Michael Kiwanuka- LIVE in Exeter

Michael Kiwanuka doesn’t have to say much. He walks on the stage of the tiny Phoenix, nods slightly at his devoted audience, picks up his guitar, and plays an hour and a half of mesmerising soul. He makes us clap and sway our hips at one moment, and freeze open-mouthed with glisten-eyed wonder at the pure emotion pouring out of one man and an acoustic guitar the next. The room falls silent for these moments, and everyone unites in their imagination of what it’s like to not be white middle-class Devonians in the local arts centre.

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It’s a rare thing when a new album provokes as much audience reaction as a debut. But Michael and band (which were brilliant, and so serious and succinct in what they’re doing) succeed in exciting the crowd with tracks from Love and Hate that aren’t even released singles. I also have an immense amount of respect for an artist that doesn’t play the single that a lot of people know him by, and that put him in the ‘British Folk’ category in 2012. The Home Again single wasn’t even hinted at.

The transition between the two albums is fluent, though, firmly creating the notion that the two, while involving a lot of musical and personal development, provide Kiwanuka with a successful back-catalogue of already-classics.

‘The power went down on the bus today so I couldn’t play Fifa- had to go and actually look around. I like Exeter, I’ll be back’, he says shyly, before closing the set with the epic title single of the new album.

Next time, a full brass section and gospel backing choir please Michael- but for now I’m happy with the soulful authenticity of this 29-year-old Fifa-playing boy from North London.

The tour continues until May next year, with a few more UK dates towards the end. To find out more and get tickets click here.

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Bon Iver- 22, A Million

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Image courtesy of pitchfork.com

Jagjaguwar

5 years after the success of Justin Vernon’s debut record Bon Iver, Bon Iver, the indie folk musician that we thought we knew and loved is back, with a whole new sound that he calls ‘folktronica’- a genre he’s brought back to our attention and into the mainstream through his previous success, but which of course is no new innovation to subculture folk history.

It is, however, a definite shift in Bon Iver’s creative output: there are no more lulling acoustic guitar strums and calming goat-y vocals: Bon Iver is a different, more serious man. The record opens with confused glitching- it’s not until Justin’s beautiful vocal harmonies come in that we’re sure our MP3 file isn’t corrupt, and then we’re drawn into the album, like angels have descended and pulled us up into the disturbing depths of Vernon’s mind. The soft lullaby of the saxophone draws us in further, and suddenly we’re lost in the experimental dream that 22, A Million surely is.

There is no standard song form: the record slowly walks us through the beauty of Bon Iver’s uncertainty about life, his existential insecurity and his clear boredom with just playing his acoustic guitar and singing over the top. Nothing is safe about this record, and nobody can escape the innovative folk world that Vernon’s created.

‘29 #Strafford APTS’ is probably the most recognisable track- still streaked with Bon Iver’s electronic vocal harmonies, but built around a string section, it is more what we might have expected. Neatly slotted almost exactly halfway through the record, it acts as a nice grounding for the listener to grasp a hold of some sense of reality, before lurching straight back into the album.

I don’t think it’s possible to review this album without mentioning the title tracks, which themselves are enough to confuse our already disoriented folk-loving brains- ‘00000 Million’, ’33 “GOD”’… It’s almost enough to make us want to snap straight back to 2011 and forget any of this ever happened. Almost.

Why girls should try travelling alone- The Travel Edit

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Coffee with a view- my hotel room the morning after the night of the panic attack.

When I was 18 I went travelling for three months. Growing up I’d always known I wanted to take a gap year and seek the sun, surf and freedom that travelling provides, but I just didn’t know who to go with. I have a few best friends that I’ve pretty much always had, but their lives were on different tracks, and anyway I’m sure they won’t mind me saying that we’re not the type of people to spent every hour of every day together for an extended period of time.

So it was in this way that I ended up going solo. I wasn’t nervous- I’ve always been reasonably independent and when I set my mind to something there’s no doubting that it’ll happen. My mum and stepdad dropped me off at Plymouth bus depot- on the same day that my school friends were starting freshers week at uni- with a hand luggage-size suitcase, a back-packer-style rucksack and my camera swinging round my neck, my mind full of expectation and a beautiful naivety that would barely last to the service station.

The trip was without a doubt the most eye-opening period of my admittedly short life.

There were times (my first night away- a hotel room in Hong Kong, frantically Skyping mum, jet lag ridden and mid-panic attack) where I thought I couldn’t do it. Times when I was fed up of the voice inside my head, constantly over-thinking everything and talking myself out of situations that a less anxiety plagued friend would have easily been able to talk me into.

But then a wonderful thing happened.

I learnt to find strength within that inner-voice, while listening to it when it mattered and controlling it when I needed to. I learnt to trust myself, follow my instincts, learn from my mistakes without blaming anyone else, and have an absolute resolve in my own ability to do anything. Yeah, I checked my passport a hundred times on the bus to Heathrow. Yeah, I had to ask a lot of strangers to take my photo in front of views that I could have been sharing with someone, but you know what? Sharing something beautiful with yourself is so special; you’re the only person that has that memory, and I think that’s pretty cool.

You’re also going to make more friends when you go solo, instead of just falling out with the ones you’ve come travelling with. There’s nothing worse than that couple who won’t talk to anyone else on holiday, or the group of girls that make you feel excluded in the hostel. I made so many amazing friends from all over the world, who taught me so much, and whom I’ll never forget.

The world isn’t always as horrible as we make it out to be.

My mum left home and went travelling alone when she was in her early twenties, and ended up living in Saudi Arabia, working and travelling for most of the decade. She trusts me a damn sight more now that she’s seen that I can go it alone too, and I’m proud that I can be just as strong and independent as her.

My gap year changed my life in that where I used to have an itch to travel, I now have a full-blown, flame-red rash. I go without things other girls my age spend their student loan on- a new phone or weekly nights out- and I travel as much as I can. Planning trips, researching the best places to hang out, but also just exploring and getting lost… I love everything that comes hand-in-hand with having being bitten by the bug, and my permanently itchy feet have become a necessary and enriching part of my life.

So go forth and get lost, and please don’t be afraid to do it alone.