If more prominent Americans were like Sleater-Kinney, the USA would never have turned into Trump-ton. Their return from a nine-year hiatus in 2015 with "No Cities to Love" was critically acclaimed and accompanied by a sold-out tour. Good-natured fanboy mithering from Corin Tucker's husband, Lance, and Carrie Brownstein's "Portlandia" co-star, Fred Armisen, had ignited curiosity for a resumption. The band felt that they had unfinished business and that the music business missed the 'urgency' that they possessed. Too much music was like 'hugs', according to drummer, Janet Weiss. They wanted to put something 'visceral' back out there. Taken from their March 2015 gig at La Cigale, this is a raucous, joyous set that is gutsy, to say the least.
Live albums can provoke cynicism - so here's mine: Of the twenty-six songs in the original set, we only get thirteen (there is a brilliantly-produced twenty-three-song Washington DC gig online). They've monkeyed about with the original running order, so that the actual closer, "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" (tuuuune!) is somewhere in the middle and "Modern Girl" ends the album - that being the song that provides the title of Brownstein's recent memoir, which is undoubtedly available from all good sellers while purchasing this album. The show happens to be the only show on the tour where they do a second encore (in tribute to the French etymology of the word?) and the audience is explicitly informed that it is 'the best', to which it responds with unsurprising rapture.
The production quality of the live sound is exemplary. Tucker's primordial, caustic, Patti Smith/Poly Styrene vocals sear with indignant energy. All three instrumentalists' talents smack you firmly round the chops. Brownstein and Tucker's symbiotic guitars create an irresistible force, sharing the lead, rhythm and 'bass' duties (guitars tuned down so that they can both play bass when necessary). Janet Weiss' drums sound like something you could use to blast a quarry, or destroy the Death Star.
Continue reading: Sleater-Kinney - Live in Paris Album Review
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
Ride and The Strokes will be joined by The Black Keys, Patti Smith, The Replacements and more.
Fans and hopeful attendees of Barcelona's Primavera Sound were delighted to discover that the preview app they downloaded was a video game displaying the full line-up for the festival's fifteenth anniversary.
Already announced were Friday and Saturday's headliners Ride and The Strokes, and now they've been joined by a host of other equally incredible artists. Thursday sees The Black Keys leading the bill alongside The Replacements, who are hitting Spanish stages for the first time and Antony and the Johnsons, who've been doing plenty since their last Barcelona gig. Bringing some variation to Thursday proceedings are electronic virtuosos James Blake, Richie Hawtin and Simian Mobile Disco.
Continue reading: The 15th Anniversary Line-Up For Primavera Sound Is Finally Here!
2015 is starting with a bang. January sees the release of the first new Sleater-Kinney material in a decade. Album number eight, 'No Cities To Love', brings a certain level of anxiety and anticipation. Can a band, whose members are now all in their forties, still possess the youthful urgency that defined their earlier records? Is Sleater-Kinney's Riot Grrrl aesthetic and political commentary still relevant? Ultimately, does the material live up to Sleater-Kinney's legacy which has grown dramatically during their hiatus? The answer to all three questions is a resounding yes! 'No Cities To Love' really does live up to the hype, delivering a concise slice of classic Punk Rock that sits comfortably amongst Sleater-Kinney's best records.
All three members have continued to be active musicians in the meantime, but as Carrie Brownstein's 2011 project Wild Flag showed, there really is power in a union. While Wild Flag wasn't a disappointment, it demonstrated that there is something unique to her collaborative songwriting with Corin Tucker under the Sleater-Kinney banner. The band members have made it clear their new material isn't about nostalgia, fans may disagree. But the combination of Tucker and Brownstein, backed by Janet Weiss' drums, is just as vital as ever, and the ten songs here instantly feel like it's business as usual.
Straight out of the gate, 'Price Tag' re-introduces those familiar off-kilter battling guitars fighting for prominence. It's all jagged nerve-shredding Pop-infused hooks racing towards a noisy crescendo. Lyrically, the track highlights economic inequality and affordability in a world where "the good job is gone". It's a searing commentary on financial insecurity in the 21st century, which is interestingly underlined by the very last line on the album's closing track 'Fade': "oh, what a price that we paid, my dearest nightmare, a conscience, the end". 'Price Tag' sets the tone for the whole record: intelligent and thought provoking, loud and brash, angry and earnest, but all the songs possess a real emotional core.
Continue reading: Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love Album Review
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