Stevie Nicks – 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault (a very biased review)

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Stevie Nicks’s new album, 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault, will be released across the US tomorrow, having already spent a week cruising through the European market as the North American leg of Fleetwood Mac’s global reunion tour got underway. While this isn’t exactly new news, this record happens to be very special, not just to Stevie, but to the legions of fans like me who found, listened to and loved the many bootleg demos we managed to dig up over the course of our endless love affair with her music.

You see, these demos were like an extra glimpse of Stevie-ness that we just couldn’t turn down all those years ago. Like the Wild Heart track of the same name, when you’re Enchanted by Stevie Nicks, it’s so lovely to be around her voice that saying no to hearing it seems ridiculous, no matter what the sound quality on a few dodgy YouTube clips happens to be like.

Now, however, she has knowingly given us what we’ve wanted for so long in the form of a real record, full of those captivating love stories that never really saw the light of day before. In short, she has done what my obsessive thirteen-year-old self wanted to hear more than anything – not that I ever stopped dreaming about it.

Full disclosure: if you want an unbiased review, you won’t find one here. I tried to warn you in the title.

Due to the Fleetwood Mac tour, Nicks and renowned (read: kickass) producer Dave Stewart put the whole record together in three months before rehearsals began. Three months isn’t very long for anyone to make an entire album, let alone a rock icon who happens to be joining one of the greatest bands of all time for yet another world tour just a matter of weeks down the line.

So, they went to Nashville, did the bulk of the recording in three weeks using session musicians, then finished it up back in Los Angeles. Talk about a whirlwind – but hey, Stevie’s the best twirler in the business.

“I’m used to bands where we argue over how to do the song. These Nashville guys just say, ‘Yes, ma’am.'” she told Rolling Stone in a recent interview.

The result of this energetic turnaround ended up being one of the best records of Stevie Nicks’ whole career, in my opinion at least. The reasons I fell in love with her music are all over it. The grit, pain and passion in her voice are present throughout and, on tracks like Lady and Blue Water, there’s a depth of emotion that seems so gentle but could actually knock a person right over.

Having chosen songs she wrote over the past five decades, many written in the early days about her great love and musical partner in crime Lindsey Buckingham, 24 Karat Gold was always going to be deeply personal.

“Lindsey will love it – half the songs are about him!” she explained to Rolling Stone.

Delightfully and unsurprisingly, it feels like an album that is totally and utterly her, as she underlined so well in the aforementioned interview.

“It’s always intense to look back, but it’s always good to remember who you were and what it was like then. It makes me remember how beautiful and frightening it all was…  all that pain I went through — it got me here.”

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Shovels & Rope – a lesson in bringing the house down

I got beer on my phone, what can you do.

I got beer on my phone, what can you do.

Playing their second show in New York City in as many days, Shovels & Rope brought the Music Hall of Williamsburg to it’s boot-stomping, beer-spilling knees on Tuesday, September 23rd. Americana’s new favorite couple, they’ve often been likened to a ‘modern day Johnny and June’, is special for many reasons. These include the ability to bring any house down with little more than a few bars of a new song, relatively unknown to the people in front of them. In this instance, it was The Devil is all Around, the opening track on their latest album, Swimmin’ Time.

In the middle of the crowd, people were smiling at each other and making friends over the sheer wonder of it all. We were, every last one of us, enchanted. Part soulmate-level romance, part riot, part ‘I’m staring at you so we remember what we’re doing’, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent pulled off a performance that was not only worthy of their exceptional songwriting, but gave thier fans something to really watch. Having made a point of remaining a two-person act, the instrument juggling epitomizes the kind of well-honed display of guts, determination and bare-bones talent these two are all about.

“People think we’re gazing romantically in each other’s eyes, but I’m really just waiting for the change. Michael likes to catch me sleeping on the job” Hearst told Rolling Stone Magazine recently, underlining the teamwork and good humor it takes to pull it all off in front of an audience. I think it’s probably both, though, and it’s impossible not to fall completely in love with them, their music, and the fact that no words can do justice to just how phenomenally talented they are.

Hearst and Trent do not strictly adhere to any notion of a set list, nor do they really know exactly who will be playing which instruments. As it happens, this is a recipe for the kind of live magic that has fans and critics alike wondering, “Why the fuck aren’t these guys bigger?” Anyone lucky enough to see them go lip to lip over the same mic for Save the World can attest to the palpable electricity pouring off the stage. It’s infectious. The devil may well be all around, but so are these guys and it’s an entirely heartening experience. Their 2012 album was called O Be Joyful for a reason, after all.

Ultimately, it was a show in the truest sense of the word, and one I need to get another ticket to before I go stark raving bananas.

FYI – American Songwriter has a great feature on Shovels & Rope that you should definitely read, too, if you’re even halfway as much in love with them as I am.

Young Summer – Siren

Credit:  Eric Mooney Photography
© Eric Mooney Photography

Washington, DC based musician Bobbie Allen AKA Young Summer is back with her first full-length album, Siren, following the success of her 2013 Fever Dream EP. While the record features a couple of known quantities such as Waves That Rolled You Under, it also boasts a whole lot of shiny new synth-laden surprises, including Leave Your Love which has received rave reviews from the likes of Nylon Magazine, and Taken which isn’t about the Liam Neeson movie of the same name.

Allen herself has described the whole album as “haunting, but specifically the title track.” She’s certainly onto something there and, as was her intention, the song really does call you in, daring you to resist the rest of the album. Of course, the whole thing meanders along to its final destination before you really want it to, ending in with an uptempo yet cool-sounding track called Classless Kids with more than a hint of Lana Del Rey style gloominess. As the last notes fade, it’s hard not to want more, to find out where she’s going next.

Having already soundtracked TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Pretty Little Liars with her cover of The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me, played SXSW, toured the UK and garnered a notable US following, I’d happily put money on the fact that wherever she’s going will involve even bigger and better things.

You can pick up/download your own copy of Siren as of midnight tonight or, if you’re still not convinced, head over to her site for a free download to help persuade you.

Swimm – Feel EP [free download]

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I have penchant for anything remotely “nautical” sounding at the minute so Florida/California-based band Swimm and their debut EP Feel couldn’t have come along at a better time. Released on 23 April 2013, this record is quite something to behold with each track giving way to something very different whilst at the same time making complete sense as an entire body of work.

Psychadelic rock & roll is just what you need sometimes, especially when it’s got some simultaneously smooth and shaky vocals with the odd harmonica thrown in for good measure.

Swimm certainly know how to play, mixing synths wtih classic rock-style riffs that I think both Lindsey Buckingham and M83 would approve of. The end result is five polished songs with a sixth acoustic bonus track if you dowload the EP. The stand-out track for me is, without a doubt, Tisk Tisk because I was just in the mood for something to sink my aural teeth into – it’s a good five and a half minutes of frustrated drums, raw basslines and a slight Bayou twist – but there isn’t an oviously weak song to be found in the whole bunch.

As I said, it all kind of makes sense.

What doesn’t make any sense at all is why they’re giving it away for free via Bandcamp for FREE. It’s a compelling EP that sounds like it must be a real fire cracker on stage. Still, flights from Paris to Florida aren’t so very cheap and the production on this EP is really quite pleasant so I can’t complain.

So, join in and stream the whole thing below, then go and stick it in your iTunes before they do the sensible thing and make you pay for it.

The Airplanes – Jingle Jangle EP

394885_461672260548366_1063636086_nAfter releasing his debut EP last year, Joshua Vest recently released a brand new EP called Jingle Jangle under artist name The Airplanes. It consists of four rather spangly tracks with a slightly more confident feel than his previous effort, all of which are bursting at the seams with noisy pop riffs and a lot of infectious percussion.

There’s a definite Beach Boys meets Pavement vibe going on from the first few bars of the opening track, A Little Light. It starts off so optimistically – as the title kind of suggests – and then descends into an enthusiatically happy frenzy of guitars, drums and layered vocals. The closing lyrics are “Everything will be just fine” and it seems like something Mr. Vest genuinely believes. It’s also a sentiment I think a lot more of us should probably get on board with.

There’s a slight dip in good humour with second track A Second Person Point of View, however. Joshua’s guitar seems to jar a little harder with everything else and loss and loneliness creep in through the tinny vocals although there isn’t any real dampening of spirit, which is quite impressing. And then comes title track Jingle Jangle picks everything back up again…

It’s a love story of sorts, a testament to the power of a good sound to help put anyone in a good mood when things turn to shit. This track quite literally bounds along like a chirpy kangaroo, explaining in no uncertain terms that “nothing can go wrong when you’re lost in song”, an undeniable truth if ever there is one. That said, it might have something to do with the particular song you find yourself lost in but Jingle Jangle isn’t a half bad place to start.

The final track, Big Star 45s is the EP’s crowning glory, however. It sounds shiny, it sounds content and it’ll make you feel ok with the world for a brief three minutes and sixteen seconds. The mixture of an almost country-like riff and a few wailing notes layered over the top are largely responsible for this and both seem to defy any listener not to tap at least one toe or get up and dance around for that matter.

By and large, The Airplanes’ Jingle Jangle EP is a slice of sunshine and is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face. Listen free below and download it for the teeny tiny price of $4 from Bandcamp.

Gdansk – Atlas

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To steal a concept from Lauren Laverne’s award-winning radio show, I bring to you a headphones moment. Canadian band Gdansk, who are based in Ontario, have come up with four minutes and thirty five seconds of pure escapism with their new single, Atlas.

The track, part-inspired by Greek gods, starts off like some dodgy sample from an eighties power ballad (which isn’t strictly a negative statement) before smoothly metamorphosing into an electronic dreamscape. Eventally, the smooth synths, percussion and distorted vocals all collide in a spectacularly satisfying explosion before the whole thing seems to simply drift away.

This song is intoxicatingly hopeful, especially at the end where it just abandons you in a half-stunned with a finger hovering over the repeat button.

The good news is that you can download Atlas for free right here. The even better news is that Gdansk have a new EP in the pipeline, too.

Beard of Wolves – Wolf Skulls EP

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After hearing My Father Drives The Death Star by Beard Of Wolves for the very first time, my mind – not to mention my ears – was blown. It’s a fine slice of infectious, danceworthy, melodic garage rock from the mountains of North Wales that could very well mark the start of something special for band memebers Adam Hughes and David Mitchell.

The inherently sexual undertones are hard to ignore, especially as they come mostly in the form of aggressively unapologetic basslines and noisey, messy fusions of rock, punk, drum and bass and a smattering of carefully deployed synthesisers. And that’s just one song…

(It’s available to download for free via Soundcloud, too.)

Things get even dirtier where their other previously released track, Wet Mouth, is concerned. Though suggestive, the title doesn’t quite do the rock solid filth of this track justice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the climax is a whirlwind of messy guitars and a few desperate screams of “put my love inside your mouth”.

It’s more or less soft porn in aural form but there are definitely worse things to stick in your ears. If anything, the mere 1 minute 54 second running time just isn’t enough.

The good news is that Beard Of Wolves are releasing their debut EP Wolf Skulls on 18 March. It’s four tracks of more, ferocious Welsh chaos that will include My Father Drives the Death Star and Wet Mouth, as well as two brand new tracks.

Dead Heart is more or less the ultimate “fuck you” garage rock break-up song, or really just a good middle finger to anyone who deserves it. It’s an angry, wounded monologue and, instead of the protagonst feeling too sorry for himself, he’s ripping the shit out of his guitar. The end result is a dangerously repetitve, raw two and a half minutes. There are some itchy, haunting synths at the beginning and the track closes with an exhausted electro heartbeat, recreating a sense of ruthless injustice. It’s hardly mainstream but at the same time there’s something entirely universal about it.

The last track on the EP comes in the form of Date Fight. To be honest, this song is really just a high-volume demand for someone to “be my girl”, just imagine a rough blend of Electric Six, Jet and half a bottle of whiskey and you’re not far off.

So, if you’re after an EP to eat steak and have sex to, Beard of Wolves’ debut might just be exactly what you’re looking for.

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