June didn't deliver 'Hancock's (finest) Half Hour' or Scotland's best 90 minutes but at least it had it's memorable musical moments
June saw summer start and Matt Hancock's reign as Health Secretary finish after he was caught breaking CoVID19 rules by kissing his aide at work. Wimbledon began for the first time in two years and England's inability to beat Germany in a knockout football tournamnent ended after a 55 year wait with a 2-0 win at Wembley. Ed Sheeran arrived with some new, questionable Bad Habits, and Winston Marshall quit Mumford & Sons after 14 years because he was being hounded by the "cancel culture mob" for a personal tweet about right-wing journalist Andy Ngo. Tick Tock artist Mabel returned with her first new single of the year, Jorja Smith went Home, KSI had a Holiday and Lorde made a welcome return with Solar Power. However, our top 5 releases of the month were even better than that - let's take a look.
Doja Cat - Planet Her.
11 years after he released his stunning debut solo album Queen Of Denmark, John Grant is back to his brilliant best with his fifth studio album, Boy From Michigan. It's been nearly three years since John Grant's last studio album, Love Is Magic, and you can hear in the lyrics and the phrasing on John's latest album that the impact of those three years has certainly found it's way onto the record. Boy From Michigan is a twelve song album that delivers Grant's wry wit, unflinching honesty and theatrical melodrama perfectly.
Where Love Is Magic was almost optimist and light at times, Boy From Michigan is somewhat of a return to the norm for John Grant. That's not to say that there are not moments of amusement and joy, more that John's perspective seems to have shifted to capture memories and melancholy more acutely. The closest song that John Grant delivers to the lighter tracks on Love Is Magic, like Preppy Boy or He's Got His Mother's Hips, is on his Sparks/Disco fusion single, Rhetorical Figure. The succinct retro synth track, John's shortest on the album at 3m59s, is the most up-beat and up-tempo track on his new record.
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After Spring must come Summer, and so too some warmer weather and even hotter new releases
It's hard to believe that we are nearing the mid-point in the year but yet here we are. There's a lot to look forward to in the first summer month of 2021. Sadly there will be no live Glastonbury, not in June anyway, but there will be Wimbledon starting at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and there will be the delayed UEFA EURO 2020 Football tournament. If all goes according to plan there should be a further easing of the CoVID19 restrictions on June 21st in the UK, the last significant stage of the Government's 'road map' to recovery. Capacity limited gigs and events should continue to take place and more certainty should be available for this summer's festival organisers. As children start their last term before the summer holidays there will be celebrations on Juneteenth for Freedom Day and also June 21st for World Music Day. Billie Eilish looks set to premier another single from her forthcoming album early in the month, Garbage are set to release their seventh album, No Gods No Masters, Maroon 5 are dropping their new album Jordi and Sleater-Kinney are set to share their album, Path Of Wellness. All very exciting stuff, but they didn't make our Top 5; let's see who did.
Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend.
Yes, I know, it's far too early to call out contenders for the Top Ten Albums of 2021 but, if In Quiet Moments by Lost Horizons doesn't feature I'll be more than a tad amazed. In Quiet Moments, Lost Horizons second album, and their follow up to 2017's Ojalá, is an epic 16 track record of quite stunning beauty and crafted with an amazing array of disperate creativity.
The completion of In Quiet Moments sees the second installment of the double album arrive on February 26th, the first part having been released towards the end of last year on December 4th. Each part contains eight songs, and both are as brilliant and beguiling as each other. The artistry that has been brought to bear here is quite breathtaking at times. There are tracks throughout the sixteen that are worth the price of the entire album on their own, they're that good.
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With a fourth solo album having just dropped and his 50th birthday celebrations behind him, John Grant kicked off the UK leg of his latest tour in style at The Brighton Dome. John arrived at The Prince Regent's former stable block from Iceland buoyed by the positive reception to his latest creation and the excited anticipation of the sell-out crowd. He and his band (including a very special percussionist!) were clearly very happy to be back in Brighton at the start of their tour, a decision John explained as "good routing".
Grant's latest album 'Love Is Magic' took centre stage for much of the night with eight out the ten tracks from the album being showcased throughout the nineteen track set. After walking on-stage to enthusiastic applause, JG started the evening with theatrical aplomb as he set about 'Tempest'. His vocals were immediately captivating and the reproduction of the electro-infused soundtrack was astonishingly good. The slower balladic notes gave way to his latest album's title track as the more upbeat, almost pop tones and sing-a-long chorus of 'Love Is Magic' kicked in.
The third of John's songs was a very early set highlight. His previous album's masterpiece 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' saw John sat at the keys and in fine voice as he set about delivering a brilliant rendition of the track. Hearing the song performed live gave it even more gravitas and listening to him sing 'and I'm supposed to believe that there's some guy who'll take the pain away, there are children who have cancer, so all bets are off, I can't compete with that' was devastatingly effective. Grant then lightened the mood with tales of riding 130mph coasters in the heat of Ohio before breaking into the ever more threatening musings of 'Global Warming'.
Continue reading: John Grant - Brighton Dome 29.10.2018 Live Review
With three critically acclaimed albums behind him as a solo artist, the quality of the back-catalogue of the once-upon-a-time Czar, John Grant, is building to be the one of the most impressive set of albums released in the recent past. Given that it was touch and go as to whether we'd ever be treated to Grant's deeply personal outpourings and lyrical genius again after The Czars split, it is our - and music's - overall gain that Grant battled his demons and was persuaded to record his own material.
His latest record 'Love Is Magic' coincides nicely with Grant having recently joined the semicentennial club. The fifty years young JG is in fine voice sharing wonderfully captured anecdotal tales and dropping in plenty of his dryly observed wry wit along the way. However, John also seems to have gone down the kitchen-sink-and-all route. 'Love Is Magic' feels more like an all you can eat carvery than a fine dining experience. It has simultaneously everything and, at times, that's too much.
Conflicted; adjective (after verb) Confused or worried because you cannot choose between very different ideas, feelings, beliefs, and do not know what to do or believe.
Continue reading: John Grant - Love Is Magic Album Review
After setting the bar higher than any of his contemporaries with his first two solo albums, 'Queen Of Denmark' and 'Pale Green Ghosts', former Czars man John Grant returns with his third solo album proper. Having garnered more critical acclaim than most musicians dream of in a lifetime, the weight of expectation on John Grant's latest release 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' was not unsubstantial. Thankfully, his move to Iceland, bleak barely lit winter days, a foray into Eurovision composition and a seemingly more confident demeanour have not diminished his ability to craft and convey a song.
The twelve songs on 'GT, BP' are bookended by a reading from Corinthians about love; serving as a very apt binder for the whole album. The onset of middle age (Grey Tickles) and nightmares (Black Pressure) that such a passage in one's life bring with it may have been the premise for John's latest work. However, it is once again his tenderness, understanding, humour, bloody minded frankness and above all, honesty that set his songs apart and generally above other formidable singer-songwriters. "I can't believe I missed New York during the 70's, I could have gotten a head start in the world of disease. I'm sure that I would have contracted every single solitary thing. There are children who have cancer so all bets are off, 'cause I can't compete with that", Grant sings on the superb title track.
John's latest album is once again littered with film, actor and singer references from Scanners to Ordinary People, Charlene Tilton to Geraldine Paige and Joan Biaz to Joan As Policewoman. All are encapsulated in terrific lyrics that are both cleverly observed and even more cleverly incorporated. John's lyrics have always been full of blackly comic moments and 'Grey Tickles' has more than it's fair share of sharp, biting, incendiary content and wit to blow you away. "You and Hitler ought to get together, you ought to learn to knit and wear matching sweaters, you ought to learn the finer points of decoupage, you ought to spend your weekends clearing out the garage" ('You & Him').
Continue reading: John Grant - Grey Tickles, Black Pressure Album Review
Albums of Note... It’s been a long two years since James Blake released his debut eponymous album and now, the pioneering producer returns with Overgrown, album number two. Peppered with quality collaborations, with hip-hop legend RZA and electronic music’s figurehead Brian Eno, Overgrown is the sound of an artist still trying to find his niche, but releasing high quality, accomplished tracks, whilst he’s on his journey. “Blake really is a talent to behold, as his ingenious moulding together of poles apart genres and production wizardry clearly shows… when you're already as accomplished at all manner of musical exercises as he is then it will obviously be hard to focus all this talent and all this energy into one place.”
Splitting opinion like musical Marmite, John Grant returns with Pale Green Ghosts. This album may sound unrecognisable as Grant, to anyone already familiar with his work. He’s hooked up with Gus Gus’ Biggi Viera and has decamped to Reykjavik. As a result, a new reliance on vintage-sounding synthesisers and a nod to club-land has John Grant sounding like an altogether different proposition to the John Grant of days gone by.“Grant's dyspeptic edge may be blunted, but when called upon the man can make a fine ass post-modern disco song, like we ever doubted that he could, and Blackbelt is a tweaked remix away from the transient world of A Lists, charts and chat shows. Cleverly poignant, its way with knock out disses would give Jake Shears something to think about if it proved to be a permanent change of direction…”
John Grant's last album Queen of Denmark represented an echo of a phenomenon rarely seen these days; a slow burning, word-of-mouth success that eventually piled up mentions in the 2010's release of the year polls despite the singer's obvious estrangement from the music industry's hype circus. What made its power and worthy recognition all the more heart-warming was that seldom had a record so filled with misplaced self-loathing wanted to be loved so much, it's the songs' visceral subject matter - inspired largely by growing up gay in hyper conservative Colorado - matched only by their gorgeously beige musical counter punches, a quilted subtlety courtesy of the singer's friends Midlake.
Finally then, everything it seemed was working out fine for the first time in Grant's hitherto emotional war zone of an adult life, until shortly after he was diagnosed with HIV, a fact that with typically mind blowing candour he announced on stage to a bewildered audience in 2011 at London's Meltdown festival. Now finding his life once more sent into a tailspin, it might have seemed in his darker moments that the vengeful god on Queen of Denmark's JC Hates Faggots was indeed having the last laugh after all.
If all of this has scared the crap out of you but you're still here, fear not. Recorded in his newly adopted home of Reykjavik with Gus Gus supremo Biggi Veira producing, Pale Green Ghosts is less knowingly confrontational that Grant's first album, as if the prejudiced demons he sought out on it have now been consigned to just memories. Musically it's a major departure as well, ditching the seventies FM saccharine tones and replacing them instead with retro synthesisers and the chillier ennui of late 20th century European clubbing.
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Ex The Czars frontman/songwriter John Grant releases I Wanna Go To Marz, this is the first track from his debut solo album Queen Of Denmark although each song on the album was written by Grant it was recorded with the help of Denton, Texas' five piece Midlake. Mojo magazine gave the debut huge praise by labeling it as an 'Instant Classic', an accolade that in recent times was achieved by albums from Joanna Newsom and Fleet Foxes.
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