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Video of the Moment #2236: Laura Mvula

 
By on Tuesday, 6th December 2016 at 6:00 pm
 

Neo-soul singer from Birmingham Laura Mvula revealed her sophomore album this summer. Out now on RCA Records, ‘The Dreaming Room’ garnered plaudits from all over. Tonight, we’ve got something for you that’s a little different. A few weeks ago, the Brummie songstress released to the wild ‘Ready or Not’, her cover of The Delfonics’ late ’60s hit single ‘Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)’.

In her version, Mvula decided to take a more in your face approach, which also extends to her high contrast in colour promo video, full of reds, blacks, whites and blues. She even picks up a keytar at one point! Watch the video below. Read Rebecca’s review of ‘The Dreaming Room’ through here. For more of TGTF’s coverage of Laura Mvula, go here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PICk3EvKZBc[/youtube]

 

Album Review: Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room

 
By on Tuesday, 12th July 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Laura Mvula The Dreaming Room album coverLaura Mvula is the captivating neo-soul singer from Birmingham who released her debut album ‘Sing to the Moon’ back in 2013. Mvula’s journey to where she is today is an interesting one. She has a degree in composition from Birmingham Conservatoire, and has directed the Lichfield Community Gospel and Alvechurch Community Choirs. Her debut album peaked in the top 10 of the UK chart and she’s performed on The Graham Norton Show in the UK. Oh, and her debut was nominated for the Mercury Prize and has 2 MOBOs under her belt. Phew.

Mvula has just released her second album ‘The Dreaming Room’, a heart-wrenching and uplifting collection of songs that draw from a myriad of influences. Mvula draws on neo-soul and classical inspirations, with stirring string instruments being heard alongside funky guitar hooks and powerful vocal arrangements. To begin, ‘Who I Am’ is, at just four short lines, is a subtly powerful introduction to the album with unearthly synth sounds and Mvula’s subdued voice. The final lyric ‘I can only be who I am’ feels like an indicator of things that are to come – the album itself deals with the struggle of identity. But, in addition to that, it speaks of the style of the rest of the album. In ‘The Dreaming Room’ Mvula has thrown away the rulebook and is making music the only way she knows how. Her way.

‘Overcome’, which features Nile Rodgers of Chic, is a moving anthem of overcoming oppression and finding freedom. ‘Overcome’ doesn’t feature an abundance of lyrics. It also doesn’t follow the typical style of verse-chorus-verse. Instead, it feels more like a poem, with four verses, ending with Mvula repeatedly singing “round the mountain all God’s children run”. Each verse is interspersed with and supported by soulful singing and a collection of sounds including strings, crashes of percussion, purring synth and an addictive guitar hook.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7u9FpJJtEQ[/youtube]

Mvula’s unique voice embodies a mixture of her classical training and Caribbean heritage. On ‘Let Me Fall’, the track features shimming synth sounds that accompany Mvula’s rich vocal range. Like ‘Overcome’, the structure of the song does not follow a typical arrangement. There is the chorus, with Mvula belting out “and if I fall / let me fall”. Cut about half way through the lyrics “no looking back when hope is pushing forward / hand in the sky will lead us out of the darkness” is repeated again and again like a sermon or a personal mantra. There are also range of drums, electronic murmurs and gentle “oohs” that float through the track, adding to the choral element of the track.

‘People’, which features rapper Wretch 32, marches along with a steady beat of drums and swelling vocals. This track is more overtly political with Mvula singing lyrics such as “our skin was a terrible thing to live in”, speaking of black identity. She sings of hope and community: “with hand in hand, we free our souls / remind us of our glory”. The lofty, vocal accompaniment and hammering of drums feels like a protest captured in song, reaching angelic heights as Mvula sings “how glorious / this light in us”, before Wretch 32 begins his verse, talking civil rights (“smell Martin Luther in the air”) and inequality. It’s a powerful track, one that definitely has to be heard.

Then there’s the final track on the album, ‘Phenomenal Woman’. I knew that I’d like the song from the title alone. I just can’t help but feel excited about female empowerment in music. On hearing it for the first time, I felt the same way that I felt on first hearing Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’. ‘Phenomenal Woman’ is the perfect way to end the album that has dealt with overcoming adversity and feelings of being broken down: “Nobody ever told her she was beauty / one day she realised she was already free”. From the thundering bass and clanging echoes at the start of the song as Mvula begins to sing, to the roar of “oh my, she flies”, every part of it is addictive and anthemic. When Mvula cries, “you are phenomenal woman”, you can’t help but believe it. It’s a great powerhouse of a track and the perfect way to end the album.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7—iGdDIBQ[/youtube]

‘The Dreaming Room’ speaks of the struggles of coming to terms with individuality. But it’s also an uplifting and hopeful collection of tracks that focus on positivity and moving past dark times.

8/10

Laura Mvula’s sophomore album ‘The Dreaming Room’ is out now on RCA Records. Mvula will be appearing at some festivals this summer, including Latitude and Longitude.

 

Video of the Moment #2117: Laura Mvula

 
By on Thursday, 16th June 2016 at 6:00 pm
 

Brummie soul songstress Laura Mvula is about to release her follow-up to her debut ‘Sing to the Moon’.  Sophomore album ‘The Dreaming Room’ will be available starting tomorrow, the 17th of June, on RCA Records. ‘Show Me Love’ is the latest tune to be revealed from the long player. And now you can enjoy its accompanying promo video, unveiled this week.

The press release describes the song as “one of heartbreak, a post-breakup lament in which she mourns the loss of a life-redefining love”.  The lovely Ms. Mvula cuts an imposing figure in this new video. All in white and emoting by the lapping waves of the seaside, while also providing contrast as a dark figure beside a coffin in church, it’s an intriguing video. Watch it below. For more of TGTF’s coverage on Laura Mvula on TGTF, go here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-l5EIcNyo0[/youtube]

 

Video of the Moment #2080: Laura Mvula

 
By on Sunday, 8th May 2016 at 10:00 am
 

Birmingham soul singer Laura Mvula, whose debut album ‘Sing to the Moon’ was nominated for the 2013 Mercury Prize, has just released a new track from her upcoming second album ‘The Dreaming Room’, due out on the 17th of June on RCA Records. The new song is called ‘Phenomenal Woman’ and follows the initial release from the new album, the heavily rhythmic ‘Overcome’, unveiled back in January.

‘Phenomenal Woman’ is inspired by the poem of the same name by Maya Angelou, and its video, filmed during Mvula’s recent visit to South Africa, is a vibrantly euphoric celebration of womankind. Speaking about the new track, Mvula says “I wrote this anthem to raise up our women. We are the givers of life, we are the children bearers, the nurturers, the heroines, we are extraordinary in our ordinariness, we fly, we fight, we are ‘Phenomenal Woman’.”

Though Mother’s Day in the UK was way back in March, it seems appropriate enough to share the video for ‘Phenomenal Woman’ today in celebration of the American / Canadian version of the day today. You’ll surely find reason to toast a ‘Phenomenal Woman’ in your own life after watching.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/7—iGdDIBQ[/youtube]

 

Mercury Prize Shortlist 2013: Is It Even Relevant Anymore?

 
By on Thursday, 12th September 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. That time of year has crept up on us again. Yesterday evening, the nominees for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2013 Albums of the Year were revealed in London. Maybe this is the direction the Mercury Prize nominations will be going in from here on out, but it’s rather startling how mainstream this year’s shortlist is. In past years, there was always one or two curveballs thrown in the mix of straight-forward, famous artists and well thought of indie. Not so much in 2013…which leaves me wondering if this competition is even worth my time anymore in the years going forward.

Let’s examine the biggest names first. The now Josh Homme-influenced Arctic Monkeys just got in under the wire, with their new album ‘AM’ literally just made it to store shelves this past Monday. They don’t need any help selling records. (Technically, they also fall under the next category I will examine, but for the sake of argument, it’s this album people are focusing on, not one 7 years ago…which won the gong that year.) Neither does legendary artist David Bowie; his March 2013 surprise release ‘The Next Day’ also makes an appearance on the shortlist.

Then there are the repeat ‘offenders’. Dubstep wonder boy James Blake, whose self-titled debut album in 2011 garnered a Mercury nod back then, is yet another safe and predictable choice. Given their headline slot at Latitude Festival this year and continually rising star, Foals‘ nomination for ‘Holy Fire’ (review here) is not such a shock. But they were nominated for and lost in 2010 for ‘Total Life Forever’. I’m a great fan of Conor J. O’Brien’s songwriting, but this year’s ‘{Awayland}’ pales in comparison to its predecessor, Villagers‘ 2010 opus ‘Becoming a Jackal’.

While he was 1/2 of the nominated collaboration with King Creosote in 2011’s ‘Diamond Mine’, Jon Hopkins makes another appearance, this time by himself for ‘Immunity’. There is also no escaping the fact that the selection of Laura Marling‘s ‘Once I Was an Eagle’ (review here) comes across as particularly lazy: the woman’s been nominated two times already prior to this. I’m all for equality when it comes to music awards and it’s great that this year there are two female singer/songwriters on the shortlist, but surely there has got to be another woman – and in the folk genre, certainly – whose album would have been up to snuff to the Mercury voters instead of giving Marling another nomination.

Next, let’s look at the acts that are toeing the line between their indie background and their big chance at the mainstream. Having enjoyed a successful 2012 with sold out shows and his debut album selling very well, Noel Gallagher‘s sneery young protege Jake Bugg makes a not so surprising appearance on the shortlist. Popular Brum soul singer and #4 on the BBC Sound of 2013 list Laura Mvula also receives a Mercury nod this year for ‘Sing to the Moon’. Helps quite a bit that both of them are on majors (Mercury and RCA, respectively) and therefore had major label muscle to help along the promotion of their debut albums.

If there is one saving grace of this year’s shortlist, it was that instead of a truly oddball experimental jazz album getting a nomination, dance is for once decently represented with not one but two good albums: Disclosure‘s delicious brand of house in the form of ‘Settle’ and Rudimental‘s drum and bass-rich ‘Home’. But wait a minute. They’re on majors too, Island and Warner. Hmm… The one oddball nominee, if they can be called that, are post-punk girl group Savages. They might not be a household name – yet – and they’re on an indie label (Beggar Group’s Matador) but they were already firmly in our brains from their BBC Sound of 2013 longlist nomination. Yawn.

This all begs the question, just how relevant is the Mercury Prize in 2013? Also, was it ever relevant? And when did it stop being so? While it has never been a dirty little secret but rather an obvious known fact that major label backing helps with funding, which leads to promotion and visibility opportunities and therefore record sales, this is probably the year more than any other in the past in which the expensive fee to enter the Mercury competition comes through loud and clear as the reason why this year’s list is sadly predictable. In a piece by the Guardian’s Michael Hann, Kerrang! editor James McMahon said the egregious lack of metal on the shortlist year after year is a major oversight: “The thing is, within the rock music industry there’s a bit of debate about how bothered people are with an award like the Mercury. The other year we were pushing the idea of Bring Me the Horizon being nominated as an innovative, exciting British rock band who want to be seen out in the world – but they didn’t enter. If the rock industry doesn’t have any belief in its relevance, what can the Mercuries do? But if it were genuinely the 12 best records of the year, it would be blinkered to ignore metal.”

Hann’s article goes on to point out that Leeds buzz band Hookworms chose not to enter either, their frontman MJ explaining, “The nondescript thousands in marketing fees and physical product is even more shameful [than the entry fee]”. Even ubiquitous rock journalist Pete Paphides took to social media yesterday to bemoan the situation: “It’d be good to have a music prize where part of the sponsorship meant bands not having to pay hundreds of £s to be eligible for contention.” Quite right. There is no one obvious solution to “fixing” the Mercury Prize because let’s face it, like all award shows, it’s a business, and businesses exist to make money. But it’s a shame that what the Mercury Prize used to be known for – bringing attention to lesser known acts that otherwise might not get their time in the limelight – seems to have been all but been entirely forgotten.

 

BBC Sound of 2013 – Yea or Nay?

 
By on Wednesday, 2nd January 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Editor’s note: The BBC Sound of 2013 longlist announcement garnered mixed reviews from our writers, which led me to commission this unusual interplay – between John, holed up on his home island of Guernsey, and Martin, holed up similarly at home in Gateshead – just about the merits – or lack of? – in this Sound of 2013 list. For an alternative list, check out the TGTF 10 for 2013 poll winners, as voted by our lovely readers. As I prep this post in WordPress New Year’s Day, Welsh electropoppers CHVRCHES and Laura Mvula have been announced as #5 and #4, respectively. Before we get ahead of ourselves, John and Martin get stuck in their discussion…

So what is the BBC Sound of 2013? Is it a jumped-up product placement list, or a true representation of the best innovation to come out of the UK in the next year? Can the tips from the 213 so-called ‘tastemakers’ truly gauge who is going to break boundaries and inspire us this coming calendar year, or is it just a script that each BBC Radio presenter needs to stick to? Martin Sharman and I will be discussing this over this transcript:

John: So Martin, the BBC Sound of 2013 list is out and I quite frankly, I am bored and uninterested in what they’ve thrown up, what do you think?

Martin: Well, John, it’s easy to be cynical about these things – people like you and me spend a lot of time seeking out and experiencing new music, and could well be able to come up with a list of our own that would be just as virtuous, and certainly more to our own tastes, as this one. But I think this list has a good stab at covering a lot of bases, and I’m sure a lot of the artists on the list are grateful for the increased exposure it will generate for them. Quite how and why the acts are chosen we will never know – I fantasise that a lot of PR puffery and not the odd glass of champagne have been involved in its genesis – but if one is prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure most people who look at the list will be able to find something that they like.

John: I will indulge that a lot of bases are covered here, you’ve got your British guitar bands (Palma Violets and Savages) so the tabloid media can pander their fantasy that institution of ‘the Great British Guitar Band’ lives on. You’ve got your ‘strong independent’ woman type in the form of Angel Haze who already stinks of Jessie J and even a Michael Kiwanuka 2.0 (this time a girl!) in Laura Mvula. It feels almost formulaic to me?

Martin: Formulaic? This is the BBC we’re talking about, of course it is! There have undoubtedly been umpteenth meetings, focus groups, and quotas developed to exactly proportion each aspect of this list: genre, gender, ethnicity, hair colour, shoe size. But that’s not the fault of the artists who ended up being picked. Indeed, if Angel Haze, oozing with street smarts from the wrong side of Detroit, who can properly rap like Azealia Banks leavened with Odd Future‘s blunt lyrical themes, was to know she was being compared with the over-privileged, under-talented, Brit school rent-a-common-denominator Jessie J, she’d just as likely head across the Atlantic and whup yo’ ass. And Laura Mvula’s ethereal vocal work, presumably influenced by her a capella background, appeals to me a lot more than Kiwanuka’s homely schtick, but that just reinforces the subjective nature of all of this. What does make me yawn is the aforementioned Palma Violets – if I see another archly lo-fi video again, I’ve seen too many. The Libertines happened: deal with it. Although they may make more sense live. But there must be something on the list that appeals, John?

John: As a BBC employee I better watch whose toes on which I tread, but formulaic probably is hitting the nail on the head there. RE: Palma Violets and another ‘archly lo-fi video’, you’re going to absolutely have kittens for the video for ‘Best of Friends’, which people for some bizarre reason are gushing over? Not me, nope, I’m not buying into this Vaccines-lite that they seem to be publicising themselves as. I can get at least get a bit giddy about Gary Barlow’s favourite Irish crooners, Kodaline. The music and video to ‘All I Want’ is tear-jerkingly beautiful, and with the backing of Mister Barlow, I just feel like they could do very well for themselves. [They’ve also gotten a shout for SXSW 2013. – Ed.] While if she’s finished whooping ma ass, I feel like Angel Haze could at least be something edgy, exciting and a little bit sexy. Which is what I feel this list is missing… Who stands out for you then, Martin?

Martin: I’m with you on Kodaline: a deceptively simple song is enhanced with a brilliant, and indeed rather moving, visual story. Little Green Cars have a similarly powerful marriage: the video is made with a photographer’s eye for composition, and the song adds a much-needed bitter twist to the usual romance narrative. AlunaGeorge deserve mention for their sultry, mature approach to the urban pop genre, and visuals which positively drip 2013 London cool. The jury’s out on Tom Odell: he’s certainly a talented chap, but it’s so early on in his career to say for sure whether he’s got genuine depth, or simply blessed with an approximation of Chris Martin’s voice and demeanour. Gary Barlow’s finely-coiffed head pops up again with his signing A*M*E, who I can’t decide whether is bringing a decent bit of synthpop back to the charts or is the most derivative thing I’ve heard for ages. Either way, her video is a jolly bit of pastel-coloured candyfloss to liven these dark nights. And of the highlights for me that just leaves Haim’s ’80s-revival New York soft-rock, and (#5 band on the 10 for 2013 poll) Peace’s very British widescreen guitar jollity, one of very few bands who can invoke Talking Heads – and that’s a very good thing. Both acts were doing fine before this nomination, but it’ll do their career no harm either. Just pondering the winner…

John: We can ponder and discuss all we want, but it just feels like the cards are already stacked in Mr. Odell’s favour, he’s been named Brits Critics’ Choice Winner 2013 and we all know what that means. The talent is there, undoubtedly so: the Chichester-born musician seems like exactly what the BBC will want from their winner. Someone who’ll look well-placed on Jools Holland, while also being able to make fangirls swoon at festivals in the summer. We’d obviously like it to be somebody like Fenech-Soler, or a TGTF backed band, but hey we can dream.

Martin: I suspect you may be right. If they go for a band, and with all the talk of bands being back in fashion they may decide to buck the Brits trend, then my money’s on Kodaline. Great connections, great hairdos, great cheekbones. And although it’s easy to get all snobby about their ability to generate crowd-pleasing ditties, pleasing the crowd is what it’s all about. My personal choice is AlunaGeorge, on the basis that they might just turn into the next big urban crossover – there’s hints of that Tricky / Martina Topley-Bird interplay that gets me all excited. Well, we’ll find out soon enough!

 
 
 

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We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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