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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 9th January 2017 at 6:00 pm
The late David Bowie keeps on giving us gifts from the grave. Or, rather, his conscientious mind before he left us has. This past Saturday, on what would have been his 70th birthday, the world was given another released from the deceased pioneer. The ‘No Plan’ EP features three songs that represent the last recordings by the man who played Ziggy Stardust: the title track ‘No Plan’, ‘Killing a Little Time’ and ‘When I Met You’.
‘Lazarus’, of course previously available as a track on and a single from the 2016 ‘Blackstar’, is fittingly included here, as the aforementioned trio of songs were all previously available publicly as part of the cast recording of Bowie’s musical of the same name. However, these versions have Bowie’s own voice rather than the actors appearing in the Broadway work.
Following such a terribly tumultuous year we had in 2016 that was punctuated from the start with his death, it seems like we’ve come full circle with another present bestowed upon us by Ziggy to start 2017. Watch the music video for title track ‘No Past’ below. To refresh your memory and to read through our past coverage of David Bowie on TGTF, use this link.
Header photo by Tom Oxley
Though they’ve been skirting the music scene for a few years now, Reading alt-pop quartet Sundara Karma are beginning 2017 with a grand formal entrance. The release of their debut LP ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’ follows a whirlwind 2016, which included a main stage slot at Reading and Leeds, a co-headline slot on the first ever BBC Music Presents US tour, and radio accolades on both sides of the pond from BBC Radio 1, Beats 1 and Sirius XM Alt Nation.
The album’s title is striking in its self-awareness, especially when you realise that the members of Sundara Karma (frontman Oscar Pollock, guitarist Ally Baty, bassist Dom Cordell and drummer Haydn Evans), all at or near the ripe age of 20 years, are still in the very midst of what most of us would call youth. Thematically, the songs on the LP revolve around the egocentric angst of coming of age. Musically, the slick instrumentation, propulsive rhythms and catchy choruses channel that very real in-the-moment angst into a set of instantly anthemic radio hits, delivered in Pollock’s endearingly petulant baritone. (It should be noted that, as a frontman, Pollock bears an immediate stylistic and vocal resemblance to The 1975 lead singer Matt Healy, and Pollock’s androgynous stage name “Lulu” suggests that the impression isn’t entirely accidental.)
Most of the songs on ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’ were released on previous EPs, including a pair from 2015 titled ‘EP I’ and ‘EP II’. But a few of the tracks are new, and final track ‘Loveblood’, was reworked specifically for U.S. release. Though they were clearly written over a period of several years, the tracks mesh with remarkable cohesion in the context of the album’s overarching thematic concept. Opening track ‘A Young Understanding’ sets the mood straightaway with sharp, edgy guitars and a potent lyrical refrain, “reach for a side, reach for an understanding”.
‘Olympia’ explores the well-worn idea of the feminine mystique from a rather aloof third person distance, as Lulu describes his elusive muse: “modern Venus, tender and frail . . . she’s the best in all of Paris at aching and breaking hearts”. Later in the album sequence, ‘Vivienne’ is the flip side of the coin, a passionate romance requited: “wild eyes, skinny jeans / disengaged at just 19 / you and I stuck in the in-between”. Existential youth anthem ‘She Said’ might be considered the very core of the album’s character. Lyrically, its conflict plays out in the final verse, as Lulu sings of a boy “acting like he doesn’t care / but he’s really the most self-aware . . . ain’t it funny how we’re never certain ‘bout the way we are / another youth wasted, an eternity tainted”.
The folky guitar intro and bouncy handclaps of ‘Happy Family’ disguise an expansive, Springsteen-esque narrative about reaching a dead end in life and making hard choices: “been searching for a long time in this town / looking for a gold mine so we can get out / to finer days, we’ll waste away…” Simpler instrumentation and a folk rock rhythm are also the foundation for ‘Lose the Feeling’, where ethereally distant synths are added to set the sonic tone for a “lucid dream” experience.
The album becomes notably heavier toward the end, with the dark and ominous ’Be Nobody’ (“all the kids are ravers / ‘cos the church is now the club”) and the angular, shadowy ‘Deep Relief’, which contains the eponymous lyric “good things they come and go / and if they don’t we’re wired to forget / we bear a heavy load / ‘cos youth is only ever fun in retrospect”. Final track ‘Loveblood’ (U.S. Version) is a brooding, vampiric melodrama that takes a notable lyrical misstep in refering to the “taste of the thunder from her thighs”, but ends with a more thematically appropriate line “one last kiss, away she goes / obsessed with loveblood and no one knows”.
Fans of recent upstart bands like The 1975 and Catfish and the Bottlemen might find themselves similarly obsessed with Sundara Karma after a listen to ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’. It reads a bit like a John Hughes film from the 1980s and borrows sonic gestures from the dark synth pop of the same era, but its musical approach feels fresh and novel from a distance of 30 years, which, once again, is longer than anyone in the band has been alive. Despite their relative youth, the album’s one-two punch of youthful emotion and sonic intensity is sure to propel Sundara Karma forward as one of the biggest new acts of 2017.
Sundara Karma’s debut album ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’ is out now on Chess Club / RCA Victor. It’s also available for streaming in America via Bee & El / Sony RAL.
Header photo by Mayumi Hirata
Brighton art-rock group British Sea Power have just announced the upcoming release of their sixth studio album ‘Let the Dancers Inherit Their Party’. Breaking from their five-album relationship with Rough Trade Records, the band will release the new album on their own Golden Chariot label, via Caroline International, on the 31st of March. Those of you in the UK can listen to album single ‘Bad Bohemian’ just below the tour date listing; unfortunately, the stream hasn’t been made available in America.
Just after the album release, British Sea Power will play a list of live dates in the UK, running through mid-April. Tickets for the following shows are available now. Catch up on TGTF’s previous coverage of British Sea Power is right back here.
Thursday 6th April 2017 – Bristol Trinity
Friday 7th April 2017 – Leeds Church
Saturday 8th April 2017 – Newcastle Riverside
Sunday 9th April 2017 – Edinburgh Liquid Rooms
Tuesday 11th April 2017 – Manchester Ritz
Wednesday 12th April 2017 – London Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Thursday 13th April 2017 – Birmingham Academy 2
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 23rd December 2016 at 2:00 pm
Manchester’s alt-rock group Elbow will be releasing their seventh studio album ‘Little Fictions’, which is due for release in the early part of 2017. Described by guitarist Mark Potter as “the song people have been waiting for us to write”, ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ is the first single from ‘Little Fictions’; Carrie reviewed it for us back here. Now ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ has its own music video.
While I have to admit the band’s material hasn’t really spoke to me in recent years, the visuals in the promo are stunning and seem appropriate for this holiday. Filmed in the Asian countryside, the simple life of farmers and their families is celebrated. They don’t have a lot of money or possessions, but what they do have is love and friends in spades. And the hope that the sun will indeed rise the next morning. It’s a reminder that hope is real and we need to keep our faith in it, even during these tough times. Watch the video for ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ below. You can buy ‘Little Fictions’ for your very own on the 3rd of February 2017, when it will be available from Polydor/Concord. To read more on Elbow on TGTF, go here.
Happy holidays to all! We’ll see you back here in the new year.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 23rd December 2016 at 12:00 pm
Manchester’s PINS aren’t known for their softer side. No, the Northern girl group is more likely to give you a swift kick in the behind through their loud, unapologetic punk style. So it’s with some surprise – to me, anyway – that they have offered up their own Christmas single, available now exclusively through Amazon Music as an original entry to the online retailer’s ‘Indie for the Holidays’ collection. The promo video for ‘Come on Home (It’s Christmas)’ is a self-made, lo-fi affair, featuring backstage clips and a walk through a Christmas market (I’m assuming Manchester’s own). The song itself is a engaging blend of the girls’ harmonies and festive chimes. Check it out below. For more on PINS on TGTF, go here.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 23rd December 2016 at 11:00 am
I saw an ‘interesting’ Christmas card on a friend’s office door earlier this week. The sentiment inside the card referred to the “tumultuous” year we’ve had, with an additional note about looking forward to better things in 2017. To be honest, given the sheer volume of craziness in the last 12 months, it seemed an irresponsible act of a music editor to post her top albums and shows of the year, as if 2016 was like any other year in the past. This article to close out the year is not meant to be a scathing assessment of what has happened. Instead, the words below are meant to encourage reflection during this holiday season, during that usually otherwise ‘sweet spot’ of festive days before we say goodbye to the current year and usher in a new one.
The passing of David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen and countless other luminaries in the music world
A mathematician would argue that given the law of averages and the passage of time, for every year that passes, we’re going to lose more of our favourite artists. That makes sense, right? But 2016 saw the passing of what seemed to be the most ridiculous number of singers and musicians in popular music ever. Just ask @PigeonJon.
Votes for Brexit (warning, about to get partisan)
Politically, 2016 delivered a one-two punch to the idealistic types in Britain and America. The majority of blighty voted to leave the EU, opening the door to Brexit becoming a reality sooner than later. As most/all of you know, I don’t live in and never have lived in Britain, so it might sound strange for an American to come out so negatively against a political decision made on British shores. If you were like me and studied any sort of isolationism policy in history class in school, you know what happens when a single major country in the world tries to cut itself out of the business matters of the rest of the world.
To paraphrase the many thoughts in my head, just consider this one point with respect to the British music industry: if bands cannot afford the travel and visa costs to leave Britain and enter another European country (seriously, just forget America for the sake of this argument), they’ve lost out on a major revenue stream, not to mention the priceless exposure they would get from the touring opportunity. I’ve considered the fact that for us Americans, it may well become de rigueur to travel to the UK to see our favourite British bands or else never see them live ever again.
That’s the most fatalistic vision of the future, but it could become very real. As we all know, for most bands, touring is their bread and butter and let’s face it, the future looks bleak. As for our president elect (I can’t even bring myself to type out his name), I have contemplated too many times what havoc he could wreak on the entire world, so I’m just going to leave that there.
Skepta winning the 2016 Mercury Prize (finally, some positivity!)
I won’t repeat what I wrote in September following grime’s huge victory at the annual awarding of the Mercury Prize, you can read that here. What I will say is, it feels like we’re all stood on top of a massive tectonic plate and have been doing so all year, and the earth is shifting beneath us. Change has come and will continue coming. There will be major losses, but there will also be major gains. We needed a win for humanity this year, and Skepta’s win – and one of his sources of inspiration, his very excited mum! – was a bright spot amid the repeated, seemingly unrelenting sorrows we were faced with this year.
Things aren’t ever going to be the same, and we can’t expect them to be so. But we won’t be downtrodden forever. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Thebes wasn’t destroyed in a day either. We can use this time during the holidays for quiet reflection and remind ourselves that even in darkness, we can think, plan and act. Please, please remember that.
I will leave you with some lyrics from the ‘on hiatus’ Keane that I’ve turned to many times this year. I needed them to keep me going, to remind myself that not all hope was lost. Hope is always there. Just sometimes you need to dig deeper in yourself to find it.
“I’ve been knocked down but I won’t be broken, I won’t be broken
My spirit’s reeling, but my arms are open, I won’t be broken”
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