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I doubt that 2015 will be remembered for being dominated by one particular musical genre. It seems the culture of digital downloads has made it more difficult for a movement to coalesce in a marketplace brimming with choice.
I'd argue though that the last twelve months has seen the strongest showing from female artists across the board for many years. Many acts would easily have made my year-end list on a different day, and many of them cantered on a strong female voice. Solo artists like Joanna Newsom, Laura Marling, and Lana Del Rey all presented strong albums. Even Florence Welch's third album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, which didn't quite live up to her previous efforts in my opinion, featured some glorious moments. I debated for a long time whether to include Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit in my ten best records list. Ultimately it sits just outside for me, although her unique delivery and kitchen sink drama approach is wonderfully endearing. That Adele's 25 closed the year on a strong note, just underlined the trend that had been building all year. It's not just solo artists though; the likes of: Best Coast, Girlpool, Bully, and Wolf Alice, all demonstrated that women were back in the spotlight.
Other bands made welcome returns, Blur in particular were my live highlight of the year, thanks to Graham Coxon's master class on stage. Their album The Magic Whip didn't quite make the cut for my list in the end, compared to most other years it would have. Interestingly it was also a year where side projects came to fruition for well-known artists. Dan Auerbach's The Arcs produced their first studio material, as did Matt Berninger's El Vy. Both albums had their moments, but didn't quite feel fully realised in their own right. Elsewhere the likes of Lucero, Jason Isbell, and Ben Folds produced albums that matched their finest work. My love of bands from Philadelphia also continued thanks to Beach Slang's debut The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us and Hop Along's third album Painted Shut. If there were disappointment's I had, it was those records that were simply good and not as great as you'd hoped. The Decemberists, Frank Turner, Wilco, and Death Cab For Cutie's albums all fell into that category for me. By no means bad, the material on those albums struggled to compete with their high watermarks of previous years. I was especially curious about Ryan Adams' ambitious reinterpretation of the entirety of Taylor Swift's 1989, the result didn't quite live up to the promise it had on the drawing board though. It may have introduced a different audience to some excellent songs, but Adams managed to strip some of the fun out of the arrangements in the process. By the time there were Father John Misty covers of Adams' recordings on the Internet, it felt like the Swift fan club didn't need any more famous members.
Then there were the records you felt you should love, but for whatever reason they just didn't connect on a personal level. Drake and Father John Misty aka Josh Tillman produced records that despite the hype I just didn't manage to fall in love with. Tilman's 'Bored In The USA' was astute social commentary with it's tongue firmly in its cheek, but it didn't hook me into the album as a whole. Perhaps the biggest record in this category for me is Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. It's technically brilliant, ambitious, has great rhymes, and straddles so many genres that it shouldn't be as cohesive as it is. The problem was, it left me cold. It almost felt as if Lamar wanted to prove he could produce something that ticked all the boxes he thought he should, rather than writing the record he wanted to. Perhaps with time I'll grow to love these albums, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Continue reading: Jim Pusey's Top 10 Albums Of 2015
Hard Rock Calling 2013 did not disappoint with performances from Bruce Springsteen, Kasabian and The Jam.
In Somerset, Glastonbury was in full swing but further East a different festival drew its own thousands. Rock fans flocked to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London's Stratford to attend Hard Rock Calling: a two day festival hosting massive names in rock 'n' roll. Held in a pop-up venue at the site of the London 2012 Olympic Games Basketball venue, the festival welcomed Leicester's Kasabian, USA performer Bruce Springsteen and special guests; mod rock band, The Jam.
Bruce Springsteen Brought Down The House.
Kasabian enjoyed a successful Saturday night headlining slot, helping to christen the venue for a festival that began in 2006, with trumpet and violin-playing women and a cover of The Beatles' 'She Loves You' performed by lead singer Tom Meighan without any instrumental accompaniment. Busy bees Alabama Shakes managed to fit both festivals into the same weekend, playing Glasto on Friday then Hard Rock Calling on Sunday. Springsteen AKA The Boss certainly didn't let anyone down, according to the East London Advertiser, with the 65 year-old playing his 80s album Born In The USA in its entirety, accompanied by his E Street Band and even serenading his mother with 'Dancing in the Dark' onstage in front of 40,000 fans.
Albums of Note... Heaped with praise and riding high in the UK charts, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 15th studio album, Push the Sky Away is not only an artistic triumph but a commercial one, too. Cave’s songwriting style has mutated significantly since his early days as frontman and resident wildcard of The Birthday Party; he now resembles a particularly well-dressed bar fly and his songs are peppered with his quintessentially erudite turn of phrase.
For our reviewer, Push the Sky Away demonstrates Cave and his cohorts at their finest:“Knowing when to stop and what to leave out, when adding more will lessen the quality and having the strength of character to just cut away the surplus is most definitely driven by the ever uncompromising Cave and here it has clearly paid dividends… Push The Sky Away' has a delicacy and tenderness woven through it like a fine silken tapestry of beguiling beauty but it can still be unflinching and brutal.”
38 seasons in and SNL still hasn't got stale. But with two prime facets of entertainment; humour and music, something would have to go seriously, seriously wrong for Saturday Night Live to begin to fail. This week's show was brought to life by an incredible host, Austrian (not German) Christoph Waltz, as well as stunning performances from Alabama Shakes.
Sting, Alabama Shakes, Neil Young, Elton John Mumford & Sons and John Legend all paid tribute to Bruce Springsteen as he was named Musicares Person of the Year for 2013 at last night's pre-Grammy award show.
The event recognises a star's philanthropic work as well as their efforts as an artist, something that "The Boss" - as Springsteen has become known - can't separate. "Whatever philanthropy I've ever done usually involved playing the guitar," he said. "I was going to play the guitar anyway." In attendance were some previous honourees: Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett and Bonnie Raitt. Springsteen is a deserving honoree "because he lives his life in such an exemplary way," Raitt said before the gala. "He's committed to his art. He's a good family man. He's a real inspiration for how to give back. I couldn't fault him in any aspect of his life."
Springsteen said of receiving the award, "It's kind of a freaky experience. This is the huge Italian wedding Patti and I never had. I had one of the loveliest nights of my life ...John Legend made me sound like Gershwin. Neil Young made me sound like the Sex Pistols. What a night." He also talked about the power and magic of music, adding, "The Taliban will never win, not now or ever, by banning music and dancing. The minute you do that, you label yourself a tyrant and your cruel days are numbered."
All eyes will be on Bruce Springsteen during Grammy’s week, as the New Jersey rocker will be the recipient of the MusiCares Person of the Year award. To celebrate the honour, a Bruce Springsteen tribute concert will take place in Los Angeles on February 8, 2013, featuring some of the biggest names in rock and pop and hosted by Jon Stewart.
The event, which is already sold out, will feature musical highlights such as Elton John, Kenny Chesney and Mumford And Sons. A whole host of musicians of varying genres and eras have been included in the line-up. Patti Smith, with whom Bruce co-wrote the hit ‘Because The Night’ will be there, as will Faith Hill, Emmylou Harris, as well as Alabama Shakes, Eddie Vedder and Neil Young. Proceeds for the concert will go to MusiCares, an organisation set up to provide support for struggling musicians in financial, medical and personal need.
The annual MusiCares Person of the Year award is attributed to a star whose artistic accomplishments are as worthy of merit as their philanthropic work. Previous winners of the award include Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Paul McCartney and Bono.
The nominations for the 55th Grammy Award Nominations in 2013 have officially been announced by the award's organisers. Here’s a run down of some of the main awards, and our tips for Grammy's Glory.
Album Of The Year:
El Camino — The Black Keys
Continue reading: Grammy Nominations 2013: Who Will Win? Who SHOULD Win?
A Week In Reviews... It's hard to believe that's it's been well over a year since M83 released their single 'Midnight City' and signalled their long-awaited move up to alternative music's big leagues. Going gold in America on sales, and featuring heavily on hit UK TV shot Made In Chelsea, the song precluded album Hurry Up We're Dreaming reaching the US album charts top 20. Our reviewer found that, with 2012 now drawing to a close, the French group's party was very much still in full swing. "'Midnight City', as expected, gets the biggest cheer of the night before an epic version of 'Couleurs' brings the set to a close, and if your mind wasn't already blown, this unbelievable wall of noise was the final knockout blow" he wrote in gushing praise.
Away from the live arena and back to the studio, former Mercury nominees The Unthanks doled out another uncompromising slab of their ethereal folk. Songs From The Shipyards is the group's third release within a year, and was initially a soundtrack to a film documenting their local North East England's shipbuilding industry history. Andrew Lockwood took this one on, and found a band in the form of their life seven albums into their career: "The album, as you might expect, is full of character and love" he wrote. "The songs are performed with great care and attention and each note stirs the emotions as it recounts a slice of Shipbuilding history. Regardless of whether you have seen the accompanying film this set of songs works wonderfully well and once again shows what a prodigious and prolific talent The Unthanks are."
A Week In Interviews... We managed to grab a chat with stalwart Canadian pop-punkers Billy Talent, a group still fizzing with energy with their 20th anniversary of existence just round the corner in 2013. David Straw chatted to the band formerly known as Pezz (they changed their name after legal issues in 1999) and chatted of tours, new albums and the US general election, finding the group in bullish mood on the eve of a show in Nottingham.
Skrillex and Jack White were amongst the highlights of Saturday’s Virgin Mobile FreeFest (October 6, 2012). Over 50,000 people crowded into the Merriweather Post Pavilion to enjoy the three stages worth of music, from the likes of Alabama Shakes, ZZ Top and Santigold; an eclectic mix of old and new, sure to keep the punters satisfied. Tickets to the event were free and Virgin boss Richard Branson spoke to the Washington Post backstage, explaining the work that FreeFest does with homeless youths.
Skrillex was clearly a big draw for the event; one punter, Liz Carr, 27, told the Post that she and her friends had a goal for the evening and that was “to not be blacked out by the time Skrillex comes on.” Whether or not she achieved her aims, we may never know. But those that did manage to stay conscious until the US producer played his headline, 90 minute set, were treated to a “bombardment of riotous dubstep songs with sci-fi lasers, flames, smoke and sparks to match.” Jack White’s 50 minute set was deemed too brief by those in attendance, who called him back onstage for an encore, in a rather unusual manner – by “WHOA-OH-OH-ing the guitar riff from ‘Seven Nation Army.’
It was down to Jack White that the festival-goers at FreeFest were treated to a glimpse of ZZ Top, too. They may not be the hippest band on the planet but when you’re playing at the personal request of Jack White, you’ve instantly earned yourself a few extra nods of approval.
Never have I known a band whose sound comprises the genres 'gospel' and 'rock' work music industry bigwigs into such a frenzy. After a low-key EP release last year, Alabama Shakes quickly had people touting them as the band to watch in 2012 and the stream of critically lauded sell-out shows that followed affirmed their new-found status. Needless to say, their debut album Boys and Girls is hotly anticipated and has a lot to live up to off the back of gnarly lead single 'Hold On'.
Continue reading: Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls Album Review
Visit https://t.co/362ZzyOW1P for dates and tickets!
Brittany Howard (@blkfootwhtfoot) is back on the road this week! In celebration, here is a new live video for ‘Pres… https://t.co/k6NoiLmB20
Visit https://t.co/KykNml62fD for dates and tickets!
RT @blkfootwhtfoot: Excited to be back on the road this week! In celebration I’m releasing the live video for ‘Presence’ shot by the incred…
RT @blkfootwhtfoot: Ready to hit the west coast with the band in a couple weeks! Come see us! ❤️⚡️ https://t.co/vAURbahTuh @JAHJAHMULDROW h…
RT @amazonmusic: This week on Expert Listen, we sat down with @blkfootwhtfoot to talk about the uniqueness of the song 'Sound & Color' by @…
RT @AppleMusic: .@blkfootwhtfoot performs a stunning acoustic version of #StayHigh. Watch the video now. https://t.co/DFevckUJt3
RT @blkfootwhtfoot: Watch my live acoustic version of “Stay High” shot in New Mexico only on @applemusic! 🙌🏾 🍎 https://t.co/4ypeNQVNOk ht…
RT @nprmusic: Brittany Howard played a powerful live session on @KCRW https://t.co/UqSEZK3MHn
RT @blkfootwhtfoot: Check out the new merch we added to the online store, including two t-shirts collaborations with @DaydreamerLA. Pick on…
RT @blkfootwhtfoot: “Just because someone’s not here in the physical world doesn’t mean they’re not here,... Every step of the way, my sist…
RT @pitchfork: Brittany Howard (@blkfootwhtfoot) is the latest “Tiny Desk” guest https://t.co/KZyaWXEhGa
RT @blkfootwhtfoot: We fit the entire band behind Tiny Desk and had a blast! Thank you @nprmusic for having us!! ❤️💙 https://t.co/I6JmzmfB…
RT @nprmusic: Watch Brittany Howard's (@blkfootwhtfoot) performance from the Tiny Desk. https://t.co/RRVylbvBRe https://t.co/Pc6dCRiBxD
RT @blkfootwhtfoot: . @AFROPUNK! We had an incredible time, thank you for all the love! https://t.co/J2CUTd6mu2
RT @TheUndefeated: "I just made the decision to follow my own destiny." @blkfootwhtfoot spoke about her time away from Alabama Shakes, the…
RT @blkfootwhtfoot: Stay High this weekend on @spotify's Feel-Good Indie Rock playlist ✌️ https://t.co/Whd4V1ghBb
RT @RelixMag: ✨New Issue ft. Brittany Howard (@blkfootwhtfoot) of @Alabama_Shakes!✨ Subscribe before MON, OCT 28 and GET $5 OFF any subscri…
RT @latelateshow: Allow Brittany Howard (@blkfootwhtfoot) to blow your mind https://t.co/Hqb3ZBmgHk
RT @consequence: James Corden declared #BrittanyHoward "the best performance we have ever had on" the @latelateshow. Watch her inspiring re…