Album Review: Emeli Sandé – Long Live The Angels

Emeli Sande Long Live The Angels
Standard

Emeli Sandé – Long Live The Angels

I first became aware of Emeli Sandé when my younger sister sang her hit single “Next To Me” at my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary ceremony. I was taken by the power of it, so made it my business to seek out the original artist. Turns out that Sandé was a pretty big deal – beating chart records set by The Beatles and boosting the biggest selling record of 2012. Four years later, Sandé has released her follow up album, Long Live The Angels.

Long Live The Angels is explores Sandé’s identity. Her half-Zambian, half-Scottish heritage, her failed marriage and strained relationships, her aspirations and desires realised since she dropped her medical studies to pursue a music career. Here is someone who reached such great heights with her début album, but lost herself in the process. Long Live The Angels is the story of a powerful singer desperately climbing back up to her former throne.

“Selah” starts the album with a powerful tone. Sandé shows off her gorgeous voice by reducing the instrumentation to a minimum, and instead using the service of a goosebump-inducing choir to add ambiance to her poetic singing. The gospel overtones continue with the uplifting first single “Breathing Underwater” – a euphoric victory cry in ballad form.

I love the production on this album. Everything feels very deliberate. By reducing the amount of instruments in each song, Sandé has more space to let her voice take center stage. Take for example “Sweet Architect”. It’s just piano and vocals, with choral harmonies and organ used to add depth towards the end. But it makes an impact.

In “Happen” we feel Sandé’s despair and loss, until a guitar chimes in – almost squealing – and Sandé answers defiantly. “Hurts” adds urgency with a fast hand-clapped beat and brass section.  Lovely acoustic guitar number “Give Me Something”, however, feels more simple, yet effective.

The album takes a sharp turn half way through, with a more contemporary pop approach. Jay Electronica lays down some rapping for a verse in “Garden”, and the next track “I’d Rather Not” features hip-hop drumming. The two songs don’t fit well within the context of the rest of the album. Compared to the more soulful other songs, these more urban tracks feels forced – with “Garden” in particular clearly manufactured with the intention of becoming a hit. Album closer “Babe” and a few of the bonus tracks come close to straying into this territory as well.

Not to let these urban intrusions derail the album, Sandé saves one of the best tracks for later – the feel good family affair “Tenderly” – a nod to her Zambian heritage. From here on in the mood feels lighter and more carefree. Using her voice to convey emotion and gravitas works, but injecting fun energy into tracks like “Highs and Lows” is simply more enjoyable.

Long Live The Angels feels emotionally raw, covering the entire spectrum from desperation to elation. Sandé uses the album as her phoenix fire, emerging from heartbreak and loss to rise stronger than before. The production is stunning, but not nearly as impressive as her voice.

Simple, effective, and emotional: Long Live The Angels is a defiant statement from a talented singer claiming back her stake in the music industry

Joseph James

Live Review: Name UL and Drax Project – Choice(s) Release Show

Name Ul Choices Album Launch San Fran Wellington
Standard

Name UL featuring Drax Project

w/ Eastern Bloc and Maxwell Young

San Francisco Bathhouse, Wellington

Friday 2 September 2016

Name UL and Drax Project San Fran Wellington (2)

Image: Will Not Fade

Name UL (real name Emanuel Psathas) has been making waves in the local hip hop scene for years now, which is all the more impressive considering his young age. He has opened for some of the more notable hip hop acts to arrive on these shores for years now, including the likes of Jurassic 5, Freddie Gibbs, Schoolboy Q, Vince Staples and Earl Sweatshirt. And his work within the scene has paid off, landing him a song writing job in LA to start next year.

Thursday saw the release of Psathas’ first  full length, Choice(s), and Friday saw the album come to life at the San Francisco Bathhouse in Wellington.

Name UL and Drax Project San Fran Wellington (3)

Image: Will Not Fade

This was it: two years of writing and recording finally coming to fruition. Sure, some of the songs were from older EPs, but most of this material was new. Was it going to measure up?

Short answer: yes. Yes, yes, and then some. Psathas actually admitted that he was quite nervous, but he needn’t have worried. Choice(s) debuted at number one one the iTunes NZ hip hop charts, and number seven overall. And it translated just as successfully live.  The audience lapped it all up with vigour – both new and old material. There was no mistaking that the new material hit the spot, judging from how enthusiastically everyone was dancing and grooving along to the music.

Name Ul San Fran Wellington.JPG

Image: Will Not Fade

The set started with Name UL on the mic and DJ Heist Beats on the decks. People were singing along to the familiar songs like “My Side”. It sounded great. And then it got better. Matt Beachen from Drax Project joined in on drums, and then the rest of the Drax crew joined during the following song. The extra live instrumentation really added to the mix. How often do you hear someone ripping it up on a sax at a rap show?

I’ve only seen a few hip hop acts with live bands (The Roots, David Dallas with The Daylight Robbery), but I think that hip hop within a live band context is far superior to having a DJ or laptop providing the beats. With more happening onstage, there is more to watch and take in, as well as the extra layers of music building upon each other.

Name UL and Drax Project San Fran Wellington (7)

Image: Will Not Fade

I saw Immortal Technique – one of my more highly rated rappers -play San Fran years ago and his sound was horrendous. By contrast, last night Name UL was slaying the crowd with the most incredible sound and energy. It was also nice to hear Drax Project back on form under a different setting, after poor sound mixing marred their own otherwise-untouchable album release three months ago. They’re a diverse group of musicians who know how to adapt to different settings- progressing from crowd-drawing buskers to the next big thing, and casually adding hip-hop backing band to their résumé along the way.

I’ve only seen Name UL play support sets to dates. And he did well, but in those situations people had paid to see international headliners, not a kid from Wellington. The reception tonight was exponentially better than the lukewarm reaction I’d seen during those early instances. For this show, people were excited to be there – bouncing around and loving the atmosphere. And fair enough too – the sound was great, the tunes were fresh, and the addition of Drax Project helped to make the show even better.

Name UL and Drax Project San Fran Wellington (8)

Image: Will Not Fade

Two years of writing and recording, finally realised in a live context. I can see why Psathas would have been nervous playing a lot of untested new material. But all that work paid off, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the show was a complete success. Everywhere I looked during the set people were dancing, bouncing, singing and generally enjoying themselves – both on and off stage.

Do yourself a favour and check out Choice(s). And if you get the chance, catch Name UL live. Because if you don’t, the next opportunity may be when he’s selling out shows in LA.

Joseph James


NAME UL – CHOICE(S) OUT NOW  

iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/nz/album/choice-s/id1148581235?at=10lrHH&app=itunes

Apple Music – https://itunes.apple.com/nz/album/choice-s/id1148581235?ls=1

Deezer – http://www.deezer.com/album/13916774

Google Play – https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Name_UL_Choice_s?id=Bjfxqeus6hxt2rm6efrhjwxcqdi

Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/album/3C0O00SagxGcr4KFnCCuvj

Live Review: Jay Power at Meow, Wellington

Jay Power NZ tour
Standard

 

Jay Power

w/ Spitfire

Meow, Wellington

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Last week when I interviewed Adelaide singer Jay Power I asked her to convince me that it was worth coming out to her gig on Wednesday night. She simply listed the musicians playing, and I could tell just from those names that the quality musicianship would be enough to make it worthwhile.

SPitfire MEow Wellington Jay Power.jpg

Image: Will Not Fade

First up was Wellington trio Spitfire, bringing a spontaneous experimental vibe to the evening. They had loose points of the arrangements agreed upon to navigate their playing, but most of it was improvised. The three musos onstage were clearly having a blast, exchanging glances and bouncing ideas off each other as they worked together to evolve their tunes. Ed Zuccolo held the bass down and led the melody simultaneously with his signature mini moog set up. Drummer Myele Manzanza pushed the time signatures and messed around with the flow. His fills and flourishes were disarmingly fast, and you could see him cracking up as he tried new and interesting approaches to see what would fit within the song.  Justin Firefly Clarke rounded out the tunes on guitar, fleshing out the sound with plenty of whammy.

The hour long set was thoroughly enjoyable. The band clearly had a blast messing around onstage, and I was enthralled with the sheer talent in front of me.

Jay Power Wellington Meow

Image: Will Not Fade

Headliner Jay Power arrived onstage exuding confidence, rocking a fur jacket that would earn Macklemore’s respect. Not only did she look the part, but she had a powerful voice to match. It was one of the colder Wellington days in a long time, not that you’d think it with the warm vibes and live energy that Power and her band brought with them.

They offered up a great selection of groovy pop-meet-soul-meets-jazz-meets-funk numbers from Power’s recent  album The Missing, as well as a slightly tongue-in-cheek cover of Ginuwine’s “Pony”- “My guilty little pleasure”, as Power put it.

A sign with “No Scat

13975506_10154343562672158_4710026315022816709_o

Image: Cat Power

” written on it had been placed on the wall just side of stage, next to a stuffed dead wallaby. If I hadn’t been to Meow before I would have wondered if this were a deliberate placement. Nevertheless, Power acknowledged the sign, and then cheekily threw some scat into her next song as a sign of defiance.

Following on from the talent of Spitfire was no easy task, but Power and her band managed to keep the bar high as they delivered song after song.Her band members were impressively tight, considering that they had only just recently assembled for this tour. Their sound was crisp, and although they were all seasoned players, I was surprised at how well they had gelled in the the limited time they’d had to do so.

They played to a backing track, so I guess that they had no room for error. Power’s long time guitarist Mikey Chan provided guitar squeals and solos between riffs, and Hollie Smiths’ rhythm section of Darren Mathiassen and Marika Hodgson kept it flowing on drums and five string bass, respectively. And of course they all did an amazing job of support Jay herself, who wailed her way through the set with classy showmanship.

I had been somewhat hesitant to resist the call of my bed and venture out to a a bar to see some bands on a chilly Winter night. I’m so glad that I did though, because the sheer talent was outstanding.


Jay Power is also playing up North over the next few days. Details below.

Friday August 12 – The Old Stone Butter Factory Whangarei

Tickets available here

Saturday 13 August/ Sun 14 August – Bay of Islands Jazz & Blues Festival

 

Interview: Jay Power

Jay Power
Standard

Soulful Australian singer Jay Power is crossing the Tasman to play Meow in Wellington on Wednesday night next week, before heading north for a show at The Old Stone Butter Factory in Whangarei on Friday, and four slots at Bay of Islands Jazz & Blues Festival over the weekend. Will Not Fade shot off some questions to try and get a taste for what to expect at Jay’s shows.

Hi Jay, how are you?

Pretty pumped to be coming to New Zealand for the first time. I hear it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and I will see it for myself!

I can’t argue with that. I’m sure that you will agree when you see for yourself soon enough. For the uninitiated, how do you explain your sound to first time listeners? And what song would you play to show what you are all about?

It’s pop music with soul and jazz flavours over funk and hip hop beats. ‘When You Got Love’ might be a good indication of how I like to play. Laid back grooves with and upbeat feeling.

You’ve just switched from using your real name to the Jay Power moniker. Did this change represent something more?  

It’s partly practical (less letters, more simple ….Google approves) but it’s also liberating to reinvent myself artistically and enter a new phase in my career, which is what I was doing with the music too. I’ve enjoyed doing something new with a new name that’s punchy and to the point.

Sounds good to me. Following on from that, what is your reaction to the following short clip?

It never gets boring, it’s genius every time.

Your bio states that you were a finalist for South Australian Female Artist of the year last year. Tell me about what that involved.

It’s a yearly awards ceremony to recognise what’s happening in the local scene. I’d just released my album and I was nominated as a result of that. It was nice to be recognised by my peers, but I think the best bit about the event was being a part of something bigger and seeing what other artists are creating and achieving. And buying a new dress for it was pretty cool too.

Nice! In fact, your overall bio is an impressive read. What do you consider you greatest achievement to date?

Really? Thanks! The thing I’m most proud of is my album, a labour of love two years in the making alongside some of my favourite people in this world. It’s a big deal, making and album and it’s hard to make something that’s interesting and true to yourself, I think we mostly achieved that.

On this upcoming tour you’ve got both headlining shows, and festival slots. Does each type of performance require a different approach?

Yes it does and that’s part of the adventure. You connect with people in a different way each time and it brings something new out in your performance. In fact on this tour it’s even more varied since we’re playing at a jazz festival, so we might sneak in a jazz tune or two.

Your band boasts an impressive line-up. How did you manage to secure such talent?

Last year I had the pleasure of supporting Hollie Smith while she was touring in Australia. Darren Mathiassen and Marika Hodgeson (both from NZ) played in Hollie’s band and I was of course, super impressed. When I knew I was coming to New Zealand I got in touch to see if they would play with me – lucky me, they said yes. I’m also bringing Mikey Chan with me from Melbourne Australia, we just toured England together and he’s a pretty special guitarist.

You’re playing Wellington on a Wednesday night. Convince me that it’s worth missing out on sleep to come out and see your show.

It’s a Wednesday. What could you possibly be doing on a Wednesday that’s better than coming out to see seriously soul musicians in a great venue like Meow? Add to that the opportunity to see Spitfire play (Myele Manzanza, Ed Zuccolo and Justin Firefly – hell yes!) and I can guarantee Netflix simply can’t compare.

Consider me convinced! Ed Zuccolo used to play with Adam Page a lot so he is a drawcard for me in his own right. I can imagine that you will be busy on this upcoming tour, but you are travelling through some incredible parts of the country. Do you have any non-music plans for your time in New Zealand?

There will be non-music travel activities, but I don’t know what they are yet. I plan to go with the beautiful flow and see everything there is to see along the way. From my understanding I won’t be stuck for things to see and do.

You will be spolit for choice, trust me. I love my hometown of Wellington, and the places up north are stunning. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I hope to see you play at Meow on Wednesday.

Thanks for the interview Joseph.

J Jay xx


JAY POWER LINKS

Website

Facebook

Soundcloud

Twitter

YouTube

Instagram


NEW ZEALAND SHOW DATES

Wednesday August 10 – Meow Wellington, with special guest Spitfire

Tickets available here

Friday August 12 – The Old Stone Butter Factory Whangarei

Tickets available here

Saturday 13 August/ Sun 14 August – Bay of Islands Jazz & Blues Festival

 

Album Review: Broods – Conscious

Broods Conscious
Standard

Sibling pop duo Broods hail from my hometown of Nelson. I’ve seen them play once, opening for Ellie Goulding in Wellington. They showed promise at the time, but their sound seemed incomplete. Not bad, but just needing a bit more to boost their sound.

Broods rose of fame on the strength of their debut song “Bridges”, which seemingly garnered international attention overnight. When news broke that the pair had teamed up with Joel Little, the producer behind Lorde, it seemed inevitable that Broods would go far.

While the debut eponymous EP, and following album Evergreen were strong, the solemn and ethereal feel didn’t always grab the listeners attention. Conscious, by contrast, has some stronger tracks that get in your face.

Take, for example, lead single “Free”. Georgia draws us in with a strong acapella, before the industrial beat and the haunting wail solidify the song. It’s edgier and more anthemic than their previous material, signifying a stronger new sound for Broods.

Whether darker, punchier, or more upbeat, most of the songs on this album sound like a musical step up from previous works. “Are You Home” sounds reminiscent of Naked and Famous, with a very “Punching In A Dream” sounding intro, and an overall feel that would sit well on a pulsating dancefloor. Likewise, “We Have Everything”, “Full Blown Love” and “Hold The Line” are infectious and fun.

There are some big players of the pop world adding their touches to the album. “Heartlines” will draw the inevitable Lorde comparisons, seeing as Yelich-O’Connor herself helped to co-write this track. It features one of the more memorable choruses of the album, although with all the radio play it receives, of course it’s more likely to remain in your head. Tove Lo also makes an appearance in “Freak Of Nature”, a tender ballad more reminiscent of the older Broods sound.

As Broods have blown up, they have needed to step up their game to justify their popularity. Conscious ushers in a fuller sound, with multiple layers of production really fleshing out mix to make for a more gratifying listen. Gone is the bare synth/vocals combo, with the industrial style drumming and gorgeous multi-level sung harmonies making a welcome impact. The closing title track showcases this best, with Kanye-esque synths, and a chanting choir making the song sound immense.

This second Broods album is bigger, bolder, more deliberate sounding, and more, well… Conscious.

Joseph James