Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Discovery: Tomine Mikkeline - "Hallelujah"

There’s not really a place to start with Tomine Mikkeline, in her native Norway she's already a well respected vocalist and known talent - but somewhat of an enigma outside of the Nordic world. She's sung for Malala Yousafzai, Queen Sonja of Norway, and also to top it Erna Solberg prime Minister of Norway. I don't quite know which one of those is more impressive. By that age my accolades related mostly to a moderately average GCSE grade in ICT. Mikkeline is as an unknown to us, as I suspect Katherine Jenkins is to the non-classically trained audience outside of the UK. Mikkeline has also toured with Aled Jones, known mostly for singing his childhood version of “Walking in the Air”, with a video which has a noticeable resemblance to a Welsh version of Twin Peaks. 


Mikkeline does not want to be seen as a one trick pony, and she's far from it. In Norway her achievements at such a young age is inspiring to all young singers and performers, be it a vocalist, musician, or any art form. This is what hard work, discipline, and natural talent gets you. Her take on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" isn't as hauntingly beautiful as the original - eye watering as JB's, or capturing as John Cale's, but this is "Hallelujah" we're talking about. A song most known for being notoriously difficult to sing and perform, especially considering Cohen's own version is largely dismissed because it's just not quite "Avalanche"... No, Mikkeline with un-complimenting backing music delivers a fantastic clean version of the classic. It's surprising just how clean her voice is actually, she glides through notes casually like a tennis player glides through the air to hit a return. Thoroughly relaxing to the point of sleep.

I'm unable to comment on the state of the Norwegian classical scene in terms of vocalists - but with an array of technical talent, Mikkeline should not find it too difficult to make this her profession. Based on my short YouTube research, if her rendition of “Ave Marie” is anything to go by, then yeah, she's already made it her profession.
-Eddie Gibson

Discovery: Prince of Toronto - Flies With Honey

We last heard from Jackson Fishauf in 2013 during the Discovery Weekender. Back then Fishauf was doing things a little differently, his album Legitimate was well received by all of us, and stacked in country-esque heavy rock music attuned to fellow Canadian Neil Young. Things are a little different this time, with new compatriots with him as part of the more mellow Prince of Toronto - I'm using the word mellow lightly as Fishauf doesn't quite do mellow.

"Flies with Honey" is a much finer sound than many of Fishauf's earlier recordings. There’s a bigger emphasis on alt-country here as opposed to the country rock heaviness of his previous. He's not lost his knack of just going wild on his electric guitar though, and thankfully this is a standout of Fishauf's music as it compliments his husky voice well. It can be tricky trying new things, attempting different sounds, but it sounds so seamless here for Fishauf and Prince of Toronto - it's a clear continuation from Legitimate that rightfully has the energy of his past, but the more soulful feel of his future.
-Eddie Gibson

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Discovery: Michael Vickers - When I'm Back Home

It's important to give local music attention, and although many of our readers are from Brazil, Russia, yeah and even a bunch of Latvians; but we still get the odd view from the home nation, home county, home. With MichaelVickers; there's a sense of nepotism involved, and I'm a great opposer of nepotism, it's rotten to the core - but having only glanced over Vickers' music for a while, stumbling across his recent material has really motivated me to listen more keenly and take in the differences to his early recordings.

Without being too dismissive of his earlier work, Vickers has certainly matured and progressed in his chosen profession, his song-writing; definitely an improvement from songs which I imagine were thought of, and written while planning 12:30pm lunch at Groby CC. "WhenI'm Back Home" is a complete package of singer-songwriter styles loosely defined as acoustic within the community. Vickers' strength is telling a story, and he depicts a sombre tale of Leicester, specifically leaving Leicester on the train. A unique set of lyrics appearing more sorrowful the more it’s heard. There’s great use of electric guitar accompaniment, and of course as expected it’s well produced.

Where we're from and where we live defines us, shapes us to be the person we become; and as Vickers writes songs linked to the things he knows, the places he knows - as a supporter of local music and giving time to music closer to home i.e. people I’ve known like with Stefan Carter's mix and Steve Roe's beats, Vickers is a welcomed member to the ex-Brooky community of musicians.
-Eddie Gibson

Friday, 24 June 2016

Take Me Back: Jeff Buckley - Sweet Thing

Van Morrison has a knack for writing beautiful songs, his masterpiece Astral Weeks featured many of his best works but "Sweet Thing" stood out as one of his optimistic songs in a period of hurt and soul searching. The recording on Astral Weeks featured Van Morrison's best vocals and musicianship, with additional strings added by Larry Fallon; the strings make the song on Astral Weeks, but it's the stripped back lyricism and sheer solo beauty which attracts me to "Sweet Thing", which is why Jeff Buckley's 10 minute individual effort is one of the best covers Van Morrison could ever ask for. Buckley has a knack for this, his angelic voice is like a soothing presence needed at a funeral - it's the sound of a timeless, motionless man popping in when it matters, and fading out when the time is right. That's why Buckley's tribute to his late great father Tim in 91', specifically the track "Once I Was" becomes tragic, bringing a new meaning to a song already placed in time by Tim. You feel that in every single one of Jeff Buckley's covers, because he was a truly a marksman of playing other peoples songs the way he felt he wanted them to be played, "Once I Was" being the catalyst for "Sweet Things", and the Dylan / Simone / Morrissey covers aplenty.

Here's someone who was always ignored or pushed aside by the music press because nobody knew how to categorise his music, his sound. Those dumb enough to put him with his father were left confused; those even dumber to consider him part of a 90s scene which just didn't exist in Buckley's world were over committed to defining something which was just unrecognisable. You have a voice, you have a Telecaster, and somehow somewhere this defines him. We're all culprits especially me, but when it comes to Buckley you just can't. Tim was the master of change - he followed in the footsteps of Miles Davis; not musically, but in terms of progressing through life and feeling. Jeff who had a good understanding of Tim's music, he took the almost definitive vocal style of his father and accompanied it with consistent ethereal beauty. Live at Sin-E was Buckley's first release, we're talking pre-Grace hype - and to think how competent of a vocalist and musician he was then just a few years after only having a handful of covers and a fathers last name; the turnaround was a phenomenon label execs and audiences missed the chance to champion. "Sweet Thing", although not on the original release but on the 2003 edition was Buckley's penultimate track to "Hallelujah". And it's evident how an audience feels via the feedback sound of sheer openness towards the finale. In 10 short... minutes, Buckley managed to do what musicians spend a lifetime trying to work out, he solved how to play a pre-existing song without showing disrespect to the originator. In fact all of Buckley's covers do this but "Sweet Thing" in particular with it's message of optimism, happiness, and autumn strikes a chord in the heart no other musician can hit.
Eddie Gibson

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Take Me Back: Slowdive - Crazy for You

There's nothing quite as addictive as Slowdive, nothing more so than their third and 'final' album Pygmalion, which regularly does the rounds through my ethereal and atmospheric period of bi-monthly un-categorised music listening. Often jumping from Slowdive to Galaxie 500 and back again with a few rarities inbetween I always find myself back at Pygmalion. There's something quite sincere about this record which just isn't focussed on nearly enough in 90s discussions. Slowdive really achieved greatness in releasing three top class albums, all with a different mood, a different feel, uncategorised, never once pigeon hole’d in my false reality. You can't call Pygmalion shoegaze because it's not brash enough, and you can't call it dream pop because it's too reliant on ambience to even bare the label.

"Crazy for You" is a standout on Pygmalion which is saying something considering the entire 50 minutes of Pygmalion is a musical experience everyone deserves to have. This is where the listener gets involved, Slowdive are doing all the work, but the listener is taking it, and making it their own. Neil Halstead in godlike fashion delivers four simple words, four words: "Crazy for loving you," that's all Halstead and Slowdive need to create. It doesn't matter if it's live, studio, or demo; "Crazy for You" is what it is, an excellent track full of looped repetition and atmosphere. Words honestly can't describe what mood Slowdive put me in, but  I know it's a happy place. If there's one thing Pygmalion loving Slowdive fans want from their upcoming reunion release, its simplicity. Pygmalion will always be overshadowed by "Alison" and the poppier nature of Souvlaki with "When the Sun Hits" (my personal favourite Slowdive song) and "Souvlaki Space Station", but they, specifically Halstead's creativity progressed and peaked in 95' with Pygmalion. "Crazy for You" is just a placebo for Slowdive's never ending atmosphere, whether you call them dream pop, shoegaze or fugazi is completely up to you, but they'll always be that special misunderstood looping distortion on Boss pedals to me.
Eddie Gibson

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Pop Corner: Rihanna - Work

In times of short attention spans, Smartphone news and top 40 rotations being shorter than ever, its important pop artists produce the catchiest, most extravagant piece of art they can draw up from the most unlikely source. Rihanna's team achieved that with "Bitch Better Have My Money", but it's still a forgettable single, and one which listeners ultimately forget after a repetition of simple minded and one dimensional lyricism - which happens to be the key to Rihanna's downfall on a consistent basis.

The big question leading up to Anti, and "Work" was which direction will Rihanna go? Will she progress further down this aggressive dominant figure, the polar opposite to her predecessors of bdsm humiliation and sexual gimmicks. Drake's sexual gimmicks are among the worst in popular music. But it's his work with Rihanna, specifically "What's My Name" which forms the early opinion as to why "Work" suffers. What world are we living in that "What's the square root of 69 is eight some," constitutes as a well-written lyric and "ooh na na, what's my name," is a catchy refrain. Extended vocal pronunciations are something of the present, you never heard Eazy E spending more than five seconds pronouncing one letter of the alphabet, and you sure as hell never heard Lauryn Hill making up expressions like 'ooh na na'", that's some N-Dubz level unintelligent for the purpose of being unintelligent nonsense talk.

Where "Work" falls flat, honestly it's all of it. The beat is special in the bad way, without the blatant electronic bass, it could be a Thom Yorke B-side just waiting to be time stretched to more ambience, but the mainstream electronics kill off any form of experimentation and uniqueness from the norm. Azealia Banks' production, though not lyrically or musically in the same region as Rihanna's here, it has character and develops an emotional attachment to the audience, be it the jungle house "1991", or the ice cold electro-pop "Feeling It", the beats and instrumentals supporting Banks are superior to anything on Anti. The inclusion of Drake's verse is there simply because of commercialism. There's actually no need for Drake on "Work", with Drake, the song becomes boring, but without Drake you have three minutes of complete randomness. Rihanna's lyrical repetition of the song title is quite frankly annoying, added to the auto-tuned exclamation of a non-world "mmmmmm," or something of similar ilk. Something different from Rihanna? Don't think so, "Work", just like Anti is a placebo unintentionally tricking audiences and critics in to believing this is a good enough lead single from two of the biggest names in pop music. It's the musical equivalent of taking a piece of paper, drawing one line and calling it art. 
~Eddie Gibson

Friday, 26 February 2016

The News: Popular Music / #BritsSoWhite

I've ignored the BRIT Awards for my health this year, because in the past I’ve suffered near-stroke experiences when writing about and watching the event take fold. Fortunately, I haven’t died from a James Corden induced heart attack, and I haven’t gauged out my ear drums because of statements like: "the best in British music." I, an aging music fan, have learnt how to ignore and divert music commercialism for a decade now. I've resisted buying in to a world where BBC Radio One is the foreground of ground-breaking new music; in fact many of us have. We're not the pretentious hypocritical hipsters we're made out to be by both the pop press and the actual hive minded pretenders Portlandia pokes fun at.

We don't wear Doc Martens shoes or wear skinny jeans. We wear glasses because we have bad eye-sight; we wear headphones for music, not to advertise Beats. But in this chaotic time period of technological advancements, those that listen to vinyl records are nothing but a niche market for record executives. Those that listen to music on the radio are seen as a few decades away from death, and the audience that will replace them are left waiting for stations to be replaced by Radio Spotify, and Tidal FM. Those that just want to discover, keep that unearthly feeling of experiencing something different - the new, they wait, wait for an even stranger tomorrow; one where the sub-genre of a sub-genre is so unique, even the original artist doesn't know where to categorise their music.

I’ve put up with N-Dubz at school and withstood all the girl bands thrown my way as a teen. I had the brain power to resist X-Factor’s brainwashing, and the BRITs commercialism. I signed my soul over to the angel of death just so I could listen to something new and fresh. But these days I don’t shout at Cowell, or the consumers in front of the box, because who am I to argue their perception, ruin their reality for the sake of my own? I am the living proof of music's evolution. I've been shaped by This Will Destroy You build ups, and Daniel Johnston break ups, Tim Buckley taught me how to write and The Antlers taught me how to fight. I've had Sigur Ros dreams and Slowdive streams. Cohen helped me pick up a book, and Mark. E. Smith stopped me giving a fuck. Neil Young's voice took me right to the ledge, and James Murphy's brought me back from the edge. We're defined by our taste, our likes, it's what keeps us company in the day, and it's what takes us gently in to the night.

So now I ignore the BRIT awards, I turn off Radio One, I keep my ear drums intact, and my heart beating, because there's nothing worse than hearing about that popular feeling. And if one day I write a tune that's number one, and the whole world knows my song; I’ll hide away like Syd Barrett, hoping for my work to shine on. Don't you see? Even in the unlikely event the BRIT awards snubbed you for being black, there's nothing worse than getting signed and being systematically awarded a plaque.
~Eddie Gibson

Grime has a place in British music, it does – but that place isn’t popular, and that place just isn’t marketable enough. Why do you think Dizzee Rascal turned a page with Tongue n’ Cheek? There’s a long list of British grime and hip-hop artists earning plaques and attaining popularity because of their style: Tinnie Tempah (four BRIT nominations,) Tinchy Stryder (One nomination,) Plan B (Five nominations,) the more popular you become, the more BRIT nominations you receive. The BRIT Awards have never been a merit of musical quality, there are awards for that; the biggest award an artist can have is their music forming an emotional attachment to an audience. The BRIT Awards are not racist, not in the slightest. These accusations are akin to the unpopular kid at Primary school running for class president, then losing because of the popular kid. Only difference is that in this real life scenario, the unpopular kid thinks he didn’t win because he is black. The ONLY reason the BRIT award nominations appeared ‘more white’ this year, and in years gone by, is because those nominations sell the most records, they are the most popular, and they have the biggest marketable audiences. The musicians fighting the BRIT awards with #BritsSoWhite are not even fighting the establishment, they just want to be a part of it.