Saturday 28 December 2019

My albums of the year (2019)

Frankly, 2020 can't come quickly enough - partly as it is bringing us a new Bombay Bicycle Club album and I am counting down each second until that is in my life. Beyond that, there are debuts from Seramic, Rhys Lewis and White Tail Falls to expect as well as new records from the likes of The Staves, Lucy Leave and The Big Moon - there's a lot to be excited about! Before all of that, however, it's time to look back on the music that I've been listening to this year with a round-up of my favourite albums of the year. I loved doing a post like this last year - when Novo Amor narrowly missed out on the top spot to the incredible Someone Out There from Rae Morris (you can catch up on last year's post here.)

As this blog is solely contributed to by me (hi!) the list is a bit of a self-indulgent reflection of the music that I've been loving this year. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster of a year, which kicked off with me being made redundant from my job at HMV back in February. I've traded music and films for a job as a bookseller now and I'm loving it, but I still miss being surrounded by music lovers every day. It has become even more important to me to have the blog to use as an outlet to ramble about the music that I love, and what follows below is five of the records that I've fallen in love with this year, with a further list of several more brilliant albums that I wanted to shout about.

1. Maggie Rogers - Heard It In A Past Life

Could there really be anybody else but Maggie Rogers in the top spot this year? Her incredible record has come to occupy a really special place in my heart. I first started listening to Maggie towards the end of 2018 when she was announced as tour support for Mumford & Sons. From then, my love for her grew with each new track that was released, and my anticipation for the record grew. The album itself arrived in January, while HMV was in administration and in the midst of a really confusing and stressful time for me. It is no exaggeration to say that it helped to ground me and bring me much needed joy through the experience of redundancy. I spent several weeks listening to the album at least once daily, finding new aspects of it to love with each listen.

I feel that it's worth noting that Heard It In A Past Life is Maggie's debut album, and as such it is even more impressive. She has recently been nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy award, the pinnacle of a whirlwind year of touring, huge TV appearances and a whole lot of dancing like nobody (or indeed, everybody) is watching. Given that I adore the album in its entirety, I struggle to pick a favourite track from it, but a stand-out track for me from the first few listens was Burning, so why not start there and then go on to check out the entire album. You can thank me later!

2. Friendly Fires Inflorescent

Next up an in a really close second is an album that I spent a long time waiting for, worrying that it might never exist. I think even the band themselves couldn't be sure that they would make this record, but I am so incredibly glad that they did. Friendly Fires were one of my favourite bands of the early 2010s and I worried that I'd never get to see them play live when they took an extended hiatus several years ago. To my delight they returned in late 2017 and I was lucky to see their triumphant London return last April. Fast forward a year or so and the moment that I'd been waiting for... an album announcement. The wait was finally over in August, and it was more than worth it. I think that I probably annoyed some people with how much I couldn't stop talking about the album when it was released.

The record is an injection of pure joy in what is very often a pretty miserable world. Friendly Fires are back with their infectious energy, catchy hooks, incredible live shows and an album to fix all of our problems. Or possibly just to get us dancing - but that's a start. Again, I really adore the full record but my favourite track would probably have to be Silhouettes. A certified bop.

3. Bear's Den So that you might hear me

Having been a big fan of Bear's Den for a few years, one of the coolest perks of running this little blog came earlier this year when I received a link to listen to their album and review it six weeks ahead of release. It arrived in my inbox while I was searching for a new job and feeling a little lost, and the album felt like something that I could keep to myself before it was released out into the world - it really came to mean a lot. I recall describing my review at the time as being like a love letter to the band. It sounds a little cliché to say that an album tangible helped you through a situation but it really did. I've been lucky to see the band live a few times this year in various settings (headlining a stage at Citadel Festival and the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire to name a couple) - it's been a Bear's Den kind of year and I'm very happy about that.

In their third studio album, we find the band enjoying the confidence that the success of previous records Islands and Red Earth & Pouring Rain brought, combining the acoustic and electric elements of both to explore new ground sonically. The record explores themes of intimacy and connection. with the band describing it as being about "trying to communicate with someone honestly [...] an attempt to reveal the honest and difficult challenge of communicating with anyone that you really care about." It is a gorgeous example of Davie's skills as a songwriter, bringing to life his story and those of others. A favourite track of mine is the opener Hiding Bottles, written about his relationship with a close family member with an alcohol addiction. From my first listen, the lyric "well I'm keeping it together but you don't know the half of it. It's starting to show, no I'm not on top of this" has really resonated with me.

4. Christof van der Ven You Were The Place

In a way, Christof manages to make his way onto this list twice - he's a touring member of Bear's Den, creating some gorgeous solo music in the spare time that allows him. Having released his gorgeous debut album at the start of last year, he's the only artist to have been on both the 2018 and 2019 lists, and deservedly so. I really really love this album - and was lucky to have an early listen of this one too. With the album in 2018, an EP release at the start of this year and a busy tour schedule with BD I'm impressed at the rate at which he got this album out into the world - I feel lazy just thinking about all of that. Written in response to the end of a brief but intense fling, this is an incredibly personal, yet relatable, record from Christof. As you might expect it is sad in places, while being full of optimism and hope in others. Production from bandmate Marcus Hamblett is superb too - the finished record is raw and intimate and really deserving of a spot on the list.

5. Lucy Rose - No Words Left

After a little thought about who finished up my top five albums of the year my thoughts kept on returning to Lucy Rose and her fourth studio album. It is, in a word, sublime. In direct comparison to her previous records, this one is incredibly stripped back (centring around vocals, guitar, piano and strings) and is as a result stark and vulnerable. At the time of release Lucy wrote online that "these songs have allowed me to get to know myself in a way I haven't before and I'm sure after you listen to it you'll end up knowing me better as well." It is a record which explores issues of anxiety, isolation and uncertainty without sugarcoating anything, it is exactly the kind of record that I needed to hear this year. While I really connect with a number of lyrics across the record, my favourite track is perhaps The Confines Of This World, in which Lucy delivers the lines "I really don't mean to bring you down, But I need someone to talk to." 

Well done for making it this far - that's my top five albums of the year. I genuinely adore each of them, and will enjoy listening to them on repeat for years to come, I hope. It's been a bit of an up and down year for me and these albums have really helped to bring some light into my life when I've needed it. But I'm not finished there... there's been plenty more (in fact, more than I'd realised) that I have loved this year, so here is a bit more of a list (in release order) of albums that I really recommend you check out. You'll love them too, I hope!

Busted - Half Way There
Stella Donnelly - Beware of the Dogs
Foals - Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost (Part 1)
Jack Savoretti - Singing to Strangers
Fil Bo Riva - Beautiful Sadness
Pêtr Aleksänder - Closer, Still 
SOAK Grim Town
Hailaker - Hailaker
Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
Benedict Benjamin - Truant
Matthew and the Atlas - Morning Dancer
Charlie Cunningham - Permanent Way
Bastille - Doom Days 
Two Door Cinema Club - False Alarm
The Black Keys - "Let's Rock"
Grace Lightman - Silver Eater
The Teskey Brothers - Run Home Slow 
Marika Hackman - Any Human Friend
Bon Iver - i,i 
Liz Lawrence - Pity Party
Geowulf - My Resignation 
Half Moon Run - A Blemish in the Great Light
Leif Vollebekk - New Ways
Marcus Hamblett - Detritus

Wednesday 18 December 2019

ALBUM NEWS: Lucy Leave - 'Everyone Is Doing So Well'

As 2019 draws to a close I'm feeling quite reflective about the albums I've loved this year - an albums of the year post is incoming, once I find the time to write it, but for now... here's an upcoming release to get excited about. The start of 2020 was already looking to be pretty special musically with new Bombay Bicycle Club and Gengahr albums on the way, and Oxford locals Lucy Leave join the party with their brand new album Everyone Is Doing So Well due for release on the Divine Schism label on 24th January.

This is really exciting news for various reasons - one huge one being that it's the first physical release from Divine Schism. They're an Oxford based DIY promoter, who have been putting on shows across Oxford and London for nearly a decade, giving a platform to artists they love. Having enjoyed the debut Lucy Leave album so much, they've extended this work to starting up a label to release their new album. Pre-order is live here now on the Divine Schism Bandcamp - go go go! Check out the gorgeous album artwork too, I love it.

(c) Chris Monger

The band have already released the triple-A single Thumbs / Snow / Hey, Male Saviour! and will be releasing a video for each over a few weeks in the run up to the album's release - the first video for Hey, Male Saviour! is below. Can't say that I've seen a webcam music video in a while! It's almost nostalgic...

On this track in particular Lucy Leave cite Soccer Mommy, Petsematary and Joni Mitchell (and particularly their use of open tunings) as influential, with the title being loosely inspired by The Fall's Hey Student. Lyrically they say that the track could be about any number of high-profile men within the music industry, whilst also operating as a call for self-awareness. It's clear that the band are incredibly socially aware themselves, fighting against injustice on a number of levels - notably calling out inequality in gig line-ups. It's refreshing to see a band who, as well as being all sorts of exciting in the musical side of things, really care about positive change within the industry (and the wider world.) They're good eggs, that's for sure.

If you'd like to see Lucy Leave live on album release weekend (frankly - why wouldn't you?) then you're in enormous luck because they happen to be playing shows in Oxford, Bristol and London.

24th Jan: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre, Oxford (w/ Duck, The Cooling Pearls and Basic Dicks) (event)
25th: White Rabbit, Bristol (w/ Megazine, Pega, Salvation Bill (solo)) (event)
26th: New River Studios, London (w/ Pega, Salvation Bill (solo)) (event)

Be sure to pre-order the new album Everyone Is Doing So Well on Bandcamp here.

Follow Lucy Leave - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

WATCH: Ferris & Sylvester 'I Dare You'

Having recently played shows around the country on their biggest headline tour Ferris & Sylvester are back with a newly released video for recent single I Dare You. While they're sometimes an understated duo musically, this track and video sees them passionate and loud, it's a bit of an explosive powerhouse of a track. Speaking about the video, they shared that "it felt right to create something bold and vibrant. We shot the video whilst we were on tour and wanted to capture how it felt to play the song night after night. The song is angry and aggressive and we were keen to throw all of that at it. It certainly shows a darker shade of us and we're proud to have it out there." 

With a set coming up in January (28th at Oslo) for the UK Americana Awards Showcase, the duo are then off to tour around Europe with Jade Bird - a brilliant pairing!

Follow Ferris & Sylvester Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Monday 16 December 2019

WATCH: Bear’s Den - 'The Star of Bethnal Green'

Today is very very very exciting because I'm taking a trip down to London after work to see the Bear's Den Christmas concert for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). True to form they've got a superb line-up alongside them with Matthew & The Atlas, Christof van der Ven, Seramic and Wovoka Gentle, AND the show is in a church. It's going to be a beautiful evening and all for a good cause - I can't wait! For now though, I'm revelling in the beauty of their brand new music video for The Star of Bethnal Green, taken from their recent Only Son of the Falling Snow EP. 

The track is about somebody at Christmas watching a singer in a bar and feeling overwhelmed by the performance, feeling as if their entire life and identity is revealed to them through the song. The video was written and directed by award-winning trans director, actor and activist Jake Graf - the band met Jake and his wife after a London show and were desperate to find something to collaborate on, and this was the perfect opportunity! Playing on the story of the ghost of Christmas past, the video highlights the pandemic of violence against trans people. 

Jake Graf shares that "as a trans man who grew up without any positive representations to aspire to, I know how important it is that we start seeing more trans visibility in the mainstream media. We have seen more and more allies to the community standing up and being counted but as our tiny trans community continues to be attacked and vilified we truly need all the support that we can get [...] trans murders have hit an all time high, with trans women in particular being targeted. This film combines the magic of Christmas with the powerful and hopeful story of an older trans woman being guided towards living as her authentic self. Older LGBTQ people are so often overlooked in cinema and the media that it felt like an important choice to depict such a rarely seen character."

Actor Jordan Revell talks about her involvement in the video, sharing that "I'm extremely proud to have worked with Jake Graf and Bear's Den on the video, telling a truth experienced by many trans people around the world. This story is personal to me as a transgender woman experiencing the fear of coming out, being mocked and discriminated against by the majority on a daily basis. I'm perhaps one of the lucky ones who so far has managed to avoid threats, acts of violence and hate against me, but not all of our trans brothers and sisters are so fortunate, and with this story we show our solidarity and commemorate the 331 murdered trans people this year alone [Trans Respect Versus Transphoboia (TvT) Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) research project update published 20th Nov 2019]. I hope this video inspires people to seek education and enlightenment on LGBTQ+ issues and in turn help us to work together for a more accepting and safe future for all.

Follow Bear's Den - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Friday 13 December 2019

LISTEN: Little Brother Eli - 'Love Between Teens'

A couple of years after leaving the city, Little Brother Eli remain one of my favourite things about Oxford and it was lovely to see them a couple of months back when I dropped by to a Sofar Sounds show there. They played a new track at the show and the studio version is finally out in the world today. Love Between Teens is, if I recall correctly, a song the frontman Alex Grew wrote for his wife - adorable. With a strong bass line throughout it is a funky and catchy number which is sure to go down well in the band's annual Christmas show on 21st December at O2 Academy Oxford - event here for more info/tickets! Now, listen below...

Follow Little Brother Eli online - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Thursday 12 December 2019

LISTEN: Eliza Shaddad - 'One Last Embrace'

Eliza Shaddad is a new name on the blog but I've been distantly aware of her music for a couple of years now (I think she may have played alongside King Charles at some point and come onto my radar that way.) With her debut album Future released last year and a couple of EPs under her belt, she's back with a new EP due early next year, and the second single is out now. One Last Embrace is one of her darkest releases yet, a sort of grungy, indie, alt-rock fusion. She describes it as being "about a burning, swirling, complete irrational, totally overwhelming vortex of desire. That moment when you know something is wrong and over, but you want it all the same." 

Eliza will be heading out on a UK tour in March, check out the full dates below... tickets here.

9th March: Crofters Rights, Bristol
10th: The Cuban Embassy, Birmingham
11th: The Eagle Inn, Manchester
12th: The Hug & Pint, Glasgow
17th: The Hope and Ruin, Brighton
19th: The Scala, London

Follow Eliza Shaddad - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

TOUR NEWS: White Tail Falls (March 2020)

Bit quiet on the blog front at the moment... working in retail over Christmas is taking its toll a little. A few posts still to come this month and I'll soon be trying to figure out my albums of the year list too! Exciting news to share today however - White Tail Falls has announced his first UK tour for next March and April. Following the release of debut single Give It Up, Son and the video (watch below) the tour will see him take in eight dates with a show at the gorgeous St Pancras Old Church in London on 26th March.

Full dates for the tour are as follows...

19th March: Head Of Steam, Newcastle
20th: The Poetry Club, Glasgow
21st: Royal Park Cellars, Leeds
26th: St Pancras Old Church, London
27th: The Hope & Ruin, Brighton
1st April: Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
2nd: Night People, Manchester
3rd: The Bodega, Nottingham

Follow White Tail Falls - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Thursday 5 December 2019

LISTEN: Bear's Den - 'Only Son of the Falling Snow' EP

Having kicked off the year with an early stream of the third Bear's Den studio album for a review, over two months before it was released into the wild, it seems only right to be finishing up the year with an early stream of their brand new EP. Only Son of the Falling Snow is released TODAY (listen here) and you can find out for yourselves the beauty that I've been keeping under wraps for a few weeks - I'm really excited for everybody to hear it. It's short but sweet at only three tracks, but holds a lot of seasonal goodness in those 12 minutes. Arriving several months after So That You Might Hear Me, the EP afforded the band the opportunity to work on new music between records, and to give fans an early Christmas present. Much appreciated!

As the band I've seen most this year, and with a show coming up in a London church next week, they've really had an impact on my year. The album stream I had earlier in the year genuinely helped me get through a rough time when I lost my job, and while I loved having the record to myself for a while, it's been incredible to see through gigs, social media posts and the Facebook group they've set up for fans, just how much the album and the band's music in general means to others too. They're a really special band and this EP is just the tip of the iceberg. If Bear's Den are a new name to you, there is so much for you to explore - some of my favourites are Hiding Bottles, Magdalene and Emeralds.

Discussing the new EP, the band's frontman Davie explains that "we wanted to make an EP that felt intimate, nostalgic and united by the theme of Winter. It was a chance between albums for us to work on and explore something more musically sparse and lyrically reflective, working with our longtime friend, collaborator, and producer Ian Grimble. The EP is a collection of songs united by a sense of what Winter means to us. In all its beauty, sadness, stillness and its ability to transform and bring things back to life.” 

Listen to the EP on Spotify here.

Follow Bear's Den - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

WATCH: 31hours - 'YoYo'

This is exciting - Oxford's 31hours have shared their first new music (as far as I can tell from a trawl of Spotify, Bandcamp etc...) since their 2017 debut album Tell Me What You See. I helped out with  promoting the album launch through Tigmus at the time and I'm excited to see that they're back with new music and to see what else they've got up their sleeves. With some clear local influences from fellow Oxford acts Radiohead and Foals the new track is a lovely little psychedelic indie tune with a cracking video to go with it. Listen/buy on the 31hours Bandcamp here.

Follow 31hours - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

ALBUM NEWS: Brooke Bentham: 'Everyday Nothing'

Brooke Bentham has recently announced the release of her debut album Everyday Nothing on 28th February. At just 23, the album comes from a position of youth, in which hopes and dreams collide with frustration and confusion, resulting in a vulnerable and relatable record. Brooke explains that the record is "in part an ode to the little moments in life, the frustration of being young and unaware of what you want, but getting older and realising you still don't know. It's an album I searched for myself in, filled with questions I asked myself." 

The announcement of the record comes alongside the brand new track Perform For You, which focuses on the power dynamics in toxic relationships, and is inspired by novels Brooke was reading at the time. Talking about the track, she explains that it is "probably my favourite, because it reminds me of lots of the music I love. Once we'd recorded that, I knew we were making an album. Musically it was exactly where I wanted to be." 

Brooke Bentham is currently on a support tour with Sam Fender across the UK, with a free London headline coming up on 9th December at The Islington. She's playing a string of headline shows after the album release, dates below and tickets are here.

14th March: Whelan's, Dublin
16th: Yes, Manchester
18th: Crofters Rights, Bristol
19th: Omeara, London

Follow Brooke Bentham - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Tuesday 3 December 2019

WATCH: Leif Vollebekk - 'Blood Brother'

A few weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Leif Vollebekk opening up for fellow Canadians Half Moon Run in Brixton. Having listened to his new album New Ways before the show, he was as talented and mesmerising on stage as I'd expected, and I really enjoyed his set. One of my favourite tracks from the album is Blood Brother and I'm excited to see that there is now a music video for the track! The cinematic new video sees Leif hand-cuffed to a seat on a vacant open-top bus as it drives through recognisable parts of central London. Having danced his way to freedom, Leif  gets off of the bus, passing his burden to another passenger.

The video's director Joe Connor (Mumford & Sons, Coldplay) elaborates on the concept behind it: "Leif is an artist whose music takes me to a dreamlike space. I wanted to create a video that found Leif in the middle of a story, where he has come from and where he is going is unknown but the beauty in this video is that here we find an artist, handcuffed and adrift in a city in the early hours of the morning. This beautiful video presents London in the most spectacular way and sets Leif as a quiet voice amongst the rolling city.” 

He's just announced a European headline tour for April 2020, with a second London show after the first sold out in a couple of days. UK listings below - tickets here.

27th April: Bush Hall, London
28th: Bush Hall, London
29th: Exchange, Bristol
30th: Soup Kitchen, Manchester
1st May: Poetry Club, Glasgow
2nd: Soundhouse, Dublin

Follow Leif Vollebekk - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

Monday 2 December 2019

WATCH: Gengahr - 'Heavenly Maybe'

Fresh from supporting Bombay Bicycle Club on tour recently, London four-piece Gengahr have shared the second track from their upcoming third album, Sanctuary. Premiered as Annie Mac's Hottest Record in the World on BBC Radio 1 a few nights ago, Heavenly Maybe delivers another slice of Gengahr magic and I can't get enough of it. An irresistibly danceable tune (do you hear that bass line?!) at heart, frontman Felix Bushe's trademark falsetto takes the spotlight and sounds as glorious as ever. Watch our for Sanctuary, it's due for release on January 31st.

If you like what you're hearing, you can catch Gengahr across the UK and further afield next year across February and March - UK dates below and tickets/album pre-order here.

13th Feb: Band on the Wall, Manchester
14th: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
16th: King Tuts, Glasgow
17th: The Sound House, Dublin
19th: Fleece, Bristol
20th: Patterns, Brighton
21st: EartH, London

Follow Gengahr online - Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.