September 30th- Bon Iver- 22, A Million

Ever since 1965 when Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar to an amp and went electric folk musicians have sought various ways to explore and expand their sound and audience through the use of electronics. Bright Eyes did this huge acclaim on his Digital Ash in a Digital Urn LP and more recently Laura Marling has also ditched the acoustic guitar for one with a power supply. The extension of folk going electric has also run to rock, with Radiohead infamously changing their sound with the release of Kid A, and more recently to hip hop, with Kanye West’s Yeezus taking on industrial techno. Bon Iver’s 22, A Million owes a lot to all of these releases in its change of direction and artistic vision but perhaps most greatly it is indebted to the last release, as the vocal and production styles of Justin Vernon’s close friend Yeezy are a very strong influence on 22, A Million.

All of the above highlights clearly that those who purchase a copy of 22, A Million expecting the delicate folk of Bon Iver’s debut LP are going to be disappointed. There are elements of delicate folk and that stunning icy high pitched voice appearing on tracks like 00000 Million but even here a sample of Fionn Regan echoes across parts of the track adding something different to what has gone before. This referencing of contemporary folk artists occurs in other places as on track 4 where Bon Iver samples Paulo Nutini, it almost feels as if when reverting to the folk of old Bon Iver still wishes to cut n paste to express.

22, A Million treads a different path from what has gone before it and is littered with samples, vocoder and synth, which is coupled effectively with the folk that made Bon Iver an international success. At points the fracturing and confrontational style becomes difficult for the listener but in a very good way, a way, which in fact is again very comparable to Kanye West’s Yeezus. The first two tracks of 22, A Million conform almost whole heartedly to this stylistic and confrontational change, so much so, that in fact when some acoustic guitar and non-mechanised vocals appear on track 5 they act as a form of welcome relief.

Bon Iver is with 22, A Million challenging his listener to explore something else. To explore a more fractured sound in a more fractured world, he is confronting what folk can and should be in a post-modern world permeated by technology and the results are staggeringly effective. Track 3 is a perfect example of this: It’s a folk love song fed through a brutal vocal effects machine, to the point whereby it sounds like a robot voice from a Kanye West nightmare, yet with the story telling lyricism and heart ache roots the track contains many folk elements.

Bon Iver has always painted a dark and tortured picture of the world on his LPs often portraying emotional and personal turmoil and 22, A Million does feel similar in this vein. Yet even when plumbing the depths of darkness, as he does here, Justin Vernon finds beauty and despite being as dark as the night 22, A Million is as beautiful as the moment you spot the light of the first visible star.

Like those that went before him Justin Vernon has successfully changed his style and with 22, A Million is a very worthy contender for album of the year.

May 6th- A tribute to XL Recordings

On the week ending 8th May many music lovers dreams came true as they were suddenly landed with surprise releases by Radiohead and James Blake alongside hugely anticipated releases from ANOHNI and Skepta.

However, almost in anticipation of this glut of music being released at the same time XL Recordings, the home of Radiohead played a very clever game. In teasing, audiences with the Burn the Witch video and then surprise releasing Radiohead’s new album, A Moon Shaped Pool, the band and the label garnered huge media attention and huge sales. Currently Radiohead’s album looks set to top the UK charts ahead of Skepta and Beyonce and also to be a huge success in the States, anticipation led to an explosion of success.

But during this week XL recordings didn’t only release the hugely successful Radiohead album with much less fanfare the label also put out the critically successful new release from Kaytranada 99.9%. An album, which was so warmly recieved not only did it have critics claiming it to be better than Radiohead’s and James Blake’s but also to be on a par with releases by J Dilla and DJ Shadow.

Both albums are nothing short of staggeringly brilliant, Kaytranada provides a hip hop soundtrack to the summer. Whilst Radiohead provide both their most accessible and darkest record in many years. Both are very different but each will end up high upon critics’ end of year best of lists.

The tactic of achieving high sales whilst also maintaining critical and underground success is one which XL Recordings have suceeded with many times previously. The success the label experienced with the Prodigy’s album Music for the Jilted Generation being the starting point. But just last year as the label shifted galaxies of records with Adele they were also releasing an electronic compilation called The Story Continues, which collected tracks from underground artist who all have an ear firmly tuned to the future.

In being able to maintain both critical and commercial success whilst continuing as an independent label XL Recordings walk a fine tight rope, which no other label has been able to balance along before or after their formation in 1989. Not only does the critical and commercial success of the label stand as tribute to this but so does the list of artists wishing to work with them: Radiohead after falling out with Parlophone and abandoning all labels eventually turned to XL Recordings, their label mates include the notoriously difficult Zomby, the White Stripes, Wiley, Vampire Weekend, Adele, Basement Jaxx, Badly Drawn Boy, the list is endless and amazingly diverse.Such diversity has seen many incredible albums. And Radiohead’s A Man Shaped Pool and Kaytranada’s 99.9% stand alongside any one of them as truly great musical masterpieces.

Last week may have been the biggest release week for new albums this year with Radiohead winning the sales battle. However, last week really only ever belonged to XL Recordings.

Tunes of the Month April 2016

  1. Dusky- Ingrid is a Hybrid- Beautiful house track with an old school vibe, perfect sunsetter and sure to be huge in Ibiza this summer.

 

2. Okzharp & Samrai- I Know (Gated)- Released on the hugely respected Keysound Recordings Okzharp & Samrai carry on the recent renaissance of jungle and ragga with this track.

3. Silkie- Sub Castle (Bowser Riddim)- Huge 8 bit grime instrumental from Silkie

4. Radiohead- Burn the Witch- the album is obviously reviewed here but this is such a stunning video and a great track it’s well worth highlighting by itself:

5. Slackk- Skeleton Crew- Dark, twisted grime-y RnB inflected track from the Boxed head honcho

6. Tigermonkey- Zooby Doo- Yes it’s a novelty track but there is something innocent about a novelty track from a TV advert. In years past campaigns would be launched on breakfast radio shows to get novelty tracks from adverts to number 1 this reminds me of that. Also listen to it once and it’ll never leave the far reaches of your brain:

Tunes of the Month January 2016

Each month i’m going to post a selection of tracks, singles and downloads, not on the albums I’ve reviewed that I have been listening. Here’s January:

 

  1. Radiohead- Spectre, given away as a free download and supposedly Radiohead’s submission for the most recent Bond movie, sounds like the band turning back the clocks and creating something rather beautiful, grab yourself a copy here:

 

2.  Porter Robinson- Flicker (Mat Zo remix)- I normally loathe the EDM sound but Mat Zo has done something a bit different with this remix from the end of 2014 using jungle style drums beneath EDM synths to give this track a unique vibe.

 

3.  Babyfather- Meditation- Babyfather are Dean Blunt and Arca and this track was released on Hyperdub if you need more hipster hype than that I don’t think you’ll find it. Has a bit of a trip hop vibe to it with lazy weed induced vocals from Dean Blunt.

 

4. Drake-  Summer Sixteen- A surprise release from Drake who seems to have new material out each month, probably easy to do when you don’t write all of it yourself, but debates and disses aboout ghostwriters aside, this is Drake releasing a strong diss track aimed at those detractors. Beats wise it’s more of the same (a little more lively perhaps) though with Drake that’s no bad thing. Sadly no link on this as all material is exclusive to Apple Music but hey you’ve got Itunes right?

5. Partisan-  Coming straight out of Reading and making what could best be described as heavy grime instrumentals Partisan has gained a lot of attention on the underground electronic scene with various online zines giving him huge props, with tracks like this it’s not hard to see why, again a free download:

 

Enjoy!