GIITTV: Banks – The Altar (Virgin EMI)

There’s a new kind of soul in town. I’m not quite sure what’s so new about it, but it is certainly a welcome diversion from the norm, and this new soul steamroller is being driven at you, at juggernaut speed, by one Jillian Rose Banks, more formally known, simply, as Banks.

Quite frankly I’ve given up trying to list reference points for you. Initially, she reminded me of Sophie B Hawkins on the smooth initiation of ‘Gemini Feed‘, but join her on this 45 minute ride and you soon realise that you’ve actually been whisked away on a time machine through the history of contemporary R&B and pop. But don’t get TOO comfortable, for no sooner has, say, Lauryn Hill popped on as a passenger than she’s been hurled onto the grassy verge to be replaced by Nicki Minaj, who, in turn, has been hidden in the luggage compartment where she regenerates herself, Dr. Who style, into Rihanna on the stirring ‘Trainwreck‘. These are pseudo-versions of the artists, of course – they don’t actually feature.

If all this sounds a little complicated and far fetched, it’s merely because I have been rather bewildered by the onslaught. These are some terrific pop chillout tunes, but chip away at the surface and underneath you realise it’s not all chocolates, cappuccinos and roses, oh no, on The Altar, you will find some seriously angry prose. The bitter resentment is perhaps best summed up in Gemini Feed‘s chorus – “And to think you would get me to the altar, like I follow you around like a dog that needs water/But admit it that you wanted me smaller/If you would have let me grow, you could have kept my love.”

Haunt‘ is probably the most obvious nod to Banks’ established heroine, Fiona Apple, its moderate beats seguing perfectly with the singer’s penitent lamentations. If Goddess was already an impressive debut, with Banks laying her soul surprisingly bare, then its follow up is every bit its equal. The uncomfortable intimacy of its nature feels rather like we’re witnessing the break up of a long time relationship on the next table of what was meant to be a romantic restaurant meal.

It’s not all spitting venom though. There are tender torch ballads like the quite beautiful album closer ‘To The Hilt‘ after all, as well as a more playful side to her character witnessed on the sparsely produced, sultry, charmingly titled ‘Fuck With Myself‘, which is one of the standout moments here. All in all, the best way I can describe this record is as a comfort blanket for the broken hearted. Wrap it around your heart – it will free your mind and soothe your soul. Honest.

The Altar is released on 30th September 2016 through Virgin EMI.

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GIITTV: Ultimate Painting – Dusk (Trouble In Mind)

As a wise man once said, “…and now for something completely different”.

Jack Cooper and James Hoare make up Ultimate Painting, having both found more success in this particular guise than they did in their alternative pursuits, Mazes and Veronica Falls. They don’t hang about either, Dusk is already their third release in as many years and is a rapid follow-up to Green Lanes in 2015. Naturally, this worries me. I am always cautious when approaching anyone who can seemingly hand-craft an album out of nowhere every few months. History tells me they are either a pair of geniuses or have little in the way of quality control a la King Creosote. I needn’t have worried my pretty little head about it.

Green Lanes wasn’t for me, it suffered from trying to please a little too hard. It wasn’t terrible, it was just ‘nice’ and we all know how that usually turns out. It was the musical equivalent of going through a car wash, you are aware of something going on around you but deep down you’re not really concentrating, caught up in wondering where you’re going to buy kaffir lime leaves at short notice. To counteract such mental laziness from the likes of me, the lads have decided to retain their minimal sound but have upped the intensity of the darkness and gloom by a notch; nothing too grandiose but just enough to unsettle in places with surprising results. Considering Dusk was recorded at Hoares’ East London home studio, it does raise some concern about whether to visit on Halloween.

OK, flippancy over, Cooper and Hoare have something going on here. Sure it might be harking back to The Velvet Underground and The Byrds but there are far worse musical crimes than plagiarizing from such luminaries. But it’s not all Sixties memorabilia, the delicious ‘Silhouetted Shimmering’ could easily have graced The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s Darklands. at a shade over two minutes it’s a perfect study into how brevity is often the sharpest weapon. Nothing on Dusk outstays its welcome, Ultimate Painting are hardly a band to wallow in their own self-importance. Opener ‘Bills’ happily trots along with a simple vocal of “they’re chewing me up” as the guitars swirl in and around, almost hypnotically. Yes, I know that sounds pretentious, it also happens to be accurate.

‘Song For Brian Jones‘ and ‘A Portrait of Jason’ are further examples of what can be achieved through a straightforward riff, a meandering pace and some reverb for good measure. Don’t expect any wild theatrics, these guys craft songs, not just record them. I challenge anyone to listen to ‘Monday Morning, Somewhere Central’ and not grin from ear lobe to ear lobe, it’s a perfect lament to a missed romantic opportunity and sums up the Ultimate Painting manifesto, everything they do is simple yet effective. If I’m being picky then the album does sag slightly in the middle and I started to contemplate my Thai green curry ingredients again but Dusk is a much stronger effort than their earlier work.

Listen, we live in an era where it’s increasingly hard to get heard unless you turn everything up to eleventy-stupid. On Dusk, Ultimate Painting have done what all competent artists should do, they tone down the noise and dial up the contrast and the result is a slow-burner of an album which provides an impressive and necessary antidote to the excesses of the mainstream.

Dusk is released on Sept 30th on Trouble In Mind

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GIITTV: Raiding the memory banks of Techno-Pop & Motion Graphics

From Kraftwerk to Daft Punk and beyond, throughout history pop has been endlessly fascinated with technology.  Whether it’s recreating, inhabiting and representing its forms: shifting sounds and visuals, or rebelling against its creeping tide.  Recently technology has begun to submerge our lives, from the preponderance of social media and mobile technology, the dominance of Apple technology to the shifting the modes of delivering music from digital downloads and streams; to flash releases online by artists with the name to just release it and let journalists scramble to keep up (Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Beyonce, for example)

Now there is another strain of electronic music that takes the sounds of electro-pop, dance music, Detroit techno, jazz, and the sleek futuristic forms of R&B production popularised by Timbaland in the noughties, to forge a very futuristic bricolage of techno-pop music.  A form of hyper-real, techno-pop sound wired into the virtual reality of 2016, their use of smart vocal samples and deconstructed instrumentation inhabits, slices up and represents the frameworks of social media, the internet our circuit boards and the aural tech sound collages that undulated below the everyday.  To craft a sound that may point the way to the future.  In that number are Holly Herndon, Arca, and my favourite recent disciple Motion Graphics.

With long players like ‘The Man-Machine’ (1978) and ‘Computer Love’ (1981), German synth pioneers Kraftwerk not just innovated a new kind of electronic music, they inhabited the technology to bring their themes to light.  Naming themselves the robots, they dressed like mechanoids, rarely gave interviews, they created a mystery and distance with an audience anxious to fix the Rubix cube.  Their use of hand-held Dubreq Stylophone, the punctuated singing was more in common with an automated machine than any soul song, yet it still possessed an awareness of the history of pop music and their surrounding emergence of the first forms of computer technology in the 1970s and 1980s.  Take ‘Computer Love’, a song about falling love with your computer and how hopeless it makes you feel, prescient in an era where social networks like Facebook and twitter dominate some people’s lives.

In early 1980s Detroit, techno-dance music emerged from the African American community: a vibrant mixture of Chicago house, funk, electro, and electric jazz.  Much like nascent hip-hop of Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambata, it was influenced by the records of Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, and Japanese techno innovators Yellow Magic Orchestra who embraced the innovations of the Japanese product market with Walkmans and the rise of the video game console.

One of the main exponents of the Detroit Techno scene was Joey Beltran, whose use of minimal beats: gave a platform to his motifs of synth loops, samples, and vocal fragments.

Britain’s synth wave also borrowed heavily from the Kraftwerk traditions and adding in the British sensibility of post-punk.  First emerging on top of the pops, Gary Numan looked like an android from another planet.  With his ominous electro-pop songs about technology, cars and ‘Are Friends Electric’ is influenced by the dystopic sci-fi works of JG Ballard and the movie Bladerunner. “I had Asperger’s and saw the world differently.  I immersed myself in sci-fi writers: Philip K Dick, JG Ballard.  The lyrics came from short stories I’d written about what London would be like in 30 years,” says Numan. “These machines –”friends” – come to the door.  They supply services of various kinds, but your neighbours never know what they really are since they look human.  The one in the song is a prostitute, hence the inverted commas.”

Numan’s chart success helped the synth wave that was already bubbling under the surface in the years prior in the north of England reach the ears of the mainstream too.  From Cabaret Voltaire, Human League and OMD to New Order in the 1980s who took their influence from the works of Giorgio Moroder and the discos they visited in the early ’80s.  As an example here’s New Order‘s awesome ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ (1996) that takes the Detroit Techno sound and merges with a precise Moroder-like beat pattern, fluttering synth lines, Peter Hook basslines and garnishes with Bernard Sumner’s knack for a bitter sweet melody and love-lorn lyric.

In the ’90s, Icelandic artist Bjork inhabited a otherworldly place between the naturalistic and robotic.  Her super album ‘Homogenic’ was a study in fractured electronic sounds, found samples, string sweeps and eruptions of emotion.  In the video for the delicious ‘All is Full of Love’ director Michael Gondrey takes it one step further, as Bjork and her lover inhabit robotic mechanoids being upgraded for an embrace and kiss.

At the start of the millenium, French duo Daft Punk became robots, literally, in all of their public appearances after their first album ‘Homework’.  Their post modern electronic dance music was genre hopping and influenced by the jukebox of musical history but is also reflective of the world around us.  Take the wonderful ‘Around the World’ a thumping electro – house anthem with a groundbreaking body-popping video of formation dancing.

The squelchy synths augmented by a thumping beat that slides effortlessly, its insidious computerised, vocoder of the refrain buries itself in your head, harking back to the work of their forefathers Kraftwerk.

So to the new wave (forms), last year Holly Herndon released a superlative glitch-pop that’s avant forms and vocal snatches are riven with bleeps and blips, and a stop start fracturing of rhythmic structures.  Sound pads, synths, Holly’s samples, and beats are cut up and replayed and reproduced as she distills emotional memories.  In the video for ‘Chorus’, Holly becomes a virtual reality figure in a virtual world a glimpse of our futures?  And redolent of the kind of sickeningly over helpful tech help now used by Amazon and other tech companies.  Is this the future for human contact through a screen?  In the film ‘Her’ the actor – played by Joaquin Phoenix – ”falls in love” with his own operating system.

Motion Graphics, aka Joe Williams, recently released self-titled debut recently, was created over a two-year period between NY, LA, & Baltimore.  He uses “custom randomized software instruments, Williams’ mimics the erraticism of the Twitter timeline and the aggregated news feed, while incorporating elements of techno-pop and jazz, sequenced through the superhuman capabilities of a computer.”

Reflecting and inhabiting the sound and visuals of the technology that surrounds us, plugged into the mainframe, Williams set out to make a techno-pop record that reflected the past and peered into the future. “Of the sort Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Yellow Magic Orchestra or Kraftwerk had made in their time.  However, Williams was not interested in simply emulating the sounds of those classic groups, but rather, like those groups, he aimed to make music that would reflect the technological realities of his time.  The oblique rhythm of the Twitter timeline and the alert sounds from the menu systems of touchscreen devices.”

Plugged into the mainframe our auteur Joe Williams’ manifold influences span the likes of ’80s-era Japanese techno-pop and the jazz sounds of ECM Records.  ‘Anyware’ builds upon each hyperactive synth motif, horn burst and sample sweep, vocal stutter in the way classical music forms do, to forge an complex databank.  Only this is the sound of a spluttering spaceship skitters across the galaxy, indeed it was written by Williams on an Amtrak as an aural representation of Grand central terminal. “MIDI sequencing new tracks, moving between cities in rapid transit. This area is where I see the landscape of ‘Anyware’ living,” says Williams.

The video is similarly futuristic created by CULTURESPORT: “The album art jogs inside a dancing bear DNA sequence.  It doesn’t run out of breath, like the hyper patterning of the brass and woodwinds.”

The extraordinary ‘Houzzfunction’ coughs and splutters up fragments of rhythm, beats, and samples underscored by key board triggers that sound like hundreds of slinkies stepping down hundreds of flights of stairs.  The sound of the firing circuits of Wal-E, fragments of jazz records, Timbaland’s jabs and William’s vocals that sketch scenes in a nu-soul vacuum.

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GIITTV: NEWS: Plastic Mermaids share live video for ‘Beyond the Cosmos After Death’

Hailing from the Isle of Wight, Plastic Mermaids have built their name on peddling a blend of synth-psych.  Following the release of their new EP Everything is Yellow and Yellow is My Least Favourite Colour, they’ve been releasing a series of live videos.  The latest in the series is for ‘Beyond the Cosmos After Death.’

The band say of the track: “This was my favourite one to do live, the whole song is basically one big crescendo so with 15 musicians in the same room all feeding off each other it created an amazing energy that you wouldn’t get another way.  The first time we played it though it got so loud we clipped almost every channel, so we had to turn down lot of microphones before going at it again.  Towards the end of the song RHAIN went off into and almost ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ style vocal solo which was really unexpected and unrehearsed but pretty special, I’m so please we caught that take as I’m not sure it’d ever happen the same again.”  Watch below.

Tonight Plastic Mermaids begin an extensive tour of the UK that runs until November and sees them travelling the length and breadth of the country.  It’s their first proper tour around the country.  Details below.

30th September – Westgarth Social Club, Middlesbrough
2nd October – Brudenell Games Room, Leeds
7th October – Sugar Store, Isle of Wight (Sold Out)
8th October – Sugar Store, Isle of Wight
12th October – Arts by the Sea Festival, Bournemouth
13th October – London Fields Brewery, London
14th October, Sound and Vision, Norwich
22nd October – Simple Things Festival, Bristol
23rd October – Swn Festival, Cardiff
8th November – Green Door Store, Brighton

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GIITTV: The Beat feat. Ranking Roger – Bounce (DMF Records)

Quite why ‘Busy Busy Doing Nothing‘, the second track on this, The Beat‘s first album of new material in more than 30 years, makes me want to strut like a peacock across the landing floor is difficult to say.  Perhaps it says more about the reviewer than the music; I’m not sure.  Or maybe this incarnation of the band (the other one is led, across the pond, by Ranking Roger’s former bandmate Dave Wakeling) is well aware that they have nailed it and the chest puffing nature of the new material’s sound is a way to let would-be suitors know how confident they are in it.  Maybe it just rubbed off on me.

At any rate, had you been cryogenically frozen in 1981 and woken up 35 years later, with ‘Walking On The Wrong Side‘ playing on your bedside radio, you would have thought it was pretty much business as usual, instantly recognising the artist in question, for this one, more than any other, recreates that classic pop-reggae-new-wave feel for which the band were always most famed.  While Bounce does supply a handful of nods to the past, however, the good news is that they remain forward-thinking enough to embrace modern culture and recording methods too, creating an often vibrant, colourful palette from which to paint their mostly immediate, agreeable new compositions.

Like The Specials, this band finds themselves – and the UK itself – in a grim place politically, mirroring the bathroom of doom that confronted them the first time around, as the Tory government of the day so severely decimated our society under the Thatcher regime.  Nothing, it seems, has changed.  It may have even gotten worse, so while the tunes on Bounce are largely infectious, it is welcome and sadly perhaps necessary for the band to continue providing grim social commentary upon the likes of ‘Fire Burn‘, a tremendous piece of music which calls to mind the earliest incarnation of former contemporaries UB40. “In violent times like these/When things can seem impossible/The world will sit and watch instead of being responsible,” sings Roger, before adding, incredulously, “And no-one seems to give a thought for all your troubles/But if we sit and watch/You’ve only got yourself to blame.”  A damning indictment, perhaps, of those who didn’t bother to vote in either the general election or the calamitous EU referendum.

For the most part, though, Bounce is a joyous party that works rather well, despite often focusing more on the “pop” side than the ska/reggae that previously made their name.  The only time doubts are raised is when they veer dangerously close to Inner Circle‘s 1990s output, and nobody really wants to hear a song that sounds like ‘Sweat (A La La La La Long)‘ again.  Do they?  Still, more than half of the album could easily be regarded as the seminal Beat sound, and that can only be admired.

Bounce is released on 30th September 2016 through DMF Records.

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GIITTV: Meilyr Jones – Birmingham Mama Roux, 28th September 2016

Mama Roux is a new name on the already generously catered for Digbeth gig circuit.  Hanging baskets and Mediterranean building fronts decorating the walls inside the venue give it a touch of charm and eccentricity.  Quite fittingly, tonight it’s a setting for the start of Meilyr Jones‘ UK tour.

The Welsh gentle rebel appears with a trademark bashful smile and launches straight into ‘How To Recognise A Work Of Art’, the first track from his debut album 2013.  Powered along by mighty drums and Jones’ dashing style, it is 100% in the moment, 100% new and fresh.  It sets the bar high but that bar is triumphantly smashed again and again as the evening draws on.

But it’s not all about Meilyr.  His supporting cast is equally impressive and there is a real passionate chemistry between them.  All band members are multi-instrumentalists who re-create the often intricate landscapes of 2013 with relish, while not being afraid to try something new at every turn.  Emma Smith begins a gentle bassline for ‘Passionate Friend’ which sees Meilyr eschew his microphone, climbing into the audience for an intimate rendering of the track before he returns to the stage to finish the song with some amplification.  Richard Jones switches instruments and at times it seems that the whole thing is one big improvisational experiment.

‘All Is Equal In Love’ rolls along in a pensive, meditative way before Jones takes on key duties for a solo run through his furiously beautiful first single ‘Refugees’ – the sizeable audience playing its part with rapt silence in the right places and ecstatic applause between songs. There is genuine love between this eminently likeable (show)man and his fans.  It’s impossible to resist his charm and sincerity.

A touching ‘Love’ heads into a brief play of the intro to David Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’ which segues into ‘Strange/Emotional’, an ecstatic delirium showing the other end of the Jones spectrum: he is as capable and comfortable of passionate fury as he is of the quiet, reflective moments.

‘Return To Life’ could just be the best song of 2016  and is represented tonight with a jaw-dropping performance, before the pop opera of ‘Olivia’ is announced as the last song.  Without even leaving the stage the band stay and complete a perfect rendition of  another crowd favourite, ‘Featured Artist’.

For all his theatrical zeal, prickly humour and undeniable musical brilliance Meilyr Jones possesses a touching humility that creates an immediate appeal.  He looks up to the balcony and asks the audience all to come downstairs. ‘I have an announcement to make’, he says with a conspiratorial smile. They duly oblige, only for the band to take their place and play ‘Be Soft’ up there: no amps and no microphones; just strings, brass and vocals. It is a moment of real magic which seals an incredible performance. But there is time for one more.  The band return to the stage to take on the unreleased ‘Watches’, the song that sends tonight’s audience home firmly in the belief that they have witnessed the dawn of a singular blossoming talent.  Strange/Emotional indeed.

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GIITTV: NEWS: CaStLeS share new single ‘Amcanu’

North Wales trio CaStLeS are releasing their much-anticipated debut album Fforesteering on 18th November.  With a signature sound that sits somewhere between Os Mutantes and Ennio Morricone, the group self-produced the album, which was recorded on a Zoom 16-track digital recorder inside a static caravan outside of guitarist and vocalist Cynyr’s home.

It continues many of the themes of their EP PartDepart, which was inspired by the North Wales landscape.  They say: “nature is a place of comfort and reflection, to retreat to and hide from it all at times, as a subject, it can be used as an analogy to human society and our own personal nature.”

In the run up to the album’s release, they’ve shared their brand new single ‘Amcanu.’  Released in advance of the LP, on 4th November, it’s an atmospheric psych-rock number with an expansive atmosphere that completely belies the album’s humble recording conditions.  Listen below.

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GIITTV: NEWS: Kate Bush announces new live album ‘Before the Dawn’

Back in 2014, Kate Bush played her first series of concerts in 35 years at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. Now she’s releasing a box set of the live recordings, Before the Dawn, on 25th November.  The collection will be released under the moniker of The KT Fellowship instead of Bush’s name and is her second live LP since 1994’s Live at the Hammersmith Odeon.

The box set will be split into three CDs or 4 vinyls, and is compiled into three distinct sections.  The first is a seven-song run of her greatest hits, followed by a selection of tracks from 1985’s Hounds of Love.  The final section features songs from her 2005 record Aerial, as well as a new song, ‘Tawny Moon,’ performed by Bush’s son Bertie McIntosh.  The collection will be the singer’s first release since 2011’s 50 Words for Snow.

Watch the video for 2005’s ‘King of the Mountain’ below.

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