Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ten of the best albums of 2014

2014 was another fantastic year for music. Not only did we see the continued rise of game-changing youngsters like FKA Twigs, Marika Hackman, George Ezra and the brilliant Lorde, but also the return of some of the true greats of the past few years with fresh new albums – cue Sia, Lamb and Annie Lennox. That's not to mention the chart-toppers like Ed Sheeren and those making waves on the underground scene at the other end, like Merrill Garbus with her tUnE-yArDs collective and YouTube DJs Eton Messy.

It was all happening live too. Kate Bush commenced on a truly historic comeback tour, while Fleetwood Mac and Blondie brought the sounds of the 1970s and 80s back to our stages respectively. In a vintage year (which I was sad to miss), Glastonbury welcomed to the Pyramid Stage country legend Dolly Parton, heavy metal veterans Metallica and former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant.

Before you say it, I have of course missed out an infinite number of artists, trends and new sounds that may have dominated your radios, playlists and YouTube searches over the course of 2014. What the following list comprises of are the albums which, for me, were outstanding and which dominated my year and found a place in my everyday life and listening. Please do tell me what your list would include in the comments box below – I would love to hear about the music that's been important to your year.

All that's left for me to say is happy listening – and Happy New Year!

RP x

Ten of the best albums of 2014

10. Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste

Why: After Azaelia Banks broke into the charts fiercely with the fresh, explicit and extremely catchy single 212 in 2011, it took three years for her to release her debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste. A finger up to the "group of old white guys she has to consult about her black girl craft" no doubt, it is a bold set of imaginatively-produced hip-hop and dance tracks.

What the critics said: "Broke With Expensive Taste shows why people got excited about Banks in the first place, even if it remains a niche concern" – Alex Macpherson, Guardian

9. George Ezra: Wanted On Voyage

Why: George Ezra has a voice way beyond his years and his songs are upbeat, original and instantly memorable. This was the perfect summer release.

What the critics said: "Playing guitar, bass and keyboards, Ezra delivers structurally simple songs with enormous gusto, suggesting an uncynical, joyous release in the very act of making music" – Neil McCormick, Telegraph

8. Zola Jesus: Taiga

Why: I discovered Zola Jesus in my third year at university and have had her on my bucket list of performers to see live ever since. The opportunity came at the end of October when she was touring her new album, Taiga. One of the best live performers I have ever seen, the American singer-songwriter is a powerhouse of unbeatable vocals and true dedication to her music.

What the critics said: "A torch singer sonically shrouded in black lace, operatically trained Nika Roza Danilova’s fifth album borrows as much from Barbra Streisand as it does James Blake" – Leonie Cooper, NME 

7. Chet Faker: Built On Glass

Why: Chet Faker was another artist I was lucky enough to see live in 2014. A shit-hot producer with a distinctive voice, his debut album is a masterclass in how to do stripped-back electronica really, really well. I knew his voice before I knew him through his collaborations with Flume. Also outside this album, check out his brilliant cover of 90s classic No Diggity.

What the critics said: "Despite having the kind of voice that would make your mother go weak at the knees, Chet Faker also has a strong left-field sensibility that appeals to those more discerning music aficionados out there. This record is intelligent, succinct in its ambitions, and more than anything, it’s pretty bloody cool" – Stephen Jenkins, Line of Best Fit

6. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold

Why: These Swedish girls have a place very close to my heart. Bearers of warm, earnest Americana-inspired country music, they make songs with beautiful melodies and rich harmonies. Stay Gold seemed to make the arrival of summer official in 2014.

What the critics said: "Stay Gold, finds First Aid Kit's close harmonies as honey-drenched as ever. Closer to country than folk, the album sounds as if it’s aimed at cracking the United States, where they have a burgeoning following." – James Hall, Telegraph

5. SOHN: Tremors

Why: Singles by SOHN filled out my soundtrack to trips to Jersey and Bulgaria in 2013 and 2014 and when the full album came out in April I was not disappointed. Listen to The Wheel and Lights in the playlist below to hear how well the English producer/singer-songwriter builds his melancholic songs into fantastic dance tunes.

What the critics said: "Like a soulman version of OG selfie pioneer Cindy Sherman, SOHN casts his falsetto in blues-worthy scenarios – a one-man band balancing songcraft and heady post-dubstep production better than James Blake or Rhye, two inevitable comparisons" – Will Hermes, Rolling Stone

4. Warpaint: Warpaint

Why: In February I saw Warpaint live for the first time. They dazzled me with their LA cool and the songs from their new album. I have loved the record ever since.

What the critics said: "This is a deeply personal record, unequivocally sensual" Eve Barlow, NME

3. SBTRKT: Wonder Where We Land

Why: The second studio album from SBTRKT is just as cool as the first. SBTRKT's (AKA producer Aaron Jerome Foulds) strength lies in collaboration: this fantastic album features among others, Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig (listen to the brilliant NEW YORK, NEW DORP in the playlist below), singer-songwriter Sampha, who features on many of SBTRKT songs and Brooklyn-based singer Caroline Polachek, who's wispy vocals help to make Look Away the edgy and atmospheric track it is.

What the critics said: "Tastefully edgy hip hop" – Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Guardian

2. Lamb: Backspace Unwind

Why: At the end of 2014, I saw Lamb play live twice within the space of a week – in a stipped-back afternoon gig and in a full show that began the Backspace Unwind tour. The electronic duo has been teaming incredible lyrics with trip hop/dubstep-inspired synths since 1996 and they fast became a firm favourite of mine. If you like what Portishead and Massive Attack do, you have to check them out – start with In BinaryNobody Else and Doves & Ravens in the playlist below.

What the critics said: "With the release of their sixth album comes another platter of electronic brilliance that sounds fresh and contemporary" – Amelia Maher, Music OMH

1. FKA Twigs: LP1

Why: In 2014, those of you who are musically-minded probably couldn't turn around without hearing or seeing FKA Twigs mentioned somewhere. As soon as I got wind of a live show in Bristol, I had to go along and experience the phenomenon for myself. The 28-year-old former dancer's debut album is sparse and daring, featuring songs crafted from endlessly interesting new sounds and seductive lyrics. And live she is intoxicating.

What the critics said: "A pervading sense of control and commitment to her art proves that Twigs is set on building the sound of the future all by herself" – Hazel Sheffield, NME

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Sunday, 21 December 2014

A private screening at 20th Century Flicks

20th Century Flicks is a Bristol institution. A traditional video rental shop, it is still open and thriving after more than 30 years of business and has recently moved from Clifton to the quaintly-named Christmas Steps near the centre of Bristol.

The move has given it a more prominent location, a bigger floor space and – most excitingly – room for the Flicks Kino, a cinema for private viewings with a reasonable price tag, the choice of over 18,000 films and a BYO food and drink policy. We couldn't resist.

Yesterday we hired it out (£25 for couples/£50 for groups) for a private viewing of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, something as both a journo and adventurer I have really wanted to see since it came out. Watch the trailer below – it's a brilliantly imagined story of the demise of a print magazine set in some fantastic locations around the world.

We had complete control over the starts, stops and volume of our chosen flick and enjoyed cheese, cold meats, crusty bread and a bit of bubbly with it. The kino is decked out in a nostalgic plush red complete with an elegant chaise lounge and statuette. It's nestled within a decor dominated by exposed brick and inviting towers of DVDs.

A great alternative to Netflix alone in your flat, huh? A gem of a place, I would highly recommend a visit.

Visit: www.20thcenturyflicks.co.uk

Download the soundtrack

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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Pentax MV1

On a fateful day in October I left my very favourite possession – a 1970s Pentax K1000 – to the mercy of the number 75 Bristol bus route. The camera had fallen off my shoulder, tragically unnoticed and never to be seen again.

Denial, anger, depression – I went through all five stages of grief over the ensuing hours. And – worse – I was totally disappointed in myself for losing a camera my mother had bought when she was 16 years old and passed on to me to take with me all over the world – from Berlin to Iceland to the Greek Islands.

Help was soon at hand, though, and from the very fount of generosity that bestowed the original camera on me. My parents had ventured to the Promised Land that is eBay and found me a lovely little Pentax MV1 as a replacement. Forgotten in a dusty corner it seemed, the vendor was asking just £6.50 for the beautiful thing.

A compact 35mm SLR first produced in 1977, the MV1 has an auto function on its shutter speed so everything can be operated more quickly and easily than on the Pentax K1000. It also has a self timer (aka the selfie feature) and large rings to attach the carry strap to. I missed my K1000, but sensed that this was going to be the start of a brand new adventure; I was ready to move on.

And so – here are the first few snaps I have taken on my new Pentax: photographs of the colours and contrasts I have found in and around Bristol over the last couple of weeks. Enjoy.

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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Buy a song to save a life

The Portraits: The Rest of Time Emma Whittaker

English folk duo The Portraits have released a single to raise money for Emma Whittaker, a six-year-old girl who is suffering from a rare genetic condition and who needs a find a donor with her blood type by March. Emma's parents are already promoting their daughter's cause with their online Match 4 Emma and #pantsonyourhead campaigns and you can read Emma's moving story here.

The Rest Of Time features Ethemia and Minnie Birch, as well as the voices of 2000 people from across the UK, recorded by The Portraits over the past year. It's something that brings a huge group of people together to get Emma's message heard far and wide.

Singer Lorraine Reilly Millington of The Portraits says: “We wanted to create a huge national choir by layering the voices of different crowds we played to and every person that has sung will be credited on the single. There are enough people with an interest in its success that reaching the charts is really achievable, and this would make a huge noise for Emma and everyone else searching for a donor!”

She adds: “We’ve had such an amazing reaction from real people as we’ve recorded them. The UK has sung its heart out for one little girl, from Lancaster to Leighton Buzzard, Cornwall to Camden. The results are stunning and the song has a huge momentum behind it. Next stop, the charts!”

The Rest of Time is out on 28 December 2014 and is available to pre-order on iTunes and on CD now. For just 79p, you can help towards this fantastic cause – it's not much is it? So click on one of the buttons below to buy the single!

Watch a short documentary about The Rest Of Time below.


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Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Playlist: Lamb

Electronic duo Lamb (Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow) released their first album in 1996. Eighteen years and seven studio albums later and I have found myself with a very sturdy seat on the Lamb-fan bandwagon. I saw them live twice within two weeks at two very different gigs recently – one on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Bristol's Rise and the other on a dark night at the O2 Academy.

Getting to know 'the old stuff' has of course been wonderful – what better love song is there out there than Cottonwool? And has any song ever carried as much emotional weight as Gabriel? But the great thing about being fairly new to Lamb's music is the luxury to appreciate the 'new stuff' with no bias toward the old.

The most recent album, released just over a month ago, is sublime. 'Backspace Unwind' opens with throbbing synths in In Binary, and includes We Fall in Love, Backspace Unwind and Nobody Else, which all hit it out the park. It is one of those albums that has very quickly becomes symbolic of how I feel about everything at the moment.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the advent of punk

Chris Stein/negative: me, Blondie and the advent of punk, Somerset House

I recently treated myself to a culture + party weekend in London. It was all about Gordon's dingy wine bar, steamy Soho, after-dark underground Dalston and a sleepy Sunday wander through Spitalfields Market

One highlight amidst these was a trip to Somerset House to see the current (free) exhibition of Chris Stein's photographs of his years hanging out with Blondie and the punk set in 1970s and 80s New York, where New Wave ruled with its favourite partners in crime – drugs, booze and sartorialism.

Debbie Harry of course takes fantastic pictures, and this is several rooms of brilliantly nostalgic, edgy and irresistibly hedonistic imagery – what's not to love? Chris Stein is a guitarist and co-founder of Blondie and offers an intimate vision of the band's behind-the-scenes lifestyle with his photographs.

Included in the exhibition is a large pamphlet of two essays by Stein and Harry talking about photography and voyeurism respectively ("I had no idea that Chris was a voyeur when I met him. How could I know? I'm joking... a bit").

It was Stein's piece on the universality of contemporary photography, specifically through Instagram,  that particularly struck me.

"Of late, I really like looking at Instagram. one hundred  fifty million people taking and putting up more than sixteen billion images that's somewhat like the one Cocteau spoke of ['film will only become art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper'].

"Instagram is filled with boring snapshots of pets and food as well as people who are aware of what they are pressing on their 'public.' But every now and then I will come upon an image that is fantastic in its innocence and, some little illuminated square that makes me really wonder if the person who took it knows how good it is."

This is an exhibition simple in curation and concept, but rich in the thought and inspiration it provokes. Catch it before it's gone.

Chris Stein/negative: me, Blondie and the advent of punk runs at Somerset House until Sunday 25 January. 

Visit: somersethouse.org.uk

Photos: Chris Stein/Somerset House

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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Film: Biophilia live

Biophilia: "The passionate love of life and all that is alive" 

– Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973)

On the weekend, Watershed was showing Nick Fenton and Peter Strickland's film of Björk's Biophilia. A stunning spectacle that pairs the 2013 Alexandra Palace live performance with striking visual sequences made by different artists for the album, it makes for wonderful cinematic viewing.

Powerful synth and percussion outbursts bring otherworldly images to life and Björk and her choir set an ethereal atmosphere with their flawless performances. The film is well-paced, with a lovely introduction from David Attenborough and seamless transitions from one song to the next – and between the artwork and performance shots. 

"Welcome to Biophilia: the love for nature in all her manifestations, from the tiniest organism to the greatest red giant floating in the farthest realm of the universe," intones Attenborough's familiar voice at the start of the film. "We are on the brink of a revolution that will reunite humans with nature through new technological innovations. Until we get there: prepare, explore, Biophilia."

Amen to that. For me, highlights in the show are Crystalline, which ends with a fantastic drum 'n' bass-like frenzy of beats, Cosmogony with it's beautiful chorus and Mutual Core, which references diverging tectonic plates and volcanic eruptions. Moon is also gorgeous. The song makes use of the Gravity Harp, a robotic instrument commissioned by Björk and made by Andy Cavatorta.

Having visited Iceland and recently finished writing a piece about Reykjavík for BBC Music Magazine, I have become utterly enamoured with the country and its culture: any mention of it and my ears prick up. So it was pretty special to see one of Iceland's greatest artists expressing her deep love for nature through spectacular sights and sounds. For those of us who weren't lucky enough to catch the 2011 tour, this is not a disappointing alternative. And I have no doubt that it's a great bit of memorabilia for those who did.

Visit: biophiliathefilm.com

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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Bath in Autumn (II)

Bath has to be one of the most beautiful cities in England. One of the country's designated Heritage Cities, its Georgian and Edwardian buildings are dignified and beautiful, arranged in swerving crescents and sturdy columns around the famous Royal Baths. In my opinion, there is no better time to visit than in autumn (I wrote a blog about it last year) when the leaves are changing colour and the air is gearing up for the arrival of winter.

I recently used a day of my annual leave to lengthen my weekend and spend a few hours in Bath. We wandered through the ordered streets and leaf-strewn parks, visiting Urban Outfitters to thrash out a round of Super Mario Kart (yes, really – the Bath UO takes hipster to the next level) and popping in to the new Anthropologie store, before taking stock in a cosy pub.

Another highlight was a visit to Paxton & Whitfield – selling 'exceptional cheese since 1797'. Nothing beats a beautiful round of soft goats cheese with a packet of spicy chorizo crisps eaten on the go.

My favourite part of the day was when the clouds dispersed and a layer of sun turned the tops of the trees and buildings bright yellow. It was a magical end to a perfect holiday Friday.

All photos © Rosie Pentreath (taken on iPhone 4S)

Visit: bath.co.uk

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Monday, 20 October 2014

The Playlist: FKA Twigs

I saw FKA Twigs live in Bristol just over a week ago (read my review here on the IAM blog) and have played her album, LP1, every day since. As I said in my review, the singer-songwriter-(dancer) is utterly incredible live and the debut album is perfection (as are her EPs, the second of which you can hear below).

Opening with an abstract and fragmented 'Preface', the album goes through progressive RnB tracks all worthy of single status. 'Lights On' is perfectly raw yet tender and 'Two Weeks' is instantly catchy with its repetitive throbbing synths. 'Video Girl' is another favourite; one that had a real impact live.

The Mercury-nominated Twigs was formally a dancer, having appeared in videos for Kylie Minogue, Ed Sheeran and Jessie J, the FKA standing for 'formally known as' and the 'Twigs' a reference to her joint-snapping dance moves. With LP1 she has constructed one of those albums that feels perfectly finished and utterly satisfying.

She has an incredible voice and writes fantastic lyrics. I can't wait to hear more from her.

Watch FKA Twigs's brand new video for Google Glass HERE. #throughglass

Visit: xlrecordings.com/fkatwigs

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Anna Calvi, Bath Komedia
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Saturday, 18 October 2014

One Lovely Blog

My lovely friend Laila, who contributes to the blogosphere through Tape Parade, has nominated me for a One Lovely Blog Award post. I feel honoured to be asked – thank you Laila. 

To explain, one Lovely Blog is an award shared from blogger to blogger to promote and praise up-and-coming blogs they like. The rules are very simple – award a blog that you think has lovely content and is worthy of being nominated. If you have been nominated yourself, thank your nominator and answer the questions they have asked to find out more about you. Finally, nominate any of your own blogger friends – et voila! Blogging love...

So, thank you again Laila – and read her fantastic blog! Laila asked me the following questions and I set myself the challenge of answering as spontaneously and quickly as possible.

1. What is your favourite animal?
A red panda – just the other day I was sitting under a heat lamp, watching passers-by in Bristol with my best friend when we agreed on their superiority.

2. What is your favourite meal to cook?
With the winter upon us, a hearty leak and potato soup. Although, nothing beats a goats cheese and butternut squash risotto

3. Do you think the Green Party is underrepresented in current media? (UK centric, sorry)
I certainly think the Green Party is underrepresented. The cliché goes: 'They have environmental policies, but what about everything else?' Of course they have a manifesto covering broader issues; that just doesn't get publicised.

4. When is the last time you took a day off?
The last time I took a day off was for a special trip to Bath with my girlfriend.

5. What do you know about 3D printing and how excited does it make you?
Good question – I am kind of obsessed with 3D printing! I remember when I read about a designer making a 3D-printed range of shoes and later heard about clothing ranges. It got me thinking about construction – will future generations say 'What?! They used to physically build with bricks and mortar?!' I can imagine a world where the skyline is coded in and printed out. After that, I found out that a housing estate had been printed in china.

– RP –

Now I nominate: Polly BartlettThe Back Garden Tourist and Hearts and Hands.

I would love to know:

What are your five favourite albums of all time?
What is your favourite thing about the lead up to Christmas?
Wallpaper or paint?
Winter or summer – and why?
What is your most memorable trip away?

Happy blogging!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Playlist: SBTRKT

SBTRKT Wonder Where We Land

SBTRKT has released another album and (like any normal person should be) I was excited to listen to it as soon as I could. SBTRKT (aka Aaron Jerome) makes my absolute favourite kind of electronic music and Wonder Where We Land is another eclectic collection of great dance tracks.

Highlights for me are the title track featuring Sampha, who was on the last album, Look Away with a heavy piano and sultry vocals from Caroline Polachek, and NEW DORP. NEW YORK, with Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig rapping over the top. It's just cool. 

AND there is a fantastic track that features Warpaint (War Drums) – could it get any better?

Talking about his music in a Guardian interview recently, Jerome said: 'The more I grow as an artist, the more I feel I’m moving away from the speeds of how music is listened to or accepted in this day and age. I want to make something that is super-immersive and that you can find extra layers in with more plays.'

Amen to that.

Visit: sbtrkt.com

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Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Playlist: Alt-J (∆)

Alt-J's new album, All This is Yours, has landed. And – like the debut – it's fantastic.

Like An Awesome Wave, it opens with an Intro and it includes Bloodflood pt. II (a stripped-back, re-orchestrated variation on the original) and a brilliant cover of Bill Withers's Lovely Day (a bonus track).

One of the best songs has to be Every Other Freckle, if only for the lyrics (but of course the sound and melody are great too):

"I’m gonna bed into you like a cat beds into a beanbag / Turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet"

Arrival in Nara and Nara both have the vibe of the beloved Taro from the first album and Hunger of the Pine gives us that fantastic Alt-J sound in a great melody and understated synths.

Lead singer Joe Newman's voice is unique – Warm Foothills shows how nimbly he can jump between the low and high registers with his voice – and there is nothing else quite like Alt-J's carefully considered instrumental combinations, delicate melodies and clever lyrics.

The only thing, for me, is that the new record doesn't have a stand-out track like Tessellate from the first. With repeated listening, one will probably emerge...

Basically, this album had a lot to live up to following An Awesome Wave, one that a thousands-strong crowd loved enough to sing word-for-word and in track order at Glastonbury 2013, and the boys have nailed it.

Visit: altjband.com

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