Sunday, 27 December 2015

Top Ten Live Bands I Saw This Year

This year has probably been the best for me, in terms of seeing so many bands I love play live. I've been able to see (and meet) bands I've loved for years, and never thought I'd get the chance to see, as well as newer bands I've fallen in love with.

It was so hard to narrow this down to just a top ten; especially as I decided to list by bands rather than gigs, meaning I considered opening bands separetely (hence The Tuts being there at number 9!).

1. Jack Off Jill - Gorilla, Manchester - Reviewed here!
Jack Off Jill have been an important part of my life for over 13 years, so naturally I peed my pants a little when they announced a Manchester date as part of their final three shows. I got to meet the band before they played, which was a dream come true in itself, and they played a great set, squeezing in the majority of their discography.

2. Sleater-Kinney - Albert Hall, Manchester
Definitely one of the best reunions this year (a bold statement considering how many there have been!). It's hard to believe they even took a break as they play so seamlessly with each other, their new material slipping in comfortably with the rest of their material, which still possesses that tense urgency that makes it so captivating.

3. Babes in Toyland, Gorilla, Manchester
Another band I never thought I'd have the chance to see, this gig means even more now that bassist Maureen Herman isn't in the band anymore. I'm glad I got to see and meet the band while she was still in the line-up.

4. L7 - The Garage, Glasgow
Some of the best gigs are the ones where the band look like they're having just as much fun onstage as the people jumping up and down in the crowd do - this was definitely one of those gigs.

5. Garbage - Academy 3, Manchester - Reviewed here!
This date was part of the bands "20 Years Queer" tour, and was the perfect celebration of their self-titled debut. Even when bands do decide to play a whole album on tour, it's rare that they'll also throw in all the b-sides, but that's what Garbage did. Getting to hear "Subhuman" live was definitely my favourite moment!

6. The Selecter - Academy 2, Manchester - Reviewed here!
At times, this gig felt more like a party. The Selecter are one of the most energetic bands I've ever seen, and barely seemed to break a sweat onstage!

7. Ex Hex - Soup Kitchen, Manchester
I pretty much love anything Mary Timony is involved in - Autoclave, Helium, The Spells, Wild Flag, her solo stuff, and now, Ex Hex. She's been one of my favourite musicians for a while now, and this was my first time seeing her play, in the flesh. Ex Hex are a great band, and definitely worth going to see live, and getting to meet the band afterwards was obviously fun too!

8. Mudhoney - 02 Ritz, Manchester
Not only did Mudhoney put on an awesome show, but my boyfriend and I managed to get ourselves backstage afterwards - if you're interested, the band had a lovely cheese platter in their dressing room.

9. The Tuts (opening for The Selecter) - Academy 2, Manchester
The Tuts are one of my favourite bands to see live,  they never disappoint. I can't stress enough how empty your lives will remain until you let The Tuts into your life.

10. CHVRCHES - 02 Academy, Newcastle - Reviewed Here!
Since first seeing CHVRCHES play at Glastonbury, I was amazed at just how far they've come when I saw them again this year. They have so much more confidence on stage, and as soon as they left the stage, I immediately wanted to see them again.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Fear Factory - 02 Ritz, Manchester

This week saw Fear Factory play the 02 Ritz in Manchester as part of their current Demanufacture tour, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the album's release (and also 25 years of being a band).

There were two support bands tonight, the first of which being Dead Label. Hailing from Ireland, they played a solid set, their enthusiasm having the audience on their side from pretty much the get-go.

Once Human took to the stage next. Formed by ex-Machine Head member Logan Mader, their debut album only came out a few months ago, but they seemed to already have a few fans in the crowd tonight. Vocalist Lauren Hart has to be the happiest metal vocalist I've ever seen, a huge smile on her face even as she delievered her gutteral Angela Gossow-esque screams. The crowd reacted well to their original material, and they threw in a cover of Machine Head's "Davidian" which everyone seemed to love.
We didn't have to wait long for Fear Factory to take to the stage. With an industrial cityscape backdrop and plenty of lighting effects, they'd created the perfect setting for hearing their cyberpunk-themed Demanufacture album in full. Launching straight into the title-track, they barely stopped for breath as they made their way through the album's ten tracks, each one greeted with a loud mix of cheers, gruff yells of "yeah!" and, of course, horns in the air.

One thing that was immediately obvious was the fact that this album really hasn't aged at all. Who knows, maybe that's the real reason for its futuristic theme?

After playing through Demanufacture, the band left the stage briefly before returning to play some other favourites, including a few songs from their new album which I hadn't heard yet but am now looking forward to listening to.

Overall, the band put on a great show, one definitely worthy of celebrating such an iconic album. It was great to see both support bands hanging round afterwards, happy to chat to and meet the new fans they'd gained.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Top Ten Albums of 2015

There's less than a month left of the year, which means lots of tinsel, lots of colourful lights and lots of -end-of-year lists.  So, in the interest of conformity, here are my favourite albums of this year!

1. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love
After being on a ten-year-hiatus, Sleater-Kinney blessed us with this piece of magic. In what was possibly the stealthiest reformation ever, the band managed to record the whole album, in secret, before even letting the world know they were back together.

2. Veruca Salt - Ghost Notes
Reviewed Here!

3. The Juliana Hatfield Three - Whatever, My Love 
Let's be honest, Juliana isn't really capable of making a bad album, is she?

4. Grimes - Art Angels
Reviewed Here!

5. PINS - Wild Nights
Whereas PINS debut Girls Like Us slowly grew on me and climbed it's way onto my mental list of albums I love, Wild Nights was an album I instantly fell in love with

6. CHVRCHES - Every Open Eye
A bolder album than their debut, The Bones of What You Believe, without losing their knack for a catchy hook. The vocals are stronger, the music more confrontational.

7. Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool
8. Jennie Vee - Spying
It's been an exciting year for ex-Tuuli frontwoman Jennie Vee; as well as touring with Courtney Love as her bassist, she also released her first solo album.

9. Kitten Forever - Pressure
Cramming 13 tracks in just under 23 minutes, every second counts on Kitten Forever's second album.

10. Girlpool - Before the World Was Big 
"Before the World Was Big" is the perfect title for this album, it sums up everything this record is about. Girlpool's songs take an introspective look at what it means to enter adulthood and leave the comparative simplicity of youth behind. In ten short songs, they manage to paint such vivid pictures, towing the line between nostalgia and realisation.

So, those are my picks! What albums have you enjoyed this year?

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Selecter - Manchester Academy

2 Tone legends The Selecter played Manchester Adacemy last night as part of their Subculture tour, promoting their newest album that was released last summer.

Support tonight was from one of my favourite bands (which may make me slightly biased but, whatever, I'm right anyway), The Tuts. They've been opening for The Selecter for this whole tour, and once you've seen them play, it's easy to see why Pauline Black chose them. This was my fourth time seeing The Tuts, and they really do keep getting better every time; no matter how big or small the crowd is, they put so much passion and energy to every show they play.

Among their setlist, they played a great cover of The Bodysnatchers "Do Rock Steady" and, as it's now December, ended with their festive number "Christmas Is In The Air".

Next on stage, of course, was The Selecter, with the crowd well and truly warmed up from The Tuts infectious energy.

Their setlist perfectly interspersed newer material with the old, proving that bands can get back together and record new material that is just as good as the early stuff. The crowd reacted to each song, new and old, as though it were their favourite, skanking furiously. As Pauline Black herself said on stage, "we are not going to be a heritage band".

Among the new songs that were played, "Breakdown" was my personal favourite, with its lyrics that tackle the disproportionate number of black people who are killed by police.

We were also treated to ska-riffic cover of Patti Smith's "Because the Night" which, controversial as this may be, I actually preferred to the original.

The iconic "On My Radio" was, of course, one of the most exciting moments of their set and had everyone shouting along with its infectious chorus.

Afterwards, I headed over to the merch table, and was lucky enough to meet The Tuts (again!), and Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson. Everyone was really happy to chat and sign things, with Pauline making sure she personalised everything.

Tonight proved that, 35 years on from bursting onto the scene, The Selecter are still just as relevant today. If you get the chance to see them live, make sure you grab it. Unless you don't like fun, then don't.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Built to Spill - The Art School, Glasgow

Built to Spill returned to the UK this week to promote their latest album, Untethered Moon, their first new album since 2009.

Tonight's support came from Swiss band, Disco Doom. They formed in the late 90's but, I'm sad to say, I hadn't heard of them before. After seeing them perform though, I can officially say I'm a fan, and their perfectly blended noise-rock made them a good fit for the night.

To see Built to Spill on stage, it's easy to forget that they've actually been a band for around 25 years. On stage, they possess an unassuming, yet warm, presence, their set-lists for the night scrawled out on scrap pieces of paper. Their crowd interaction is minimal but meaningful, the occasional "thank you" thrown in between songs. If you weren't actually familiar with the band, chances are you'd be surprised by the full, flawless layers of music they produce.

Built to Spill are known for having lengthy instrumentals in some of their songs, which can sometimes be a struggle for bands to translate to a live setting, not just sound-wise, but in terms of keeping the audiences attention. Thankfully, this didn't seem to be a problem tonight; the long, swirling journeys taken by the guitars held just as much meaning as frontman Doug Martsch's lyrics.

For me, personally, the highlight of the set was "Center of the Universe", though this set was one with no low points.

Built to Spill are, without a doubt, a band worth experiencing live. They still possess all of the qualities that made them so great in the beginning of their career, and continue to add to this with each new album. Hopefully, it won't take so long for them to play in the UK again!

Oh, and here's an obligatory "Yay, I met them!" pic:

Monday, 30 November 2015

Charli XCX - The F Word and Me

Charli XCX's documentary, The F Word and Me, aired this week on BBC3. With the "f word" here being "feminism", Charli interviewed fellow artists while touring the UK and US for her most recent album, Sucker, and examined the intersection between feminism and pop music.

As well as hearing from Charli and her band, we also hear stories from Liz, Marina and the Diamonds, Ryn Weaver, Lizzy Plapinger and Jack Antonoff.

I've seen a few articles criticising this documentary for giving a more personal take on feminism rather than an in-depth debate... first of all, the title is The F Word and me, so y'know. I think the more personal approach worked to its advantage; discussions on feminism can be quite complex at times but, by allowing these women to talk about their own experiences with sexism, it not only made the subject more accessible, but also demonstrated how common these experiences actually are.

It should be shocking that these women are all able to recount such similar experiences, but it's almost expected, which is kind of the point of this documentary; these are all universal experiences. As Lizzy Plapinger (one half of Ms Mr, and co-founder of Neon Gold records) talks about meeting with label executives and finding herself blanked, with all discussion being aimed at her male business partner, I immediately found myself thinking of similar stories I've seen posted on Everyday Sexism.

Another common story was how Charli and her band are always referred to as "Charli and her all-girl band"; no one would ever point out the bands gender if they were all male.

Body image and appearance was also a recurring theme; Charli demonstrated the different articles she's had written about her depending on what she wears on stage, alternating between accusing her of showing "too much" or being "too modest". Later, we see Charli talking to Ryn Weaver about body hair.
My only real complaint is that, aside from Charli herself, we didn't get to hear much from any women-of-colour, though I realise this is also partly down to time constraints (Charli herself has stated on Twitter that she wishes she'd been able to feature more artists). It was interesting to hear her take on the reaction to Rihanna's recent "Bitch Better Have My Money" video though, wherein she did briefly acknowledge that race plays an issue in how a pop star is portrayed:
"I think this film speaks to a bigger story; Rihanna is dismantling the idea of what a pop star should be, ie. perfect, polished and usually white."
I'd definitely recommend watching this documentary, if you haven't already. It did a great job of addressing the fact that while, on the surface, pop music seems like a girl-friendly place, behind-the-scenes there's still a long way to go.

Marina and The Diamonds - Newcastle Academy

This week, Marina and The Diamonds played at Newcastle Academy as part of her current Neon Nature Tour. The concept of "Neon Nature" is of artificial earthiness (plastic fruit, plastic trees etc), and this was largely reflected in the images projected onto the back of the stage. Despite being in a smaller venue, it felt very much like an arena show.

The set was split into three "acts", one for each album, and the format worked really well. I especially liked this idea as, despite having been a fan of Marina since quite early on in her career, this was the first time I'd been able to see her live, so I was happy to be able to hear some of my favourites from each album.

For the first act, The Family Jewels, the stage was lit up in green and purple, as Marina opened with "Mowgli's Road", a strong track that set the energy for the night.

As well as performing the album's other singles, "Hollywood" and "Oh No!", Marina sat at her keyboard to perform one of her earliest songs, "Obsessions", with vintage Betty Boop cartoons playing behind her, allowing her to really showcase her vocals, before transitioning into Act Two, Electra Heart.

Returning to the stage in a bright pink catsuit, she went straight into the album's opener "Bubblegum Bitch". "How To Be A Heartbreaker" and "Primadonna" had the whole room singing along, while "Lies" ended the era on a powerful note.

For the final act, Froot, Marina came out in a blue, sparkly outfit. By now, the excitement in the room had reached its highest level. Marina showed off her vocal talent again as she ends the show with "Immortal". That is, before re-emerging after a couple of minutes to perform a two song encore, "Happy" and "Blue".

With a final bow, Marina and her band exited the stage and the neon lights went out.

I'd be surprised if anyone walked away from this gig feeling disappointed. The idea to split up the set into three acts worked out perfectly, the energy of the crowd building up at the beginning of each one.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Chvrches - Newcastle Academy

Last night saw Chvrches return to a sold-out Newcastle Academy.

I first saw Chvrches play at Glastonbury 2014 and, while they impressed me then, it's amazing to see how far the band have progressed since then. All three members look much more comfortable onstage, while frontwoman Lauren Mayberry's voice and performance are much more powerful.

Tonight, Chvrches songs sounded like they were made to be played on stage; no matter how loud you play their albums, on stage, the songs gain an extra energy and volume that just can't be achieved elsewhere. This energy, and the added lighting effects, allow the band to fill the stage more than you might expect, considering two members are behind plugged in synths!

The set list seamlessly combined tracks from both albums, the crowd reacting just as enthusiastically to both newer and older tracks. Newest single "Empty Threat" saw Lauren multitasking, pounding on a set of synth drums in between bouncing around the stage.

The lights added an extra visual element to the set, "Science/Visions" coming across like the soundtrack to a bad-ass cyberpunk movie.

Martin Doherty and Lauren switched roles to perform "Under the Tide", his performance similarly brimming with new-found confidence and prompting a massive sing-a-long.

Between songs, the band were chatty and seemed happy to be there, even as the room collectively mourned the closure of Metro Land (google it).

I left the venue an even bigger fan of the band than before, which is how I think gig's should make you feel - as they're playing, you feel as though that particular band is your all-time favourite, the only band you ever want to hear. That band, tonight, was Chvrches.

Read more here:

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Five Songs To Listen To This Weekend

The Aquadolls - Girl Riot - Listen here
The new single from The Aquadolls, taken from their forthcoming EP. It has a much more punchy, in-your-face sound than their previous releases, as if the band, particularly frontwoman Melissa Brooks, have all gained in confidence since their last album; the guitars sound fuller, Melissa's voice is stronger and there are even some synths thrown in there.

Chvrches - Empty Threat
"Empty Threat" is the newest single from Chvrches' second album, Every Open Eye, released a few months ago. The video just went online, and tells the story of teenage goths getting drunk and having fun at a waterpark. Check it out above!

Deap Vally - Royal Jelly
It's been two years since Deap Vally released their debut album, Sistrionix, and they're finally back! "Royal Jelly", the bands new single, is the first track to be released from the as-yet-untitled follow-up album (produced by Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner), due out next year.

Missy Elliott - WTF (Where They From?)
It's been ten years since Missy Elliott's last album and, needless to say, she's been missed. The video is classic Missy, and the song itself looks at the problematic nature of cultural appropriation.

Savages - T.I.W.Y.G
Like Deap Vally, Savages' debut album was released two years ago, and their return is just as welcome. "T.I.W.Y.G" is the second single from the bands forthcoming second album, Adore Life. This is just as impressive as the albums first single and it's seeming like this new album might just surpass the first in how amazing it is.
Pop-punk mainstays Melissa Brooks and the Aquadolls have returned with the righteous new single “Girl Riot,” which serves as a feminist anthem ahead of the group’s forthcoming new EP. - See more at:|twt|fsc#sthash.w3BZ9QB9.dpuf
Pop-punk mainstays Melissa Brooks and the Aquadolls have returned with the righteous new single “Girl Riot,” which serves as a feminist anthem ahead of the group’s forthcoming new EP. - See more at:|twt|fsc#sthash.w3BZ9QB9.dpuf

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Carrie Brownstein's Book Tour

Words can't express how excited I felt to not only see Sleater-Kinney perform this year, but to also see Carrie Brownstein in the flesh for a second time as she stopped in Manchester as part of her book tour for "Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl".

While Carrie's book mainly focuses on her early experiences leading up to Sleater-Kinney, ending at the point when the band went on hiatus, she seemed happy to discuss pretty much anything tonight.

Also, this probably isn't a surprise to anyone who watches Portlandia, but Carrie is really fucking funny (her book has had me laughing out loud many times, and I'm not even halfway through). Her self-deprecating humor mixed with her open vulnerability are part of what make her so easy to relate to.

One of the things that struck me was how Carrie had no interest in pretending writing is easy; I feel like there's this myth that surrounds literary works, this image of authors sitting down and words just flowing onto the page, no rewrites needed. It was refreshing to hear somebody talk about not only how not easy it can be, but also about the extra work and research that can go into something as seemingly straightforward as writing about yourself.

Carrie also read a couple of excerpts from her book during the conversation, which had me simultaneously wanting her to keep talking while also really looking forward to getting home and reading it for myself! My personal favourite was the story of Carrie's incredibly awkward audition for 7 Year Bitch.

I'm currently only part-way through the book, but I can confirm that, so far, it is all Carrie fans hoped for.

Garbage - Manchester Academy

Last week, Garbage played in Manchester, the penultimate date on their short "20 Years Queer" tour, a tour to mark the anniversary of their debut self-titled album. Unsurprisingly, the gig sold out and the Academy was packed, anticipation and excitement buzzing in the air as we all waited for the band to take the stage.

A white curtain concealed the stage as a short video, simultaneously celebrating the past 20 years and transporting the crowd back to 1995, while "Alien Sex Fiend" played. As the video ended, the instantly recognisable silhouettes of Garbage cast themselves on the curtain as they launched into "Subhuman" (my personal favourite B-side), a perfect song to start their set with.

The drapes finally fell, as the band went straight into "Supervixen", the stage engulfed in a pink hue, reminiscent of the album cover.

Throughout the night, it was obvious why Shirley Manson is considered an iconic frontwoman by so many. Her hair dyed pink, to match the night's theme, and with her matching feather boa, she had the crowd mesmerised as she stalked and circled the stage.

20 years later, these songs still sound just as fresh as they did back then. Even the lesser known B-sides, seamlessly mixed in the album tracks, had the crowd dancing and singing/shouting the words along with Shirley. As well as "Subhuman", "Girl Don't Come" and "Butterfly Collector" were definite highlights of the night.

"Stupid Girl" had new life breathed into if with the unexpected, but welcome, addition of synths, giving it an almost industrial feel.

"Vow" brought the 22 song set to a close, its anthemic chorus bursting with even more of a "fuck you" attitude than ever before.

This was certainly a special night for Garbage fans, seeing the band in such a small venue and hearing some songs that will, most likely, not be played live again after this tour. The relative intimacy of the venue also allowed for some more personal moments with Shirley addressing the crowd, sharing stories between songs.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Mansplaining of 1989

So, as you probably already know, Ryan Adams recently released his own cover album of Taylor Swift's 1989 album.

It all just seems like another iteration of the tired belief that "pop" means vapid and meaningless, while "indie" is deep and intellectual. Now that a piece of indie royalty has blessed Swift's album with some white-boy-with-a-guitar credibility, critics who were too cool to acknowledge 1989 upon it original release are falling over themselves to gush over this version of the album. Reviewers are suddenly finding hidden depth in Swift's lyrics. Neckbeareded hipsters are nudging each other, smirking over listening to a "Taylor Swift album".

Am I to believe that Ryan Adams is so magical, that just by playing Swift's songs in his own style, they are suddenly more sincere? While I don't actually believe this to be true, their are countless examples of people who seem to think it is.

The Australian radio station Triple J, for example, has actually refused to play Swift in the past, but hasn't hesitated to play one of Adams' covers.

Pitchfork, who have never reviewed a Taylor Swift album (despite consistently including her in their end of year Best Of lists), have, of course, reviewed Adams' release. While Pitchfork is generally considered to be an "indie" publication, the truth is that they regularly review releases from major artists - Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, D'Angelo etc. In fact, they have reviewed each of Adams' albums, most of which were released on a major label themselves.

The truth is, melancholy, earnest-sounding covers of upbeat pop songs are every these days. Like anything, some are good and some are bad. But slowing something down and sounding sad while you sing it does not add to its sincerity.

I think the main issue with how each version of 1989 has been treated is the undeniably gendered way each artist is talked about. Swift is portrayed as uncomplicated and sexual, not to be taken too seriously; Adams is praised for taking these lyrics and applying them to his complex man emotions. Now that Adams has revealed to us these hidden depths (after all, how could she possibly do that on her own?), it's suddenly okay to like Swift's album.

I can't help but wonder how this would have been received, had the roles been reversed. Imagine, a 40-year-old female musician, covering a chart topping album from a 20-something-year-old male pop artist, not even waiting until it's dropped out of the charts. Would she be praised for this? I don't think so. At best, it would be seen largely as an ill-judged publicity stunt; at worst, an embarrassing attempt at clinging on to youth, reaching a younger audience (after all, this is certainly the most mainstream attention Adams has received so far in his career).

Women in all areas of work/art/etc are used to having their work judged differently to that of their male peers (if you don't believe me, there are studies that prove this).

Just to clarify, my problem isn't at all with Ryan Adams choosing to cover Taylor Swift's 1989; I actually like his version and, from what I've read, I do think he's sincere in just simply wanting to cover an album he enjoys (after all, his public praise of Swift dates back before this album was even recorded, let alone topped the charts). My problem is purely with the response of so many "indie" music critics, the presumption that Taylor Swift is now credible enough to like without irony, and how this album's reception ties into the treatment of women's work in general.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Five Songs To Listen To This Week

Seth Bogart featuring Kathleen Hanna - Eating Makeup
Seth Bogart aka Hunx has just announced a new solo album, set to be released next year. "Eating Makeup" is the album's first single, a catchy synth-punk track, and features the amazing Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, The Julie Ruin).

Regrettes - Hey Now!
Fresh off their stint supporting Jack Off Jill on their final three shows last month, Regrettes have put together a video for "Hey Now!", filmed whilst in the UK. It's a fun video and goes perfectly with the song.

The Spook School - I Want To Kiss You
While The Spook School's new album, Try To Be Hopeful, is already out here in the UK, its US release is coming up at the end of November. What better way to celebrate than with a new video? "I Want To Kiss You" is less overtly political than the album's other two singles, but is just as passionate and instantly addictive.

Niagara Balls - Don't Be A Dick At Christmas
It might not be December yet, but it's never too early for a punk Christmas song! "Don't Be a Dick At Christmas" is a great way to start the festivities, and if you don't celebrate Christmas, then it's still a fun song.

Sonic Boom Six - No Man, No Right
Channeling the "girls to the front" mantra of riot grrrl, this tracks sees SB6 addressing the fact that many female fans are still treated badly at gigs, be it as audience members or playing on stage. It's taken from their forthcoming album The F Bomb, which you can still pre-order on PledgeMusic.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Grimes - Art Angels

The wait for Grimes' fourth album, and follow-up to 2012's Visions, is finally over - Art Angels has landed, and it's a huge step forward. While Visions was a ghostly and distanced experiment in pop, Art Angels is bright and deliberate. It's as if Grimes has somehow found a way to become more Grimes; it's louder, it's catchier, and hasn't lost any of the complicated textures that resonate throughout her previous releases.

Opening track "laughing and not being normal" is a beautiful two-minute introduction, its dramatic strings making it seem almost like the score to the coolest fantasy film yet to be made. This leads into one of the first standout tracks of the album, "California". It starts of sounding like the kind of upbeat positive track we've come to expect from tracks named after the sunshine state, but on closer inspection, there's actually a lot of pain and hurt within the lyrics.

Throughout this album, one of Grime's most powerful instruments remains her distinctive voice, and the different ways she has trained herself to use it, which is perhaps what makes "SCREAM" such an interesting track; it's the first track produced by Grimes on which she doesn't perform the lead vocals. Instead,  it features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, while Grimes herself can be heard screaming in the background.

The first single from this album, "Flesh Without Blood", seems like a standard break-up song, but is actually directed at the backlash she faced last year after releasing the single "Go", with fans accusing her of "going pop" and "chasing money".

"Kill V. Maim" is my personal favourite track from this album; to me, it perfectly sums up both Grimes and this album as a whole. The bratty chant-a-long chorus even had me thinking of Kathleen Hanna and Le Tigre, mixed with Sleigh Bells.

Personally, I fell in love with this album before I'd even listened to the whole thing. There's just so much going on, every track stands perfectly strong on its own. It's hard to make such a varied album without it sounding disjointed or awkward, but Grimes has managed to pull it off.

Oh, and it was definitely worth the four year wait. 

Rating: 5/5
Standout Tracks: California, Kill V. Maim, Venus Fly
Scream” is a collaboration between Claire Boucher and Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, who delivers rapid-fire Mandarin verses alongside Boucher’s actual screams and growls. Take a listen above; the two-headed creature bearing toothbrush and axe at the bottom of the page is the single artwork and an apt visualization for how this song sounds.

Read More: Grimes Shares Blistering New Track ‘Scream’ |
Scream” is a collaboration between Claire Boucher and Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, who delivers rapid-fire Mandarin verses alongside Boucher’s actual screams and growls. Take a listen above; the two-headed creature bearing toothbrush and axe at the bottom of the page is the single artwork and an apt visualization for how this song sounds.

Read More: Grimes Shares Blistering New Track ‘Scream’ |
Scream” is a collaboration between Claire Boucher and Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, who delivers rapid-fire Mandarin verses alongside Boucher’s actual screams and growls. Take a listen above; the two-headed creature bearing toothbrush and axe at the bottom of the page is the single artwork and an apt visualization for how this song sounds.

Read More: Grimes Shares Blistering New Track ‘Scream’ |

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Kesha, Rape Culture and Pop Music Misogyny

In a genre that periodically pays lip service to the idea of "girl power", what happens when a female pop star alleges that one of the most powerful men in the industry has sexually abused her?
It's been just over a year since Kesha filed a lawsuit against producer Dr Luke, for sexual harassment. Dr Luke responded with a counter suit for extortion.

Kesha met Dr Luke just after turning 18, and signed a recording contract with him soon after. From the beginning, her image and career have been in this man's hands. Kesha's lawsuit refers to Dr Luke pressuring her to take drugs and drink alcohol, before sexually assaulting her; one specific incident involves Dr Luke getting Kesha drunk before persuading her to take "sober pills" (later revealed to be GHB). She woke up in his bed the next day, feeling sore and with no memory of how she got there.

In January 2014, Kesha entered rehab for an eating disorder. Soon after, her mother posted on Twitter, confirming that Kesha was suffering from bulimia and that Dr Luke's ongoing verbal abuse was to blame.

Currently, Kesha is, legally, unable to tour, record (her last album was released in 2012) or further her career in any way due to her contractual obligations to Dr Luke and Sony. Despite being accused of abusing, drugging and raping her, Dr Luke still has full contractual control over Kesha's career.  Because of this, Kesha's legal team have, this week, asked the courts to allow a preliminary injunction against Dr Luke.

Sony recently broke their silence and sided with Dr Luke, claiming that Kesha's testimony is inconsistent and referring to the fact that Kesha did not report the incidents straight away. Sadly, this is a pretty common response when it comes to rape and/or assault cases, even more so if the victim has lost consciousness at any point. And it's exactly this kind of response that stops more people from coming forward.

Fans of Kesha started the #FreedomForKesha hashtag, which trended worldwide. This whole story has received relatively little coverage, and the idea behind the hashtag is to draw attention not only to Kesha's own situation, but to the overriding corruption and misogyny that exists within the mainstream music industry.

Look at Chris Brown, for example - he is still able to enjoy a successful career despite his physical abuse of ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Yet Kesha, after coming forward about being raped and abused by her producer, is having to fight just to record any new music. She has been, effectively, silenced and blacklisted while Dr Luke's career hasn't suffered at all. We live in a society that encourages us to wait for concrete evidence against a man before saying he is guilty, to avoid ruining his life - why don't the same rules apply to victims? Victims are often accused of being liars, without any evidence to back that up.

Regardless of how you feel about Kesha's music, this is just yet another story of a young woman being manipulated and assaulted by someone in a position of power. Every rape survivor deserves to have their accusations validated and taken seriously.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Five Songs You Should Listen To This Week

ILL - Ill Song
Having just supported Lydia Lunch last night, Ill have also released their new single this week - a Double A side consisting of Ill Song and Slithering Lizards. Ill Song sees the band taking a darkly comical view of mental health treatment and the government's current mission to destroy the NHS.

Muncie Girls - Gone With the Wind
Check out the new video from Exeter-based Muncie Girls, for their song Gone With The Wind, taken from their split 7'' with Sandlot Kids. They have an album due out next year, which gives you plenty of time to listen to this song and fall in love with them.

Martha - Six Men Getting Sick Six Times (Mendable) Listen Here
Martha have become known for their perfect blend of indie-pop and punk but this track, taken from their split 7'' with Radiator Hospital, sees the band showing a different side to their sound. Six Men Getting Sick Six Times (Mendable)'s strength lies in its fragile acoustic chords and urgent-yet-restrained vocals.

Cat Bear Tree - Adult
Adult, the gorgeous opening track to Cat Bear Tree's just-released Settled in our Hearts EP, is complex danceable, yet-serenely-melancholy, track that sounds like a perfect mix of Warpaint and Sleater-Kinney.

Kitten Forever - Temple
Currently supporting Babes in Toyland on their US tour, Kitten Forever have a new album due out soon, on JD Samson's record label Atlas Chair. Temple is the first single from the album and is a perfect example of the bands lo-fi, hectic punk style.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Jack Off Jill - Gorilla, Manchester

This week saw Jack Off Jill hit Manchester for the first of their three final shows, all to be played in the UK.

Jack Off Jill might never have been the biggest band in the world, but their cult following has always been strong enough to rival any bands fan base. Although rarely mentioned in articles pertaining to the history of riot grrrl (possibly due to their being based in Florida rather than Washington), their ties to the movement are just as relevant as those from the likes of Bikini Kill and Bratmobile.

The band had already broke up when I first got into them - I bought Sexless Demons and Scars on a whim after liking Jessicka's vocals on the My Ruin song "Miss Ann Thrope". I instantly loved them and, knowing I was three years late to the party, quietly accepted the fact that I would never get to see these songs played live. 

Jack Off Jill announced their reunion earlier this year, and tiny goth hearts all over the world swelled up and leaked black glittery tears. Unsurprisingly, the shows all sold out pretty quickly and the excitement among fans has been building up online.

On reaching the venue, I was instantly struck by how friendly everyone in attendance was, and ended up making a few new friends throughout the night (Hi!). Also, being a Golden Ticket holder, I was lucky enough to meet the band beforehand and they couldn't have been nicer!

The Regrettes, a two-piece from California, are opening for Jack Off Jill on all three of these shows and were the first band to play tonight. They quickly won the crowd over with their surfy-garage sound (think The Aquadolls, Vivian Girls, early Best Coast).

Manchester-based ILL were the second support for tonight's date. While they put on  a good show, a lot of the crowd just didn't seem to get into them, which is a shame. Their frantic feminist post-punk sound reminded me a lot of Voodoo Queens, another underrated UK band, from the 90's.

After an excruciating 30 minutes, it was finally time for Jack Off Jill.  As the band took to the stage, Jessicka was dragged on in a body bag, unzipping herself and launching straight into "When I Am Queen". 

Back in the day, Jack Off Jill became known for their onstage antics, and Jessicka seemed more than happy to indulge this side of her again as she pulled wax crayons from her Star Wars knickers and throwing candy into the crowd.

Listening to the excitement ignited by every song was just more proof of just how much Jack Off Jill's songs mean to their fans (myself included); "Fear of Dying" inspired some of the loudest crowd-singing-along that I've experienced at any gig I've ever been to,  and nothing can compare to the joy of finally getting to see the likes of "Girl Scout", "Angel's Fuck" and "Strawberry Gashes" played live.

When it came to the encore, Jessicka returned, now dressed in white, before being dowsed in fake blood and stripping to her underwear, talking about body-shaming and her own experiences with it, before the band launched into "Strawberry Gashes".

The night ended with the band's well-loved cover of The Cure's "Lovesong".

As a longtime Jack Off Jill fan, this night couldn't have been better and, judging from the people I spoke to afterwards, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't agree with me on that one.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Lemonheads - The Ritz, Manchester

Unshaven and majestically dishevelled, a mysterious purple stain on his white shirt (along with the phrase 'Don't Jizz on Satan'), Evan Dando looks every part the 90's alt-rock-pin-up. Backed up by Todd Philips (drums), Jen Turner (bass) and Chris Brokaw (guitar), the band waste no time once they hit the stage, jumping straight into "Hospital".

While crowd-interaction was decidedly minimal, the band seemed relaxed and happy to be on stage; a stark contrast to the band's 2011 UK tour. Unlike with previous line-ups, this seems like a "real band" as opposed to just the Evan-heads, with Turner's unwavering enthusiasm being nothing less than infectious.

Part-way through the set, the band leave the stage and Dando (joined a few songs in by Brokaw) performs a handful of stripped down tracks, including "Into Your Arms", "The Outdoor Type" and "Being Around". "Frank Mills", sung acapella, was certainly a highlight here, with the whole crowd joining in with every word.

Turner and Philips re-joined the stage for a set consisting mainly of tracks from Come on, Feel the Lemonheads and It's a Shame About Ray, with the crowd bouncing and singing along to classics like "Confetti" and "Rudderless".

Some fans were no doubt disappointed at the band only performing one song - "Alison's Starting to Happen" - as an encore. I was happy, though I may be biased as that's, like, my second favourite Lemonheads song so...

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Four Songs You Should Listen To This Week

Skinny Girl Diet - "Silver Spoons" - Click here to listen
This is the first single from the North London bands forthcoming Reclaiming Your Life EP (out October 16th). If you haven't yet heard Skinny Girl Diet, then "Silver Spoons" is a great place to start.

The Spook School - "Binary"
The Spook School have become known for their perfectly infectious noisy indie-pop, and this new offering doesn't disappoint. Taken from their forthcoming album Try To Be Hopeful, "Binary" sees the band questioning gender norms, culminating in a mass chorus of "I am bigger than a hexadecimal." Check out the video above, directed by Martha's Nathan Griffin.

Martha - "Chekhov's Hangnail"
Speaking of Martha, they've got a new song too! "Chekhov's Hangnail" is taken from the bands upcoming split with Radiator Hospital, who they're also touring with in October.

Doe - "This Isn't Home"
I'm particularly obsessed with this song, it immediately reminded me of Helium's The Dirt of Luck album. It wouldn't sound out-of-place in the background of a Daria episode, which should be the only reason you need to give it a listen.

Friday, 25 September 2015


Betty Boop is, without a doubt, among the most iconic cartoon characters of all time. An animated sex symbol, known for her signature vocals and catchphrase "boop-oop-a-doop", her backstory is more complicated than you probably imagine. As a longtime fan of the character, I was fascinated to find out about Esther Jones and how she ties into Betty Boop's history.

Esther Jones, aka Baby Esther, was singer and entertainer in the late 1920's. She regularly performed at Harlem's Cotton Club, and was known for her "baby" singing style and use of childlike scat sound, like "boop-oop-a-doop." Her signature song was "I Wanna Be Loved By You."

Another singer, Helen Kane, saw Jones' act in 1928, and first took on her style in her song "That's My Weakness Now". Kane then used Jone's catchphrase while performing in the Broadway musical Good Boy, becoming famous overnight for her own version of "I Wanna Be Loved By You."

In 1930, Max Fleischer introduced his Betty Boop character on Paramount's Talkatoon series, as an anthropomorphic French poodle. Boop became human in 1932, her floppy ears being exchanged for hoop earrings. Kane's imitation of Jones' singing style became the inspiration for the voice of Betty Boop. Kane attempted to sue Fleischer Studios for "using her persona", with the studio arguing that Kane had in fact used someone else's persona too; that of Esther Jones.

An early recording of Baby Esther's performance was used as evidence (Jones' was presumed to have died at this point), with Jones' manager testifying to the fact that Kane had been to see Jones' act in 1928.

After a two year trial, Kane's theft was exposed, and the court ruled that Kane did not create the "baby" style of singing, or the phrase "boop-oop-a-doop", with that credit going to Jones. The Judge also ruled that Boop's appearance more closely resembled that of actress Clara Bow.

While visually, Max Fleischer clearly took inspiration for Betty Boop from Helen Kane, Esther Jones influence on that character is undeniable; Kane's style simply wouldn't have existed had she not seen Jones' performance to copy it from. America has a long history of appropriating black artists and erasing them from history, and it's a shame Jones' died without knowing about this trial or ever receiving credit for the role she unknowingly played in Betty Boop's creation (although she is often referred to as Boop's "black grandmother" by those who know of her).

Thursday, 24 September 2015

A Beginner's Guide to Twee

Twee is punk for people who aren't really all that "punk"; it takes the DIY, anyone-can-start-a-band mentality but leaves out the in-your-face confrontational attitude. It's subversion lies in it's aggressive sweetness, spooning sugar down its listeners throats and seeing who pukes first.

Like with punk, musical ability and vocal talent aren't priorities. Albums were recorded on four-tracks in bedrooms, and there are definitely moments where the music sounds overtly fragile, like it could fall apart at any second. While these aren't exactly new ideas now, at the time it was a pretty radical way of doing things. Taking their inspiration from 1960's bubblegum and girl groups, these bands became their own popstars.

While the punk scene at the time valued masculinity, twee wasn't afraid to celebrate the "girly". Fueled by zine-culture and tape-trading, it deconstructed punks' gender roles with gentle confrontation.

Most people trace the roots of twee back to the mid-1980's, particularly 1986, when NME released a cassette compilation called C-86, which has now become synonymous with twee, and something I'd definitely recommend tracking down if you're interested in this scene.

As this is a "beginners guide" though, I'll stick to recommending a few essential bands and labels that I personally think provide a good introduction to "twee":

Best known to none-popgeeks for their songs "Molly's Lips" and "Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam", which Nirvana famously covered. Unfortunately, this Glasgow-based duo didn't receive much recognition while they were still together.

A Glasgow band who became known for their lazy melodies, they were among the bands featured on C-86.

Made up of six teenagers from West Bromwich, their single "Pristine Christine" was the first release from Bristol's Sarah Records, and serves as a perfect introduction to the label and the scene in general.

Formed in 1986 by two heavily-Pastels-inspired girls from Oxford who took their bandname from a celebrity they made up. Making use of handy brothers and boyfriends to fill out the band, they set about combining girl-group harmonies against a loose, punky backdrop.

Staying true to the DIY attitude, Beat Happening's earliest recordings sound suspiciously like they included a boombox and some pots and pans. By the time their 1988 album, Jamboree, was released, they'd to hone their sound into the perfect balance of childhood sweetness and the dark vulnerability that runs alongside that. If audiences hated them, frontman Calvin Johnson would respond by throwing them candy.

Taking their name from a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, this was the first band of Rose Melberg.With their signature punky-instrumentals mixed with lyrics about crushes and heartbreaks. They're sometimes loosely associated with riot grrrl, partly because their first release was a split 7-inch with Bratmobile. Sadly, they only existed for about a year.

A sort-of reincarnation of Talulah Gosh, with an almost identical line-up. The guitars were tighter, while the songs remained just as catchy; it's not easy to make a concept record about rape sound danceable. Twee kids hearts exploded when the band was joined by Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson on the track "C is the Heavenly Option."

Made up of Tiger Trap's Rose Melberg, and Jen Sbragia, The Softies combined two electric-acoustic guitars and gorgeous vocal harmonies to create a dreamy, rainy-day-sad-girl vibe; they're possibly the saddest and sweetest group to have ever existed.

Named by NME as the second greatest indie label of all time, Sarah was a Bristol-based record label and fanzine, run by Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd. They regularly released seven-inch singles in hand-assembled packages. When they reached the catalogue number SARAH100, they celebrated by throwing a party on a boat and shutting the label down in August 1995.

An American label co-run by Calvin Johnson and Candace Pederson, nearly every American twee band/musician released something on this label!

In October 1994, Slumberland released a compilation titled Why Popstars Can't Dance. It's a solid compilation that works well at demonstrating just how diverse twee can be; Lorelai's fuzzy shoegazing sits comfortably alongside the lo-fi Honeybunch.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Five Songs To Listen To This Week

1. Potty Mouth - "Cherry Picking"
The newest single from Massachusetts' Potty Mouth wouldn't sound out of place on the soundtrack of a 90's teen movie (that's a good thing by the way). Soundwise, its references lie firmly in the past, while lyrically, it still remains relevant to today's culture.

2. Honey Joy - "Spin" - Listen to it here.
Taken from their debut EP, Feel Bad, recorded last month, you can stream the whole thing on their Bandcamp page. If you only listen to the one song though, make sure it's this one. And I've got good news if you like what you hear - they're already working on their second EP!

3. The Lovely Eggs - "Goofin' Around (in Lancashire)"
Set to be released on November 13th, on special "fried-egg" vinyl, this is the latest fuzzy-pop single from Lancaster's The Lovely Eggs. 

4. Hands Off Gretel - "Eating Simon"
Frontwoman Lauren Tate recently uploaded this version of one of the band's newest, and slightly cannibalistic, songs. Hands Off Gretel are planning on recording their debut album soon, so look forward to hearing a full-band version of this!

5. Wolf Alice - "Baby Ain't Made of China"
Recorded at JJ Abrams's Bad Robot studios, "Baby Ain't Made of China" is the B-side to the band's amazing current single, "You're a Germ".

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Interview: Doe

Doe are a three-piece band from London who describe themselves as liking "feminism, horror films and brown beer." If that doesn't sell you on them, I don't know what will! 

This is an interview I did a while ago with their frontwoman Nicola Leel.

First of all, how did you all meet and when was Doe formed?
Jake and I met in August 2012 when he put up an ad, he was playing in hardcore bands and I was playing guitar in my bedroom and we were both looking for something else. We started writing together then Doe started properly in early 2013 when we met Alex who used to play guitar. After about a year Alex decided to leave which was a shame cos he was a great human being, but we found Matt not long after and threw ourselves into writing new stuff and touring as we had loads planned.

Who/what would you say your biggest influences are?
When we first met we instantly bonded over Weezer and had a shared love of solid power chords and harmonies, which they use to such wonderful effect on the Blue Album. 90s indie rock and bands like Helium, Pavement, Sleater Kinney were also bonding points. Matt’s really into midwest emo and bands like Cap’n Jazz, which influences some of the guitar parts he brought to the mix. That’s certainly not to say we sound anything like any of those, we just write what comes naturally but as people we have preferences of writing and playing styles, which are probably in some part at least thanks to aforementioned bands.

I’m currently obsessed with your song “Julia Survived”. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired that song?
Thanks! Jake actually wrote that song a few years prior to us meeting, with the intention of using it in a band with a female voice. He sent it to me when we first started playing together and I loved it but it kind of got forgotten, then it popped into my head one day so I sought out the email and suggested we give it a go. Jake had recorded a demo of it but we played around with the structure and all put our touch on it and it ended up sounding quite a bit different to the original. Maybe one day that will resurface and everyone will prefer it. The lyrics were more of a stream of consciousness than having any tied down meaning, but I guess the lyrics loosely pertain to a post-relationship analysis. We actually re-visited them recently and had the realisation that it could be about a wasp.

What are your thoughts on the lack of female musicians that is still an issue when it comes to festival line-ups?
There’s an argument that says we shouldn’t consciously include female musicians just because they’re females and that they should be there of their own merit which is a wonderful premise in theory, but in reality there are endless amounts of excellent bands with female members in who should be there due to their own merit, but they’re not being selected because there’s a belief that they’re not as marketable. This super awesome girl Phoebe did a mock up poster of an alternate line-up for Reading Festival which was doing the rounds on the internet and wrote a piece to go with it that made a lot of sense. I posted it online and a guy shared my post (so obviously I’m going to see it) and essentially argued about it being culturally relevant to its target audience, adding ‘I wouldn’t go to an EDL march’ or something equally stupid. But it’s not one festival, it’s the vast majority. I’d like to think 90% of popular music festivals aren’t consciously excluding half of the population from their target audience based on gender, so I would expect, as a woman, to have more representation.

Realistically, we need to make a conscious effort to acknowledge the gender gap and make steps to even it out, so that promoters and bookers realise there’s a plethora of musicians that represent something other than white straight males, who are fucking good at what they do and appeal to a lot of people.

Has sexism been an issue for you at all, as a band?
It’s not been an issue but it’s something we’re constantly aware of. Sound guys are a classic for most girls in bands I know, I’ve had them come up to me and start showing me how to use the house amp whereas they won’t go over to Matt, or mansplain their way through soundchecks. It’s often internalised too, though - I feel under scrutiny and get a bit anxious because I feel that I have to prove I’m not totally clueless around tech. It usually transpires they know less than you do, they’re just more versed in pretending they do. Even with well meaning people, they’ll get us confused with another band on the bill because we’re the only two bands with a female member in, or if you have any overt opinion or are a little bit pissed off at something they’ll take it the wrong way, whereas guys throw their weight around and can just ‘be’ without being judged for it. There are higher behavioural standards for women. Thankfully Jake and Matt are awesome, they pick up on things and are supportive if I’m pissed off.

You seem to take a DIY approach to everything that you do. Is this an approach you’d recommend to other bands who are just starting out?
Definitely, although I think it’s easy to say that when you know the right people and way in - it takes a bit of effort to find the right channels. A lot of young musicians are sold this idea that you have to be on a label and have management and people around you that know what they’re doing, but the misinformation can get in the way of people just going out there and playing music. If you eradicate preconceptions about what it means to be a successful musician, you’ll open up opportunities and end up being a part of something more fulfilling and substantial. You don’t need external forces to make what you’re doing worthwhile, you just need to be a bit fearless and put yourself out there in the first instance.

You recently played some shows in New York. How did that go?
It was bloody great. We met so many nice folk who were keen to help and support us. We managed to fit in a handful of shows, a couple of radio sessions and also make it a wee holiday and it just felt really worthwhile. We’d only really thought it would be a bit of fun to save up and go out and maybe play a few shows if we were lucky, but because of Old Flame putting out the tape and getting behind us it took on a new life. I was very expectant that everyone would be like ‘who the fuck are these?’ but people at the shows and in the bands we played with were so so nice. Hopefully we can go back out soon!

And finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think I’ve probably spoken quite enough. Thanks for asking us to answer some questions! 

Thank you so much to Nicola for answering these questions! You can check out Doe for yourselves here.