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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 14th December 2015 at 6:00 pm
In October, John Grant released his third solo album ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ on Bella Union, and it was critically lauded across the board. The latest promo from the LP is for ‘Down Here’, and it has a touching story. In it, a young boy has the seemingly insurmountable dream of joining an all girls’ synchronised swim team. Does he make it? Watch this swimming music video version of Billy Elliot below.
John Grant is scheduled to leave his enclave in Iceland to tour the UK and Ireland in January and February; read this past post for all the details. For more coverage of John Grant on TGTF, head here.
So it’s that time of the year again when musicians start to surprise release what they’ve been working on. These albums are generally more enjoyable and (I use this term in the loosest sense) honest than other comeback albums that have been drip-fed to us via screenshots, studio bants and snippets for months. Take Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album. It was far more engaging and enjoyable than ‘4’, or ‘Sasha Fierce’. Part of this was down to the out-of-the-blue nature of it release. David Bowie has announced he is releasing his 25th album next year called ‘Blackstar’.
So far, all we have to go on is the title track. Even by Bowie’s standards, this is a little out there. ‘Blackstar’ is Bowie going back to art rock and avant-jazz avenues, as he tells an ad hoc story for just under 10 minutes. There are flourishes of jazz, rock, pop, drum and bass and Gregorian chants. The video is equally out there, featuring astronauts, priests, women with tails and bizarre rituals involving jewel-encrusted heads.
The main problem with ‘Blackstar’ is that it sounds like two half-finished ideas stapled together under the guise of the avant-garde. While this is all speculation, as I have no idea about Bowie’s inner workings, the single does feel like a slightly rushed job, or he had the idea for the video and wanted the music to reflect back on the video somehow. Overall as a song, it doesn’t feel cohesive, and the transition from the first part to the second is a bit jarring and could have been smoother.
While ‘Blackstar’ sounds more exciting and vibrant than 2013’s ‘Where Are We Now?’, it still comes across as stagnant, somewhere between a desperate mix of Philip Glass, Lou Reed’s changeling ‘Lulu’ album and recent work by Scott Walker. In the past, Bowie was known a game changer, but because he’s not pushing himself now, it appears that he’s just copying someone else’s style and ideas rather than try and push the envelope himself. Sadly, it’s coming off second-rate, as what he’s copying is something so good and original in the first place. If this was any other artist, we’d happily accept this, but as it’s Bowie, the man who sold the world, we expect a bit more. We expect fully formed ideas and concepts rather than improvised, makeshift studio shenanigans. Go away, David, and come back when you know what you’re trying to say.
‘Blackstar’, the new single by David Bowie, is out now. His new album of the same name will be released on the 8th of January 2016 on RCA.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 11th December 2015 at 6:00 pm
One of Toronto’s most talented songs, Dallas Green, better known by his inanimate stage name City and Colour, has a new video out this week for yet another track from his fifth album ‘If I Should Go Before You’. The release dropped in October, and our Carrie reviewed it for us (read her thoughts about the LP at the link).
I’m not big into interpretative dance. I’m sure this promo for ‘Lover Come Back’ – starring a young and talented African-American dancer kicking up his heels in a daytime rural setting (a cotton field no less, recalling days of slavery and oppression), then at nighttime among flames and embers – while looking artsy, is, representative of something far more important and touching than I can glean from just watching this once. Watch it below.
City and Colour hits the live scene in the UK in February; all the details are here. For more of our continuing coverage of Green and his music on TGTF, follow this link.
By this point, if you don’t know what to expect from Coldplay, then you’re just never going to get it. Coldplay are the kind of band who, successful on a gigantic scale they may be, have managed to survive on a mixture of melancholy and melody in its, for a better word, tamest form. Sure, big hitters such as ‘Yellow’ or ‘Fix You’ tug at even the toughest of heart strings but at the end of the day, there’s no offence. Why should there be? It’s Coldplay. The closest we got to any kind of development formed around the era of ‘Viva La Vida…’ and ‘Mylo Xyloto’, where things headed north on the epic scale and introduced electronic components to the current formula.
Now, an album or so after the aforementioned priors, we have ‘A Head Full of Dreams’, the potential finale if we were to begin to take the media speculation around Chris Martin’s comparison between this and the last Harry Potter book seriously. ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ certainly could be seen as a swan song of sorts, almost a celebration, a celebration of everything Coldplay brought to us when they first formed in 1996 and what they still continue to bestow upon the world.
There are certainly even more developments: the first that comes to mind is ‘Hymn for the Weekend’, its content not similar to that of any previous Coldplay song that jumps out. “I’m feeling drunk and high, so high, so high”, it very well may be about love in its deepest layers, but the prominent synonyms certainly are that of the weekend partiers, and, when coupled with enough Beyonce to not take over the song but to be worthy of a feature credit, it’s a surefire hit, yes. But one thing it isn’t is Coldplay.
There are other moments that follow this pattern: for example, ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’, a track that could quite easily be a summer dance anthem, were we not in the midst of winter. It begins with a tumbling guitar introduction that automatically gets firmly lodged in your head, which along with backing vocals by Merry ‘Gimme Shelter’ Clayton and a thumping dance beat, makes it infectious, happy and also definitely not Coldplay.
The winning formula of the early days makes an appearance with ‘Everglow’, a piano-led slow cut that focuses upon what they do best: raw, unbridled emotion. Backed by a slow, pattering drum beat and swirling guitars, it’s Coldplay at their best, and you can’t help but fall a little bit more in love with them, no matter how much you try not to.
It would be unjust to not mention ‘Kaleidoscope’, which is a track that strangely enough doesn’t feature Chris Martin, or any of Coldplay in fact. It does, however, feature poet Coleman Barks reading a Rumi poem and none other than President Obama. As little as his inclusion is, it’s a powerful message in a powerfully charged song. Some may see it as a publicity stunt, but it’s tasteful and minimal.
If this were to be, as previously mentioned, the final Coldplay album, then it’s perfect. Last track ‘Up&Up’ is epic, has a backing chorus featuring both previously mentioned Beyonce and Merry Clayton, as well as help from Noel Gallagher on guitar. The album has everything, including further experimentation, which may not be entirely be a strength, but why would you want to wave the world off with the exact same components? That’s what the greatest hits are for, right?
‘A Head Full of Dreams’ is out now via Parlophone and streaming on Tidal. It’s purported to be coming to other streaming services soon. For past coverage of Coldplay on TGTF, go here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 10th December 2015 at 6:00 pm
‘Be Right Back, Moving House’ is the latest Ghostpoet track from his 2015 Mercury Prize-nominated album ‘Shedding Skin’ to get its own music video. The man has always struck me as an intelligent, forward-thinking chap, so I’m not surprised this new promo is thought-provoking. Using stairwells, landings and lifts as metaphors for the difficult climbs in life, some of them that leave us stumbling and gasping for air, ‘Be Right Back, Moving House’ is a compelling watch. You can view the video below.
Read Carrie’s review of ‘Shedding Skin’ here. Our archive of articles on Ghostpoet can be found this way.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 10th December 2015 at 4:00 pm
The Mancunian loudmouth we love to hate – or is that love to love? – Noel Gallagher was the In Concert star Monday night on Radio 2, performing with a backing band semi-acoustically. In addition to more recent material from the crotchety Northern singer/songwriter, naturally he trotted out an Oasis classic, and arguably what will be his legacy, not his contentious relationship with baby brother Liam, is ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. It’s definitely my favourite Oasis song, and I explored the lyrics of the song on Music in Notes earlier this year.
In case you missed Monday night’s performance, the BBC have made available the song being played live to everyone on YouTube. (If you’re in the UK, you’re in luck: you’ve got 27 days to watch the entire set live on BBC iPlayer.) For more on Noel Gallagher and his post-Oasis band Noel Gallagher and His High Flying Birds, head this way.