Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi

Before releasing her eponymous debut album, Anna Calvi had been lauded by numerous pundits, culminating in a nomination for the BBC’s Sound of 2011. For once, please believe the hype it is justified. Why take so long to post anything about her I hear you ask? Simple. I wanted to do this wonderful album the justice it deserves.

This album is an enthralling collection of brooding and dramatic gothic pop-songs, these sweeping multi-textured scores feel almost classical at times. The English songstress will capture you from the very first note of the atmospheric wandering guitar instrumental opener ‘Rider to the Sea’. There is a striking air of confidence expelled by this record. Unafraid to take chances, we witness an effortless switch between the rich and brassy Bond-movie-esque  ‘Suzanne And I’ and the sparse climactic centrepiece ‘The Devil’ or the swooning ‘Blackout’.

These entrancing pieces are intricately woven together to form an equally thrilling and chilling experience, her vocals, wow! She delivers raw, primeval emotion time after time. Even though the themes explored may be dramatic and dark at times it is overwhelmingly uplifting, each piece of instrumentation is filled with a warm, fuzzy glow.

So, three months since it’s release and it is just as captivating now, as then. This is without doubt one of the finest albums of 2011 and it is so much more than a flash-in-a-pan – I only hope I’ve done it justice.

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Anna Calvi – Suzanne & I

Anna Calvi – No More Words

The word according to Mighty Stef the Baptist

With issue 6 of Lookleft almost ready to hit the shelves across Ireland I thought it wry time I shared an interview I did for the last issue with one of Ireland’s most treasured artists, The Mighty Stef.

The Mighty Stef has long been heralded as one of Ireland’s finest emerging troubadours, something his latest album ‘TMS & The Baptists’ has placed in stone.

Lookleft needed no excuse for a chat with Stef before the Newbridge leg of his Irish Tour. We sought sanctuary in the corner of the bar away from the pre-show hustle and bustle. The positive reactions to his new record and the numbers braving the snow to make it to his gigs had a genuinely humbling effect on him.

To date his work has been characterised by a fiery folk-punk attitude and a predilection for the darker side of life especially in the early days “I think I was deliberately aiming for the more morose themes” and “there’s some pretty dark stuff on the new album, mixed with two or three uplifting tracks”.

The album title evokes religious connotations which manifest themselves dealing with issues of sin and redemption during songs ‘John the Baptist Parts 1 & 2’. Accompanied by a wry smile he explains the thinking, “John the Baptist (Part 1) is almost a tongue in cheek gospel song asking for whomever it is that hands out forgiveness to have mercy on us all, in particular me and the other five lads in the band. I’m not a deeply religious person”, preferring instead to keep it simple and “believe in right and wrong”. The introduction of his new band ‘The Baptists’ has pushed him from his comfort zone, making things “slightly different. They didn’t let me be nonchalant or lazy as I would normally be”.

However, one ever-present ingredient to his work is heart and soul, always a big part but never so fervently as his latest single, ‘We Want Blood’. The song, a universal song of disgust at the powers that be is “not so much a call to arms. I’m not a violent person. I’m not even a political person. It’s apparent to me that the people responsible for the economic downturn aren’t the people who are gonna be held accountable, it will be me, you and all the other good working class people”. The song has received many plaudits for how timely it is but he points out that it’s always the right time because “these points are always relevant, even in the supposedly good times the government were still a shower of c**ts and the banks were still a shower of greedy bastards, excuse the language.” “I wrote this over a year and half ago and it was as relevant then as it is now. It mightn’t go far enough in what it’s saying.”

Music has acted as a catalyst for change in the past but Stef isn’t sure if he’s “politically savvy enough to write a protest album or anything like that”. There’s a feeling music can “even by accident, change things. When rock’ n roll first hit America, Christian rightwing groups said it was the work of the devil but it changed people’s perspectives.

When I think of rock n roll having the power to change things I always think of Bob Dylan or Joe Strummer, neither of whom wanted to be spokespersons for their generation but did by default and they did change things for a lot of people.”

This is his third album to be released via his ‘The First Born is Dead’ label and being an independent artist is something he’s happy with, “I’ve managed to make a very modest living but the money isn’t the important thing to me, its playing music”. He points out that it can be “as hard as you make it. If I was to limit myself to gig around Ireland I would force myself into a corner pretty quickly. I try to get outside [Ireland] a bit. I

love doing this so much, I would never complain about how difficult it is because it’s an absolute privilege and pleasure to do it”.

The internet is an intrinsic weapon in his arsenal and he is dismissive of the major labels’ and industry heads’ attitudes that the internet is killing music. On the contrary it seems to be a great leveller; “it might have spoiled the party for a lot of people who have had it really good for a very long time. If you look down the food chain to the likes of myself, I’d be nowhere without the internet. It allows me to go off on tour, play small venues and for people to be able to find out who I am and interact with people about the music”.

In an industry that constantly presents individuals obsessed with fame, self-importance and money but low on talent, to find a musician so honest and full of love for music is a refreshing change.

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The Mighty Stef – John The Baptist (Part 1)

S.C.U.M – Summon The Sound

London-based post-punk band, S.C.U.M (who take their name from the 1968 feminist manifesto Society For Cutting Up Men), have been steadily building up steam in their native city over the past year or so. 

‘Summon The Sound’ is the first taste of what to expect fromtheir debut album, due out in August. ‘Summon The Sound’ is a dark epic slow burner, recalling the kind of sound The Horrors perfected on their second album, Primary Colours. A stunning track which certainly whets the appetite with an album only around the corner. 

This also featured on an exclusive Record Store Day vinyl, Vorwartsalong with unreleased material from Can, Liars and Grinderman. 

You can watch the hellish video and download the track below.

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Download: S.C.U.M – Summon The Sound via thisisfakediy

Video: Steve Mason – All Come Down

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It is almost a year since Steve Mason released the wonderful Boys Outside album and it remains one of the most frequently played albums in my collection. For those of you who haven’t heard it yet, it comes highly recommended.

The former Beta Band man is to release another single taken from the record, called ‘All Come Down’. It displays perfectly the captivating nature of his music, full of quivering emotion, it demands you pause what you’re doing and give this man your time.

I was extremely disappointed to have missed both his Dublin shows last weekend but hopefully he will be back sooner rather than later.

‘All Come Down’ is out May 2nd on Domino.

Tom Williams & The Boat – Too Slow

Folk music has been enjoying something of a Renaissance in recent years, revitalized by a slew of great artists like Frank Turner, Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn.

Kent 6-piece Tom Williams & The Boat are no different and continue this upward trend with their debut record Too Slow. The album navigates carefully through a sea mixed with touching acoustic numbers and the racey, raspy and energetic punkier ones. 

It probably shouldn’t work, but it does. Williams’ obvious talent for storytelling holds everything together, while also displaying an enviable willingness to broach vast and varied subject matter. Comfortable with laments of broken hearts and relationships, ‘Get Older’, ‘Wouldn’t Women Be Sweet’ and ‘Denmark’ sit perfectly with the more political and socially aware ‘Concentrate’ or ’24’. Loosely it recalls Frank Turner, or The Holloways at their most jovial with the touching, evocative side of Johnny Flynn.

Overall there is lots of variety on a refreshing and engaging debut. Lyrically it is clever and highly developed, providing a charming window into the ideas and personality of one man, Williams, a word-smith beyond repute. Far from being a just a ‘backing band’, The Boat, provide the air of unpredictability and experimentation, combined with Williams they make wonderful stories into fantastic songs. 

Too Slow is out now via their own Wire Boat Recordings. You can buy it here.

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Tom Williams & The Boat – Concentrate

Tom Williams & The Boat – Get Older

Digitalism return with ‘2 Hearts’

German electro duo Digitalism set the world of dance music alight back in 2007 with their debut Idealism. However, the intervening years have been quiet but they have signaled their return with ‘2 Hearts’, the first single from their forthcoming second album, I Love You, Dude.

Their rationale with ‘2 Hearts’ remains pretty straightforward; big beats, big choruses and big riffs. It is energetic synth rock at it best, although it must be said it all sounds very Klaxons-esque, circa Myths of the Near Future. A very welcome and overdue return timed perfectly for the festival season, it is good to have ’em back.

‘2 Hearts’ is released on 13 June via V2/Cooperative Music w/ the album expected soon after.

 Download: Digitalism – 2 Hearts via Cosmos Music Group

Mixtape Extravaganza ‘The Otherside of Blur’

Some time ago I decided it might be useful and fun to put together some mixtapes of artists I really love, some of which readers may have been aware of (or not?) but just never found the time to give them a listen. As I’m off to London for a few days, there’s no better time to get this show on the, eh, road.

I mulled over how to start but there was only ever one option, Blur, the band who kick started my love affair with music. They were one of the most prominent, important and popular British bands to emerge in the ’90s who produced the era defining albums, Parklife and The Great Escape. While they will always be associated with the so-called ‘Britpop’ era they made two good, often overlooked albums Leisure and Modern Life Is Rubbish prior to the britpop circus. Notably unlike many of bands from this time they managed to transcend the genre, casting aside this mantle to produce arguably two of the best records of the late ’90s Blur and 13.

People are pretty well aware of the Blur back story especially with all the furore surrounding their re-union tour, the release of ‘Fool’s Day’ for Record Store Day last year and all the Albarn/Coxon projects of Gorillaz, The Good The Bad & The Queen etc.. So rather than rake over old ground, something a wee bit different was decided on. Take some of my favourite b-sides and well, make a mix from them. They were one of the few bands who recorded great b-sides, not just fillers and worth buying overpriced singles (and certainly worth a mixtape).

Blur remain by far my favourite band in the world, while others like The Clash, Super Furry Animals and Billy Bragg come close, there is just something special about Blur. This bug began when I was 11/12 and continues till today and has seen me attempt to acquire everything they’ve got, be it bootlegs, albums, singles, EPs, imports on CD cassette or vinyl. It was well worth the time, effort and money.

I would like to do a similar thing with other bands in the future, if you think is worth it that is. Last but not least a huge thanks and mucho respect for Stevie Moon who has outdone himself with the artwork this time, amazing!

So, without further ado I will leave you in the capable hands of Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave. The tracklisting is after the jump.

Download: The Otherside of Blur

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