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Among the ever-growing milieu of soulful singer/songwriters, Hertfordshire’s James Bay seems poised to become the next big thing. In more ways than one, he is following in the very successful footsteps of an immediate predecessor, Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. Bay toured in America as Hozier’s support act last year (look back at our live review here), and just last week in Austin, Texas at SXSW 2015, he played the very same Communion Music showcase where Hozier made a name for himself in America at SXSW 2014. (Keep an eye on TGTF for upcoming coverage of last week’s Communion showcase, including Bay’s live performance.)
Hot on the heels of his SXSW 2015 appearances, Bay has just released his debut LP ‘Chaos and the Calm’, which continues with the blues rock, gospel-tinged song formula that first drew attention to his music. Comparison to Hozier’s debut album is probably inevitable, given the convergent career paths and superficial stylistic similarities between the two. While Bay’s sound is less boldly experimental than Hozier’s, on his LP Bay has done one notable thing that Hozier didn’t quite manage on his debut: specifically, Bay has found the sweet spot between variety and predictability. Where Hozier’s album was an intricate exploration of blues, gospel, folk and pop, Bay’s record is almost stunningly simple, drawing its power from his soulful vocal delivery and subtly evocative guitar lines. Bay’s lyrics on ‘Chaos and the Calm’ are likewise consistent, focusing on the heartache of love in transition, at the crossroads of breaking apart.
‘Craving’ is an immediately anthemic track with a driving rhythm and a passionately sung chorus that are particularly well-suited for opening live shows, which Bay has done on both of the occasions I’ve seen him. Hit single ‘Hold Back the River’, typically the final song on Bay’s live set list, begins with the stark yearning of a solo guitar, then gradually builds intensity by adding gospel harmonies behind Bay’s emotionally charged chorus and increasingly husky vocal timbre. The frenetic energy of harder-edged tracks ‘Best Fake Smile’ and ‘Collide’ provides propulsive momentum among moments of intense emotionality.
The album’s quieter moments are equally effective, including the achingly sensual slow-burner ‘Move Together’ and the gentle pleading of ‘Scars’. Bay closes the album with the more pensive ‘Incomplete’, which is true to its title in that it leaves behind a sense of longing for resolution. Rather than offering closure, however, Bay seems to be deliberately leaving himself open to further possibilities.
Bay’s songs might not be groundbreaking, but they are authentically and unapologetically emotional, and that is a large part of their appeal. Combined with Bay’s unique voice and the production assistance of Nashville’s Jacquire King, that quality has resulted in a strong album of engaging and instantly relatable tracks, which is becoming something of a rare find. In the midst of a singer-songwriter genre that is growing ever less focused and more loosely defined, ‘Chaos and the Calm’ is, despite its title, refreshingly sincere and straightforward.
James Bay’s debut album ‘Chaos and the Calm’ is out now on Virgin / EMI. Bay is set to embark on a run of live dates in the UK next month; find all the dates here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 25th March 2015 at 11:00 am
I think it’s safe to say that East India Youth, better known to his mum as London-based electronic musician and bassist Will Doyle, is well-known among music fans in Britain: his debut album under the moniker released on Stolen Recordings released at the start of last year, ‘Total Strife Forever’, earned him a coveted 2014 Mercury Prize nomination, which even without winning the gong he says gave the LP a second life after its initial release. Here in America though, he’s just beginning (hence the Bands to Watch I wrote on him in January to talk him up before he arrived in Texas) a major push in our country this spring with his upcoming album ‘Culture of Volume’, which will be released on Beggars Group’s XL Recordings the first full week of April in both the UK and U.S. and will be accompanied stateside by a reasonably long North American tour kicking off at the end of April.
Will’s first visit to Austin, Texas, for SXSW 2015 last week included a plethora of gigs at venues of varying size, playing to audiences of varying numbers and claustrophobia: Saturday saw him play the Indian Roller bar south of the city owned by a friend, while Thursday afternoon saw him playing a mental set for Under the Radar magazine just prior to the elusive Mew and Of Montreal at the 299-capacity Flamingo Lounge (we looked this number up during our interview). Tuesday night is traditionally always a packed house at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, as Tuesday night has the least number of showcases on offer and it is the obvious place for both industry and fans to congregate on the first night. Will was second up on the bill for the Cerdd Cymru: Music Wales night curated by Radio 1’s Huw Stephens though confusingly, neither he nor Kate Tempest or Shura are Welsh (they are all English). It did however start to make more sense when I got to chat with him Wednesday afternoon and he explained that it was Huw who sponsored his Mercury Prize nomination, bringing things round full circle rather nicely.
During this interview, I asked Will about the new album, how it was approached differently than the award-nominated debut and the pains that went into making it, and he told me about how he’d been pleasantly surprised by SXSW so far and of his love for his recent tourmates Factory Floor, who gave him a new appreciation for dance music in the live setting. This was far and away one of my most pleasant interviews in recent memory – thoughtful interviewees are always the best! – and many thanks to Will for answering my many questions.
Do you remember between the ages of 15 and 18(-ish) when you’d sit glued to the antipodean drawl of Zane Lowe on a dark night around the middle of February? Waiting in awe to discover which titan of popular culture would be gracing the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds? You sat there ready to tweet, Facebook and text your friends about which clashes you were gutted about and which ones were glaringly obvious: I mean who WOULDN’T want to catch Black Flag over Arcade Fire on the Main Stage? They’re a punk rock institution, for god’s sake!
Now, regrettably in drips and drabs, before the bill is inevitably leaked by some cretin on Reddit, the line-up seeps out producing excitement levels tantamount to that first sleet of February. The kind of sleet where it starts and you think it’s going to snow, but instead it just dusts your porch for 5 minutes, then just goes back to being incredibly cold. That kind of faux-excitement.
Now coupled with the lack of a spectacle, we’re subjected to the damp squib that are Mumford and Sons headlining the Main Stage. A band who’ve released two mediocre albums that has led to them headlining Glastonbury and making inroads into the U.S. market that only Harry Styles and co., alongside Mumford, could dream of. Yes, I liked ‘Little Lion Man’, and it’s sure to provoke a pretty good reaction. But did anyone see the tame, lacklustre set the band threw out at Glasto? I did. You can drag out as many string quartets as you want, but when you’ve only got two records of material to run from, it’s never going to shock or surprise, let alone entertain.
Yes, Marcus Mumford has been brushing shoulders with Elvis Costello and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, but are the band any closer to releasing any new music? It doesn’t look that from where I’m sitting… In fact, coupled with Metallica’s booking, that’s two artists headlining the Main Stage who are likely to release a grand total of jack shit this year. Quite similar to Blink 182 last year as well; this smacks of bands being booked simply to bump up the bank balance before other projects. Is that what we should be expecting from £200+ worth of tickets? It’s an example of where those behind Reading and Leeds have fallen into the same trap that other festival bookers have done in the past. Going for what they assume is a safe booking over a genuine wild card contender, someone who can come on stage and be THAT SET that people are still talking about a decade on. Can you really see yourself in 10 years’ time telling friends and colleagues about a rousing rendition of ‘The Cave’? No, me neither. We all know that Sonisphere are just treading water until they can justify booking one of either Slipknot, Iron Maiden or Metallica again. It’s all just very safe. But why should festivals stick to what’s safe? (OK, so yeah, profit margins, but they aren’t cool.)
It’s probably unfair to just focus on where the institutions that are Reading and Leeds have just gotten it wrong. In 2013, the bookers got it ABSOLUTELY right. Biffy Clyro topped the bill on the Sunday, off the back of the incredible success of their most recent release, their double album ‘Opposites’.
Up until then they’d punctuated the middle of the roaster, teetering on the edge of doing better, but never receiving the backing to rise farther up. In 2013 though, the bookers at Reading and Leeds after a few 7/10 shows at recent festivals took a gamble; they elevated Simon Neil’s threesome of slippery pliant Scotsmen to the lofty heights of headliner. The result was arguably the best headline performance at Richfield Avenue in 2 decades. Every song was an anthem, every ballad a soulful sing-along, every riff a rollicking ripper (try saying that at the end of a festivals worth of stale Strongbow and warm vodka). It was a rousing success and elevated The Biff to the kind of heights that now has them touted as potential Wembley Stadium headliners. Now of course while Noel Gallagher “can’t live in a world where Ed Sheeran sells out Wembley Stadium”, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind seeing this sweaty topless threesome – what an image – screeching their balls off at the venue.
That’s the kind of effect a strong, edgy booking can have. That’s what can be achieved by going against the grain. It can stick in your memory and affect the careers of the artists involved. What does Mumford and Sons headlining Reading and Leeds mean? Probably a better turn out for the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage, if I’m honest.
The head honchos at Reading and Leeds should take a leaf out of the books of groundbreaking festivals books like Bestival, Secret Garden Party or Latitude. Exclusive sets from out-of-the-ordinary acts like OutKast or The Chemical Brothers are far more likely to excite and inspire sales. In a time where pockets are pinched and times are tight, you’ve got to do a lot to encourage your average tweenager to spend £200 on a festival ticket and not a week-long blowout in Malia spent grinding on strangers whilst sipping on buckets of Red Bull mixers.
Brighton indie pop group The Go! Team have announced a list of summer shows to follow the release of their new LP ‘The Scene Between’ on the 30th of March. The LP was written, produced and performed by frontman Ian Parton, who will be joined on the tour by original bandmates Ninja and Sam as well as Simone Odaranile (drums), Cheryl Pinero (bass) and Maki (guitar and vocals).
To celebrate the album release, Buzzfeed Music will be hosting a new album track video each day this week. You can watch the first of the five videos, ‘What D’You Say?’, just below the tour date listing. Tickets for the following live dates go on sale this Friday, the 27th of March.
Previous TGTF coverage of The Go! Team can be found here.
Friday 5th June 2015 – Bristol Marble Factory
Saturday 6th June 2015 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Sunday 7th June 2015 – Glasgow King Tut’s
Wednesday 17th June 2015 – London Village Underground
Saturday 20th June 2015 – Dublin Whelan’s
Sunday 21st June 2015 – Manchester Sound Control
Saturday 4th July 2015 – Brighton Haunt
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 24th March 2015 at 6:00 pm
It’s release week for James Bay‘s debut album on Virgin / EMI ‘Chaos and the Calm’, currently at #1 on the UK iTunes chart. The LP’s second single ‘Let It Go’ (not to be confused with that megahit from the Frozen soundtrack) now has a promo video with loads of closeups of the man himself and that famous hat. (And I should know, as he and his hat walked by me a couple times at the BBC barbecue last week in Austin.) I’m rather interested in the guitar work on here, which seems to have an awfully similar vibe to that of the Script‘s ‘Nothing’. Check out the video below.
Past TGTF coverage on James Bay is here. Stay tuned for Carrie’s coverage of the man with the hat at Communion’s Friday night showcase at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary at SXSW 2015.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 24th March 2015 at 5:00 pm
This year at SXSW 2015 I decided to spread TGTF’s figurative wings beyond the countries of bands we usually cover (the UK, America, Ireland and Australia), having made the decision to cover the Sounds from Spain afternoon showcase at Brush Square Park’s West Tent (read the review of the showcase here). This turned out to be a wise decision, as I met some really lovely people there. I felt like I was part of their extended musical family and never once was shoved around or made to feel small, which seemed to sum up a lot of my experiences at my first SXSW. So thanks very much to Sounds from Spain, especially Rocio Gutierrez and the bands themselves, for making me feel so welcome!
Another conscious decision I made was to expand our coverage on a genre I love very much but yet always feel alone in my appreciation of: electronica. Barcelona’s beGun, who I profiled in this Bands to Watch in early February, makes what I consider an especially fabulous kind of electronica in that there is a lot of thought that goes into what he does and he clearly has an established method to the madness, if you will, to making his art that you can see in the finished product that is beautiful and evocative. In my interview with him that you can stream below, he tells me that the Spanish ambassador to Ireland visited the city of Dublin and was amazed how well beGun’s own song ‘Dublin’ fit the place perfectly. No higher praise than that, eh? beGun also remains staunchly optimistic in the music he makes, and we all need more positivity in this world, don’t we? He also mentions that he would love to tour as support for current Radio 1 beat resident Jon Hopkins one day, which I hope will actually happen.
I find it extremely frustrating when I encounter closed-minded music fans who automatically chalk up any sort of electronic music that isn’t immediately poppy or has been made by a globally known household name to something that is cold, unfeeling and uninspiring. In my eyes, if it’s done right and in the right person’s hands, electronica, even when entirely instrumental, can be extremely powerful. The constant striving towards electronic music with feeling is a theme that will be explored in my interviews with East India Youth and Rival Consoles that will post in the coming days.