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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Michael Kiwanuka- Love and Hate

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Image courtesy of iTunes 

Polydor Records

Michael Kiwanuka returns this year with the much awaited (by me, anyway) Love and Hate. After four years of apparent heartbreak and a self-reflective existential crisis, the 29-year-old is back, having painfully injected even more soul into his music while exploring a number of personal and social issues that cause even my little middle-class-white-girl heart to ache.

The record opens with frosty strings and echoing choir chords in the 10-minute epic ‘Cold Little Heart’. After a euphoric four minutes of tension building, the rhythm section kicks in almost with relief, and the electric guitar cuts through the fog with its shrieking melody, reminding fans of the beauty of the first album. Kiwanuka’s vocals sound authentically pained and melancholy, as he bleats: ‘I’m bleeding, my cold little heart.’

The album continues, with a reasonable proportion of anguished ballads and punchy blues numbers. ‘Black Man in a White World’ is as bluesy as it gets, with casually strummed acoustic guitar, praise-like-clapping and a simple repeated bass line. The subject is just as bluesy, reminding the modern listener how important the soul revival still is- ‘I feel like I’ve been here before/ I feel that knocking at my door.’ The funk influences (‘Place I Belong’) draw out even more sophisticated cool, and the transition from horns (which were plastered all over the first album) into the dominating strings that ring out on this record, seems like a suitable step up into more grown-up themes.

The debut, Home Again, won the Critics’ Choice Award upon its release in 2012, but Love and Hate takes a place of its own amongst the voices of Otis Reading and Marvin Gaye, to name-drop just a couple of dominions of this realm. Kiwanuka has taken it into a new level, and it’s a height at which I hope he stays.

My Paris To-Do List- The Travel Edit

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My recent trip to Paris held so much expectation, I was almost more nervous than excited. It was everything I wanted to be, and more. That made it pretty tough to narrow down my 8 food/ shopping /cultural picks, but maybe it’ll help if you fancy a city break, or, like me, you just like reading about other people’s holidays and wanderlust-ing from your desk.

 

FOOD-

Fromagarie Denard- Cheese, meats, bread, wine- what more could you want? The people who work in this small street-side deli are friendly, and clearly so passionate about what they’re selling you. The menu is unique- the experts choose your cheeses based on what flavours you like, and when your food arrives they explain each item, telling you which tiny little village it came from and even advising you on which order to eat your cheese in. Sitting on the pavement in the most Parisian way, this is definitely a good experience for a new-comer to the city, and a good introduction to the amazing foods that it has to offer. Find out more about the specialists at http://fromagerie-danard.com/en.

 

Bistrotters- We were recommended this restaurant by a friend, and we weren’t disappointed. The food is fresh, colourful and simply beautiful to look at. The service was friendly, and I had the best dessert I have ever tried- french toast with dark chocolate and a salted caramel sauce. I dream about it every night. Booking ahead is essential- this place is very popular with locals and travellers alike. Reserve your table here- http://www.bistrotters.com.

 

Dose- This tiny Latin Quarter coffee shop would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there- something I’ve decided is generally a good sign when trying to avoid tourist traps. So much care is taken over the coffee (they call themselves ‘dealer de café’) and the atmosphere is relaxed and slow. We sat outside on benches scattered with colourful cushions, enjoying some early morning people-watching and sharing a freshly baked croissant. When we walked past a little later in the day the place was teeming with locals, so maybe grab an early table and enjoy your coffee before Paris has fully woken up. https://www.facebook.com/dosedealerdecafe/.

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CULTURE-

The Louvre- Although an obvious one, I really do think the Louvre is worth it. It’s such a beautiful building, you don’t even have to go inside to enjoy a lot of it’s splendour. Paying the small entry fee (or if you’re under 26 and have an EU driving licence it’s free) and taking half an hour to queue (you can pre-book but I actually enjoyed taking some time to enjoy the surroundings of the museum) is a small price to pay for what could be a whole day of exploring. The exhibitions are numerous and there’s something for everyone- we especially enjoyed the Egyptian corner and obviously we crammed ourselves amongst the throng of flashing cameras to peek at the Mona Lisa. Some things just have to be done. After your visit, head to a local store to grab picnic food and sit in the Jardin des Tuileries, enjoying the middle-of-the-city sanctuary that these huge grounds provide.

 

Arch de Triomph- Again another obvious one. But maybe it’s on every ‘must-do’ list for a reason. Free for under 26’s in the EU again, and with a definitely bearable queue, the views from the top of this stunning building are un-beatable. From Sacre Coeur to the Eiffel Tower, and all the way down the Champs Elisees, you can see pretty much everything apart from the building you’re up (we even spotted the apartment we were staying in). Take your time to wander the whole way around the roof of the Arch, taking in every view.

 

Sacre Coeur- My favourite evening in Paris was spent sat on the steps of Sacre Coeur, watching the sun set over the city, occasionally turning around and staring in awe at one of the most beautiful buildings ever built. We sat for hours, surrounded by tourists and locals alike. I can’t really explain the sheer beauty of this place, you just have to go and experience it for yourself.

SHOPPING-

Shakespeare and Co.- I’d been told a lot about Shakespeare and Co. before we visited Paris, but it surpassed every expectation. The shop itself is a rabbit-den of treasures- we visited three days in a row and I found something new to look at each time. People bustle outside, but the atmosphere is relaxed, and the adjoining coffee shop is the perfect place to enjoy the books you’ve just bought with a cup of good coffee and a view of Notre Dame. One to take your time over.

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Rue Mouffetard- One of the oldest food markets in the city, this Latin Quarter street fills with locals on weekend lunchtimes, its streets bursting with freshly baked bread and pastries, specialist cheeses, cured meats, crepes, and pretty much any other culinary treat you could want from France. After grabbing your coffee and a book at Shakespeare, spend the late morning wandering up and down the lane deciding what to get for lunch- check out what the locals are queuing for. It’ll be worth it, I promise.
If you’re reading this while planning a trip to Paris, or you’re already sat in a little french cafe wondering what to do next, you have my full envy. Remember to take time to slow down and enjoy the small things that make travelling the addictive and eye-opening experience that we all love so much. We can too-easily forget to just stop and look around us when we’re somewhere new- sometimes doing nearly-nothing is the best way to experience life. Profiter de chaque seconde!

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.

 

The Last Shadow Puppets- Everything You’ve Come to Expect

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image courtesy of pitchfork.com

Domino Records

The Last Shadow Puppets have returned with that not-so-difficult-if-you’re-cocky-enough second album. The first was a great success- The Age of the Understatement went straight to number one in the UK in 2008- sending the duo of Alex Turner and Miles Kane to even farther heights than their respective solo music careers had already propelled them. Now they’re back, with the definitely not understated Everything You’ve Come to Expect.

They were kind for helpfully pre-warning us that the album holds no surprises. Swooning vocals that don’t seem to mean a lot, layered over lush sounding- but predictable- guitar strums make up the bulk of the record. Unlike its predecessor, Everything You’ve Come to Expect isn’t influenced by Scott Walker (the mutual love of the 80’s avant-garde composer is what brought Turner and Kane together in 2007), but it doesn’t provide a startling change in musical direction. Everything’s lyrics aren’t as interesting as the first record’s, just more vulgar, and the chauvinistic male-ego is still going strong.

‘Bad Habits’ is the highlight of the record. Unlike the slower ballads, this more upbeat number doesn’t need the lyrics to carry it; the punchy, driving bass line and striking, almost aggressive, string section are at the forefront of the track. You almost (almost) forget that they’re shouting about the things women will do to get a promotion. Generally it sounds more like something I want to hear from the rock-based duo; slick and sexy (instead of just remarkably creepy). This is fortunate, as it’s also the lead single. I just wish the rest of the album had followed in its supposed lead.

Everything You’ve Come to Expect is out now, and if you fancy standing amongst a throng of swooning teenage girls and mis-guided Scott Walker fans, the UK tour is doing the rounds over the next couple of months.

Jack Garratt- Phase

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Image courtesy of stereogum.com

Island Records

Recent winner of the BBC Sound Of 2016 and BRITS Critic’s Choice Award Jack Garratt drops some satisfying beats and fresh vocals on his debut album Phase.

The album starts as it means to go on with opening track ‘Coalescence (Synesthesia Pt.2)’. An initial stripped back, glitchy vibe allows the listener to appreciate Garratt’s raw, emotive lyricism (‘I hope you break my innocence, like you have before’). Then the bass ‘drops’ and the track becomes something that we recognise from the electro-pop singles that we’ve all heard on the radio, comforting us with it’s beautiful blanket of bassy (but not too much) nod-your-head-able beat.

The album continues with a suitable mix of angsty scratching vocals, as if Ed Sheeran DIDN’T get the girl but grew some balls instead, and guilty pleasure synthy pop beats. The singles (‘The Love You’re Given’, ‘Chemical’, ‘Breathe Life’ and ‘Worry’) sound as in place within the album as they do on daytime radio, and there are no out-of-place surprises that lead our pop-loving minds spinning back to the safety of last year’s winner James Bay. Phew.

The production is slick, as you would expect from a big budget debut, and ear-popping techniques (did I just imagine that extreme, switching-all-over-the-place panning?) provide interest beyond the electro beats and heartbroken lyrics.

The BBC described Garratt’s style as ‘soul-infused electro-pop and neck snapping beats’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/C9lcVRzhmx1dzHq67SYMBz/1st-jack-garratt). If the soul that’s infused is his own, realised through his teenage poetry lyrics, and the ‘neck-snapping’ is within the confines of bopping along in your car, then they’ve got it right.