. 

Originally one of Emilie's own demos, she took it to Lokoy's home studio where they recorded the track with assistance from Sløtface guitarist Tor-Arne Vikingstad. Speaking about how the collaboration came to be, Lokoy said "I first met Emilie when she was playing support for Sløtface a few years back and I remember all of us thought she was the greatest support band we've ever had. Earlier this year we met in my studio together with Tor-Arne and just kept cooking on Emilie's demo. We added a ton of guitars, and some dirty bass-synths and drum machines and BOOM. It just fell together nicely."

Emilie herself shares on the lyrics that "it's nothing too complicated; it deals with the relationship between two people, the dynamic between them. Often I feel like songs are a parody of yourself. The chorus of 'a mistake' is sort of a parody of the self-indulgent things you imagine saying to a person you've just had a fight with. I wrote the melody of the post-chorus on guitar, but Lasse had the idea to sing it instead. The childish and sarcastic tone of that melody when sung perfectly communicates the petulance of the lyrics." 

Follow Lokoy - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Follow Emilie Østebø - Facebook | Instagram.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

LISTEN: Lizzie Reid - 'Been Thinking About You'

Happy Thursday, folks! Feeling in a bit of a rut (aren't we all?) while things around me and further afield are all so chaotic, so apologies for not posting so much at the moment. Trying my best to fall back into the rhythm. It'll happen. Searching through my submissions, a favourite showed up in the form of the latest track from Glaswegian songwriter Lizzie Reid. Her recent singles brought me some gorgeously delicate yet self-assured Laura Marling-esque vibes towards the end of 2020, and I'm loving this extra taste of her upcoming debut EP Cubicle, which is due out on February 10th via Seven Four Seven Six

While the previous tracks were mostly Lizzie and her guitar (the EP was recorded entirely in her house with producer Oli Barton-Wood, just before the first lockdown kicked in back in March last year) this new track is a little more raucous, and it's more collaborative, too. The guitar-led outro harks back to her past life playing in bands across Glasgow - as many as seven at once at one point!

On the track, she shares: "this is almost an appreciation song for a friend of mine. He was such a support for me at a time I wasn't feeling my best. I was going through quite a confusing time and felt guilty that I couldn't support him in the same way he supported me."

Follow Lizzie Reid - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Monday, 11 January 2021

LISTEN: Ella Grace - 'Unfree'

Here's something that I wanted to share before the festive break (sort of break?) kicked in and never got around to... so it's not brand new but more than worth your time if you haven't had the pleasure yet. Unfree is the latest single to be taken from Ella Grace's upcoming debut album Reverence, due on 20th April. It's described in the press release as an "endlessly playable anthem" and I can't agree more, having just listened on repeat several times while writing this post - previous single I Wonder is also a bit of a bop. In Unfree we're encouraged to embrace ourselves, to explore, to express, to grow.

On the new track she explains that it is "about my experience of throwing out the rulebook of what it means to be a woman in society and instead just following my own primal yearning for life and letting it lead me. This has often been met with judgement from people around me, especially in my younger years, no one was really doing things differently, there wasn't anything 'cool' about expressing yourself and there was such little support for it. I've gotten myself to the place I am today by breaking the rules of 'should' and trusting my heart's desires above those of anybody else." 

On the upcoming record, Ella shares "this album represents the end of pretending, it's a liberation for me, a becoming. Last year I fell in love with a woman and realised I'd been pretending to be someone I wasn't. In place of that pretending rushed in these very real, raw parts of me. The album tells that story, of falling in love with a woman, discovering myself again, and the surrender that comes with heartbreak." 

Follow Ella Grace - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

ALBUM NEWS: Valley Maker - 'When The Day Leaves'

First *proper* post of the year alert....! This one comes courtesy of the first release of the year that made me want to tap away at the keyboard, with some really exciting album news from US artist Valley Maker (AKA Austin Crane). When The Day Leaves arrives via Frenchkiss Records on 19th February, and first single No One Is Missing is live now. Video below! 

Talking about the track and video Austin shares "The video for 'No One Is Missing' was filmed on Edisto Island in South Carolina's low country by dustoftheground. It's a lush, isolated place. The beach where we filmed is only accessible at low tide and is full of dead trees. I felt like that tidal flow, combined with the generally surreal and outside-of-time quality of the landscape, provided a spatial and visual connection with where 'No One Is Missing' is coming from as a song." 

"I wrote the track as a way of grappling with the partiality and temporality of how we connect with one another, I guess as an attempt to collect and reflect on recent experiences of loss, love, leaving, returning, missing, etc. On that theme, while recent months of social distancing have often felt isolating, I'm continually grateful for how music and the natural world can remind us we're not alone." 

The record came about is pretty much exactly the way you might imagine after listening to this track, in a studio in the woods. After working out arrangements and harmonies in Portland and Seattle, Austin stayed in the loft of producer Trevor Spencer's Way Out Studio, creating the record together over three-weeks in the woods outside of Woodinville, near Seattle. The resulting 46-minute record offers a reflective look at our world through the eyes of uncertainty, anxiety, hope and fear, a mixture of feelings that so many of us are used to living through. I can't wait to hear & share more!

Pre-order/pre-save the new record here.

Follow Valley Maker - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

end of year reflections (hello 2021!)

Happy New Year, folks! I had intended to write and share this as a sort of 'end of year' reflection for the blog, but time ran away before I finished it... so it's a little late, but time is relative, right? I find myself furloughed (again) and with a lot of extra time on my hands, so I wanted to write a post celebrating some of the not-so-bad points of 2020. 

This blog has been a glorious escape for me this year. I'm not sure how I'd have filled all of the extra time at home without it! I love the artists that I feature here and my heart has been breaking for those who are struggling because of the mess that the past year has brought. Before indulging in some self-praise (forgive me) let me encourage you, if you're able, to support your favourite artists. Grab something from their merch stores, download their album via Bandcamp (Bandcamp Fridays are sticking around for the first half of 2021!) and stream their music to your heart's content. Go go go!

Now for some slightly self-indulgent reflections, mind-boggling stats and the like… 

In Feburary 2019, I lost my job when our HMV store closed. I wrote about it here. I had a lot of spare time thrust upon me and yet, it felt strange not to use that time to apply for new jobs and I struggled to be productive when it came to the blog. It's always been a hobby, a not-particularly-lucrative side-hustle that takes up the majority of my spare time. When all of your time is suddenly spared, it's hard to know how to use it... 

At a similar time in 2020, offering up an unwanted dose of déjà vu, I was put on furlough for the first time as the bookstore I work in closed for three weeks. Well... almost. Three months later, having barely left the house except to walk around our local nature reserve, I felt incredibly anxious about returning to the shop, and felt something akin to grief about the idea of leaving the blog behind. While the situation was far from ideal, I had known that my job was waiting for me once it was safe to return, and I've been able to spend some guilt-free time working on the site exclusively. It's always existed alongside jobs or my degree, so to have so much time for it was sort of inspiring.

At the time, I wrote on the blog - 

“With retail stores looking set to reopen in a few days in England, it looks as if all the extra time I’ve had for the blog will soon reduce dramatically [...] I’ve never had so much time for the blog and it’s been a genuinely lovely thing to see the blog grow more in the last month than it has in years. In a time where connection is so precious, the blog and the people who support it have come to mean even more than before.” 

I returned to work for a few months, fitting in the blog on days off and in the evenings, as I always have, then got placed back onto furlough in November. Through a period of about five weeks I went from annual leave, to furlough, to two weeks of isolation with a positive test in our house. We stayed put, and the blog, and music more generally, wrapped me in its warm embrace once more. I spent as much time as I could over those few weeks (well... not so much in the mornings) working on it. Particularly when we were isolating, it felt great to have something productive to do. Or to berate myself for not doing. 

In May, the blog celebrated an anniversary. While I originally started writing under the name coolmusicandthings on Tumblr back in 2012, the first real commitment to blogging came when I got myself the URL and moved everything onto the site you're on today, in May 2015. Five years! Five years of spending so much of my time writing posts promoting the artists and music that I love, new and old, with genuinely heartfelt personal recommendations. I wrote about this more at the time here but it felt wild to reach this anniversary. The blog is like a diary of my personal musical discovery. I scroll through it occasionally and years later I'm still a little like... wait, I wrote all this?! From a young age I wanted to write (I think fiction back in primary school, and later some kind of local journalism) and I've created a place to do just that. If people read it or not is sort of secondary.... yet, they do. 

You do. I think. I hope? Well, that, or the stats are lying to me. With all of those spare hours on my hands, the blog has been more active on social media and things have grown far more than in previous years. It recently hit 200,000 all-time page views, and had just short of double the views in 2020 than in 2019. For me that's huge. After the recent isolation, Twitter analytics (I love stats!) showed that profile visits were up around 700% vs the previous 28 days. It's gratifying to know that time put into the blog reflects back as growth, and I feel invigorated to achieve even more growth this year. Recent milestones online included 600 Facebook likes, 550 Instagram followers and 650 Twitter followers. The insta following doubled in the last year?! For a while, these accounts were just full of friends and family that I'd invited/begged to follow them, and it seems more and more that actual strangers are here for the ride too now. Hello!

More followers means more submissions, and there seem to be a LOT of people wanting a slice of the action now, and it's constantly growing. Weekly submissions almost doubled this year, from around 120 when I checked at the start of the year and around 210 recently. Considering that the blog is just me and that I (usually) have a full time job and aim to post about 5 times a week, 200 weekly submissions is kind of crazy. 

For the 'anniversary' I'd started to make big plans (in my head, mostly) - I was hoping to organise some kind of charity gig, with a line-up of a few of my favourite artists, in one of my favourite venues. Luckily, nothing was planned so nothing had to be cancelled, but I hope that I'm able to organise something along those lines in the future. Club nights, anybody? I still wanted to recognise the anniversary and asked a bunch of my favourite artists and friends of the blog if they might want to record a little session for a new Youtube channel I was thinking of setting up for the blog. To my utter amazement, many obliged. A few videos never materialised but I had no desire to put pressure on anybody while so much was going on in the world. I ended up sharing 6 magnificent videos from a bunch of talented souls. 

A month later, one of my genuine favourite human beings, Sam Beeton, sent in a video. He was one of the first people that I saw playing live; in fact, the opening act at the first gig that I'd actively chosen to go to and travelled out of my city for, and I haven't seen him play since late 2013. He didn't just send in a video, but he'd created an entire short film, with a new track (his first 'release' in years) performed within it. Take the blog away and I am essentially just a fangirl at heart, trying to support artists whose music brings me joy. This was a highlight of the year. Tears were indeed shed. 

Another of the artists to send in a video (no short film... but he's forgiven) is White Tail Falls (AKA The Hoosiers' frontman Irwin Sparkes). It would be remiss not to ramble (I do little else) about Irwin in a round-up of my musical year. At the start of 2020 (before... stuff) he asked if I would like to premiere the video for his solo track Disintegrate. A billion times yes! In June, we did an interview which (no bias at all) is probably my favourite on the blog, ever. The detail and honesty with which he approached it blew me away. Irwin has always been really supportive of the blog, and this year, with the release of his debut solo record, felt like the pinnacle of that. I've spent much of the year falling in love with Age of Entitlement, so much so that I recently named it my album of the year

I also shared interviews with Hailaker and Pêtr Aleksänder back in May, and most recently, with Novo Amor. I love sharing them but have never braved anything but an email interview (sending a bunch of questions, receiving answers, and posting them.) Maybe 2021 will bring with it a little bit of courage to jump on a phone call (or... Zoom?) with some artists? I certainly want to share some more interviews this year, they're always some of my favourite features. 

I've been re-furloughed as of a few days before Christmas. It's a strange time. I have a baby niece who I haven't been able to meet yet because of the restrictions. We've had a kitchen installation drag out over almost a year and have had the contents of our kitchen scattered in boxes across the house (and no wallpaper, flooring, or, most recently, ceiling, in there.) I didn't feel particularly festive this year and it's been a weird couple of weeks. Being furloughed three times and our store having been closed so long, knowing how treacherous a time it is for all retailers at the moment (unless you're Bezos, obviously) isn't a particularly cheering feeling. And yet, with the blog, I feel a sense of... calm? 

I really love this site. And I love the community of people that I've managed to grow around it. Things have escalated a bit this year. I've been forced into having more time for it, and while I couldn't get to shows and interact with fans and artists in person, I feel like I've connected with more people through the blog than ever before. Running the blog at some points this year has felt like a full time job in itself (entirely pressure that I load onto myself) yet it's really just quite a demanding hobby. I feel privileged to have an audience of sorts, though. As we pass into the new year, I feel inspired and determined to keep up with the blog, to keep it growing, and to find new and exciting opportunities within the industry. Helping out with PR, on social media, with data entry, writing for other sites, maybe? At the moment, everything depends on spare time around my job but with furlough, who knows... 

Here's to a year of brilliant music, of reaching more milestones, more rambling, more interviews, of wearing-a-god-damn-mask, of vaccines, of The Vaccines (!) and of new opportunities. We got this. 

Friday, 1 January 2021

albums of the year (more ramblings... part 5)

(more) albums of the year... part 5: in case you missed it, I'm sharing my favourite records of 2020 (main post here) this week. Seven albums a day across the week, in release order. Enjoy!

IDLES - Ultra Mono (store / Spotify)

Their last record - very much a breakthrough record for the band - was in my top five in 2018. I didn't connect with this one quite so much but still really enjoyed it. Listening to Model Village while travelling through my own village on a bus to work is a really vivid memory of my first proper listen. As always, on the surface it feels full of angst, but dig deeper and you'll find endless important discussions taking place, rather poetically, in the lyrics. Alongside powerful instrumentation, of course. I can only imagine how keen they are to get back to the stage to share this record with audiences - their live show is certainly something to behold. Favourites alongside Model Village for me are Grounds, Kill Them With Kindness and Carcinogenic

Tempesst Must Be A Dream (store / Spotify)

It's been a while coming, having listened to Tempesst since 2016, and this year finally brought us their debut album. Worth the wait! As I wrote in late September... "as the days (and night, and, well, all of the time) start to suddenly get chilly, a record which appears audibly sun-drenched is exactly what we need, right?" It's so well put together - the combination of brilliant lyrics, their 60s influences, psychedelic tendencies, and those harmonies! With A Woman, Age of the Bored and Walk on the Water are favourites here. More thoughts in my write-up of the album here.

Dawes Good Luck With Whatever (buy/stream)

Well, there's absolutely no surprise that Dawes make it onto my AOTY list, is there?! I adore pretty much everything they do and love this, their seventh (!) studio album. Taylor Goldsmith is without a doubt one of the best songwriters (and guitarists, while we're here) of our generation. They're one of the best and this is a dream of a record, and not one that I'd expected this year! While I couldn't watch them live (timezones, boo!) Taylor's livestreams with his wife Mandy Moore through the first lockdown were such a treat. Favourites here Who Do You Think You're Talking To, St. Augustine At Night and the title track, Good Luck With Whatever. Damn, I really love Dawes. I hope you will too... 

Deep Sea Diver Impossible Weight (buy/stream)

This was one of those magical discoveries - I had never even heard of this artist (despite a couple of previous records) when I found a track from the new album in the blog's inbox. It was the title track of this record, which I really enjoyed at the time, shouted about it a bit online and moved on. Once the record was released I decided to give it a listen and loved it so much that I've revisited it a few times since. I really really dig it. Eyes Are Red (Don't Be Afraid), Lightning Bolts and Lights Out are favourites but the title track, featuring Sharon Van Etten, remains one of my favourite tracks of the year. Such a brill record!

Laura Fell - Safe From Me (Bandcamp)

A new artist sent through by my favourite PR company, but not only that, Paddy from Stay Loose was releasing the record on his own label, a new project for his blog Balloon Machine. The first release on Balloon Machine Records, a momentous occasion and an exciting milestone. I had high hopes from the first single and they were certainly reached. A unique vocal, superb songwriting and masterful delivery make for a really worthy spot on any AOTY list. Bone of Contention, Cold and Every Time remain favourites!

Ed The Dog Untitled.crashed.crashed.crashed (buy/stream)

I don't think that I've listened to Ed's previous record, but how could anybody not like a record with tracks like Thank You Buddy and Everybody, I Love You on it? I adored it on first listen, but found my favourite track right at the end in the form of I'm Gonna Change That. The exact track that I needed to hear towards the end of the year, passing into a new year, feeling desperate for some kind of change. I'm glad that I'm far too slow with AOTY plans to get my list out as early as many others do, otherwise it would be missing last minute records like this! 

Maggie Rogers Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011-2016 (buy/stream)

An even more last minute addition to the list comes from last year's AOTY artist, queen Maggie Rogers. I LOVE Maggie so much, and I am so desperate for new music. While this isn't quite *new* a lot of it is unheard, and I've been loving it. Having been quickly thrown into the spotlight with last year's record and the events that preceded it, Maggie spoke of wanting to get out her archive material before moving on to new music. It's an archive record, split into four parts, with tracks from two independent records and a couple of other projects Maggie was part of before the current iteration of her career came about. Laid out in reverse chronological order, you hear her getting younger. It's a really lovely collection of tracks - even better if you have time to listen to the version with commentary here. Love opening track Celadon & Gold and James is a lovely tune too.

Thanks for reading/listening!

Thursday, 31 December 2020

albums of the year (more ramblings... part 4)

(more) albums of the year... part 4: in case you missed it, I'm sharing my favourite records of 2020 (main post here) this week. Seven albums a day across the week, in release order. Enjoy!

Siv Jakobsen A Temporary Soothing (buy/stream)

I had a copy of this in my inbox sent by my favourite PR in late 2019, but, as often happens, didn't immediately check it out. So little time, so many emails, etc. The release was delayed a few months due to ~everything~ and Siv had tours cancelled. Once I finally took a listen I was overwhelmed by how stunning it was, experiencing a wave of... woah, why didn't I listen to this sooner?! Living in Norway, Siv's content is often dreamily set against snowy backdrops, it can't really get any better. Favourite tracks here include Island, Anywhere Else and Fear The Fear. More of my thoughts on the record here.

The Magic Gang Death Of The Party (buy/stream)

The band's debut (and self-titled) album dropped in 2018, around the time that I saw them playing live on the last night of The Great Escape. The Brighton four-piece are masters of catchy sunshine-fuelled indie tunes, and this new record is no different - Think, Take Back The Track, Just A Minute, What Have You Got To Lose - so many tunes. The only sad thing is that they haven't been able to play the tracks live yet! 

Declan McKenna Zeros (buy/stream)

Like a few more on the list, I hadn't listened to Declan's debut record but immediately fell in love with The Key to Life on Earth. That's easily one of the best tracks of the year and the album deserves to be on the list for that track alone. It's a superb record, arriving in between The Magic Gang and Everything Everything... what a brill couple of weeks for indie music?! Other favourite tunes here include Rapture, Beautiful Faces and Emily

Everything Everything Re-Animator (store / Spotify)

One of my favourite moments of 2020 was in the run-up to the release of this record, when frontman Jonathan Higgs called in to BBC Radio 1 with Annie Mac to premiere a new track. He'd lost track of time and was at a supermarket when his phone started to ring. Cue running through the shop (with a bag of shopping from a different store) and answering the call, and then some muffled talking... before he returned to explain to Annie that a security guard had chased him out of the shop, assuming that he'd been shoplifting. Absolute favourite live radio moment of the year. Now, to the record: I LOVE this band and this is one of my favourite records of theirs. The last two are all-time faves, but they manage to up their game on each record. Nobody does lyrics like EE. So! Good! They bring me so much joy and I only wish that I'd been able to see tracks from the record performed live this year. (But on that note - they have been pretty creative, embracing technology, and even played a live show in VR...) Fave tracks here Planets, Arch Enemy, Black Hyena and Violent Sun

Cosmo Sheldrake Wake Up Calls (Bandcamp)

This record is like nothing else on the list, or that you'll have listened to this year. I adore Cosmo's work and this is so so special. As with a couple of the other records on the list, I received this to review, completely out of the blue, a week or two before release. Apart from Cuckoo Song, the record is entirely without vocals, instead putting the songs of endangered British Birds at the forefront, blending them into a glorious chorus. It's a soothing listen from one of my favourite creators - a musical genius. Calming though it is, the record throws up important issues and puts these beautiful birds into the spotlight. It's hard to choose favourites, but I love this performance of Cuckoo Song live in the woods - playing birdsong back into nature. Magical!

Bear's Den & Paul Frith Fragments (store / Spotify)

It's no secret that Bear's Den are a big favourite of mine, and I've been loving this since it was released a few months ago. A few years back, the band played a series of live shows where the genius Paul Frith reimagined BD tracks with a live orchestra (which I'm not at all bitter or distraught about missing out on....) Fragments is a collection of these orchestrated versions, with a selection of tracks from their three studio albums, and some brand new orchestral interludes. Generally a really lovely listen, but a particular dream of an album for a Bear's Den fan! Napoleon, Isaac and When You Break are live favourites of mine, and these versions are ace.

Fenne Lily Breach (Bandcamp)

Fenne's debut record On Hold (2018) was (and is) a brilliant record and this is a superb follow-up. As with Brooke Bentham earlier in the week, this one is certainly for fans of the likes of Marika Hackman, Phoebe Bridgers, Billie Marten, and artists in that vein. I've written a bit this year about trying to actively seek out more music by women, on noticing my listening habits were orientated towards male artists. For anybody who still holds the opinion that men get more festival slots (etc) simply because they're making better music - you need to listen to these incredibly talented artists. Fenne's record is stunning. Line of Best Fit put it better than I could, commenting that the record is "a raw, cathartic, but incredibly gentle record." It fits so well. Favourite tunes here are AlapathyBirthday and Solipsism. Look out for another familiar face in the video... 

Last set of seven records tomorrow...

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

albums of the year (more ramblings... part 3)

(more) albums of the year... part 3: in case you missed it, I'm sharing my favourite records of 2020 (main post here) this week. Seven albums a day across the week, in release order. Enjoy!

HAIM Women In Music Pt. III (buy/stream)

New Haim?! Yes, oh, so much yes. On this record, the sisters' confidence in themselves and their music shines through. Right down to the ever glorious videos. They know they're good at what they do and I think this is their best record yet. That confidence allows them to dance between genres, exploring sonically more than they have in the past, and the results are ace. They've spoken openly about individual struggles that have influenced the writing of these tracks, some of their most personal yet - with specific experiences feeding into the lyrics. A fab record to kick off today's list... favourite tracks of mine include Don't Wanna, I Know Alone, The Steps and Summer Girl (technically a bonus track, but it counts.)

Dream Wife So When You Gonna... (store)

I hadn't listened to Dream Wife before (but had been meaning to) when Sports! was released as the first taste of their new record. I was intrigued and immediately listened to the self-titled debut, loved it, and began to wait patiently for the new record. It's seriously good. On release, the record was the only one in the UK Top 20 chart that wasn't backed by a major label, and the only one produced entirely by womxn. They managed to take the 2nd and 3rd places respectively in the Indie and Vinyl charts, an exciting (and huge) achievement for a band not on a major label, and so deserved. There's some really tender moments through the album, and some kind of bonkers moments, and the mixture of the two is sublime. Favourite tracks include RH RN, Hasta La Vista and Temporary

Samantha Crain A Small Death (buy/stream)

I don't have too much to say about this one because, frankly, you should stop reading and just go and give it a listen. But seeing as you're here... Samantha is a few records deep, but this was the first to catch my eye, as it was the first release on Lucy Rose's new label, an imprint of Communion. Having toured with Samantha, Lucy tells of listening to demos and feeling an urge to help release them into the world. After a series of car accidents following the release of her previous record in 2017, Samantha lost the use of her hands, and was left with the worry that she might never hold a guitar again. This record charts that experience, and a return to doing something she loves, so it's filled with a lot of emotion. It's lovely. Favourite tracks might actually be the opening three: An Echo, Pastime and Holding To The Edge Of Night

Stornoway The Farewell Show (Bandcamp)

I have so much love for this, the only live album on the list. My pal Tom (who played trumpet in Stornoway) sent me the audio files of the record back in January. Naturally I sat through them and had a happy nostalgic cry for one of my favourite shows that I've ever been to. Back in March 2017, I was working for Tom's (and Oli, bassist in Storno) company Tigmus, and we promoted the hometown farewell gig. I spent the day at the venue, watching soundcheck, the show itself, taking photos of fans with the band at the merch table afterwards and rubbing shoulders (remember that?!) with the best of Oxford's music scene at the afterparty. This is a brilliant recording of a superb and emotional farewell gig. It was a lovely surprise to find that a photo I took at soundcheck is printed in the CD case, a sweet touch. While not strictly a recording from the gig, as there aren't any music videos as such, I'm embedding this fab video from lockdown. Fave tracks from the album include... November Song, The Coldharbour Road and I Saw You Blink (but... all of it.) 

Haux Violence in a Quiet Mind (Bandcamp)

This one is stunning - a Stay Loose PR discovery, which are most often beautiful. A record that finds the artist processing tragedy and substance abuse across three generations of his family, describing it as "about honesty after hiding for so many years." Guided therapy for Haux becomes a soothing and soulful listen for us, and one that he hopes will help others. Seriously beautiful. Favourite tracks: Salt, Eight (with Rosie Carney) and Heavy

Lianne La Havas Lianne La Havas (buy/stream)

For one reason or another I'd never really given a proper listen to Lianne's music. The singles from this record were coming out and I was falling in love with them one after the other. The full record makes for a gorgeous listen. It's the creative result of a breakup and moving back to London from the US, about leaving a person and a place behind. Despite these themes, or because of them, the record exudes confidence. Personal growth is reflected in the confidence of that self-title, three records in. Favourite tunes for me are Read My Mind, Can't Fight and Please Don't Make Me Cry. 

Willie J Healey Twin Heavy (buy/stream)

Hear me out - I think this is even better than WJH's debut?! Like Richard Walters of yesterday's post, listening to Willie's music makes me feel such a strong connection to Oxford, and I love that. Having followed his music since just a couple of months into uni back in 2014, it's been such a joy to see how widely this record has been appreciated. Yala have done such a good job with their campaign. His show at Omeara last year is one of my last gigs (with fellow Oxford dreamboats BE GOOD opening) and it was brill! Favourite tracks are hard to choose as there are SO many tunes but Fashun kicks off the album in glorious style and Heavy Traffic, Twin Heavy and Why You Gotta Do It are solid tunes. 

Thanks for reading/listening! Seven more tomorrow... 

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

albums of the year (more ramblings... part 2)

(more) albums of the year... part 2: in case you missed it, I'm sharing my favourite records of 2020 (main post here) this week. Seven albums a day across the week, in release order. Enjoy!

The Strokes The New Abnormal (buy/stream)

It feels like an absolute lifetime since this came out - a couple of weeks into lockdown here in the UK, back in April, at which point I was reading and listening to music, and doing little else. A brand new record from The Strokes... sign me up?! Seven (!) years since Comedown Machine, I feel like most fans probably approached this new record with a little trepidation, but it's a genuine delight. Most aptly named record on the list too, probably. 

Hailaker - Holding (Bandcamp)

As far as surprise EP releases/album announcements go - I was pretty chuffed when, back in April, Hailaker surfaced with a four track EP. A week later, a second EP, and a week after that, we had the entire record. A short and sweet release cycle and the best surprise. I loved their self-titled debut last year and adore this follow-up. They're a really special bunch. Favourite tunes for me include Labradors, Caffeine Rivers, Attica and Wild (hey... all of it.)

Jack Garratt Love, Death & Dancing (buy/stream)

Jack's return has been a musical highlight of the year. Following his critically acclaimed debut Phase in 2016 and extensive touring to support it, he'd been a little quiet on the music front. In February this year, he returned to BBC Radio 1 to premiere the first track from his upcoming record, and spoke very openly about his experiences of anxiety since the first record, and the reasons behind the space of time between the two. The track, Time, was (and is) brilliant, and part of Vol. 1 of the new record. Better, from the second volume (I think?) is probably my favourite track from the record. The video (below) is incredible, part of a series with incredible visuals, lighting and choreography, filmed earlier this year. 

Gia Margaret Mia Gargaret (Bandcamp)

If you're not familiar... Gia released her gorgeous debut There's Always Glimmer in 2018. Mia Gargaret arrived this June, but isn't quite the follow-up that she'd intended. In 2019, Gia found herself unable to sing through illness. Losing the use of her main instrument, she experimented with synths, and this album is the result of that process. She comments that "these compositions helped me hold onto my identity as a music maker. At times this music helped soothe my anxiety more than therapy or anything else could." A sort of self-therapy for Gia, and a lovely treat for us. Knowing the story behind the record makes it feel all the more special, something not so great turning into something beautiful... creativity prevails. 

Richard Walters - Golden Veins (store / Spotify)

Listening to Richard takes me back to Oxford (which is always a win) - I discovered his music and met him while living there, catching a few shows in the city, including when I ran the door and sold merch at the launch of his previous record A.M. He's a furiously talented and creative individual and this record proves no exception. Big Joy is a (big) tune and Marks is seriously stunning.

Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher (Bandcamp)

Well, do I really need to tell you why the new Phoebe Bridgers record is worth a listen? You've probably already put it at the top of your own AOTY list. Kyoto is certainly one of the best songs of the year. I hadn't listened to her debut when this was released (not for lack of people raving about it and telling me that I should...) I saw Phoebe *in real life* last year, in the foyer after a Dawes show, while I waited to say a quick hello to the frontman Taylor, as he quickly said bye to her. On telling the friend who was waiting for me outside that I'd just seen Phoebe Bridgers (like, the actual one) her reaction told me as much as I needed to know: people love Phoebe. Too right, Punisher is superb. Get your ears on it, now.

AJIMAL As It Grows Dark/Light (Bandcamp)

There was no doubt that this should be on my list of favourite records this year. Helped along by White Tail Falls (again!) who connected with AJIMAL for an Instagram Live many many months ago, I gave the record a listen and have been adoring it all year. This record demands your attention. There is so much depth and power within the tracks - I'd love to see them performed live with strings etc. I think that How Could You Disappear? is my favourite track from the record, but also love Above All Else, Be Kind, the video for which features a lot of familiar faces...

Seven more tomorrow... happy listening!