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Some Great Albums of 2017


One of the few creative-ish things I still force myself to make time for is the radio show I have been doing for about 5 years, Beard Radio, on KUCB, the local public radio station on the tiny island I live on in Alaska. Every Friday night for the last 250 or so weeks (give or take a few trips off island) at 10pm (replay Monday at 8pm) Beard Radio has attempted to strike a balance between the music that I love and what I think people want to hear. Let me be the first to say that I don’t have a huge audience, but as anyone who ever saw Pump Up The Volume knows, when it comes to radio, someone somewhere is listening. Hopefully it’s the people that the music connects to somehow. More than likely it’s people at work who have no other options.

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Colleen Green Wants To Grow Up

Colleen Green Wants To Grow Up

Colleen Green Wants To Grow Up

Beard Radio – Stoner Fuzz Punk by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

This from her label, Hardly Art:

Growing up.

As a prospect it can be terrifying, sad, and worst of all, inevitable. But on I Want to Grow Up, her second album for Hardly Art, Colleen Green lets us know that we don’t have to go it alone.

This latest collection of songs follows a newly 30-year-old Green as she carefully navigates a minefield of emotion. Her firm belief in true love is challenged by the inner turmoil caused by entering modern adulthood, but that doesn’t mean that her faith is defeated. With a nod to her heroes, sentimental SoCal punks The Descendents, Green too wonders what it will be like when she gets old. Throughout songs such as “Some People,” “Deeper Than Love,” and the illustrative title track, the listener has no choice but to feel the sympathetic growing pains of revelatory maturation and the anxieties that come along with it.

Sonically the album is a major change for the LA-based songwriter, who has come to be known for her homemade recordings and merchandise. Her past offerings have been purely Green; testaments to her self-sufficiency and, perhaps, trepidation. This time, she’s got a little help from her friends: the full band heard here includes JEFF the Brotherhood’s Jake Orrall and Diarrhea Planet’s Casey Weissbuch, who collaborated with Green over ten days at Sputnik Sound in Nashville, TN.

I Want to Grow Up is an experience, not unlike life: questioning, learning, taking risks. And in true CG fashion, a quote from a beloved 90s film seems the perfect summation: “Understanding is reached only after confrontation.”

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

The Beard – EP 109 – Sleater-Kinney by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love – Deluxe Edition Cover

Publishing this feels like something that is so hard to do for so many reasons. The album came out 6 months ago. Every major site has already reviewed it. It’s old news. Who gives a shit what I say? Etc. The truth is it has taken me six months to think of anything to say. Why? Because this album, like all of their other albums, hits so hard it leaves one speechless. There are no words to express the way these ladies get together and make music. It’s best to hear it and then experience whatever it is that comes. But do yourself a favor — hear it in the appropriate fashion: live in concert. Or if you can’t make a show, get the vinyl and some great headphones. Or with friends and family. Only listen to my radio show if you are driving somewhere, or at worse you’re on a train. Movement is key. Wind. Water. Better yet, here’s some stuff the ladies themselves have to say about the first album out in a decade.

“Creativity is about where you want your blood to flow, because in order to do something meaningful and powerful there has to be life inside of it,” says Brownstein. “Sleater-Kinney isn’t something you can do half-assed or half-heartedly. We have to really want it. This band requires a certain desperation, a direness. We have to be willing to push because the entity that is this band will push right back.”

“The core of this record is our relationship to each other, to the music, and how all of us still felt strongly enough about those to sweat it out in the basement and to try and reinvent our band,” says Tucker.

Free Jazz - RIP Ornette Coleman

Free Jazz – RIP Ornette Coleman

It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something.

The Beard- EP 122 – A Tribute to Ornette Coleman by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Free Jazz – RIP Ornette Coleman

After I left Texas and went to California, I had a hard time getting anyone to play anything that I was writing, so I had to end up playing them myself. And that’s how I ended up just being a saxophone player.

Free Jazz - RIP Ornette Coleman

Art and expression and feeling seem to be uppermost in the musical compositions of Ornette Coleman. I got into him years ago while flipping through used albums (searching for Rare Groove stuff) at a record shop in Santa Barbara. Free Jazz had a picture of Jackson Pollock’s 1954 painting The White Light, which I had been studying in a course I was taking at university. Without so much as a second thought, I added it to my purchase pile and, thankfully, have never looked back. While not as famous or well-known as other jazz musicians of his day, but like Pollock, Coleman was prolific and by subverting the mainstream movement, he expanded the palate and canvas for all artists to come.

Ornette Coleman, composer, violinist, trumpeter and alto-saxophone jazz bandleader, was born Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman in 1930. Unlike many of his slightly older jazz counterparts who passed away in or even perhaps before their primes (Charlie, Parker, Gene Ammons, Chet Baker, Art Blakey, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Grant Green, Billie Holiday, et al), he lived a long and fruitful life with a career spanning 60 years. Not only did he enter jazz at a time in the late 50s when the genre was in retrograde against the high energy of 40s Bebop with the Birth of the Cool (Miles Davis) movement, the West Coast and Bossanova movements threatened to transport the universe in cool modal jazz mode ad infinitum.

Enter “Lonely Woman” (1959, a great year for Jazz) an original composition by Coleman that is the closest thing to a standard in the movement he co-lead with Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Pharaoh Sanders–Free Jazz. Free jazz was an attempt to break through the “rules” that had emerged as jazz convention throughout its young history. The musicians would do this by altering tempo, time signatures and chords changes. Mainstream jazz had come to be semi-rigid and free jazz was seen as an avant-garde alternative that strove to return jazz to its origins, such as in Coleman’s 6th album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. Which is not to say that all those experimenting with free jazz were strictly Free Jazzers, so to speak. They were the Hippies after the Beat Movement, eschewing all classification and standards not by denigrating the past but by choosing a different route to build onto the past.

Throughout his early career Coleman put out nearly as many live recordings as he did studio albums. Apart from the quiet hiss of the studio monitors in contrast to the applause of a live audience, there is likely very little difference in what he would have played as in how he played it. It seems plausible that Time was the only difference to him in a song. As in how shall I play this song this time, or going even further, how will this song come out of me this time around? He says:

Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time.

The man was flashy and poetic, while being down to earth and gentle. He had his troubles with record companies which is likely why his albums weren’t properly marketed and didn’t sell as well as some of his contemporaries. The early years with Atlantic got him in the game and he was at Blue Note during the hey day of that label, after which he jumped to multiple labels throughout the rest of his career, eventually starting his own with the release of Sound Grammar, the Pullitzer Prize winning album recorded live in Ludwigshafen, Germany, in 2005. A most notable moment includes “Sleep Talking” which begins with the same notes as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. It is fitting that he ended his life in the late spring in New York, a city he came to but was not born in, and made some part of it, however small to him, bigger to the rest of us.

Halfway to Music – 2015 Best So Far

Halfway to Music – 2015 Best So Far

The Beard – EP 121 – Best So Far 2015 by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Halfway to Music – 2015 Best So Far

With albums like To Pimp A Butterfly from Kendrick Lamar, Carrie & Lowell from Sufjan Stevens, Choose Your Weapon from Hiatus Kaiyote, The Epic from Kamasi Washington, From Kinshasa from Mbongwana Star, In Colour from Jamie xx, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, Cortar Todo from Zu, Why Make Sense? from Hot Chip, it has been a great five months of epic hip hop, jazz, and rock music releases.

But there is so much more that is running under the mainstream of top 40 radio play. Which is why you should be thankful for Public Radio. Beard Radio on 89.7FM KUCB goes to the edge of the musical pantheon and stretches the seams of what is mostly unheard these days. Thankfully we are not alone. Many sing the praises of the following artists, but there are so many more ears yearning to hear, that there is more work needs be done. So press play on the Mixcloud podcast player above and listen:

Bop EnglishConstant Bop – Dani’s Blues / Sentimental Wilderness
Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit – An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York) / Dead Fox
Sleater KinneyNo Cities To Love – No Cities To Love / No Anthems
Hop AlongPainted Shut – The Knock / Powerful Man
Speedy OrtizFoil Deer – Raising the Skate / My Dead Girl
WaxahatcheeIvy Tripp – Under A Rock / Poison
VietcongVietcong – Continental Shelf
BlurThe Magic Whip – Go Out
Built To SpillUntethered Moon – Living Zoo

Mac McCaughan - Non-Believers

Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers

What appeals to me is songs that deal with the messiness and ambiguity that come with any transitional period.

— Mac McCaughan

The Beard – EP 119 – Mac McCaughan by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers

Mac McCaughan - Non-Believers

Guitarist Mac McCaughan sings at Superchunk’s live show in Osaka

Who is Mac McCaughan(Read the HESO Interview)? If you listen to rock music these days it’s pretty certain you have heard something that he has had his hands on. Onetime frontman of the North Carolina Indie-Rock Superband Superchunk, Mac is also co-founder of Merge Records, the highly successful smalltime record label that puts out albums by Spoon, Mikal Cronin, Destroyer, Eleanor Friedberger, The Magnetic Fields, Arcade Fire and many more. When not working at Merge or touring with Superchunk (or any other band he may be playing with), he has recorded his solo work under the moniker of Portastatic and produced more than a decade of work ranging from solo bedroom 4-track recordings to full band recordings at Tiny Telephone. Often lo-fi and intimate, Portastatic’s explorative sound was even more popular than Superchunk’s upfront guitar rock with niche college crowds across North America. But beyond being the face of a long-running and influential alternative band and a powerful albeit low-key record exec, Mac is a pretty regular guy who just makes music he wants to hear. Over the years he has had the opportunity to do soundtrack work on various projects: Looking For Leonard (Merge, 2001), Who Loves the Sun (Merge, 2006), as well as live scores at film festivals: 1927 Tod Browning silent film The Unknown at the Seattle Film Festival, as well as 1927 Japanese film director Teinosuke Kinugasa’s silent film Page of Madness at the SF Film Festival.

Mac McCaughan - Non-Believers

Mac McCaughan – Non-Believers

If not on the tip of pop music’s tongue, in his own way McCaughan is prolific. Recorded at Glendale Drive by McCaughan, mixed by Beau Sorenson, Brian Paulson, and himself, he played all parts on Non-Believers except drums on “Our Way Free” (Michael Benjamin Lerner), additional vocals on the ethereally and snaking “Real Darkness” (Jenn Wasner), and additional vocals on “Wet Leaves” (Annie Hayden). These tracks are a collection of unused work he had written for various movie soundtracks that screamed new solo album, but needed something. It seems that his early experiments with synthesizers, as on 1995’s Slow Note From a Sinking Ship, and the follow up, The Nature of Sap, paid off. Because in order to take songs he had composed for other projects they had to be reworked and rewritten. Exploring his fascination with ’80s Punk when it evolved into New Wave and became introspective, when bands were, as he puts it, “using keyboards and drum machines to relate through their music a disaffection or alienation” from what had come before, McCaughan delved into his own work and came up with something that sounds new yet references those old sounds.

To be sure, despite the emphasis on keys, this is still a guitar-driven album. “Box Batteries” is a throwback rocker that eschews bass altogether in the manner of his clean sounding yet still hollow lo-fi Portastatic days when he recorded with a whomever he could find–a random clarinetist and his brother on drums. “Only Do” is classic stripped down indie Superchunk guitar and keys call-and-response propelling a cosmic rollercoaster toward some kind of zen realization, “There is no try/ There is only do”. Much as in the first single “Lost Again” the overriding flat drone of “Real Darkness” is easily overlooked by McCaughan’s memorable melodies and knack for using the highs and scratchy lows of his voice as an extra instrument, as well as the Destroyer-esque background guitar solo so faint the effort to pick it up makes you appreciate the song all the more, The realization that not all songs are hits, but can regardless fit in to the flow of an album in a way that creates a sum greater than the parts of a Best of ever could. Ending with the upbeat “Come Upstairs” is a hither yon nod to the good times past and yet to come.

Throughout his solo recordings he has emerged, so to speak, from the comfort and cover that a pseudonym provides to requiring more. Hence the shedding of “Portastatic” for his own name (he stopped writing on the Portastatic blog a few years ago). When he asks, “I’m constantly discovering and consuming new music, so why does an old New Order song trigger the kind of emotional response that it does?” it’s not only a trick to get you to do more than listen to the atmospheric opening keys on “Your Hologram”, but to put you in a dusty old Honda with a tapedeck and roll down windows full of energy and nothing to do with it but drive, really to nowhere in particular. It’s about “the irony that comes with being 16 and having a car but not knowing where to go in it, or having a keyboard or a guitar and not knowing how to play it.” A more lighthearted musical reconnaissance into the shared alienation and isolation spawned by OMD, New Order, Depeche Mode and like synthpop bands, Non-Believers is a musical homage to the oeuvre of The Breakfast Club, that has grown up through the grungy ’90s and pushed through the adolescence of the 00s, into a full-grown celebration of the artisinal, home-brewed art of the self.

Between the Grateful Dead loving Boomers who are now part Tea-party Neo-cons, part Neo-Lib Wall Street investors and Ben Stiller’s Gen Xers who are gainfully employed and raising families in faux-American Dream suburban glee, there is a gap. McCaughan’s mid-’60s non-believer generation were a bit too late for punk and didn’t take to MTV’s bullshit Cult of Pop, so where do they fit? Merge Records writes that, “McCaughan had a duo of fictional teen goths in mind and followed them on their journey of growing into adulthood and transitioning into a world they weren’t sure they’d accept.” Acceptance is finding out where you fit in. McCaughan fits in where he always has–unassumingly belting out straightforward lyrics behind the mic and pumping out tight little riffs from his home studio.

Portastatic LP Discography

  • I Hope Your Heart Is Not Brittle (Merge, 1994)
  • Slow Note From a Sinking Ship (Merge, 1995)
  • The Nature of Sap (Merge, 1997)
  • Summer of the Shark (Merge, 2003)
  • Bright Ideas (Merge, 2005)
  • Be Still Please (Merge, 2006)
  • Some Small History (Merge, 2008)

Tour Dates

  • 05/15/15 Philadelphia, PA Underground Arts
  • 05/16/15 New York, NY Baby’s All Right
  • 05/21/15 Atlanta, GA 529 Bar
  • 05/22/15 Asheville, NC The Mothlight
  • 05/23/15 Carrboro, NC Cat’s Cradle Back Room
  • 05/24/15 Wilmington, NC Bourgie Nights
  • 05/28/15 Birmingham, AL Saturn
  • 05/29/15 Nashville, TN The Stone Fox
  • 05/30/15 Chicago, IL 26 Comedy Festival
  • 06/07/15 Durham, NC Motorco Music Hall
  • 07/23/15 Denver, CO The Underground Music Showcase
  • 07/23/15 Chicago, IL Schubas

w/ Flesh Wounds

Jacco Gardner - Hypnophobia

Jacco Gardner – Hypnophobia

The Beard – EP 117 – Jacco Gardner by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Hypnophobia comes from a place where fears, darkness and creativity collide, like a slightly scary lucid dream. Click To Tweet
Jacco Gardner - Hypnophobia

Jacco Gardner’s new album Hypnophobia is kaleidoscopic in musical scope

If bands could have babies, and the Kinks and the Beach Boys were seriously dating, thinking about moving in with each other, thinking about the future, if they were committed to a purity of baroque pop, and were out to dinner with Syd Barrett and Serge Gainsbourg, the result — their love child might be Jacco Gardner. The Dutch multi-instrumentalist’s latest album, Hypnophobia, released by Polyvinyl, is a study of clarity in the midst of a dream. It recalls the sounds of the past without being being derivative, and builds on the history of esoteric classical tinged pop with a keen ear for melody honed by cutting edge production.

I came up with the title “Hypnophobia” while falling asleep and part of my brain just didn’t turn off,” explains Gardner. “I often have trouble letting go of reality, even though I prefer the world in my dreams… Hypnophobia comes from a place where fears, darkness and creativity collide, like a slightly scary lucid dream. Fearing a loss of control definitely plays a big part of it.”

Part Lewis Carroll part Harry Nilson, Gardner’s first album Cabinet of Curiosities (Trouble In Mind, 2013), provided a taste of his kaleidoscopic fairytale kingdom to come. He began playing as member of band The Skywalkers, occasionally joined the Allah Las on keyboards, and jammed with Frank Maston. “Touring all over the world has completely changed me,” he says. “I’ve seen places I’d never seen before or didn’t even know existed. I think Hypnophobia has got some of its adventurous character from all those amazing experiences.”

Jacco Gardner – Hypnophobia

One of the more refreshing things about Gardner, and Hypnophobia in general, is its fearlessness. It brashly, and meticulously explores the vast playland of pop’s rules, and declares that lush baroque instrumental tracks do in fact have a central place on the musical rainbow. He is not just playing any old instruments–the record features a Wurlitzer electric piano, mellotrons, harpsichords, an Optigan, and an antique Steinway upright piano. Comparisons to John Maus, and Tame Impala, stand up next to seemingly incompatible artists such as Syd Barrett and Curt Boettcher, and the air of Stereolab is never far off. Yet despite his addiction to vintage instruments, he seems to be an unapologetic tech-wunderkind, “Hypnophobia is the next step into an alternate reality influenced by the present. I’m so inspired by today’s technology that many things I do were not possible in the past.”

Recorded entirely at Gardner’s Shadow Shoppe Studio located in the heart of an industrial estate in the peaceful and pastoral village of Zwaag, 30 miles north of Amsterdam, Gardner played all instruments except for drums (provided by live band member Jos van Tol and latest addition Nic Niggebrugge). Artist Julian House – who has created album art for Stereolab and Broadcast, did the throwback imagery for the album. It seems as if Jacco Gardner’s visions for his music are as vivid as the lucid dream he had presaging the album itself. If so, we are in for some excellent albums–and hopefully film scores, symphonies, Spacestation concertos, et al–to come.

Tour Dates

Jacco Gardner - Hypnophobia

Jacco Gardner – Cabinet of Curiosities

05/06 – Tourcoing, France @ Grand Mix
05/07 – Luxembourg, Luxembourg @ Floor
05/08 – Lyon, France @ Epicerie Moderne
05/10 – Brussels, Belgium @ Les Nuits Botanique
05/11 – Bordeaux, France @ Barbey Rock School Club
05/13 – Barcelona, Spain @ Le 2 De Apolo
05/14 – Valencia, Spain @ El Loco
05/15 – Madrid, Spain @ El Sol
05/16 – Lisboa, Portugal @ Music Box
05/17 – Porto, Portugal @ Hard Club
05/18 – Orense, Spain @ Auditorio de Orense
05/19 – San Sebastian, Spain @ Intxaurrondo
05/21 – Capri, Italy @ Mattatoio
05/22 – Ravenna, Italy @ Hana Bi
05/23 – Padova, Italy @ Mame
05/24 – Vienna, Austria @ Arena
05/26 – Munich, Germany @ Kranhalie – Feierwerk
05/27 – Berlin, Germany @ Private Club
05/28 – Hamburg, Germany @ Molotow Club
05/29 – Copenhagen, Denmark @ Loppen
05/30 – Oslo, Norway @ Revolver
05/31 – Stockholm, Sweden @ Strand
06/04 – Rotterdam, Netherlands @ Rotown
06/05 – Eindhoven, Netherlands @ Psych Lab – Effenaar
06/06 – Maastricht, Netherlands @ Muziekgieterj
06/10 – Philadelphia, PA @ Milkboy
06/11 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade [Northside Festival]
06/12 – Brooklyn, NY @ Northside Festival
06/14 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Upstairs
06/16 – Montreal, QC @ Bar Le “Ritz” P.D.B.
06/17 – Toronto, ON @ NXNE
06/18 – Toronto, ON @ NXNE
06/19 – Cleveland, OH @ Happy Dog
06/20 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
06/21 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
06/23 – Missoula, MT @ Stage 112
06/24 – Seattle, WA @ The Sunset Tavern
06/25 – Vancouver, BC @ The Fox Cabaret
06/26 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
07/02 – Tucson, AZ @ The Flycatcher
07/03 – El Paso, TX @ Lowbrow Palace
07/06 – New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jack’s
07/07 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
07/09 – Asheville, NC @ New Mountain Theatre
07/10 – Indianapolis, IN @ Joyful Noise Records
07/11 – Columbus, OH @ Community Music Fest at Seventh Son Brewing Co.
07/17 – Leeuwarden, Netherlands @ Welcome To The Village
09/04 – Gardenstown, UK @ End of the Road Festival
^ w/ Ultimate Painting
# w/ White Fence
? w/ Roky Erickson
& w/ Twerps
$ w/ Happyness
@ w/ Broncho
! w/ Eerie Wanda

Blur - The Magic Whip

Blur – The Magic Whip

The Beard – EP 116 – Blur by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Blur - The Magic Whip

Blur – The Magic Whip (Parlophone)

Blur is back. Maybe. The only thing anyone knows is that the album, The Magic Whip is out and will likely be supported with one of their patented world tours. Despite not having released an album in more than a decade, Blur played a handful of UK dates in 2009 and added another handful plus a few European dates in 2012. They went on a world tour of untypical concert sites in 2013, hitting the big cities in South America, but also Jakarta, Istanbul, Mexico City as well as playing in out of the way spots in France and Poland in between two dates in Sapulpa and Edmond, Oklahoma, their only two U.S. summer shows, adding a Sacramento show in the fall. Blur have always been successfully iconoclastic, celebrating change and evolving at the right time. Take for example the success of their eponymous 1997 album, when they had had Cool Brittanica by the bollocks, they thumb their nose at the music establishment’s expectations and produce an album (13) of a darker, less-poppy songs that focus more on experimental elements of electronica while still being accessible and well-received both critically and commercially. Personal issues and evolving ideas of what Blur was brought about Coxon’s extended sabbatical, eventually the album Think Tank and the beginning of Albarn’s Gorillaz project.

With the waning of that glammy guitar-driven Britpop sound around 1997, the boys from Blur began to get that 7-year itch and began individually exploring the world for musical inspiration. While drummer Dave Rowntree got into local politics and bassist Alex James regularly writing for The Sun as well as Esquire (and is apparently an accomplished cheesemaker), Albarn delved into a more tribal sound, mixing it up with elements of dub and hip-hop, began foreshadowing his move to Gorillaz. Ever the consummate restless artist it seemed that Coxon’s frustrations began spilling over into the band and life and he had to wander his own way. Amicable or not, the band split up and Albarn co-produced Think Tank with the perrennial rhythm section of James and Rowntree, plus a host of featured musicians. Perhaps the absence of Coxon allowed the trio the confidence to explore areas previously deemed to outre, and it culminated in arguably their finest collection of songs. What began with 13 and took off with Think Tank has come round full circle with The Magic Whip.

...result is a cosmic electro-rock hybrid that feels organic and down to earth. If only everyone had five days in Hong Kong to get their shit together. Click To Tweet

Blur – The Magic Whip

Released April 27th, The Magic Whip will be the band’s first studio album since Think Tank (2003), although the first since 13 that will see the equal influence of guitarist Graham Coxon. The cover features the Chinese pictograms 模糊 魔鞭 (lit. Blur Magic-whip) in neon, meant in part to convey Art director Tony Hung’s impressions of Albarn’s photos and ideas from the Hong Kong recording session. “An ice cream in the UK, a firework in China and a ‘whip’ in a political sense. These extremes would reflect the different textures, breadth and depth of the album.” Having recorded the majority of the music in 2013 at Avon Studios over a five-day stint while stranded in the city due to a canceled Tokyo concert, the artwork seems to feed into that harried, raw feel of the the time and place that the recording came together.

Blur - The Magic Whip

The Magic Whip Tour in July

It was not all kismet and divine planning however, as the 15 songs that came out of the session had no lyrics, as Albarn didn’t have the necessary time to to get the anything down. Hence why it took two years to produce an album that took five days to record. Albarn commented that “sometimes, if you can’t do it all at once, it dissipates really and I don’t know what I’d sing about now with that record. There’s some great tunes on there, but it may just be one of those records that never comes out.” So passed 2013 and most of 2014, with Albarn recording and supporting his first true solo album, Everyday Robots. Having stopped off in Hong Kong again to get a feel for the city that created the songs that yet had no words, the longtime frontman searched for inspiration while Coxon worked on the songs with producer Stephen Street, well known from his work with The Smiths as well as pre-13 Blur albums. Once set in motion, vocals were quickly recorded in January 2015 and the album was mastered in February 2015.

It takes approximately ten seconds to feel that the best of Blur is back–the thrumming, advancing syncopation of the best rhythm section Brit-pop ever produced with Coxon’s distinctively strange and wonderful approach to punk guitar riffs–with new ideas that feel like a proper progression. Floating apart and self-experimentation instigated growth that is at once more evident on “New World Towers” than the traditional feeling opener “Lonesome Street” has helped the boys be able to mix and mingle contrasting styles of play in a provocative style. Early single “Go Out” feels like a fun and slippery guitar ride down a neon-lit rain-soaked sidestreet while “Ice Cream Man” starts out with synthesized Gorillaz feel that is able to meld the acoustic guitar and drums into a tune with a catchy yet forlorn refrain. “Thought I Was A Spaceman” dives deeper into the dark heart of a tale of unknown lives while “There Are Too Many of Us” feels like symphony cramped in a Kowloon elevator. The overall feel is that the band is making music rather than playing instruments, something they’ve always excelled at, but now with the addition of a wider variation of styles and experiences, the result is a cosmic electro-rock hybrid that feels organic and down to earth. If only everyone had five days in Hong Kong to get their shit together.

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