Mercury Music Prize picks talent from another planet

FKA twigs

Could FKA twigs win this year’s Mercury Music Prize?

The Mercury Music Prize, whether you’re British or otherwise, is commonly recognised as one of the awards that actually means something. It was set up as an alternative to the Brit Awards, the UK’s glittery Grammy equivalent, or a celeb-fest with an audience of screamers if you’re more cynical. The Mercury Music Prize labels itself as the “music equivalent to the Booker Prize for literature and the Turner Prize for art”, an indication of its high-brow self worth.

It’s fair to say the Mercury Music Prize has picked some pretty awesome albums since its inception in 1992. The inaugural award went to Primal Scream for Screamadelica. Portishead won in 1995 for the breathtaking Dummy, Gomez in 1998 for the fabulous Bring It On and the award blasted Elbow into a whole new level of global fame off the back of its release of The Seldom Seen Kid. Other winners include Suede, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, PJ Harvey and more recently alt-J and James Blake. There is no question for me that those judging this thing have some bloody great taste, and it’s always heartening to be reminded that the homeland is continuing to produce music of the very highest calibre.

In case you don’t know, each year, 12 albums are short-listed for the prize by a judging panel of music industry people, and generally they’re all bloody fantastic. Quite how they choose a winner is beyond me because the field is always filled with such varied genres. There can be, though, only one winner.

Picking that winner for 2014 will be no less challenging than it has been in previous years, with another eclectic dozen of artists listed plucked from the initial 250 entrants, seven of them in the mix with debut albums. After criticism for picking out established artists, the panel of judges have gone for some newer faces this year, but in a year that has to date produced some quite spectacular new works, that’s not such a surprise to me. It’s been a great year for new music, not just in Britain but globally.

Here are the nominees and a line from me on what I think of the tunes they deliver:

Anna CalviOne Breath: A super record, in the mould of PJ Harvey or St Vincent. Not my favourite on the list, but well worth your time and certainly a stunning debut.

Bombay Bicycle ClubSo Long, See You Tomorrow: Perhaps my favourite on the list, but I’m a long time fan of these guys. They’ve changed it up a bit for this, their fourth release, and in a very positive way. It’s indie pop, with an edge, and I’ve always thought the Club had a unique sound. Perhaps the prize would alert the rest of the world to their talents.

Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots: We all love Damon. His debut solo effort is more Gorillaz than Blur, but as good as anything those two projects produced. But is it different enough to make it stand out? Not for me.

East India YouthTotal Strife Forever: At first listen, it’ll pique your interest, and William Doyle certainly has talent to burn when it comes to electronica. Grates a little as an album for me, but individually, the tracks can be awesome if the right mood strikes, and I’m not even a techno fan.

FKA twigsLP1: One of the best records you’ll hear this year, perhaps ever. This is something truly different, mesmerising on every level and utterly absorbing.

JungleJungle: Funky, fresh and fun, with some killer grooves that will have your butt wiggling. There is a hint of The Go! Team at times, but without the same delirious energy. Roll the windows down this summer, though, and blast this out to the world.

Young FathersDead: Perhaps my least favourite on the list. It’s hip-hoppy, but fails to take off for me at any point. Lyrically, it’s great, but rhythmically, it didn’t land a punch for me.

Kate TempestEverybody Down: I’ve got a soft spot for Kate, because she’s from Brockley, South London, where I grew up. From rapping on the night bus, she’s now set to win a big prize, and deservedly so. He rhymes are magnificent, delivered with wondrous skill. Storytelling has never been so damn cool. Trust me.

GoGo Penguinv2.0: It’s great to hear jazz with a modern twist, and these three lads deliver that in spades. Drummer Rob Turner has exceptional feel, which holds it all together from start to finish, but the compositions are super lovely.

Nick MulveyFirst Mind: Folk with a tribal twist, Mulvey has a fine record on his hands here. Studied in Cuba, studied Africa, and it all comes through here. He’s been nominated before with Portico Quartet, and his solo tilt is fully deserving of the same honour.

Polar BearIn Each and Every One: More slightly off-kilter jazz here, but it lacks the sophistication of GoGo Penguin. Still, it’s interesting if not spectacular, and at times sounds like a tune-up.

Royal BloodRoyal Blood: Rock out time to finish things off. This has hallmarks of Muse, Jack White, and a Tom Morello guitar tones at times. It’s a toe-tapper for sure, and will have heads banging everywhere it’s played.


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Alt-J releases third tease for new album

Alt-J has released it’s third track from the upcoming This Is All Yours album, and every time one more track appears, I get more excited, largely because they’ve all been so good. Behold Every Other Freckle.

Bring this album on already. It’s coming out next month, in case you were wondering.

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Freakish guitar skills on show

Jacky Bastek has entered this original composition, Idyll Of Hills, into the Lowden Young Guitarist Of The Year awards.

I wouldn’t normally highlight something like this, but it really is an extraordinary piece of music. There are shades of Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel in here, for sure, but Bastek could certainly carve out a niche for herself as a professional musician if she keeps up this sort of playing.

I’m not sure how old she is, but she has to be younger than 25 to enter the competition, which makes her playing all the more impressive.

Some of the other entries into the competition are also excellent. Check out Matteo Brenci here, playing another original track Raindance.

And here is Rhythm Shaw playing The Opening Act, with no discernible lack of dexterity.

Ricardo Gama’s entry is called Beautiful Demon.

What’s striking about all of these entries, and you can see many more on the Lowden Guitars Facebook page, is the percussive use of the guitar by these players, and the imaginative use of harmonics. Not a frequent listener to guitar soloists, I tend to forget what a versatile instrument it is.

I look forward to hearing who wins the competition. One thing is for sure, the judges are going to have a hell of a time picking the best. There certainly is no lack of guitar-playing talent out there.

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Nothing But Thieves stealing my heart

Nothing But Thieves

Nothing But Thieves

Nothing But Thieves have popped up on my radar recently. Originating from Southend, Essex, this song, Graveyard Whistling, is from an EP of the same name and has me very interested in what these schoolmates are up to.

The first thing to hit me were the vocals of Conor Mason. This kid can sing. I’d put him in the league of Thom Yorke, Chet Faker, Erik Hassle, even Jeff Buckley. I don’t know how old he is – he barely looks out of his mid-teens – but he’s got a serious gift.

The band lists Buckley as a heavy influence. You can certainly hear that in this track, but what I like about it is that it’s not just a straight up, alt-rock song. It’s produced beautifully, with thought, allowing the song to build wonderfully to its ultimate crescendo. Lyrically, it’s interesting, too, which is not something you can often say about young bands. Tackling the futility of religion is a challenging sandpit to play in, but a line as simple as “if you don’t believe, it can’t hurt you” proves these guys are not afraid of questioning the world and all that lies within it.

For another listen at Mason’s lovely voice, here is a live track, Lover, Please Stay, showcasing his ability pre-production. Buckley reborn? I reckon so. His falsetto in particular it spine-chilling.

And here is another track demonstrating these kids’ ability to craft a cracking tune. This is Emergency, which was from another EP, If You Don’t Believe, It Can’t Hurt You, released in October last year. Recognise that line?

I’m looking forward to hearing more from these guys, and with an album in the works, it looks like we will later this year.

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alt-J is back, with Miley Cyrus?



Yes you read that right. alt-J has teamed up with Miley Cyrus, and released a track Hunger Of The Pine as it prepares to release a follow-up album to 2012’s An Awesome Wave, which created exactly that when it hit the mainstream later that year.

The upcoming album, This Is All Yours, is set for release in mid-September. While something special will be expected of the English wizards of chopped-up beats and melodies, a collaboration with the world’s most infamous twerker, Miley, was probably not on that list of expectations. But, fear not. It’s not strictly a collaboration. A sample of Miley’s 4×4 is all we hear through this track, a refrain of “I’m a female rebel”, the opening line from her banjo-driven hootenanny. Permission was sought from Miley herself by the band, and she said she was a fan so “go right ahead”.

Thankfully, alt-J’s use of the line is nothing short of brilliant. It works perfectly in the moody, dark, dub vibe of this new track. A cracking preview of what’s to come. Time to get excited I reckon, folks. September can’t come soon enough.

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The music of a World Cup

Zinedine Zidane - Vaudeville Smash

Zinedine Zidane, by Vaudeville Smash, wins the 2014 Musical World Cup for me.

Every time a FIFA World Cup comes around, the musical world jumps on the bandwagon. Some of the worst most uninspiring songs you’ve ever heard crawl out of the woodwork every four years, but some of the best most rousing tunes also rise up like the hand of god, and score a vital winner in our hearts and minds. Here’s a look at just a small selection of 2014’s efforts ahead of the tournament in Brazil, and a prediction on where they might end up in a World Cup tournament of their own.

Zinedine Zidane
Vaudeville Smash feat. Les Murray

All bias aside, this is your musical World Cup Winner!!! Vaudeville Smash has, indeed, smashed this one straight into the top corner from 30 yards. What a track. It would make Georgio Moroder proud, and could even have Daft Punk throwing off their helmets in wild celebration. It’s just awesome, and celebrates one of the true heroes of the world game in France’s Zizou, among many others, all read out in tones only my magnificent colleague Les Murray can deliver. None of this rubbish about coming together and raising your flags. Let’s celebrate a star of the game, and one that ended his World Cup career by head-butting an Italian opponent on the biggest stage of all. Big, ballsy, bright, bloody brilliant! This is 2014’s World In Motion, and a joy to behold.

Bass Like Home
Lily Allen

Unlike England at too many World Cups past, Lily Allen is a certain contender for the musical World Cup final with this track, which she has called her “unofficial World Cup song”. It’s as patriotic as they come, and everyone with three lions on their shirt will undoubtedly dig the lyrics. “Who gave you Shakespeare, who gave you Lennon, who gave you Gazza, twistin’ your melon,” she sings in her inimitable London accent. “God save the Queen with a pint of lager.” Hear hear. There is also mention of “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves. We’ve been doing it since way back in the day.” Added to a thumping club beat, it’s all a quality celebration of two of England’s greatest loves: football and music. The call of “move your feet” through the song might come in handy for Rooney and his pals in Brazil, too. Bravo, Lily. Encore.

We Are One (Ole Ola)
Pitbull feat. Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte

It’s got that predictable Brazilian beat to kick things off, this one. Then Pitbull starts pouring the lyrical wax, rapping about how the World Cup brings us all together. It’s all about waving flags, loving each other, and when J-Lo chimes in, Australia’s Tim Cahill gets a grab in the video. And no, not a grab of J-Lo. This one doesn’t make it out of the group stages for me. It’s stale, and it’s all been done before. We Are One, but we are bored by this. Lucky for Pitbull, he might get mistaken as David Basheer on his travels and earn back some of the respect he’ll lose for producing this ordinary tune. Hang on. Did he have any respect in the first instance? Who knows?

La La La (Brazil 2014)
Shakira feat. Carlinhos Brown

Calling in the help of her hubby’s professional footballing pals, Shakira embarks on her second World Cup journey after the smash hit of 2010 Waka Waka (This Time For Africa). Colombian countryman Radamel Falcao is missing Brazil 2014, perhaps as a result of the embarrassment caused by featuring in this video. Having said that, he’s not alone. Lionel Messi, Neymar, Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas and Mr Shakira himself, Gerard Pique, all stand and look awkward at some point in this clip. The song is all about the game and how it’s played, which is good and a change from the norm, and Shakira shows her own chesting-down chops without a single mention of “small and humble breasts”. Good enough for the Round of 16, but certainly likely to lose in extra-time through a lack of stamina from there. This track is, though, contributing to a good cause, with some of the profits going to the World Food Programme’s School Meals programme. So that’s nice.

The World Is Ours
Gaby Amarantos/David Correy/ Wisin feat. Paty Cantú and David Correy

This is the official FIFA World Cup 2014 Brazil song, sponsored by Coca-Cola. But you might want to mix that black liquid with something stronger to get through listening to it. Peppered throughout with lively Brazilian beats, that’s about as good as it gets. It’s got a rousing clip of World Cup action, fans having fun and looking unrealistically happy, but the auto-tuned lyrics are nothing short of woeful, and it’s all far too poptastic to be remotely fantastic, like the tournament it stands for. Standing tall, seven billion stars, coming together, bla bla bla … (that last bit was mine, by the way) it’s just got no attacking impetus and fails to score. It probably only qualified as a result of some dodgy deals, and is found out horribly in the group stages. No wins, no draws, no points. Or should that just be, no point.

Ricky Martin

Given the time he spends in Australia as a judge on The Voice these days, Ricky Martin would have to be a Socceroos fan by now. His World Cup ditty is about the same level as Ange Postecoglou’s team: seemingly full of promise to the faithful, but unlikely to produce a long-lasting memory and short of impact to those that know better. It’s all happy and smiley, sunsets on Copacabana Beach in the video, everyone dancing around. He sings about us all coming together, raising our banners to the sky. It’s that same old story of togetherness that singers waffle on about when it comes to World Cup time. We get it, guys. Enough already. Write us something that will get us pumped for a game, not something we’d dance to on wobbly limbs in the dying embers of a wedding reception. You’ve done it before, Ricky. Cup Of Life was a belter in its time. A possible quarter-final contender, but only through a lucky break in a penalty shootout. From there, it’s all downhill. Sorry Ricky, but Go Socceroos, because Puerto Rico aint qualifying for a World Cup anytime soon.

Greatest Day
Gary Barlow and Gary Lineker

Former Take That frontman Gary Barlow has teamed up with former England captain Gary Lineker for this one, England’s official World Cup song. It’s a good “laff”, features players past and present, pop stars married/divorced from players (hello, Cheryl Cole, or is it Tweedy again now?), a couple of Spice Girls not married to players in Geri Halliwell and Mel C, and even England’s 1966 hero Sir Geoff Hurst, among others. The song was originally a Take That song, and doesn’t sound half bad, but it’s a bit of a sop-fest. It’s more useful for staring wistfully through rain-soaked windows than it is for getting the blood pumping for a World Cup game. It’s got a triumphant chorus, though, and England fans might get goosebumps when the commentary overlays come in. A classy semi-finalist maybe, but not up to a place in the final. All star power without the penetration. Sounds a bit familiar as an England fan.

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Jetta is taking off


Jetta is flying high.

Born in Liverpool and now based in London, 23-year-old Jetta is starting to make a name for herself. And, believe it or not, Jetta is her actual name. She’s done a fair bit for someone of her few years, including playing the role of backing singer for Paloma Faith and Cee Lo Green. But through all that time, she’s also been writing her own music.

It’s started to surface over the past 12 months and it’s very very good. It’s pop, essentially, but it’s got an edge that really appeals to me. It’s heavy on the electronics, but also features some terrific beats and, of course, vocals.

Jetta was given a computer as a kid with the music production software Logic installed on it, and from that day forward, she’s been composing. Her family is a musical one – her mother was in an acapella group and her father was a sound engineer. Early influences included The Police, David Bowie and Marc Bolan. She soon got turned on to Destiny’s Child and other artists of today. She fancied the Backstreet Boys as a kid – hey. nobody’s perfect – but all of that has given her a great base from which to write her own tunes, not least an obsession with Annie Lennox in her Eurythmics days. You can certainly here that through some of her songs.

This week she released Operators to the public as a free download, probably the best of the tracks I’ve heard so far. If I’ve got one criticism of it, it’s not long enough and needs another chorus at its end. It’s such a catchy segment of the song, I just want to hear it over and over again. See what you think. Personally, I’m obsessed with it.

Her 2013 tune Feels Like Coming Home was featured on Google’s Zeitgeist clip celebrating the same year. At time of writing, that clip had been viewed more than 31 million views. Chalk up another one by watching it here:

You can hear the full song here, and it’s an absolute cracker.

And while we’re on the subject of videos, check out Jetta’s clip for Start A Riot, which is also pretty sweet.

Crescendo is the name of the EP Jetta is planning to release on 24 June this year featuring that title track and all those featured in this post. The excitement of that, of course, begs the question: when are we going to get full album? With such a great mix of soul, pop, rock and other genres all tangled up in her tunes, whenever that day comes it’s sure to be a good one. She’s working on writing it all right now with Jim Eliot, who’s done stuff with MIA and Ellie Goulding in the past. I reckon this, though, will trump all that for him. Jetta will take off and she’ll fly pretty high, I reckon.

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Is the White Sea worth surfing on?

Morgan Kibby

Morgan Kibby, on stage with M83 in 2012.

Many of you may have heard and even seen Morgan Kibby in her role as M83’s female vocalist and keyboard player. She’s been helping Anthony Gonzalez bring his epic electronica to life since the Saturdays=Youth album. Hell, she co-wrote Midnight City with the Frenchman, among other big tunes, the big hit from M83’s most recent album, the 2011 release Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

So, naturally, I’ve been keen to hear what her solo project, White Sea, has been up to of late. The good news is there is a new album set for release in the coming months, called In Cold Blood. Here are a couple of tracks cut from it.

The first, They Don’t Know, is reasonably anthemic in an M83 kind of way, and the second, Prague, is also pretty sweet and has a heavy M83 flavour. But while the instrumentation and arrangement is along the lines of her work with Gonzalez, vocally she’s gone of in a slightly different direction, showing much more subtlety at times, particularly in the second track, which has an air of School Of Seven Bells about it. That’s perhaps not a surprise given Kibby has remixed for the New Yorkers as well as other other electronic-indie rock crossover acts like New Zealand’s The Naked And Famous.

There is a lot to like about both tracks from this particular Californian girl, and with an album-full to come, I reckon White Sea could be one release to look forward to in 2014, and we might even hear a few tracks accompanying some TV or movie projects, because these tracks would certainly compliment quality moving pictures, in my opinion.

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The Jezabels live at the Sydney Opera House

The Jezabels Live At The House

The Jezabels Live At The House

Having shared a rehearsal space with The Jezabels, I was so excited to hear they’d made it to the stage of the Sydney Opera House to headline some shows. What a rise for a band full of great people. Luckily the Opera House recorded it for its Live At The House series, so i thought I’d quickly throw it up as a small tribute and to say congratulations to a band I have massive respect for. There is a lot of emotion in this performance, and it’s clear how special a night it was for the band. Bravo.

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REVIEW: Highasakite – Silent Treatment

Highasakite - Silent Treatment

Highasakite – Silent Treatment.

We have another contender for Light+Shade‘s Album Of The Year already, and we’re not even halfway through 2014. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a good musical vintage.

Highasakite might not be a familiar name to some of you, but I’ve been reasonably in love with these Norwegians since hearing their self-titled 2012 EP. I caught them live at Iceland Airwaves that same year, sung along whole-heartedly to the best track from that EP, Indian Summer, and left in hope of hearing a whole lot more. Thankfully, just a few weeks ago, they delivered, and they delivered in spades.

Silent Treatment is the band’s first long-playerand while it has that certain Scandinavian air about it that so pleases me, it’s also pretty unique, largely because of Ingrid Helene Håvik’s unfailing ability to sing a song with breathtaking beauty. The compositions are excellent, too. Some are heavy on the electronics, others more on folksy banjos and accordions. Some are bright, some are sombre. There is country, jazz and pop. The rhythms vary delightfully from song to song. It’s a sweet collection, ordered perfectly, which isn’t something we often say about records in the digital age.

Highasakite formed out of the Trondheim Jazz Conservatory, like Emilie Nicolas, who I also wrote glowingly about recently. It seems to be a good place to learn the craft.

Håvik’s opening lines “Lover, where do you live?” ooze from the speakers with such breathy seduction that you’re immediately hooked. A sweeping and aching ballad follows. It’s an almost perfect start. “It would be nice to come home to a couch, and a stove, and a backyard,” she adds before calling out the song’s title again, Lover, Where Do You Live?

From this we transition into bouncier sounds. Drummer Trond Bersu’s influence becomes clearer the more you listen, too. As the co-founder and writer of the band’s music, he creates some sensational beats upon which Håvik’s vocals can bounce effortlessly. Since Last Wednesday proves the point, with a tribal flare somehow matched with folk overtones. It’s a bit Of Monsters And Men, but somehow more mature. Leaving No Traces follows a similar theme but with a Middle Eastern flavour. But it’s from track four where things really start to ripen.

Hiroshima, by far my pick of the album’s 12 tracks, is a marvellous tune. It builds gradually from what sounds like an air-powered organ into a driving, hypnotic rhythms. Brighter blips come in as we move deeper into the track, Håvik singing about carelessly walking around in Heaven having lost the Earth she so loved to human folly of the type Hiroshima became so infamous for. To that end, the wall of sound that takes the track to its conclusion is just superb. There is a stack of layers to the music by this point and it’s all quite overwhelming. But as if to save us from exploding like an atomic bomb ourselves, the blinding sounds dissipate and we’re left only with Håvik’s haunting “nanananas”.

My Only Crime follows, a lullaby or sorts, before we enter electronic-indie territory again for a rather dark track I, The Hand Grenade. Another rhythmic intro launches us into Darth Vader, a song that will certainly have crowds bouncing and singing along when this record is toured.

Iran is a cracker, very tribal again, almost like the soundtrack to an old Western, with Native American overtones throughout. Quite what it’s about is beyond me, but “I’d bring some booze, and go on a bender” is an inspired line in the context of a strict Muslim country, especially when it’s followed by “and I’ll befriend a married man”. Influences like Kate Bush pop out here, too. There are some extreme vocal gymnastics to admire.

Indians, as they became known in American, get a mention in The Man On The Ferry as we near the album’s denouement. Science And Blood Tests is another sensational demonstration of Håvik’s abilities. She almost yodels through the outro, but not in a cheesy Sound Of Music hills way. It’s more like morning birdsong. Really lovely and soothing.

We hit raw country on the penultimate When You Have Gone before the jazz that brought Håvik and Bersu together closes things out in the form of God Is A Banquet. You can imagine hearing this in a smokey club while sipping on a single malt, pained expressions on the musicians before you.

I really love this album. While only one song clearly stands out for me, the others prop it up with real strength. Listen, and enjoy. There are few bands out there with the versatility of Highasakite.

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