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downtothebone

[Originally published on GoldenPlec]

From the very first track there is an arresting beauty to Anna Mitchell’s debut album. Released earlier this year, Down to the Bone is noteworthy in its subdued nature; the way it sways unassumingly, all blue and yearning. Indeed, said opening song – ‘Paradise’ – sets the tone for what at times can be a quite majestic listen.

Despite hailing from Cork, Mitchell showcases an echoing Americana sound that swells almost ominously around tracks like debut single ‘Let’s Run Away’ and ‘Long Time Gone’There is a rustic sense of world-weariness to her tone, which belies the singer’s age – indeed, the 24-year-old’s voice is at once tremulous and unfaltering, whilst retaining a pronounced soulfulness throughout the album – notably on slower, achingly evocative numbers like ‘Songs of Love’.

For all that is impressive about the record, however, there are times where a bit more variety might have been welcome, as the pace in the second half begins to feel a bit repetitive (if never quite listless).

The poppier stylings displayed on ‘When My Ship Comes In’ sound somewhat disingenuous with its cloying country twang, particularly when compared with the stark honesty of the folk-tinged songs otherwise in evidence on the LP.

At her best moments, though, there is no denying Mitchell’s talent. ‘Tennessee’ is all affirming, gorgeous piano and melancholy, and rich vocals longing for elsewhere. “Let’s go to Tennessee / there’s nothing left for us here anymore”, the singer laments.

And perhaps that is what is striking and, at times, seemingly incongruous about Down to the Bone. Mitchell’s passion for that roots-y Americana sound and so encompassing that, in her music, she is reaching out for a sweetly idealised notion of the Deep South. While the swathes of country might seem ill-fitting to the humble folk stylings of this Irish artist, one might concede that, overall, Mitchell’s dream of escaping to her hallowed America is sonically realised here.

What’s more, it is realised with an impressive passion that makes us intrigued to hear more.

wayne-J-Dancehallstarz.com_

Do you remember being 12? Let me rephrase, in fact: do you remember being in any way genuinely cool aged 12? I for one am pretty sure I was significantly lamer than I am now (hard to imagine, I’m sure), but I have always liked to think that this was something of a universal – awkward preteen years aren’t kind to anyone. And yet, there are guys like Wayne J who, at 12-years-old, is releasing some astounding jams on the Kingston dancehall scene.

In ‘Any day now (Ben10)’ the child prodigy references Scooby Doo and Ben10 as though he is some normal kid, but – if Aaliyah taught us anything – age ain’t nothing but a number, and his lyrics run deeper than you’d think. As he explained to Dazed, he wants to be a role model to his peers, singing about “positive stuff. Like, staying in school. No underage smoking and drinking.” And his vocals are as wonderfully sweet as that aim might suggest, at times recalling the smooth and chill voice of Billy Boyo; and yet there is a striking presence and command to his style that goes beyond said sweetness, underpinned nicely by the fiery passion of the instrumentals on vehemently charged tracks like ‘Slacky Mouth’.

His father Wayne Senior, himself a DJ and singer, was the 12-year-old’s inspiration, and the two of them have been writing tracks together for the past couple years. Since his first release, the intensely uplifting number ‘Stay Ina School’, Wayne J has turned local hero, rightly making waves on the dancehall circuit with his assured delivery, catchy, danceable songs and his generally good vibes. I’ll forgive him for highlighting my ineptitudes aged 23, let alone at 12, because this guy is ridiculously exciting and a welcome addition to an increasingly impressive scene.

Pay close attention: the future is looking bright, and Wayne J might well be next in line to the dancehall throne.

femikuti

In continuing with the theme of rehashing pieces I’ve already written and posting them here as though they are new and exciting, here’s a longer, improved version of a column I wrote a couple years ago on the link between Lagos and the development of my beloved Afrobeat. Having spent this pleasantly sunny afternoon half-heartedly attempting to pack a suitcase whilst blasting out the Fela, it seemed pertinent to post this edited tn2 piece up:

Though its founding fathers can be linked with many cities, it is only right to trace the development of Afrobeat back to Lagos, Nigeria. In 1963, after several years in London studying music whilst playing jazz and highlife, Fela Kuti returned to his native Nigeria seeking to form a band. Kuti asked drummer Tony Allen to join his new band Koola Lobitos, having previously played with him around the Lagos gig circuit. Allen was an unusually talented percussionist, effortlessly playing an eclectic blend of traditional Nigerian yoruba rhythms and Western jazz – it is no coincidence that Damon Albarn famously sings “Tony Allen got me dancing” in Blur track ‘Music Is My Radar’.  Allen’s was an unprecedented mix of rhythms which, along with Kuti’s fantastic musical fusions of soulful Western funk and African grooves (topped characteristically with pidgin English), would form Afrobeat.

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bbb

[Originally published on GoldenPlec]

The only New Orleans-style brass band in town, Irish eight-piece Booka Brass Band are renowned for their raucously engaging live performances. Their reputation for pop covers precedes them – we’re talking ‘Crazy in Love’, ‘Talk Dirty to Me’ and even a tasty little rendition of supreme Destiny’s Child hit ‘Survivor’.

All of which is why, on paper, the idea of this – their debut EP – might seem a bit hard to swallow: can the incredible, tongue-in-cheek vivacity of their live show truly translate into a cohesive original recording?

The answer, thankfully, is yes.

Right from the swelling intensity of opener ‘Make That Do Noise’ through to the swinging, spiralling richness of ‘Legion of Boom’the BBB EP certainly has a lot to offer. The former of these two is an absolute storm of a song. All fast-paced drums and stupidly danceable refrains, ‘Make That Do Noise’ recalls the likes of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble in its sheer enticing energy. Meanwhile the latter track starts all soulful and melancholy before crescendoing into something quite glorious.

It is apparent how clearly the group are aware of the potential of each instrument, and what works best to create the most striking, complementary harmonies. Indeed, from its forlorn, military-esque fanfare opening into the ending cascade of triumphantly forceful sounds, ‘Legion of Boom’ is everything you might hope for from said title.

The previously released ‘Nute’ is a sweet and subtle number, with its slow, nuanced build into an enthrallingly full timbre of sounds. All of this is underpinned by an intriguing, almost Bossa Novan sway in the bass. Title track ‘BBB’ is probably the jazziest song on the EP with its jaunty percussive shuffle. It is a pleasantly upbeat listen, though it fails to reach a satisfying conclusion.

As debut EPs go, the BBB EP is a solid start. It is a bold, brash and wonderfully polished early taste of an act with longevity beyond their live reputation.

We hope that the Booka Brass Band keep on making that do noise.

The BBB EP is available here.

eventhescore

For most people, awards season is a time to discuss things like Amal Clooney’s white gloves, Benedict’s Cumber-baby and whether or not Emma Stone is really as down to earth as she seems. Spare a thought, though, for drummer-composer Antonio Sanchez, who won’t be enjoying Oscar-time frivolity after his widely-lauded, Golden Globe-nominated score for Birdman was disqualified by the Academy. This was due to the intermittent use of pre-existing classical music that interspersed Sanchez’s own compositions, seen in the Academy’s eyes as undermining his original, captivating percussive work. This raises a lot of questions about the nature of music composed for a soundtrack and whether the film industry needs to re-think its somewhat archaic rules surrounding such scores.

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shamir

A cursory glance at don’t watch me dancing would perhaps have you under the impression that I haven’t really been listening to new music this year – a fair assumption given that I’ve written on the blog a grand total of I think 12 times in 2014. However, the end of the year seems a good time to round up what I was into, assorted fairly arbitrarily into the failsafe  genres of hip hop, pop and “misc”.

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fkatwigsglass

Mainly to reassure my many readers (hi dad) that I am still an active, relevant music journo, here is an article I wrote recently that was originally published in Trinity Bull.  I promise more of those sweet, waffly posts about music I like full of questionable use of words like “crepuscular” and “ethereal” are coming soon.  For now, here’s the article:

“I changed the music industry for better and for always”, is the claim made by Napster-founder Sean Parker (as played by Justin Timberlake) in 2010’s The Social Network. While Napster revolutionised the music business as a whole back in 1999, many would question whether it was really “for better”. We continue to hear claims that the music industry is dead; that illegal downloading and piracy are destroying the livelihood of artists, and that the era of CDs and records is behind us.

It’s an ongoing debate, but as the tussle between modern technology and the music industry continues, one has to question why it has persisted for so long. After all, every business has endured unprecedented challenges with the growth of the Internet, and we stand in an era where we expect information to come to us for free. If that is the case, should it accordingly be the same for the arts?

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