New Artist Round Up

It is always a pleasure when I am contacted by an emerging artist, whether that is via twitter or email and its even better when the music is good! Below are a few of the artists I have been lucky enough to hear recently, who will no doubt be benefitting from much wider coverage in the coming months and years.

We’re No Heroes

Three piece band from Cardiff who have been making music since 2009 and their 80’s inspired  sound, which matches intricate rhythms with funky bass lines and fast paced guitar work, cannot fail to make you dance. Recent single release “Voodoo/ Stay Weird” is available  on vinyl for a limited run, otherwise check our their back catalogue on Bandcamp

The Natterjacks

Derby based folk duo, Freddie Bingham and Mark Evans, are set to release their second album White Peak on 15 July, available for pre-order now. As the UK indie folk scene goes from strength to strength under tutelage of labels like Communion and the continuing commercial success of acts like Ben Howard and Bear’s Den, The Natterjacks mix of vocal interplay, uplifting instrumentation and emotive lyricism looks set to build on early recognition from Radio 2 and performances at Tramlines and Y Not Festivals.

Michael Kilbey

Singer songwriter from London, who emerged from the band The Franks, whose earnest, heartfelt vocal delivery and beautiful musicianship has the power to captivate and enthrall. New single “Turn off the Heat in My Heart” previews the album Return to Ours whilst first release “Indigo” provides the perfect introduction.

Jake Thomas Turnbull

Darlington raised and London-based singer-songwriter, who released current single “One More Day” earlier this year, Jake is another young performer whose emotive songcraft underlies his affecting vocals. The monochrome video supporting “One More Day” hints at a broader artistic vision as well and real potential for the near future.

New singles round up

What a week for new releases last week was! Some of the biggest artists in the world released new tracks and they almost all hit the ground running on their return.

Two Door Cinema Club

Northern Irish indie darlings return with a typically high energy number to preview new album Gameshow. “Are We Ready (Wreck)” matches high tempo rhythms with grooving bass lines and tales of dissatisfaction as the band continue to mature with every release. This track seems set to fill dancefloors and festival fields in equal measure over the next few months.

Kanye West – Champions

‘Ye returns with another monster posse cut, featuring Big Sean, Quavo, Gucci Mane, 2Chainz, Desiigner and Travis Scott, and it is another slice of triumphant power play from the GOOD Music team, brimming with confidence. Production is provided by Lex Luger and A-Trak. With promises of a 12-15 minute version still to come, further updates being made to The Life of Pablo and Cruel Winter coming later this year, the new music keeps coming from Kanye.

 The Avalanches- Colours

Australian crate diggers The Avalanches follow up the joyous “Frankie Sinatra” with a dusty, mellow, psychedelic number “Colours”, completed by bird noise samples, which seems perfect for soundtracking long summer evenings and provides the second single from the upcoming Wildflower.

Danny Brown – When It Rain

Hip Hop’s reigning eccentric returns with another slice of magic, with dark, dank production from Paul White underlying the pitched, frantic delivery of Brown.

Bastille – Good Grief

Dan Smith and co. return with the first single of their new album, and it is another perfect slice of big chorus pop. Lyrically Smith explores deeper issues of the challenging and often confusing emotions of grief and loss but for many this will simply be another sing along track to enjoy all summer, much like “Pompei” before it.

Chase & Status ft George the Poet – Spoken Word

Drum & Bass crossover stars Chase & Status return with another monster track that looks set to dominate festivals this summer. Featuring a sample of Rozalla’s “Everybody’s Free”, inspiring spoken word verses are delivered by George the Poet before the track descends into a house / drum & bass mash up that borders on being clichéd yet no doubt will benefit from huge radio air time.

Disclosure – Boss

UK house duo Disclosure return with another sophisticated, minimalist floorfiller “Boss”. The accompanying EP Moog For Love also features Al Green and Eats Everything.

 

Netsky – III

Liquid drum and bass superstar Netsky returns with his first album in four years and continues to demonstrate his ability to fuse sounds and styles whilst creating the kind of cohesive album that many of todays mainstream producers seem incapable of creating.

Netsky, or Boris Daenen, the Belgian producer who is one of the biggest names in drum and bass today continues to embrace the ever evolving sounds of modern electronica. His previous albums have infused dubstep, electro and jungle with the liquid sound for which he is best known. This album expands that palate to include funk and house. The result is an album that sounds current, as Daenen demonstrates his appreciation of the full spectrum of modern dance music.

This album finds itself being released at a time when D&B has remerged as a sound of the charts, thanks to the success of acts such as Sigma, Sigala, Rudimental, and recent releases from stalwarts such as High Contrast and Fred V & Grafix. Whilst many of these acts are undeniably making music tailored to the masses, their tracks are all underpinned by the clattering rhythms and infectious breakbeats that D&B is known for and Netsky has made an album that seems set to exploit this increased attention.

Right from the opener Thunder there is a clear indication of rise in Netsky’s profile, as he calls on Emelie Sande to provide the vocals for a high energy track. However, it feels largely characterless in the way it is doing exactly what Sigala and Sigma have before it and targeting a place in the charts. Whilst Sande is undeniably a talented vocalist, she also sounds a little lost. This feeling tarnishes other tracks on the album too, such as Forget What You Look Like which features Lowell and Stay Up All Night. Almost every track features a guest vocalist and whilst this isn’t a problem it is again symbolic of the efforts to reach for chart success. Any maybe we shouldn’t hold this against Netsky as he has the opportunity to cash in as EDM and its offshoots continue to catapult producers and DJs to superstar status across the world.

 

To Netsky’s credit he hasn’t abandoned D&B in pursuit of success and his music still includes those familiar drum patterns. There are also several tracks across the album that are fantastic listens. What is slightly more disappointing is that this album is at its best when it stays closest to D&B, in particular the liquid sound evident in songs such as Who Knows. Birds of Paradise in particular is a nod to his prior work, with electric guitar and piano riffs sitting prettily amongst the builds and drops of the beat underneath. It is also a rarity in the album as an instrumental.

 

Where Netsky deviates his sound it can often be less satisfying, whether it is the melodic but pondering Leave it Alone or the Diplo-esque High Alert, both teetering on the edge of generic EDM. That said the funk infused Go 2 demonstrates Netsky’s ability to fuse two worlds with the funk introduction building before integrating a classic breakbeat part way through. TNT is the most left field song on the album, featuring Chromeo vocalist Dave 1, and it seems perfect set for live sets from Netsky and his band. It is also testimony to the versatility of Netsky as a producer. Album closer Higher, co-produced with emerging talent Jauz, also shows Netsky’s appreciation of evolving sound of electronica, a futuristic house song and new territory from anything he has produced before.

 

Even more creditworthy is his ability to make a complete body of work, an art that has been lost to many of the modern dance music artists. Each track doesn’t sound like a rehash of the one preceding it and whilst there is an overarching character to the album, each track has its own identity. This is something Netsky has always excelled at – creating a particular mood with his music, whether it is the sun and parties of Rio or the groove of TNT, that isn’t overly prescriptive but clear enough to transports the listener to a time and place that means something to them. That is not to say that each track is fantastic but as a body of work it feels like an album and not a compilation.

 

Given his superstar status and the drive for commercial success there is little scope for sonic experimentation, aside from the genre hopping, with little room for the instrumental epics of prior releases such as Memory Lane and Your Way, instead the songs tend to follow a pop structure throughout. Therefore this may not appeal to the purists but it certainly has the feel good factor to appeal to many in the age of modern golden age of mainstream dance music. The album and its best songs deserve to further elevate Netsky’s profile, and the profile of drum and bass, as he continues to prove himself as an intelligent and create musician with his finger on the pulse of modern electronica.

6/10

Jurassic 5 – Customer Service

Jurassic 5 are back with their first new single in 2 years and only their second since their last album, Feedback, was released in 2006. Despite the time that has passed since their last release it doesn’t take long and it feels like they never went away. Customer Service is a a feel good return for the LA based collective, matching the playful lyricism and smooth flows of Chali 2na, Akil and co with the almost dusty but instantly gratifying old school beat from DJ Nu Mark.

The track is available for a limited time only at http://www.jurassic5.com on a pay what you want basis before its official release.

The LA collective are hitting a number of festivals around Europe this summer including Tramlines, Nozstock and NASS in the UK.

Bear’s Den are back

Communion Music originators and indie folk luminaries return with the lead single from their new album. 

Bear’s Den have given us the first taste of their follow up to 2014’s fantastic album Islands with new single Auld Wives. Sonically it has all the hallmarks of their previous work, with a splash of synths thrown in for good measure but it is lyrically where the band continues to excel. Band member Andrew Davie has spoken candidly of the inspiration for the song; his family background, time spent writing in his grandparents cottage in Scotland and the Auld Wives nearby – the faces of women mysteriously carved into a rockface.

The most significant influence however was pain of watching his grandfather deteriorate from Alzheimer’s, and the track represents Davie’s attempts to deal with the pressures this illness unfortunately brings. Deeply effecting, lyrics such as  “I’ve seen his face, carved deep in the stone, another mind you have taken away, but I swam across the ocean to find your memory, trace of all that you have left behind.” and “Now I call your name, but you can’t hear me now, no you don’t recognise my face, who are you, and why do you call me that, how dare you call me that” bring to life for listeners who have not had a similar experience the pain and confusion it can cause.

It is the band’s ability to write such poetic, personal and relatable tracks that has endeared them to so many and further raises expectations for the album.

Album Red Earth & Pouring Rain is due to follow on 22 July via Communion Records.

Haelos – Full Circle

Full Circle is the sound of a band forging their own identity and creating luscious and varied soundscapes for the twilight hours and beyond.

Haelos have emerged over the past few years making luscious soundscapes grounded in a genre traditionally written off as self-indulgent and limited in scope. Almost symbolic of this has been DJ Shadow’s continued attempts to distance himself from Endtroducing, his critically acclaimed debut album and a high watermark of trip hop. However, at its core trip hop is British and more specifically a product of Bristol. Pioneers Massive Attack and Portishead have continued to make well received trip hop and enjoy both critical and popular success, with Massive Attacks recent gig announcement in Bristol drawing an incredible response as fans queued through the night for tickets. Various other acts both inspired by and producing trip hop have emerged in the last 20 years and the output has continued to challenge and impress listeners. Therefore to write off trip hop and Haelos by extension would be unfair and may lead to you missing out on an impressive debut album.

In recent years a trip hop inspired pop sound has emerged, with The xx initial propagators and later followed by London Grammar. If You Wait combined the atmospherics and rhythms of the genre with soaring female vocals, part Shara Nelson, part Florence and the Machine. Haelos emerged in 2014 with their EP Earth Not Above and continued this trend, itself a derivative of seminal acts such as Morcheeba, with their own twist on the sound. More purist in their pursuit of trip hop than London Grammar they nonetheless demonstrated a great understanding of melody, utilising male-female vocal interplay in a way that is reminiscent of The xx in particular.

Album opener Intro/ Spectrum greets you with familiar strings and a vocal sample that serves as a statement of intent to exude love and bring people together. Lofty ambitions you might think but musically the album seems the perfect companion for this. A genre traditionally for the twilight hours, after the big room house and electro sounds have faded Haelos prove themselves capable of soundtracking more than just those moments, with big beats matched by those ambient sounds so typical of trip hop, with this no more evident than on Pray. Haelos influences are clear throughout the album, from obvious forefathers such as Portishead, to more unlikely influences in the shape of acts such as Burial. Tracks such as Sacred and Full Circle provide less jarring takes stabbing synths and drums of Untrue and reflects the broad range of sounds integrated into this album. Across the course of the album there are a number of stylistic trips as well from Jamaican sound hall (Separate Lives) to house and trance (Oracle).

Earth Not Above is the only track of their EP to make the album and it is one of the strongest on the album with the synth lines running through it demonstrating clear musicianship and appreciation of the need to craft tracks, not just beats. Trip hop could be criticised for being one dimensional in its sound but the evolution of tracks such as Earth Not Above as you are listening take you to many places as the listener, drawing you into the musician’s worlds.

Separate Lives is another album highlight, both musically and lyrically and demonstrates potential for much more. Lottie Bernadout’s voice is particularly engrossing and Haelos have crafted the perfect soundscape for her to work with. Whilst the attempts at vocal interplay fall short of the highs of The xx they are nonetheless well delivered and encouraging. At its best this album combines soaring and affecting melodies with driving rhythms, grounded in trip hop and ambient but embracing of so much more.

8/10

Talib Kweli- Gravitas

****

download

Long established as one of the most intelligent ‘conscious’ emcees in hip hop, Kweli’s latest release marks a culmination of years of consistent releases  and represents a confident, impassioned and talented musician presenting his best solo work, on his sixth album. Released through his website, kweliclub.com, it is also independent in its very nature, not just style, as it rejects major labels and allows Kweli to engage directly with his listener.

A long term gripe I have had with his work, is that his undeniably skilful flow and content can at times lack to ability to engross the listener. However, on the whole, this album presents an engaging personality who is at the top of his game delivering stories, political and social observations and who is aware of his own strengths and works with them, not deliberately challenging them.

The album shows versatility without needing to conform to modern norms. The absence of 808’s and Mike Will Made It shout outs at the start of songs is refreshing and at times exhilarating as Statik Selektah’s triumphant, shuffling drums on ‘New Leaders’ drive Kweli and the impressive Underachievers along on the albums first single, whilst Lord Quest delivers crunching guitars in ‘Demonology’ and Oh No’s stuttering ‘Art Imitates Life’ beat is a masterpiece. At 11 tracks it is also the antithesis of many modern albums which can be detrimentally sprawling.

Kweli himself has stated that this is a lyrics driven album after Prisoner of Conscience, which was a deliberate attempt to break from the pigeonholed sound of a conscious rapper. It provided an interesting listen and had some unexpected beats and guests but overall it sounded disjointed and whilst in no way a poor album, better could be expected. And Gravitas seems to be that better album.

‘Inner Monologue’ looks at the state of modern hip hop and questions amongst other things the Molly lifestyle of modern hip hop and forces suppressing artists and ‘Demonology’ sees Kweli and Big KRIT challenge their inner demons. ‘State of Grace’ and ‘Rare Portraits’ highlight his strength as a storyteller as the songs look at the misogyny of hip hop and the life and rise of the man himself. Whilst ‘The Wormhole’ has one of the weaker beats on the album, it’s an interesting look at conspiracy theories, the Illuminati and criticisms of the establishment. ‘Art Imitates Life,’ which features Rah Digga and Black Thought, is something of a conscious rappers anthem, with Black Thought starting ‘let’s toast to paid mortgages, lasting marriages,’ and the three, enveloped with soaring strings, address the art form of rap and the lives they live, with Digga questioning, ‘Heard lyrics coming back, I say it never left,’ and with artists like this it seems they never did. Finally the last two tracks work together as a softer end to the album dedicated to love and the beautiful things in life. ‘Lovers Peak’ is too saccharine for me after a few listens though at 2 minutes it is a good length, and acts as the opener for the closer, ‘Colours of Me.’ The thought of a Mike Posner feature concerned me, but his presence is negligible and instead it’s left to a smooth Dilla beat to close the album. It isn’t a standout song on the album but is a nice finisher.

One of the great questions underpinning my listen to this album was; can Kweli carry off confidence. For so long he has come across as a learned nice guy with strong political and social opinions. However any attempts at coming across as hard have often fallen short and I did wonder if arrogance was something he could make work. ‘What’s Real’ finds Talib stating ‘What’s real… let me show ya,’ and presenting himself alongside Biggie, Jordan and Tyson as a Brooklyn native and legends in their field. While his talent is undeniable, has he managed to establish himself as a great… that is more open to debate. However, these statements don’t come across too corny, fitting within the context of a great album. On ‘Rare Portraits,’ his last line is ‘The frame can’t contain it, I’m a rare portrait’ and on the basis of this album, whilst not alone, he continues to pursue what he believes, even when many have moved away from it and creates a fantastic album in the process.