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American singer/songwriter Ryan Adams has a reputation among fellow musicians for being an underrated talent. I’ve talked to a fair few artists myself who claim his music as an influence, or at least a favourite for casual listening. On the flip side of that coin, Adams has earned a bit of a reputation among fans for being a bit moody, publicly bristling at comparisons to Canadian rock star Bryan Adams and mocking punters who snap photos with smartphones during his live shows.
Adams’ most recent album release was similarly irreverent, at least on the surface. His full-length cover of Taylor Swift’s LP ‘1989’ reinterpreted Swift’s songs in something approaching the style of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’. Completely stripped of the original album’s flashy pop accoutrements, the cover version came across as a bit maudlin after news of Adams’ divorce from singer Mandy Moore. Adams himself discussed the album as both an exercise in musicianship and a form of emotional therapy, and in the context of his entire body of work, it seems almost tangential.
As for Adams’ forthcoming new album, its first single ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ is more in the vein of his scorching self-titled album from 2014. ‘Ryan Adams’ was anxiously energetic, seething with hot guitar licks and heavy lyrics. ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ is perhaps a bit lacking in the lyric department, but its chorus echoes with longing (“what can I say? / I didn’t want it to change”) and its sharp rock ’n’ roll edge is undeniable. Longtime fans might yearn for Adams’ forlorn alt-country past, but listeners like myself who came round late in the game will answer the song’s title query with a most emphatic “yes”.
Now on tour in Australia and Asia, Adams and his newly formed backing band performed the new album in full during a secret show at Sydney’s Factory Theatre this time last week. You can have a listen to the official audio for lead single ‘Do You Love Me?’ just below. Ryan Adams’ new LP ‘Prisoner’ is due for release on the 17th of February 2017, via PaxAm/Blue Note/Capitol. TGTF’s previous coverage of Ryan Adams is back this way.
Manchester alt-rock legends Elbow have returned to the music scene in spectacular fashion with an aptly-titled new single ‘Magnificent (She Says)’. The highly-anticipated new track is our first glimpse of Elbow’s forthcoming seventh studio album ‘Little Fictions’, which is due for release in the early part of 2017.
“This is where the bottle lands,” sings frontman Guy Garvey, laying the groundwork for a lyrical stream of consciousness “where a tiny pair of hands finds a sea-worn piece of glass and sets it as a sapphire in her mind.” Garvey’s freely associated lyrical phrases evoke the gauzy image of a young girl standing on a beach, while his bandmates re-create the swell and expanse of the ocean with a dazzling array of grand musical gestures.
As is often the case, Elbow’s orchestration is rich and vivid, with a bit of a retro feel. Warm, round guitar tones and bright keyboards contrast sharply with the angular drama of the full string section. The rhythm section is notably prominent, keeping a steady and urgent pulse under the breadth of sophisticated harmonies and shifting tone colors.
Talking about the rhythm section inevitably brings us round to the elephant in the room, namely the departure of Elbow’s drummer Richard Jupp earlier this year. Jupp’s deft touch and dynamic sensitivity on the kit arguably helped to define the band’s sound, and the remaining four members (Garvey, guitarist Mark Potter, keyboardist and producer Craig Potter and bass player Pete Turner) haven’t publicly spoken about how they’re dealing with his absence. But they seem to have stood up to the challenge, at least in the context of studio recording, and their customarily strong rhythmic component is certainly felt here.
‘Magnificent (She Says)’ is by turns cordially familiar and crisply refreshing, in classic Elbow fashion. Its lyrics are graceful and poetic, and perfectly paired with the elegant orchestral setting. Despite the rather unwieldy song title, the broad declaration in its eponymous refrain, “It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says / It’s all gonna be magnificent”, might well be seen as an optimistic portent to the remainder of ‘Little Fictions’.
‘Magnificent (She Says)’ is the first single from Elbow’s seventh LP ‘Little Fictions’. The album is due for release on the 3rd of February 2017 via Polydor/Concord. TGTF’s previous coverage of Elbow is right back here.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 22nd November 2016 at 12:00 pm
the xx first burst on the scene nearly a decade ago as dream pop misfits. Touring as support for their Beggars Group peers Friendly Fires, it was hard to see that superstardom loomed on the horizon for this unconventional band with complementary male and female lead vocals. Yet the music from their 2009 self-titled and Mercury Prize-winning debut album released on Young Turks proved irresistible to tv sync producers and the media alike, their songs appearing on promos for NBC’s coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the BBC’s coverage of the 2010 general election. Soon, they were selling out venues with no trouble at all, and their was on everyone’s lips.
Their sophomore album, 2012’s ‘Coexist’, garnered top marks from nearly every music review outlet across the board. Then there was a strange and unexplained silence. I’d argue that their mention in spring 2014 that they were working on album #3 was simply dangling a carrot and doing no-one any favours; to me, you’ve got new music or you don’t, don’t play with the emotions of your devoted fans. In summer 2015, their beats master Jamie Smith who is professionally known as Jamie xx released his debut album ‘In Colour’. In a surprise move, exemplary single ‘Loud Places’ and ‘SeeSaw’ from the album featured the vocals of his xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft, who with other xx member Oliver Sim were seen posing in a photo on Instagram with Smith. Were the xx on their way back to us?
So, xx fans, you’ll be pleased to know that their third album ‘I See You’ will be released on the 13th of January 2017 on Young Turks. The week of the election, I really wasn’t in the right mindset to listen and to appropriately deliberate on the their new song to preview their new LP. A week and a half after its unveiling, I’m ready now, and I can’t help but be discoursed by what I hear. In a weird instance of art imitating life, it seems that in music that assimilation, instead of celebrating differences and pushing boundaries, is the chosen route to success.
‘On Hold’ is not about a phone conversation but a relationship that was put on the back burner, with the principals sadly finding out that love can’t thrive in a vacuum. Neglect, as some of us have learned firsthand, often strikes a bond of love stone cold dead. The best part of the song are Madley-Croft and Sim’s trademark gently competing vocals, but the painful rhymes built into this song (“when or where did we go cold / I thought I had you on hold”) are cringeworthy. The beats of Jamie xx, while fun, dance floor worthy and I guess a nice segue on from ‘In Colour’, fill up what always was welcome negative space on past xx efforts. I view this as a major misstep. The most important graphic artists of modern times weren’t afraid of negative space. They were viewed as revolutionaries because they didn’t follow everyone else. And sometimes – and especially in these volatile times – the world needs artists confident enough to go against the grain. I don’t hear anything in here that makes me go “wow!” or “that’s amazing!”
The band were the musical guests on this weekend’s Saturday Night Live; NME noted how awkward the group looked onstage at 30 Rock in their goth cowboy attire. Not exactly . Maybe their misfit personalities that we fell in love in the beginning will become more prominent on the rest of ‘I See You’? Here’s to hoping…
Stay tuned for the xx’s third album ‘I See You’, which is due for release on the 13th of January 2017. An audio stream version of ‘On Hold’, the lyrics noted in the comments in ‘screaming’ capital letters, is available below. For much more of TGTF’s coverage of the xx, use this link.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 25th August 2016 at 12:00 pm
Following the announcement in autumn 2013 that Keane were splitting up, fans had a bit of a reprieve. Frontman Tom Chaplin, known for his singing and charismatic presence onstage and not for his own songwriting, revealed his desire to release his own solo album. After the release of ‘The Best of Keane’ in November of that year, the months and years passed. Except for a one-off cover of Stornoway’s ‘Fuel Up’ with Chaplin on vocals and bandmate and primary Keane songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley on piano in April 2015, we heard nothing. I had begun to think that this Tom Chaplin solo album was nothing but a faraway dream that would never be realised. Then in the middle of July, Tom Chaplin registered an Instagram account and started posting photos. A lot of them. As Chaplin had always been someone relatively reticent on social media, this new development meant something big was obviously afoot.
One of the first true tastes of his forthcoming debut solo album ‘The Wave’ due out mid-October is a clear indicator of the pain Chaplin suffered during the years of superstardom with Keane and after. Read this feature by Neil McCormick from the Telegraph this month, and you will be astonished by Chaplin’s honesty with his recent battles with drug use and anxiety, which he – and all of us fans for that matter – thought he’d kicked a decade ago, following treatment at The Priory in London. As a longtime appreciator of Keane, it hurts me deeply that someone I’ve looked up to, with the most precious of musical gifts – his amazing voice and his showmanship – has lived such a hidden, troubled existence. Chaplin admits that in recent years, his family had all but given up on him, his wife saying at one point, “I want to tell you that I love you because I don’t know whether I will get a chance to again.”
A quick examination of the lyrics of ‘Hardened Heart’ reveals Chaplin’s tortured soul, one grappling with depression, part and parcel of the fallout of a life ravaged by addiction. This song is written from the inside of depression looking out. When you’re depressed, the outside world seems like a strange, almost cartoony place. Everyone around is getting on with their lives, but you can’t. You’re stuck in one place. “It’s such a beautiful world”, yet you don’t see it. All that’s in front of you is filtered through grey shaded glasses, darkness. It’s a tough place and even as concerned as they are, it’s hard to explain to those on the outside.
His pronouncement that “all the people that love me / they never know if I’m up, down or round”, mirroring the Jekyll and Hyde characters described in Barry Hyde’s ‘Monster Again’ on his own debut solo album ‘Malody’ (“Who am I tonight? What am I tomorrow?”). But arguably the worst part of this form of mental illness is realising you could be close to losing everything, but feeling helpless, unable to do anything to lift yourself out of the mire. As noted in the start of the chorus, it’s part of a vicious cycle: “hurting everyone I know / bringing everybody down so low / stuck along a road of sadness with nowhere to go”. Another sinister slice of depression is apathy, coupled with the overwhelming desire to reach a place of emotional normalcy. “Oh, I know that my hardened heart is beating still / I drove it to the point of madness just to feel”, sings Chaplin expansively. Though it sounds counterintuitive, finally going from numb to feeling is important towards the transformation, on the road to recovery.
The promo video for ‘Hardened Heart’ was filmed in the Peak District, starting with Tom Chaplin’s silhouette framed by the first few snatches of daylight at dawn. The visuals effectively parallel the shifting moods contained in the track, as the misty clouds lift over the water and rolling hills. Even with the sunshine, the landscape is rough with brush and bracken. Yet Chaplin finds a dirt path, walking down it with not just a renewed faith, but with gusto as the chorus turns to uplifting, with expressive strings and driving drumbeats: “here’s hoping that the signs are real / and tomorrow with a spring in my heel / somewhere on the road of sadness lies a better deal”. After years of leaning on the artistry of bandmate Rice-Oxley, media pundits have understandably wondered if Chaplin had the talent of penning a pop hit of his own. The answer is a resounding yes. And that voice? It’s never been better.
It takes strength to return from the brink, to come back better than ever, to fight for another day. Tom Chaplin is living proof of this. This song is his way to remind others who feel lower than low that even if you don’t feel it yourself, you matter. You matter to the people who love you. Above all, you are worthy of this life. The title ‘Hardened Heart’ speaks of not only of what depression does to our most important emotional organ, but also how the heart can survive and rise above after battling mental illness.
Tom Chaplin’s debut solo album ‘The Wave’ will be released on the 14th of October on Island Records. To read TGTF’s back catalogue of posts on his old band Keane, follow this link. To read about depression and addiction from a doctor’s perspective of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, go here. The Priory have also gotten in touch with us about their mental health services. They encourage anyone reading this article to learn more about addiction and anxiety disorders on their official Web site.
If you’re a regular TGTF reader, you might recall that we featured Sheffield-based alt-rock band The Payroll Union last summer, when they released their captivating second album ‘Paris of America’. With that project now complete, The Payroll Union’s Pete David recently contacted TGTF about a new project being undertaken by the band’s independent record label Backwater Collective. Having already released three albums, two for The Payroll Union itself, the label is now preparing to release its fourth LP, in the form of a new solo record from Payroll Union guitarist Tom Baxendale titled ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’.
Talking of his own solo work, Baxendale describes himself as “a prolific songwriter who takes elements of country, folk, new wave, rockabilly, pop . . . you name it, to create a distinctive sound of his own.” Certainly, his work with the Payroll Union would have provided a unique experience, both in terms of musical arrangement and songwriting, but Baxendale has taken a more mainstream tack for his album’s first single ‘All My Nightmares’. The song’s story line deals with a broken romance from the point of view of a protagonist who just can’t quite tear himself away. Musically, it has a rather surprising and unapologetically catchy, lo-fi, retro Seventies’ sort of sound.
According to the press release for ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’, the new album is “packed with narrative tales that reveal an unsettling unconscious desire, with murderous pacts, love trysts, familial conflict, and, at the heart of it, a deepening sense of loss in love.” We can’t speak to all that just yet, but we can definitely hear the seeds of it in ‘All My Nightmares’. We’ll look forward to the full album release in September to find out whether or not Baxendale harvests his new song’s full potential.
Tom Baxendale’s new solo album ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ is due out in September via Backwater Collective.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 10th December 2015 at 12:00 pm
The career of the Mystery Jets hasn’t exactly followed a linear path. One could argue that their journey has been affected immeasurably by line-up changes, including the notable departures of founding member and Blaine Harrison’s dad Henry from live performance in 2007 and bass player Kai Fish in 2012 to embark on a solo career. However, having been together now as a band unit for over 2 decades is clear proof of their resilience in the ever-changing music industry.
This week, after being quiet except for a one-off show here and there since the release of ‘Radlands’ after Fish’s departure, Mystery Jets announced that their fifth album ‘Curve of the Earth’ is now scheduled for release in mid-January. With that announcement, they’ve also revealed the promo video to the first taster from the LP. I’ve always had a soft spot for the band, personally relating to Blaine Harrison’s health struggles and their third album ‘Serotonin’ – named after a neurotransmitter, exactly the sort of thing that brings a smile to a biologist’s face – soundtracking a summer romance. New song ‘Telomere’ (pronounced TEEL-oh-meer) is another nod to science, referring to the protective ends of a chromosome. Basically, at least how it was explained to me by a genetics professor when I was in university, as you age and depending on your intake of certain antioxidants, the telomeres on your chromosomes get shorter and shorter, until you die.
Rather than take the literal morbid interpretation of the song title, consider Harrison’s thoughts to NME about the new track: “Telomeres are the things that keep your DNA together. I think, in essence, what [the song is] about is that there’s something in your blood that will never die, that’s bigger than human life. It’s some way coded into your DNA strands.” Similarly in a track-by-track analysis of the upcoming album for The Quietus, Harrison waxed philosophical with the following words about the song and its accompanying video: “They are thought to hold the secret to ageing and ultimately immortality. I loved the idea that there is this co-dependency between life and death that we will never fully understand. This is probably the first time Henry and I have used such an expressionistic approach to writing lyrics. It felt like a chance to let our listeners join the dots, and the same openness applied when we asked film makers to present an idea for the video.”
And the video is indeed an odd one. I’m going to take a stab and guess that after viewing what appear to be red blood cells under a microscope, everything else – really, *everyone* else – you see in the video are supposed to be representative of the building blocks of life. Their mud-smudged figures with indistinct faces dance around and carry on their important business, but they’re not particularly special individually. Harrison himself is changing form, his face swelling at one point in the video, then later getting covered in mud as he silently screams. Throughout the song, there’s a slightly annoying, yet earworm-y repeated guitar line that sounds like the rock equivalent of an ECG machine, which detects and monitors heartbeat and life.
While the song continues the existential theme that was explored on ‘Radlands’, missing is the heavy-handed Americana influence and out of place pedal steel guitar that pervaded the previous album. Perhaps this is not an odd turn of events, considering they’re still going after all these years, but the overall message in the sweeping chorus that life will continue on despite physical death is an uplifting one that carries ‘Telomere’ into anthemic territory. An excellent start.
‘Curve of the Earth’, Mystery Jets’ fifth studio album and their first for Caroline International following their departure from Rough Trade Records, will be released on the 15th of January 2016. Have a watch of the new album’s trailer below. For everything Mystery Jets on TGTF, head here.
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