Review of the year – Best Music of the Year 2018

I’ve been listening to a lot of new music this year. Here’s some recommendations.

Albums of the Year 2018

  • Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
  • Gaz Coombes – World’s Strongest Man
  • Elvis Costello – Look Now
  • First Aid Kit – Ruins
  • The Go! Team – Semicircle
  • Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread OST
  • Manic Street Preachers – Resistance Is Futile
  • Paul McCartney – Egypt Station
  • Villagers – The Art Of Pretending To Swim
  • Paul Weller – True Meanings

Songs of the Year 2018

  • Courtney Barnett – Nameless, Faceless
  • Keegan DeWitt and Kiersey Clemons – Hearts Beat Loud Pt 1
  • Flight of the Conchords – Father and Son
  • The Go! Team – Mayday
  • Jonny Greenwood – The House Of Woodcock
  • Paul McCartney – I Don’t Know
  • Miguel ft Natalia Lafourcade – Remember Me
  • Manic Street Preachers – International Blue
  • Villagers – Trick of the Light
  • Thom Yorke – Suspirium

 

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Film review – Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2018)

Following the completion of filming for Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he would be retiring from acting and that his role as 1950s London high-society dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock would be his final role. This can be considered both a figurative and literal bowing out in style. Oozing elegance and beauty in every aspect, it is an absolute triumph of a film.

The story centres around Woodcock, head of the House of Woodcock, a well-regarded craftsman who is seeing his popularity diminish by the beckoning of new fashion from around the world. He baulks at the word “chic”. He is a meticulous and silent worker, unforgiving of those who have the audacity to interrupt his genius in flow. His obsessive nature flows over to his personality, and those close to him are dictated to by his need for control. His closest ally is his sister Cyril (the brilliant Lesley Manville), who manages his business affairs and the staff and running of the house. Their world is flipped upside-down when a chance encounter leads Reynolds to fall into infatuation with a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who quickly moves into the house and thus begins her strange relationship with Reynolds.

In 2018, a cinematic year defined by an uprising of oppressed and attacked women finally being given a platform to voice their views on oppressive and controlling men in the film industry, it seems almost perverse that I enjoyed Day-Lewis’s performance so much. I felt at times like he was on the cusp of bursting into tears of laughter, such was the audacity of his character’s actions. In one of the best lines of the film, as shown below, he delivers the cutting “The tea is going out, but the interruption is staying right here with me.” Brilliant.

Jonny Greenwood, one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most frequent and reliable collaborators, provides the score. It is mesmerising, fitting beautifully with the visuals. In a recent interview with Adam Buxton, Greenwood stated that he wrote it in order for it to be performed along with the film. “I wanted to do it with six or seven players and make it all playable and send out the scores to cinemas and say ‘get some local players to play it live’ and it be a really regular thing. I love the idea of the film arriving and then the book of music arriving and these are the two things you put together and make it quite easy, but Paul kept on asking for bigger and bigger string section sounds to build the romance.” Indeed, this decision was probably the correct one, with the enduring stay-ability of the film benefiting over what could have been simply a nice touch at release. I challenge anyone to find a more perfectly romantic piece of film music this year than ‘House of Woodcock’. [1]

A film that is centred around a celebrated dressmaker almost inevitably has a wonderful display of costumes on show. Mark Bridges is another frequent Anderson collaborator, having worked with him on The Master, Inherent Vice and There Will Be Blood. The costumes here are absolutely stunning, perfectly capturing the essence of 1950s London high society. It is a costumier’s dream of a film, with the intricate efforts of making such beautiful dresses captured in great detail.

The film culminates in a most unlikely ending that absolutely works with the film, underlining the nature of Alma and Reynolds’s relationship to one-another and their desire to stay together. Their dinner table stand-off with a mushroom omelette may not have the intensity of the “I drink your milkshake!” scene in There Will Be Blood, but it swaps intense for tense as the scene plays out. It’s just one of those scenes in cinema that hangs perfectly together. Script, acting, cinematography, lighting, score – everything is just right. A masterclass in filmmaking.

Whilst Day-Lewis may be unlikely to receive an Academy Award for this film, it certainly ranks up there with his most celebrated performances. He is one of this generation’s greatest actors and it is a real loss to the industry that he is walking away. However, it’s a noble decision to leave a profession whilst you’re at the top of your game. He could probably deliver a further three or four top performances, but his decision is clearly based on a balance between his enjoyment of his life as an artist and his enjoyment of his life outside of the industry. If Phantom Thread does prove to ultimately be his final role, then he is definitely leaving us on a high.

[1] Note: Jonny performed an exclusive version of this song on the Adam Buxton podcast (EP.63B, 9th February 2018) alongside a 30-minute interview backstage at the Royal Festival Hall prior to a live performance of the score on 30th January 2018. It’s well worth a listen and can be found here.

Top Albums of 2017

I meant to write this article over the new year period, but never got around to it. I like to keep track of my favourite albums of a particular year because it’s so easy to forget what I was listening to!

Here goes, in no alphabetical order…

Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
Liam Gallagher – As You Were
Gregory Porter – Nat King Cole & Me
Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
Lorde – Melodrama
Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Radiohead – OKNOTOK 1997 2017
Thundercat – Drunk
Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution
The XX – Process

Live music review – Laura Marling, Glastonbury Festival, 25th June 2017

Setlist:
Soothing
Wild Fire
The Valley
Nothing, Not Nearly
Don’t Pass Me By
Sophia
Once
Salinas
Daisy
How Can I
I Speak Because I Can
Rambling Man

On a hazy afternoon at the Pyramid Stage, just before Barry Gibb kickstarted a night of partying for a crowd ready to go out in a blaze of glory, Laura Marling was providing a set equivalent of the quiet before the storm. It was a beautiful and understated performance that showed her abilities both as a songwriter and as a performer, with a subtle backing band providing a platform to allow her songs to soar.

The first and only time I had seen her previously was at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent in July 2008. Back then she’d just released her debut album ‘I Speak Because I Can‘, which was making waves at the time, and she wowed an audience who were there primarily there to watch Neil Young, Supergrass and My Morning Jacket. Not bad for an 18 year old.

Fast forward to 2017 and you can see a massive development in her as an artist. Her latest album, ‘Semper Femina‘, is a collection of songs exploring what it is to be a female. For me, music has to come from a position of passion and commitment to what is being said. For that very reason, Laura Marling absolutely one of the most authentic artists out there and the album rates in the top releases so far this year.

The new songs featured heavily in the setlist, making up five of the twelve tracks, including ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’ and set opener ‘Soothing’. But it was ‘Rambling Man’ from her debut album that stuck with me the most, with most of the crowd joining in for the famous refrain.

To those unaware of her work, she could be mistaken for being overly indebted to Joni Mitchell. This is wholly untrue and inaccurate. Marling is an artist in her own right and has been prolific and consistently excellent for a decade now.

Long may it continue.

[Note] When Marling introduced Daisy, she mentioned a friend of hers called Daisy May-Hudson who last year directed a film called ‘Halfway’, a film about homeless housing struggles. I had never heard of it but I’ve located a trailer for it online here and if I can locate it online I’ll make sure I watch it

Live music review – Goldfrapp, Glastonbury Festival, 25th June 2017

Setlist:
Anymore
Train
Slide In
Everything Is Never Enough
Become the One
Systemagic
Number 1
Ride a White Horse
Ooh La La
Strict Machine

They may have had some technical difficulties that delayed the start of their set, but once they finally arrived Goldfrapp absolutely blew away the John Peel Tent at Glastonbury Festival on Sunday afternoon.

Alison Goldfrapp may well be one of the most engrossing female performers in the industry. Her striking black costume, sumptuous vocals and commanding stage presence are a powerful concoction.

They led the set off with latest single ‘Anymore‘, taken from recent album ‘Silver Eye‘. It’s a dance floor filler and highly indicative of the first half of the album. As two dancers strutted across the stage, jolting sharply, it was clear this was going to be as much performance art as it was a live gig. [1]

Favourites ‘Train’ and ‘Slide In’ followed, continuing the dance vibe that the crowd were clearly enjoying.

A trio of songs from ‘Silver Eye’ followed, with the highlight being ‘Systemagic‘, which happens to be the next single taken from the album. It’s another powerful track with a mixture of heavy bass and industrial drums. Alison was in fine form, enjoying giving some new material a new audience.

As Alison said “You know this one I think…” before the electronic pounding of the intro to ‘Number 1’, she kicked off a familiar conclusion to the set. The final tracks rounded off the set nicely, with all four amongst the most popular (or perhaps most mainstream) of their material: ‘Number 1’, ‘Ride a White Horse’, ‘Ooh La La’ and ‘Strict Machine’. This is a sensible choice at a festival, even if the more dedicated fans would have loved to hear a song or two from ‘Seventh Tree‘ or ‘Felt Mountain‘.

I’ve seen Goldfrapp on many occasions and they seem to get better and better. Predictably, the crowd went wild for them, setting sail into the warm Glastonbury air for the final night of the festival having seen one the best sets of the weekend.

[1] Catch their latest music videos below. Systemagic gives a great idea of what their stage dancers look like.

Glastonbury 2017 Day Five: Ed Sheeran, Goldfrapp, Barry Gibb, Chic

The fifth and final day at the festival had been and gone. I am a beaten man, but it was worth it.

My first port of call for music for the day was to catch Jamie Cullum on the Pyramid Stage as he did the lunchtime slot. Nobody can deny he gives all his energy into his performances, and he has plenty of it. He’s an extremely talented man, and performed a mixture of covers and originals with his tightly-rehearsed group. Amongst the covers was a jazzed-up Ed Sheeran number.

I moved in close to the front the see Laura Marling, who captivated the audience with her unique country-folk hybrid styles. It’s hard to deny being reminded of Joni Mitchell as she pairs a voice that borders on yodelling with the most intricate of guitar work. Her final song ‘Rambling Man’ was simply beautiful.

Barry Gibb was next on the main stage, with the traditional Sunday afternoon legends slot. I definitely “got into” the set, and there is plenty of evidence of me singing along on the live broadcast. Fair play to him for donning the golf jacket for the end of the set.

The disco bar was raised another level when Chic took to the stage. From a hit-packed set my absolute highlight was ‘Let’s Dance’, which blew my mind. Singing that at full volume with 100,000 other fans is a truly special moment.

I had to swim against the tide to get to Goldfrapp at the John Peel Stage. Clearly some bad planning going on as the Chic-then-Goldfrapp option was appealing to many and at the same time Killers-then-Biffy was equally appealing. Cue pandemonium on the walkway between the two. Goldfrapp’ set was slightly delayed but once they kicked off they were as glorious as I expected them to be. Singer Alison Goldfrapp commands the stage like no other and there wasn’t a still waist in the tent. Their new album ‘Silver Eye’ had a good run out, with ‘Systematic’ being my particular favourite.

I caught the end of the Biffy Clyro set, with Matt Carole cover ‘When We Collide’ going down a treat [1].

The main headliner, Ed Sheeran, was an act I wasn’t particularly fussed about seeing when the day started. In lieu of there being no other appealing headliners we stuck with him and I can heartily say it was the biggest positive surprise of the weekend. This is a 26-year-old man and he has gone out on the main stage and powered through a set full of hits to an eager crowd. ‘Castle on the Hill’, ‘A Team’, ‘Shape of You’ and ‘Thinking Out Loud’ are undoubtedly songs of the highest quality and nobody can deny he has an extremely powerful voice. A talented man, full of confidence and charisma. Absolute quality.

A quick look around Cineramageddon as the 1970 Mick Jagger film Performance began to play and we saw a close to our festival. I can safely say that nobody had the exact experience I had – everyone’s pathway through the biggest party in the world is completely unique and wonderful. It’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating and it’s something I never want to end.

Thank you Michael and Emily. Until next time.

[1] I’M TROLLING YOU DON’T WORRY!

Glastonbury 2017 Day Four: Thundercat, Corbyn, Foo Fighters, The National

A cracking headline slot and a politically-empowering speech from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn defined Saturday at Glastonbury Festival 2017.

The order of the day was love, which is apparently all you really need. The Bootleg Beatles opened the Pyramid with a Sgt. Peppers-era set that featured a the likes of ‘A Little Help From My Friends’, ‘Penny Lane’, ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘A Day in the Life’, though I was personally disappointed they didn’t add the extra twenty verses recently written by Peter Serafinowicz.

I was able to dash across the site to catch the entire Whitney set, which was an uplifting surprise despite the weather. The fresh-faced American band, led by drummer/vocalist Julien Ehrlich, wooed the crowd with their hazy Americana tunes and sarcastic banter. It’s rare for me to get so entranced by a band after just 45 minutes of listening but I’m keen to hear more now.

The Thundercat set on the West Holts Stage was a showcase of musicianship masterclasses, though it was married with a penchant for memorable and soulful delivery by frontman Stephen Bruner.

One defining moment of the day came from an empowering speech from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He spoke for around ten minutes to a packed crowd in the Pyramid and it felt like everyone in attendance took a step to the left, no matter where they started from. Admittedly, he was inevitably going to be popular here, but he’s quickly becoming the voice of a generation that seemed for so long to have nobody fighting their corner. The next five years will be the most interesting politically Britain has seen for decades.

From the stirring to the boring, The Kaiser Chiefs blandly went through he motions of their set to an indifferent crowd clearly waiting for Liam Gallagher to appear. This kind of band brings out the worst in middle-aged people clearly harbouring dormant lad culture personas inside their older bodies. Out come the Kangol hats, Oasis t-shirts and angry alter-egos and, some eight pints later, everyone can have a fight. Wonderful. Liam put in a solid performance, mind you, with a mixture of tracks from his upcoming ‘As You Were’ album and Oasis hits (up to and including 1997 but no later).

The National underlined the 10+ recommendations I’ve had from friends who clearly have better music taste than me. They were brilliant and had the crowds singing along. I’ve no idea how they’ve slipped through the net thus far but they’ll be unslipping very shortly.

The absolute hands-down 100% best set of the day came from Foo Fighters. They performed for well over two hours, providing hit after hit from their eight studio albums and their upcoming ninth album Concrete and Gold, due for release later this year. Starting with ‘Times Like These’, which was sweetly dedicated to Florence Welch, they blasted through a set that included ‘This Is A Call’, ‘All My Life’, new single ‘Run’, ‘My Hero’ and ended on fan favourite ‘Everlong’. The crowd didn’t want them to stop, so just carried on the chanting from ‘Best of You’ as they dispersed. Special mention to Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl for duetting on ‘Under Pressure’, doing their best impressions of David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. A classic moment.

If only I could get those songs out of my head I’d be able to sleep better!