Mercury Prize Countdown: Album Six

So we are now half way through out definitive guide to the Mercury Prize 2014, with all eyes on Kate Tempest‘s Everybody Down. Each day we will be looking at each nomination in turn and reviewing the album in its entirety and also analysing its chances of winning. The Mercury Prize 2014 will be announced on 29th October 2014 and broadcast live on Channel 4.

Kate Tempest – Everybody Down

7.5

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Kate Tempest has been heralded as the favourite for Mercury 2014. Her razor sharp delivery, intricate rhymes and social commentary bring this album alive until it is virtually jumping out of the speakers as a total beast of its own kind. As well as being nominated for the Mercury Prize, she was also listed in the Poetry Book Society’s list of Next Generation Poets; a prestigious list only announced once a decade, and the fact that she was the youngest figure in the list stands as a testament to her talent.

People have found it incredibly hard to pigeon-hole Tempest’s sound, as it is slathered with influences, probably most notably from Mike Skinner, as she shares his dead-pan, but poetic outlook on the life that goes on around her. Everybody Down is an impressive collection of poems/songs/raps that follow the story of a collection of characters, with the focus put on Becky and Harry. It’s a cleverly structured concept album that follows a path with these characters and explores feelings of alienation and despair, using its sharp social commentary to build a world of crappy, South London pubs and families that are falling apart. Although Tempest is frequently dealing with depressing scenes, with songs such as ‘Chicken’ (centred around a family dinner where the tension between Harry and his mum’s new boyfriend builds and builds) or ‘The Truth’, she superbly balances her cynicism with humour and moments of light.

Her understanding of words and characters is absolutely central to everything that happens in Everybody Down and the way it builds and expresses a number of emotions and relatable situations. Her delivery gives an incredible potency to the tracks, as she snarls and seems to become each character in turn, and it means that listening to Everybody Down is like reading a book, where each track works as a new chapter in the story. She is a literary talent that is bringing poetry strongly and firmly into the 21st century, and at only 27 years old, this is no mean feat.

In terms of winning the Mercury, she could very well take it, and there is no denying her superb talent with words. However, although lyrically she is incredible, musically other albums on the prestigious list far out-shine this album in their intricacy and brilliance. The music stands second to the words on this album, and that is where it runs into trouble.

Best Tracks 

Marshall Law – a stark and full-on force that kick-starts the album and introduces Harry and Becky to the story. It hits you right between the eyes and leaves you with images so vivid, you feel that you are living within the scenes themselves.

Chicken – depicts the awkward scene between a son and his mother’s new boyfriend. You can feel the friction and the tension in every syllable.

Stink – looks at a love gone wrong, and shows it in all its darkness and despair.

Have something you reckon The Music Shepherd would be interested in? Send it over! amelia.musicshepherd@gmail.com

 

Mercury Prize Countdown: Album Five

We are continuing our definitive guide to the Mercury Prize, today looking at the fantastic East India Youth. In the lead up to the award ceremony, we will be taking an in-depth look into every nomination, analysing the album in its entirety and seeing what its chances of winning are. The award will be announced on 29th October and broadcasted live on Channel 4.

East India Youth – Total Strife Forever

8.8

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William Doyle, better know as East India Youth is an experimental electronic musician from Bournemouth, England. His debut Total Strife Forever has received overwhelmingly positive reviews and rightly so. With only one album and a few EP’s under his belt there is certainly a lot more to come from East India Youth.

An “pop” album containing mostly instrumentals is brave but in this instance it works in its own favour. It makes the music more engaging and when we are surprised with vocals it’s an excellent contrast. With a plethora of obvious musical influences it’s impossible to put your finger on where East India Youth fits in the music world but perhaps this unconformity that Total Strife Forever offers is what makes it so irresistible. Layers of intricate music and sound displays that William Doyle simply cannot be described in any way other than a sonic polymath. The music is simply brilliant and very aware of its unsubtlety in the sense that you have no idea what’s going on half of the time but you somehow land on your feet at the end of it all.

Although this may be seen as something fairly cutting edge or avant-garde, ultimately, it seems that this is an album that William Doyle was, alone, unable to translate into a post/noise-rock context and instead has shaped something absolutely magical with the extensive use of electronics. The strangest part of this mostly instrumental album is the fact that Doyle is an exceptional songwriter which is apparent from the tracks ‘Dripping Down’ and ‘Heaven, How Long’, with beautiful lines such as “You may be moving at glacial paces/But you’re not melting” and “In light of all that is around me/There’s something clinical about me”. From this we know that despite it’s overall distant feel with the mass of instrumentals this is an incredibly personal and emotional record. Considering Doyle’s critical success it’s a complete miracle that his universe hasn’t exploded but perhaps the Mercury nomination is the nudge that both he and the world of music lovers need to discover and develop something glorious together.

Total Strife Forever is undeniably one of the most interesting records on the shortlist but whether it’s a favourite to win is uncertain. It wouldn’t be underserving if Total Strife Forever was to win but seeing as James Blake won last year it seems unlikely that we’ll have another alternative electro bedroom musician winning as to keep the Mercury Prize from appearing too selective. Having said that the Mercury Prize has never been entirely predictable with its winners so it definitely wouldn’t be impossible to see William Doyle collect the award this year.

Top Tracks:

‘Glitter Recession’ – A truly epic album opener; simple, cinematic and hypnotic. A definite album highlight.

‘Hinterland’ – Fast paced plipping and plopping synths make this track deliciously irresistible; reminiscent of the electro industrial arrangements in Craig Armstrong’s ‘Ruthless Gravity’ but with a jollier twist.

‘Dripping Down’ – One of the few “songs” on the album. Drenched in Thom Yorke-esque vocal arrangements the contrasting elements of soft vocal verses and energetic choruses alongside Doyle’s excellent lyrics make for a truly remarkable track.

Written by Joseph Murray

Have something you reckon The Music Shepherd would be interested in? Send it over! amelia.musicshepherd@gmail.co.uk

Mercury Prize Countdown: Album Four

It’s day four of our definitive Mercury Prize 2014 guide. Each day, The Music Shepherd will be looking at each of the 12 nominations and analysing its chances of winning, as well as providing an in-depth review of what we think of the album as a whole. So far, we have covered Polar Bear, FKA Twigs and Bombay Bicycle Club’s efforts, and today it’s Jungle’s turn…

Jungle – Jungle

5.6

Jungle

Based in London, Jungle are a product of a variety of classic influences. By giving funk and soul flavourings of psychedelica and hip hop they generate some really retro vibes however, with a twist of modern production their sound is brought back into the 21st century. Generally positive reviews suggest that this album is popular but scratch the surface and some cracks begin to show.

It seems fashionable at the moment to create an album that winks and nudges at the 70s and 80s but there is always a question of integrity and sincerity when recreating this kind of music. There’s no denying that Jungle is incredibly catchy and fairly enjoyable to listen to however, it’s very safe and almost too perfect. It neatly fits into any musical context (be it festivals, radio chart shows or the underground music scene) as it annoyingly ticks far too many boxes. It’s difficult to establish whether this is something that should be taken into consideration when listening but it’s very hard to ignore the odd mixture of chart hungry hooks, funk arrangements and pseudo “lo-fi” production.

Daft Punk’s most recent release Random Access Memories boasted overwhelming success as a revival for funk/soul music but the subtle and incredibly effective changes Daft Punk developed within this album makes it not only incredibly approachable but it maintains an air of tastefulness. Not to say that Jungle doesn’t do this but for such an exciting genre it’s ultimately rather underwhelming. There are some absolutely fantastic tracks on the album but some of the weaker tracks really don’t gel. ‘Busy Earnin’’ is great fun as are ‘The Heat’ and ‘Time’ but as for the other tracks it’s very hard to decipher what is actually going on as they’re all so similar in their messiness. ‘Smoking Pixels’ has a weird Ennio Morricone/Gorillaz vibe with a bit of slow and sexy funk thrown in for good measure which really sets it out from the rest as something exceptionally interesting but it’s only really an album interlude which is disappointing as it could have been one of the strongest tracks out of all the Mercury nominations if Jungle weren’t so cautious. Perhaps Jungle can take a page out of fellow nominee Damon Albarn’s book and shape their next release into something a bit more bold and unashamedly go wherever their influences take them without getting caught up too much in tradition; very much like the 2010 release Plastic Beach by Gorillaz.

Despite the criticisms the album is enjoyable enough, it just needs more substance. Perhaps being more patient with the release would have generated more interesting music overall yet it’s hard to determine whether more time would have helped or made things worse. Despite the heavy criticism Jungle is by no means a bad album; it’s just a little bland and overdone. Hopefully their second release will secure whether they’ve just been a little unlucky this time round.

As fun as some tracks from Jungle are the Mercury Prize isn’t about how good the singles are; it’s all about the album. Jungle had a lot of potential but it’s inconsistency and muddiness made the album slightly disappointing. Whether this is a contender to win the Mercury Prize is too difficult to say as it’s incredibly popular amongst its fan base however when looking at the other nominations you have to ask yourself, does it really compare?

Top Tracks:

‘Busy Earnin’ – Brass and bass that really gets you bouncing along. Infectious and toe-tappingly fun; does what classic funk/soul has done to us for years. 

‘Time’ – Drenched in falsetto, the mix of classic and modern synthesizer sounds is a real triumph.

‘Smoking Pixels’ – Upsettingly only a brief glimmer on the album but apart from this the potential alone that this track has is exciting enough to make you fall in love with it.

Written by Joseph Murray

Have something you reckon The Music Shepherd would be interested in? Send it over! amelia.musicshepherd@gmail.co.uk

Song of the Day – Dear Leaders

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‘Find Me’ is a truly stunning track that uses it’s sparse texture to create atmosphere and build the intensity of the feeling it encompasses. Lead singer Jess’ vocals take centre stage whilst hypnotic synths dance around her recurring refrains. Dear Leaders are a band that have come together from entirely different parts of globe, with members from Norwich to Burma, and this range of backgrounds and influences surges through the music. ‘Find Me’ is a demonstration of how space within music can be one of the most effective formulas to creating a truly emotive and haunting track. Teamed with its beautifully mesmerising, and somewhat unsettling video (conceived and directed by Siobhan Schwartzberg), it further outlines how simplicity and directness can still have an urgency and immediacy about it.

‘Find Me’ is available as a free download. The band will also be playing an exclusive live set at The Finsbury in London on 30th October and you can get tickets here.

Written by Amelia Maher

Have something you reckon The Music Shepherd would be interested in? Send it over! amelia.musicshepherd@gmail.com

Song of the Day – HABITATS

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After their brilliant debut single ‘Diamond Days’, HABITATS are back with another stomper of a tune in the form of ‘Peace of Mind’. Their tropical indie rock sound shimmers through the track, with its catchy-as-hell hooks and crazy blasting riffs, this is a track that merges together all that is good about indie guitar rock. Think Bombay Bicycle Club merged with Foals in a tropical paradise with a pina colada in hand. It’s a big sun-drenched barrel of warm melodies and anthemic vocals that will grab your attention and warm your soul during these rainy winter days.

The EP and single will be released on 3rd November via Label Fandango. To celebrate the release of the ‘Peace Of Mind’, HABITATS will also be playing some free entry gigs at London’s fantastic Old Blue Last -

TUESDAY 7th OCT
TUESDAY 14th OCT
WEDNESDAY 29th OCT
FRIDAY 7th NOV

Have something you reckon The Music Shepherd would be interested in? Send it over! amelia.musicshepherd@gmail.co.uk

Mercury Prize Countdown: Album Three

It’s now day three of the Mercury Prize Countdown. In this series of posts, The Music Shepherd is cross-examining each of the 12 nominations in turn, dissecting the album as a whole and what its chances of winning are. We have listened to every album, and put in the hard work to show you which are worth listening to (and which ones you shouldn’t bother with.) The Mercury Prize will be announced Wednesday, 29 October with a live broadcast on Channel 4. The winner will then be announced at 10:oopm GMT.

Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow

8.2

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Formed in 2005 in North London, Bombay Bicycle Club came into popularity after winning a slot opening V Festival back in 2006. Their first album (I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose: 2009) was playful indie rock with explosive louds and simmering quiets; the first indie rock album to really focus on genuine dynamics in a long time. Their follow up (Flaws: 2010) was as unexpected as it was sensational with summery strummed numbers revealing another of many musical dimensions to come. Their third release (A Different Kind of Fix: 2011) was a selection of danceable indie tracks that played around with sampling and electronics and these ambitious ideas produced fruitful results. With three album releases in three years and an abundance of festivals and headline gigs under their belt it was time to put their brains on ice and regroup to really pull out all the stops on their latest release So Long, See You Tomorrow.

Just over two years on and with a great deal of hype surrounding the new album the first single ‘Carry Me’ was unveiled. A chaotic mix of rhythms, textures and layered vocals gives us the Bombay Bicycle Club we know so well which, ultimately, seems to be not knowing them at all or how they managed to go off on such a tangent and still be so good.  Their next two singles (the bubbly ‘Luna’ and infectious ‘It’s Alright Now’) only paved the way to what was sure to be another excellent album to add to their repetoire. Upon release the only thing to have stuck from the previous releases were their excellent vocal arrangements and sampling. The more hands-on approach with the production of the album has rocketed their music to fearless new levels and the addition of the stunning Rae Morris alongside Lucy Rose is certainly a recipe for success. They’ve got the balance just right this time round and for their most ambitious album yet they surprisingly seem to be well and truly in their comfort zone. It’s impossible to even begin where they’ll take their next release, but in the meantime there’s plenty to enjoy with So Long, See You Tomorrow.

As far as their chances of winning goes it’s difficult to say as every year the Mercury Prize gets tougher and tougher and this year has some incredibly strong talents. They’re certainly not the favourites and as it’s their first nomination it feels unlikely that they’ll win it but that by no means they don’t deserve it. It certainly isn’t impossible as it’s one of the most exciting records on the shortlist but other artists have had a stronger year and it’s a lot to contend with however it’s unlikely that this will be Bombay Bicycle Club’s first and last nomination so hopefully we’ll see them collect the award in the not so distant future.

Top Tracks:

‘Carry Me’ – A cacophony of percussive textures and an incalculable dance groove somehow melts into something intoxicating and electrifying.

‘Overdone’ – Playful, assertive, layered octaves and rife with epic energy. Arguably the best album opener of 2014.

‘Eyes Off You’ – Hauntingly beautiful with a seamless transition into a climactic re-imagining of the chorus that shouldn’t work but does so well.

Written by Joseph Murray

Mercury Prize Countdown: Album Two

To continue with our definitive guide to the Mercury Prize 2014, today we look at FKA Twigs, and her eponymous debut album LP1. In the lead up to the big day, The Music Shepherd will be looking at each individual nomination and providing an in-depth review of the album with a score and where they stand in the race for the prize.

FKA Twigs – LP1

8.2

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It’s an extremely difficult task to summarise FKA Twigs’ sound. Many people have had a go at it, throwing around things like ‘alternative R’n’B’, much to her resentment. In actuality, it is a concoction of a number of different influences, where clicks and ticks are counterbalanced by deep surging baselines. And then there is FKA Twigs‘ voice which she governs with incredible control. It flashes back and fourth from whispering at an incredibly high pitch, to strong and brooding, but is always enticing and perfectly balanced against everything else going on in the music. Starting out as a dancer, Twigs realised that her love for dance was deeply rooted in her love for music, and so instead began to explore and experiment, and in many ways this background in dance is what makes this album stand out. What works so well is the complex experimentation with the beats that are used, something that has sparked a whole plethora of artists who are trying to recreate a similar sound.

From the second this album came out, it became immediately obvious that it was going to be one of the albums of the year. It pushes every boundary in how music should be written. ‘Pendulum’ is basically just vocals over a whole plethora of different sounds and clicking, and is unlike anything else you will hear this year, whilst ‘Kicks’ is inspired by drum and bass and 90s garage and house music. As well as exploring a variety of genres, LP1 is an incredibly feminine album that really explores feminine sensuality without being obtrusive or offensive. Lust permeates through every layer, from ‘Closer’ to ‘Hours’ where she calls out “I could kiss you for hours“, Twigs is able to conjure up a world of lusting and sensual fantasies from a totally female perspective. It’s more about imagination rather than acting on those fantasies, and through the calculated layers and beats, it is built on solid foundations of intriguing textures. The album has two characters. Tracks such as ‘Two Weeks’ and ‘Video Girl’ are driven by their sultry R’n’B undertones that blow everything out of the water.

Noir R’n’B would probably be a more apt explanation of what is happening in these tracks, which are all ultimately driven by the rhythm and the flow of how the songs are constructed, but retain a darkness in their spirit. In terms of the Mercury, Twigs is definitely looking like one of the main contenders. It is an album that is experimental enough challenge those who have the pleasure of listening to it, but equally is approachable enough to spark interest of a wide audience. It would also be the icing on the cake for what has been an absolutely explosive year for the young woman, and it would be great to see her walk away with the gong.

Top Tracks:

‘Lights On’ – An endlessly sexy track, with its jazzy double bass, and Twigs’ razor sharp delivery, it is tantalising and a real stand out track on the album. 

‘Pendulum’ – A song driven by complex patterns and beats, where Twigs’ voice soars. Perfectly produced and effortlessly beautiful.

‘Video Girl’ – Explores a relationship where the partner is cheating and evidently lying. One of the catchier songs on the album that is underpinned by cool beats and fantastic production.

Written by Amelia Maher

Have something you reckon The Music Shepherd would be interested in? Send it over! amelia.musicshepherd@gmail.com

Song of the Day – Holy

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You may remember our coverage of the fantastic Killing Moon: New Moons II Compilation a few weeks back (if you haven’t checked it out yet, get on it asap), and ‘Firebreather’ is raised straight from that collection of ace tunes. Holy have created a unique sound that merges psych rock with infectious rhythms and driving sonic compulsions. There’s something about ‘Firebreather’ that is super sensuous and will make you want to dance and simply lose yourself in the swirling pools of sound. With its multi-layered guitar texture or the way that “I was dreaming of your skin” is  purred over funked bass, before the explosive chorus hits you like a ton of bricks. Euphoric and energetic, it’s nothing short of exciting, and it will be very interesting to see what these four lads from the West Midlands come up with next.

Live Dates:
October 15th: Underground, Plymouth
October 23rd: Gatsby, Sheffield
November 11th: Barfly, Camden
November 15th: Amersham Arms, New Cross, LDN

Have something you reckon The Music Shepherd would be interested in? Send it over! amelia.musicshepherd@gmail.com

Mercury Prize Countdown: Album One

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It’s nearly that time of year again… Don’t worry, I’m not making an early reference to Christmas, but rather the Mercury Prize. Year on year, the Mercury Prize produce a shortlist of the best 12 albums from the past 12 months, and a panel of music know-hows pick one album which they deem to be ‘Album Of The Year’. Love it, or hate it, it’s an award that can prove to be the making of a new artist, or simply boost the sales of the nominees. In any case, here at The Music Shepherd is has formed the base for much debate, and so in the lead up to the event taking place on 29th October 2014, we will be providing information on each of the nominees in turn, and giving our own views on their chances of winning.  This is the go-to guide on the Mercury Award 2014.

Polar Bear – In Each and Every One

6.5

Polar Bear

Polar Bear are an experimental post-jazz quintet drawing influence from all corners of the music world. Formed in 2004 by modern drumming virtuoso Seb Rochford, double bassist Tom Herbert, saxophonists Mark Lockheart and Pete Wareham and electronic artist Leafcutter John the group quickly generated a lot of interest with their critically acclaimed albums Dim Lit and their Mercury nominated follow up Held On The Tips of Fingers. Six years on and another two albums in the bag, it was time for their latest release In Each and Every One to shock and surprise the jazz community. With further development in electronics and experimental structures compared to their previous albums, In Each and Every One was certain to turn some heads.

With nods to classical, soul, R&B, trip-hop, art-pop, post-punk etc., it’s difficult to grasp where Polar Bear are coming from this time round. However, this is by no means a bad thing. Altogether it works well to create something that is certainly not for the faint hearted, but for those who can endure its intensity will be rewarded nicely. Initially the heavy production element seemed to take away from a lot of the creative impulses that jazz so beautifully renders however a few more listens round and these worries soon disappeared. Our opener is the stunning ‘Open See’; a vast landscape of cloudy electronics and serene saxophone which threads a delicate ambient tapestry. It is one of the few tracks that feels very fleeting however it’s one of the longest on the album. The rest of the album is interesting and there’s a lot the listener can discover if they’re willing to be patient however, it’s fairly difficult to immerse yourself in some areas of the album. Because of this In Each and Every One can get a little exhausting in places and some tracks are just far too long. A final criticism of the album is that the bass and mids have had extensive focus which means that a lot of the highs seem to have been neglected. Although not in Polar Bear’s traditional style something glittery like a high register piano in places would have sat very comfortably in the overall mix and probably would have cleaned up some of the muddier tracks such as ‘Be Free’ and ‘Lost In Death, Pt. 1’. That being the case the albums prominent use of double bass is beautifully constructed with some great use of extended technique scattered around the album which really stands out as something not only technically proficient but timbrally engaging.

For the Mercury Prize there’s bound to be a lot of comparison to their fellow jazz nominees GoGo Penguin which really is an impossible observation when you break both albums down. What Polar Bear lack in prettiness and accessibility they make up for in eeriness and intensity. Winning the Mercury Prize is certainly a stretch for the five-piece as GoGo Penguin are far more likely out of the two but the predictability of the the results is difficult to determine as the Mercury Prize has seldom been obvious. Having previously been nominated, it would be nice to see them scoop up the prize but unfortunately it really doesn’t look likely.

Top Tracks:

‘Open See’ – A euphoric soundscape of foggy pad sounds and unclouded saxophone floats you into the nethersphere for seven minutes of heaven. (BEST TRACK ON THE ALBUM)

‘WW’ – Brooding and volatile. Lots of indecipherable layers with some of the most impressive saxophone technique displayed in a long time.

‘Maliana’ – Self-referential saxophone licks and comfortably swung this track is littered with interesting timbres and percussive textures that manages to lock your interest for the entire eight minutes and forty seconds.

Written by Joseph Murray

Song of the Day – Silversun Pickups

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Written by Joseph Murray

Released earlier in the year as a one off single from their compilation album The Singles Collection, ‘Cannibal’ is a super sexy combination of raw band performances and gritty production. With the additions of electronic glitching and looping of their instrumental parts ‘Cannibal’ is so much more than just a rock song; it’s something triumphant and interesting and in many ways far exceeds all of Silversun Pickups’ previous releases. Not much can be said about the track other than the fact it’s a great shame Silversun Pickups didn’t plan another release of original material after listening to ‘Cannibal’ as it’s just so excellent.

‘Cannibal’ is a single release of Silversun Pickups’ compilation album The Singles Collection which is currently available for streaming on Spotify and for purchase on iTunes, CD and vinyl.

Have something you reckon The Music Shepherd would be interested in? Send it over! amelia.musicshepherd@gmail.com