Sunday, 21 September 2014

Alt-J @o2 Apollo Manchester 20/9/14

Former Mercury Prize winners play Manchester

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since Alt J won the prestigious Mercury prize which overnight meant that the Leeds band were taken from relative obscurity to widespread acclaim which included soundtracking tv commercials.

With a packed summer of festivals there hasn’t been too much respite for the guys, rather than take a break they have been hard at work on their new album ‘ This is all Yours’ of which some of the fruits we are about to hear tonight.

Most of the reviews have spoken of a more expansive direction for the band so its of some interest to me to see how this new direction translates to a live setting.

Starting with a new track ‘Hunger of the Pine’ and the brilliant 'Fitzpleasure' its clear that the bands strengths are there for all to see from the start with their complex production strange but alluring vocals from frontman Joe Newman and infectious riffs.  It seems like they have ramped up their percussion for their live sound courtesy of Thom Green and the close harmonies are a joy to behold and this induces the first big singalong of the night.

There is a bit of a change to the bands lineup as it was reported that their bassist Gwil Sainsbury left the band earlier this year but Cameron Knight is a more than fitting replacement for him and displays his accomplished bass playing throughout the set and Gus-unger Hamilton puts on a noteperfect performance on Keys and backing vocals.

The band continue their blistering start with newbie ‘left hand free’ which is a change of tack towards a bluesy soul direction owes more than a debt to the black keys. This is followed by the delicate tones of ‘Matilda’ the closest thing the band have to a love song if there was one about a hurricane.

Things briefly take a more restrained tone as the band play 'bloodflood2' from their new album. This seems to come too early in the set and isn’t in tandem with their blistering start. It seems the crowd are not too interested in this tempo change in the set.  This leads into a new song ‘out of the woods’ which showcases their pastoral folky direction as the crowd again seem unsure of how to react. This is quickly remedied by two double slightly erotic tracks in 'tessellate' with its ‘Bite chunks out of me’ and 'Every Little Freckle' which is a slow building delight with its subtle arrangements accompanied by vocal gymnastics and keyboard motifs. Its slightly disappointing that the band don’t have a female choir for the choral parts, as was seen on Jools the other night- an opportunity missed maybe.

'Taro' is a key track not because of its brilliant invention from straightforward pop structure to Bollywood string section but it also shows off the bands personality and adds a bit of human feel to their performance which is sadly lacking throughout. Frontman Joe speaks for the first time of an error he made at the start of the track and this shows that the band are not robots just playing everything from the records.

This 'human' connection seems to be an on-going issue throughout their 75 minutes performance. Despite the odd pleasantries in between songs there is no banter and not too much difference to listening to audio of the band and seeing the band live. The band mainly stay in the same positions not using much of the stage which seems a little one dimensional as far as performances go.

The band encore consists of the one song that made people sit up and listen in the first place ‘ Breezeblocks’ which whips the crowd into a frenzy again and as I leave the venue I can hear the refrains of ‘Please come back I love you so’ from the gig goers so its clear that they enjoyed the evening.

What is clear from tonight's performance is that the band make songs for mind and body and are undeniably talented and they can obviously captivate an audience with their material but they could be brilliant if only they injected more personality and energy into their live performance. It’s not that they are a rubbish band but if they added those two crucial elements to their live setting they could be a major force to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Return of a National Treasure

 Later.. Returns

Last night marked the return of one of the longest running live music programmes.  With its 45th year, Later has rocked up some mileage and still remains relevant and consistent with then new and established artists it showcases.

Last night’s edition was no different with its stellar line up across the music spectrum.  On the show was new acts FKA Twigs, Jungle, Vance Joy.  This week also showcased elder statesmen including O'jays and Ryan Adams along with former Mercury Prize Winners Alt-J.

Leeds Rock trio Alt J opened the show with new bluesy soul cut ‘Left hand Free’ from their expansive follow up album to An Awesome Wave a confident opening statement. There was clearly a Black Keys influence on there but their best song was to come later.

West London production duo Jungle were up next and were probably the most disappointing of the acts to appear. I am a fan of Jungle funky soul throwback sound but ‘Busy Earnin’ felt a bit flat sounded much better on their debut, and the choreography was a tad cheesy more work to improve their live sound and presence needed I think although their sound might be more suited to a festival rather a small studio.

Classic US R&B group O’jays were a breath of fresh air with their ‘Love Train’ some of the best close harmonies on show here and the dancing wasn’t too bad either.The fact they have been together more than 50 years says how solid they are as a band. Its quite some achievement.

Canadian rocker Ryan Adams has been heavily criticized in some quarters of the music press who state that his new material is very like his close namesake Bryan Adams which is a little unfair of how he is now on his fourteenth album and through each album he has progressed musically. However the track he performed ‘Give Me Something Good’ sounded a bit like Bon Jovi and therefore a bit dated his musicianship is still something to admire though.

Then came the treat of the evening from new electro singer songwriter FKA Twigs with a spellbinding performance of ‘Two Weeks’. There are no shortage of female singer-songwriters with their icy vocals and electro production but where she stands on her own is how FKA Twigs is in total command of her performance and artistic identity. With her phenomenal vocal range and her stunning performance she is good shout for this year’s Mercury music prize.

Another suprising low key yet engrossing performance followed with Melbourne Singer Songwriter Vance Joy with his indie pop hit ‘Riptide’. The track has been on the radio for some time and is one of those songs that you constantly hum with its perfect hooks and consistent melody. It was a shame Banks couldn’t make it although maybe one more icy vocal would have been a step too far.

Alt J ended the show with the slightly unsettling erotic ‘Every Little Freckle’ which is another classic to add to their already full roster of ace tunes. Starting off with low key instrumentation building to a choral accompaniment and then back to its intoxicating mix of sounds and textures its blindingly ace and provides an appetizing taste of what is to come when I see them live.

That concludes another packed half hour of Later, despite the mannerisms of its host still one of the best music programs around.
Last nights episode still available on  BBC I Player.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Dan Croll @ Ruby Lounge Manchester 19.3.14

Dan Croll - Ruby Lounge Manchester 19/3/14

The boy from Liverpool via Stafford has literally come from nowhere to becoming one of the hottest properties around. Moving to Liverpool at a young age to study at LIPA led to a chance meeting with one Paul McCartney and said single was at the top of blog chart Hype Machine for 3 weeks and Croll received more airplay on radio and even got added on the prestigious ‘ a new band a day’. After cutting his teeth, supporting Bastille and Imagine Dragons, Dan was now ready to be thrust into the limelight.
After wowing the crowds at SxSW in Austin last year, Croll is now doing a whistle-stop tour of the UK along with support band Racing Glaciers.

 Ruby Lounge is crammed tonight with what seems like tweens all eager to catch a glimpse of a new pop obsession. It’s almost like a boyband has come to town so it definitely bodes for an interesting evening.
Local band ‘ Racing Glaciers’ are up first with their keyboard led sort of Coldplay lite brand of emotive pop which seems primed for larger arenas. This works well for the young crowd as it seems they can’t get enough of their frat boy looks but still just remains inoffensive music for the rest of the crowd.

Dan Croll and band enter the stage with ‘Hello My Baby’ which sounds like a lost Lady Black Mambazo song. Its rhythm sets the tone for the evening. Launching into the kaleidoscopic pop of ‘Thinkin bout chu’ with its cooing backing vocals sends the girls at the front wild having the same effect. It soon becomes clear why he has a young appeal with his loved up lyrics. 

The falsetto of ‘wanna know’ brings the first sing along from the crowd. The dancey In/Out gets the crowd shuffling their feet. It’s crazy that he has just released his debut and every song sounds so familiar. ‘Compliment your soul’ is the next major sing along with its lolloping melody, brass parps and close harmonies - it still sounds as fresh as ever. 

A mention for his ace band here with Dave Kelly’s rhythmic drumming ably accompanied by the tight riffs of Jethro, John and Jacob who somehow becomes easy fodder for the crowd. Occasionally the music veers close to Vampire Weekend and there is an obvious Paul Simon influence. However Dan has the likeability and variety in his arsenal with none of the complexities of Vampire Weekend which with his complete focus on the melody and songwriting is a winning combination. There is a variety of styles on show here especially with the switch from soul to pop to afrobeat but it’s all perfectly arranged so it doesn't seem to make a difference to the crowd.

With a mention of his Mum and his creased shirt you can tell that despite all this newfound fame Dan is still grounded. This is so rare in an artist nowadays and all to his credit and he genuinely looks astounded at his popularity.

 Dan ends his set with the gorgeous of home an earlier EP which showed so much promise and showcased his songwriting talent. It’s the perfect way to finish a faultless set of course notwithstanding the electronic folk of ‘From Nowhere’’ and the acoustic pop sweetness of ‘Sweet Disarray’ as a closer.

 We might be a few months away from summer but with this special brand of sunshine pop that Dan is bringing to the Ruby tonight, it’s almost like August is here already.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

JUICED Best of 2013

Hard to believe its been a year already and like former years 2013 didn't disappoint with unforeseen comebacks, new artists, interesting collaborations and established bands hitting their stride. If this year brings any of the above we are in for a pretty good year for music. As usual with the amount of top class releases its been a hard task to whittle them down to a top 10 but after much thought this was finally done and I managed to choose my number 1 record. Of course its only one person's opinion of course and I am open to suggestion to what record you couldn't get enough of in 2013.

This list of releases below demonstrates what a top year for musical talent 2013 was, and I reckon that all these release deserve their place in your collection enjoy :)


Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

A daft punk release is always met with a large amount of trepidation and this release was no different. Whilst there might have been an assumption that the band would go towards the EDM direction which a lot of bands are doing at the moment. This was daft punk and they always do their own thing. What they did do is enlist the help of a Disco legend Nile Rogers of Chic fame and an R&B superstar Pharrell Williams to produce a vintage yet fresh sounding album. You could not escape the catchy melody of ‘Get Lucky’ in the summer and ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’s disco guitars drew the listener in. Although the rest of the album used synths and vocoders and felt a little flat. They made it ok to like disco again with the help of some  friends.


Willy Moon - Here's Willy Moon

Some things go together, like bangers and mash ,bat and ball, sugar and spice etc. but 50s rockabilly and digital production? surely not likely. One listen to smash hit  ‘Yeah Yeah’ and its clear to see what this New Zealander was doing wasn’t such a bad idea after all. In fact its inspired especially on the prime cut from Willy’s debut album ‘my girl’ which sounds like a lost 50s rock n roll track fed through a synthesiser. With ‘Here’s Willy Moon’, in 2013, he breathed fresh life into old beloved genre and everyone was invited.


Haim - Days Are Gone

The LA three piece were one of the most talked about bands this year. Not only did they showcase their talent of crafting a mix of R&B and country with hooks aplenty but their live shows were joyous and unhinged showing all aspects of their personality and talent. They brought a fresh and honest perspective to a frankly stale music scene, not always politically correct but never boring and we loved them for it. Whether it was the breezy pop of Forever or the smooth stylings of ‘Go Slow’. Occasionally they edged too close to their obvious influences Fleetwood Mac et al but they managed to stamp their personality to stop it getting all too familiar.



Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
This represented a departure from his other guise as one part of bluesy rock act Grinderman which had a heavier sound towards an altogether restrained and softer approach. Despite this change of direction Cave doesn’t lose any of his power of storytelling and still remains an interesting lyricist. With songs like the slowbuilding melodic ‘Jubilee Street’ which has to be one of the loveliest songs he has written and the restrained ‘We Real Cool’ even manages to have a menacing undertone to it even though it has a sparse accompaniment with Cave crooning ‘ I hope your listening’ on it. It would be inexcusable to mention Warren Ellis here as its his instrumental washes on the tracks that really makes the album stand out.


David Bowie - The Next Day

 When the chameleon of pop announced he was releasing a new album it was almost like liquid dream that people never thought they would bear witness too. but this was actually happening. Bowie recorded his new album with former producer and collaborator Tony Visconti. The first fruits of this renewed partnership was ‘ Where are we now’ which depicted Bowie in contemplative mood and perfectly translated into what he meant to people and to the music landscape. The rest of the album harked back to his exploits as Ziggy and his 'Heathen' and 'Reality' releases but on this effort it looks like he has got more to say and it won’t be too long till we have another LP from him.

Lorde - Pure Heroine

One of the most talked about celebrities this year was Miley Cyrus and her controversial outfits and performances. It was heartening to think that contrary to this carcrash there were still some actual new songwriting talent up and coming who were all about the music rather than the glamour.Step forward new zealander Lorde with her own brand of R&B and Indie. Take 'Royals' which deals with  teenage dreams of being famous yet also understands that she is still young at 16 and therefore appreciates she is still a teenager as on tennis court. Her self-informed lyrics and minimalist production are a striking combination and show why she is a revered talent and unlike some she doesn’t have to show some skin to be noticed.


Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe

When ‘Lies’ came out its throbbing synths and sweet but deadly female vocals heralded a new band that was set to change the ideas of what Glasgow was capable of. What really made them stand out was their combination of electro pop and the dark lyrics. Recover showed that this band were pleasant to listen to but had bite. Mother We Share showcased their softer side as Lauren’s vocals took on an altogether new register. It all added up to an album that was sinister in conception but also boasted some brilliant pop hooks and angelic vocals that brought some much needed lightness to proceedings.


Dutch Uncles - Out of Touch in the Wild

Another reason why all the best music was coming from Manchester. The Uncles new release arrived at the beginning of the year and captivated and impressed in equal measure with its jerky guitar art-pop rhythms and bursts of strings. Out Of Touch in the Wild is all over the place and shouldn’t work but the reason it does is because its has a pop sensibility running throughout as evident on classy numbers ‘ flexxin ‘ and the jumpy ‘fester’ . Rather than over-egg their music as some bands tend to do, they still have the personality and talent to match and in lead vocalist Duncan Wallis a voice you can while away the hours to.


London Grammar - If You Wait

The first thing that strikes you about the band is Hanna's commanding yet stunningly beautiful vocal. Its easy to feel every emotion she feels and the minimalist electronic backing provides the perfect backing for her strong vocals. Having been referred to as Florence meets the XX, the band are so much more. There is an emotional honesty to their lyrics and the restrained yet    of their music is captivating. When ‘Hey Now’ was released earlier on in the year it showcased their exquisite songcraft for all to see. ‘Strong’ expanded on this and became almost an anthem in waiting. The album had treats galore and if you waited till the end, there was even a cover of Kandinsky’s Nightcall which was breathtaking - a brilliant debut album and almost grabs the top spot.


The National - Trouble Will Find Me

 With every release Brooklyn's the National have been forging their own musical identity. They have always remained true to the song unafraid to emotionally bear their souls. There was a danger that with 2010s High Violet they might be looking towards the mainstream but their obscurity of their lyrics and carefully crafted songs ensured this was not the case.'Trouble Will Find Me could be their most personal yet accessible collection yet. Its a mixture of restrained beautiful instrumentals as on ‘Slipped’ based around Matt Berningers introspective lyrics and occasional orchestral Swells as on the surging ‘Graceless’ complete with backing harmonies. . One can't help but be floored by the stunning ballad 'I Need My Girl' and admire the slowburning brilliance of 'Demons' Whilst not as immediate as 'High Violet' it gradually worms its way in and rewards with repeat listens and then you have a new favourite. All in all a captivating record that showcases an established band at the top of their game and a worthy No.1 of 2013.