Product DetailsMNDR is best known for being the shared lead vocalist on Mark Ronson’s last album’s first single, the eccentric “Bang Bang”. She is as charismatic a singer and performer as her vocals and video presence confirmed in this 2010 hit for Ronson and it’s taken 3 years for her full-length album to arrive. Her oldest song “C.L.U.B”, oddly re-titled “U.B.C.L” here, originally released in 2009, still sounds innovative and fresh and like the shockingly-ignored (at least commercially) Cocknbullkid, MNDR has the ability to write a pop song and become the kind of interesting pop star that once upon a time would have actually charted and been on TOTP. These days though, due to a uniformity of sound that doesn’t seem to want to budge (stadium dance or Adele), when it comes to Top 20 success she unfortunately doesn’t stand a chance. But let’s not worry about that, some of you reading this won’t even know what TOTP is and there are a thousand ways to promote music in 2012.

MNDR and her invisible partner in musical crime Peter Wade have made a brash, fashionable electronic dance album but thankfully its roots are in more traditional, song-based pop melodies. “#1 in Heaven”, (or Evan as MNDR endearingly pronounces it and not the similarly-titled Sparks song in case you’re wondering), is a big, euphoric singalong ‘Tell them I’m smiling, send them my greetings’ she joyfully refrains in a song that I would love to see in the top ten. The appropriately speeding “Faster Horses” shares equal billing as the best song here and “Stay” is based round a “Funky Drummer” loop, a sample used ad infinitum in late 80’s dance music, and adds a little shading to the overall pretty frantic pace and is the definition of the perfect album track. “Fall in Love with the Enemy” opens with a teeth-gnashing snyth that sounds a lot like a metallic “Hey Big Spender” and continues to dominate and charm in equal measure.

Burning Hearts” is an equally angular but more glacial track that really highlights MNDR’s personality with its cascading ‘oh, oh, oohs’ and perfect middle eight. All these little but so very important  touches demonstrates that she understands pop in a way someone like Robyn does and Cheryl Cole doesn’t. Vocally she is sometimes reminiscent of Kim Wilde and readers who know what TOPT stands for will also remember “Chequered Love” (I wonder if I can get this on tape?!).  “Feed Me Diamonds”, the title track, has the feeling of being an important song to MNDR and it does have a grandness and drama that anchors the album with some very eighties clanging and clattering going on before a middle tempo groove is established with the best vocal performance on the album.

The last quarter of the album is not as strong and the final songs start sounding like any electro indie female artist from the last 5 years or so; not bad but not up to the standard of  the brilliant first half. I hope that MNDR finds a way to promote this album effectively as there is more than a hint of star quality here and I would like to hear it develop. And it actually gets an extra half a star as well.

On a warm August night in downtown Norbiton, I met up with Anna-Christina and Belle from Lilygun to talk about the release of their debut album.  As you can see below, it went in quite a few other directions as well.

Allan Exciting times for the band.  How does it feel now that the album’s only a few weeks away from release?

Anna-Christina It feels really exciting.

Belle A relief.

Anna-Christina A relief as well.  Even though it’s coming out in a few weeks, it’s still in the middle of everything somehow.  There’s still so much admin going on and organising the cover.  It’s probably really late to be faffing about with the cover, but we are.

Belle It happens like that sometimes.

Anna-Christina   I don’t think we’ve really appreciated it yet.  Maybe once, we get the actual CD and seeit..

Belle We haven’t actually seen the finished product yet.  It’s just mock-ups of the sleeve and things like that.  It’s been a long time coming.

Allan It’s a bit strange because I got the link for the review and burned it to a CD, but it’s not the same as having the cover in your hand is it?

Anna-Christina No, it’s not really.

Allan And is the online release at the same time, September 10th?

Belle It might be 2 weeks later; you got us there.

Allan Was Lilygun something that you always wanted to do?

Anna-Christina Yeah.  Basically this band’s been going for a long time.  This line-up’s really new but the band’s been going for many years and it’s had a lot of changes, been through a lot of down times, a lot of personal health stuff has come in the way. So in some ways this album, the amount of success it has or doesn’t have, it’s almost like success in just having that album alone.  It feels like that is victory in itself because so much bad stuff has happened and it seemed like it wouldn’t ever happen, that album.

Belle Anna, it’s a milestone, I would say.  Would that be right?

Anna-Christina Definitely, yeah, without a doubt.

Belle She’s been through the mill a bit with band members leaving and whatever.

Allan So, from when you were young, was this what you wanted to do?

Anna-Christina Yeah, it’s weird because I started playing piano first and I started off writing songs like The Carpenters.  I was a big fan of Karen Carpenter which probably explains why I sing low a lot of the time because really I’m actually a top soprano and I’ve forced myself to sing low for years.

Belle I didn’t know that.

Anna-Christina So I wrote songs like that and as I got more dark and depressed and sinister and started getting annoyed with situations and people, the songs got heavier and heavier and before I knew it I was writing rock songs but it wasn’t a conscious decision, now I’m going to write rock songs, it was just a natural progression.  Then, yeah, I started playing guitar and it went on from there.

Allan So we sort of touched on this already, when did Lilygun start to take shape?

Anna-Christina I think it took shape when Aaron John, this amazing artist, came in and started playing guitar with us and that was around 2008 when he played on a demo.  He was the first guitarist that really formed the sound that you hear today.  All the weird sound effects and tinkly little bits and bits of magic, we kind of wrote them together and that’s when I think it became more than just rock it went down a different avenue, slightly more of an alternative, edgier kind of thing; more imagination was going into it.  So I’d say around 2008 when Belle started playing with us as well.

Belle Yeah, it’s about that time isn’t it.

Allan  I said in the review that it kind of reminded me of Skunk Anansie, what they were doing in the early ‘90s with a powerful female lead vocals and a really good technical guitarist doing interesting stuff with the songs as well.

Belle Yeah, well spotted.

Anna-Christina It’s very guitar-driven isn’t it?  There’s a lot of interesting guitars, more so than maybe other rock bands that just keep it grungy and straight down the line rock’n’roll kind of thing.  There’s other aspects going on which is why I think it’s got that Goth tinge to it as well.  I think you can hear the Cure influences here and there, the delay sounds and the sweet melodies that come from them as well.

Belle But it’s not obvious, is it?

Anna-Christina No, it’s very subtle.

Allan I think the strummed, clean Telecaster gives it that sound as well.

Anna-Christina/Belle. Yeah

Allan How have you dealt with the challenges of getting your music noticed?  It’s a different business these days, isn’t it?

Anna-Christina We’ve just been in our own little world up till now.  This is the first time we’ve been this exposed really, isn’t it?

Belle Yeah, it is.  It’s just been a question of forming the music really and getting all the bits in the right places.  It’s only been relatively recently that we’ve had a fair number of gigs close together.  It used to be a bit sporadic..

Anna-Christina While we were switching the line-up…

Belle While we were switching the line-up, fiddling around with all sorts of stuff.  It’s only been the last year really if that it’s been more consistent gig-wise and there’s been a bit of a foot on the accelerator going on.

Anna-Christina More of a plan…

Allan You can see it coming together now.  I check out the website and you can see the new stuff going on there.

Anna-Christina There’s a lot going on actually. It’s surprising; it’s almost like every week there’s loads of news and new stuff and we’re getting loads of interviews now and people are starting to take notice and that’s fantastic.

Belle There’s a little story developing, isn’t there?

Anna-Christina It almost feels like there’s a little buzz.  People saying:  “What’s this band called?  They’re alright.  How long have they been going for? ”

Allan Do you think that the way the music business has gone over the last 10 years, with no more 5-album deals or anything like that, no more huge advances, do you think the fact that that helps you to bypass the retailers has helped you or hindered you?

Anna-Christina I think in a way it’s helpful, because you can stay independent.  Financially it’s more difficult because you have to pay for everything on your own and doing an album costs a lot.  There’s a lot of other things involved that you don’t calculate when you’re preparing for it; other costs that come into it like sending out press packs and stuff like that, it does become very expensive.  Even paper and ink and envelopes and little things like that just add up.

Belle If you weren’t independent, you’d have access to all of that.

Anna-Christina  Exactly, but on the other side of the coin, you’ve got more control and you don’t have someone coming in messing up the songs and messing up our image and saying “You can’t wear that” or stuff like that.

Belle The independence thing, it’s great for control freaks.

Anna-Christina Yeah.  What are you trying to say?

Belle Well, it is…

Allan One of the earliest interviews I did for Music Riot was with an American singer who broke through in the ‘70s and he’d been through the mill with the music business and told me about being asked to deliver an album to a deadline and delivered it to the deadline, on the nose, and the label made them wait 6 months for the artwork before they would release it.  You can imagine how frustrating that is.

Anna-Christina It kind of loses energy in a way when you have to wait.  We had that with our EP; it just took so long to finish it and get it done that by the time it came out, the excitement and the energy had gone.

Belle Yeah, that’s very common for that to happen, very common.

Anna-Christina But with this album, we did take our time but I think we needed to do that because…

Belle Somehow we’ve got round it and it still feels ok.  Even though it is a while it doesn’t seem to have lost its energy for some reason, which is a bit of a miracle.

Allan I’ve heard artists talk about life-changing experiences but you really did have a horrific experience.  Can you tell me about that and how it changed your life?

Anna-Christina Yeah. Before that I was ruthlessly working as a song writer towards certain goal and it kind of knocked me off track because I was so ill afterwards: I had a brain haemorrhage and it took me a long time to recover from it even though my operation was a success (I had 2 operations and the first one didn’t work and the second one, it worked and I was very, very lucky to come out of that).  It was such a shock to experience something like that so young and to be in hospital, in intensive care, and see things that you can’t imagine and you can’t even explain to other people how awful it really is.  It’s a real reality check, something like that.  It really knocks you back down to earth and afterwards, it took me a long, long time, quite a few years actually, to get over it because I was just sick all the time.  I was trying to do Lilygun, trying to progress but my health was a real issue and it was a battle, it really was, and I also think that’s why it’s taken so long for us to get to this point.  Every time it felt like it was ready, I’d just be constantly ill, I’d have to pull us out of gigs because I couldn’t perform and I think also, I couldn’t write, I had writer’s block as well.  I couldn’t even put into words how I was feeling.

I was so emotionally just  a wreck; one minute I was high, next minute I was down.  It was such a rollercoaster of feelings and it almost felt like, I don’t know, I wasn’t a normal human being any more.  So my attitude towards Lilygun really changed because at one point it was quite dark and I thought I can’t really continue like this because it’s just too much of a battle but then on the flip side of the coin I thought “Look at me, I’m alive, I can still do it, keep going and don’t give up”.  It could have been much worse for me and after I went through the whole “Why did it happen?” phase, suddenly it was like I switched and it was like I was alive and this is so amazing and at the gigs I felt more emotional than I’d ever been before because it wasn’t just a gig for me; I’m so lucky I could get back on stage and carry on with this.  People have no idea the state you can get into; once you don’t have your health, you’ve got nothing.  And maybe when you’re younger you don’t realise how precious that is but when something like that happens to you, suddenly you really, really appreciate life and you learn to enjoy every minute of it.

Which is another reason why the album took longer because we did an EP before and I did a lot of the recording of the album myself and had a lot of struggles with the EP because, as a sound engineer, I was trying to learn as I was doing it and I made a few mistakes. With the album I really wanted to learn the technical aspects of it as well; not just being the performer I wanted to engineer it and learn about drums and recording.  I was there at every single recording session to learn; when Belle was recording the drums I stayed there minute so I could absorb like a sponge all the information and experience of it.  I was learning as a sound engineer at the same time.

Allan And that’s all part of how the final thing comes together, isn’t it; understanding the technicalities?

Anna-Christina Yeah definitely and also emotionally being able to tap in to the songs.  I think, after that operation, with music in general and the songs, I could tap in to the emotions easier than I could before and I think it just went crazier as well.  Now I go really crazy and it’s like, calm down.  I had to start really working out because I wasn’t fit enough to jump around on a stage like a lunatic and I realised it; I thought I’d better start getting a bit more fit.

Allan And finally what can we expect in the future?

Anna-Christina Who knows with this band?  It seems so organised but, in fact, Lilygun is one of the most crazy…there’s so much drama, there’s so many twists and turns, so many different things happen but, one thing’s for sure, it keeps going.

Belle Anything can happen.

Anna-Christina Anything can happen but it just keeps going on and as it goes on it just gets stronger and stronger. I don’t know if it’s the understanding of it or that will and passion that’s still alive and kicking, you know what I mean?

Belle I think mademoiselle has a fantastic spirit and it won’t be broken.

Anna-Christina Yeah.

Belle There you go.  Never mind who’s in the band or not in the band.

Anna-Christina It just goes on.  There’s a lot of musicians I’ve had in the band, they thought that when they left or if they weren’t there it would just stop and I don’t even know how it carries on; it just keeps going on and on like it’s just out of sheer willpower and the love of music and performing as well.

Allan Do you think the line-up’s fairly stable at the moment?

Anna-Christina Well we’re down a bass player at the moment, so we’ve got people coming in and they’re going to come in and jam with and stuff like that.

Belle It’s stable in a sort of, the table’s got 3 legs way but we’re holding it up at one end, way.

Anna-Christina But I think that’s almost become a characteristic of Lilygun now.  It’s kind of a joke with our friends and fans because they turn up asking who’s going to be playing today. It’s a nice surprise usually because different players keep it very fresh and it keeps us on our toes.

Belle Every few months there’s a different line-up.

Anna-Christina  Maybe that’s just Lilygun, maybe that’s how it’s going to be.

Belle Maybe that’s how it’s meant to be.

Anna-Christina  I’d prefer it if was really solid and stable, to be honest.  It would save me going grey quicker.

Belle You’re obviously very difficult to work with.

Allan If you can tie down all the other bits then you can go off and be creative, can’t you?

Belle This is it.  There’s a lot of faffing about and chasing around, isn’t there?

Anna-Christina There’s a lot of extra stuff that people don’t realise goes on.  It seems like it should be easy being in a rock band, doesn’t it?  You just get 4 people together that love to play their instruments, who want to play in a band.  It should be easy and yet for some reason, even after all these years I still don’t know why it’s not easy.  Me and Belle, we’re so easy to get on with.  We get on with pretty much anyone that comes in; we’re so laid-back and chilled-out.

Belle Personality is a big thing though in successful band line-ups, as I’m sure you know, and sometimes people just don’t click.  There’s no magic way to find the right people, it just happens or it doesn’t.

Anna-Christina And sometime people’s egos as well…

Belle People’s egos can get in the way, can’t they?

Anna-Christina  And that’s a shame because you should work together as a unit.  When 1 person’s great, it just makes everyone look great.  It shouldn’t be competitive.  It’s just you moving forward like the Power Rangers or something; you all put your fists in the middle and this bright light comes out.  That’s how I think it should be but, for some reason someone complains that someone else’s light’s brighter or something…I don’t know.

Allan I read an interview with a singer who had a 10-piece band (including 4 horns) at 1 time and he said that a band is never a  democracy because they can’t even go to a restaurant and decide what to eat at the same time.

Belle There’s got to be someone steering it a bit or at least 2 or 3 people steering it and 1 steering it a bit extra.

Anna-Christina  Maybe it’s easier when you form at school then because a lot of bands who formed at school seem to last longer maybe because they’ve got that core friendship.  Me and Belle, we were actually friends before Lilygun and he’s never been a band member, we’ve just got a different relationship.  He was my friend, we were down a drummer and I said can you come and play and that’s how our relationship formed really isn’t it and it’s never complicated with us.  Unfortunately , to find 4 people that are that easy-going and good at their job at the same time is surprisingly difficult.

Allan Anyway, thanks very much and good luck with the album.

Anna-Christina/Belle Thank you.

You can see pictures from the Lilygun gig which took place later that night here.

Product DetailsI have a confession to make, I only own one Antony and the Johnsons album, “I Am A Bird Now”, and I’m sure that it’s the same one most people bought when he won the  Mercury Music Price in 2005. I’ve never really warmed to it; I admire it and acknowledge Antony’s talent but it’s been gathering dust next to Kate Bush’s “Arial” album (sorry Bush fanatics, I love her as much as you do but miss the pre 10 minute song cycle days).

My favourite Antony performance is probably his guest performance on Hercules and Love Affair’s   homage to late seventies, organic disco “Blind”. It was marvellous to hear that voice soar and be less reined in by more something more mainstream and accessible. For me there is a bagginess and heaviness in Antony’s work, musically and melodically, that I find tars everything with a very samey brush that leaves me feeling hung over. This album though, which reads like a greatest hits of tracks taken from Antony’s first 4 albums and mainly from his third album “The Crying Light”, succeeds in erasing that sonic fog.

Most of these songs here are transformed and oddly given it’s a live album (“Cut The World” being the only new studio track, quite brilliant with a genuinely shocking video) everything is more concentrated, bright and tight and beautiful; in this context Antony, accompanied by the faultless Danish National Chamber Orchestra, and his songs translate so clearly. “Another World” is a perfect example of a good song that was somewhat lost on “The Crying Light” album but  here it is reinvigorated and  undercut by an amazing tension provided by a note established by the orchestra within the new, 1 minute introduction and which is held until the 3 minute plus mark before it subtly changes key. I couldn’t figure out what exactly they had done to change the mood as it’s such a tiny adjustment but works marvellously at making a song about the world coming to an end appropriately unsettling.

Cripple and the Starfish” has always been an amazing song that sounds as though it were written for a David Lynch musical (‘I am very happy so please hit me’) and in its original setting was just strings and piano which it is here also but magnified by a hundred so that it’s become completely magical and otherworldly and is maybe the most beautiful performance from Antony on an album of many. Aside from the fact they are the shortest tracks, “Epilepsy is Dancing” and “Another World” in particular become concise, opaque and delightfully melodic lullabies that highlight Antony’s solid song writing skills and incredible booming and by turns soothing vocals. “I Fell I Love with a Dead Boy” now stabs your heart with a James Bond introduction with Antony asking ‘are you a boy or a girl? over and over and the relevance isn’t missed. It has a new danger and will break your heart in a way that the original doesn’t.

I still don’t like the morose when it should be uplifting “You Are My Sister”, surprisingly the only song from “I Am A Bird Now”, and the spoken monologue “Future Feminism” is lovely and captures the ethos of Antony and his vision but doesn’t need to be heard more than once or twice (I would have loved one more track, maybe one his brilliant cover versions of either Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” or Julee Cruise’s “Mysteries of Love”?) but apart from that this an incredible representation of Antony’s work to date and for me at least, as someone who has always struggled with this art up until now, a revelation.

Normally the Riot Squad wouldn’t be having much to do with sporting events, but we’re willing to make an exception in this case because of the cultural significance of this event (and its sibling the opening ceremony).  This was billed as an event with a playlist which was more Heart FM than Radio 1 and that description was pretty much on the money.  We got performances from British pop legends Ray Davies, Madness, Pet Shop Boys, Annie Lennox (in a piece which was a bit like a live version of a bad Duran Duran video), Queen (half of them in person, Freddie on film), Take That (with one notable exception), the Spice Girls (all of them) and The Who (well, Daltrey and Townshend).

We also got a pretty varied selection of newer artists covering a pretty wide spectrum of current British popular music.  How about Emeli Sandé, One Direction, Elbow, George Michael, Kaiser Chiefs, Ed Sheeran, Fatboy Slim, Jessie J, Tinie Tempah, Taio Cruz, Beady Eye and Muse? It’s not comprehensive, but it did give a pretty good snapshot of the contemporary British music scene.

Any attempt to summarise British popular culture over the last fifty years in three hours is pretty much doomed to failure from the start, but this was a brave attempt.  And it wasn’t just about the music; we had fashion, comedy, dance and drama as well.  We also had the unsavoury spectacle of politicians trying to hijack the event for their own ends, and we really don’t need to see the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London idiot-dancing to the Spice Girls to boost their credibility with the voting public.  Honestly, we’re not as stupid as you seem to think we are (and we didn’t see you strutting your stuff to the bhangra or disco material either, so not so inclusive at all really).  And we had Matt Bellamy fronting Muse in his usual quiet style with keyboard and guitar virtuosity only to be trumped by Brian May with a routine which he’s been doing for the best part of 40 years (although not always with Jessie J to front it).

The event ended with a Who medley (you can make up your own punchlines about growing old here) and it was all over for another four years; apart from the online feedback and some of that was pretty horrific, particularly the posts about Gary Barlow.  We can all have our own opinions about the worth of someone’s work (and for what it’s worth, I think Gary Barlow’s a really gifted songwriter) but it’s never acceptable, under any circumstances, to attack a performer because they’ve suffered a personal tragedy.  I’m not going to attempt to communicate my disgust to you because Jason Manford has already done that in a way that won’t be bettered.  Those personal attacks left a bitter taste after a hugely celebratory event.

It’s interesting to look at the Beatles influence on the opening and closing ceremonies; the opening ceremony was influenced by McCartney, while the closing ceremony was influenced by Lennon, but we didn’t hear the best work of either songwriter (apart from fleeting references to “A Day in the Life” in the closing ceremony).

It seems quite fitting to bookend the London Olympic Games with those two British pop legendOn balance, the closing ceremony was a brave attempt to capture fifty years of British of British popular culture which worked most of the time and, when it didn’t, it failed heroically.  And as an added bonus, most of the artists involved in the ceremony performed really well in this week’s singles charts, even those that didn’t appear personally.  It seems that there are some things that we Brits are really quite good at.

So what was that all about then?  I’ve just had to spend two days in a darkened room because I thought I was having another one of my flashbacks.  What did all of that have to do with the Olympics?  It certainly proved that we do weird and surreal to gold medal standard, but all of that showing off wasn’t very British, was it?  Although, to be fair, most of the sets and props looked like they were about to fall apart if anyone looked sideways at them, which is very British.

You could take it seriously until Batman and Robin fell out of an exploding Trottermobile to the sound of Michael Caine’s “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”.  I bet everyone got that reference instantly in Idaho and Irkutsk.  And then it started to get really strange.  The Pet Shop Boys doing “West End Girls” while being wheeled around the athletics track on 2 of the most rickety rickshaws you’ll ever see was only the start of the weirdness.  And why did they try to link everything with strings that sounded like the weird bit in “A Day in the Life”?

It was great that they managed to include something to offend just about everyone.  We got complaints about blasphemy because “Imagine” started with “Imagine there’s no heaven…”; I complained because it’s a dreadful, sanctimonious hypocritical dirge, but no-one paid any attention to that.  Ed Sheeran did a workmanlike version of Pink Floyd classic “Wish You Were Here” backed by an assortment of 70s proggers and his fans tweeted excitedly about his great new song; bless.  Surely the section where Russell Brand mimed “I Am the Walrus” was only put in there to make the audience go for another drink, like the ballad halfway through a heavy metal set.  I can’t think of another reason for it.

And what was Kaiser Karaoke all about?  Didn’t they have one song that was good enough to play at this event?  Though I don’t suppose “I Predict a Riot” would have been a great choice and “Pinball Wizard” is all about inclusivity.  Talking of choices, it was a bit rich that George Michael used the event as an opportunity to plug his new single although, to be fair, he doesn’t get out that much apart from his residency at Brent Magistrates Court.  Another interesting choice was getting Beady Eye to play “Wonderwall”.  I know it was a Liam vocal originally, but it sounded like an Oasis tribute band (Wibbling Rivalry or something like that).

Now, about that flashback.  I’m sure I saw a psychedelic bus turn into an octopus which then spat out Fatboy Slim (I’m assuming it was the mouth he came out of) who grinned and pretended to DJ for a while.  So I had a little lie down for a while and when I looked at the screen again it had got even stranger, if you can believe that.  Eric Idle singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” surrounded by angels, morris dancers and roller-skating nuns was what finally tipped me over the edge.  I’m better now, but I’m sticking to more normal stuff from now on; maybe the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band or Captain Beefheart.

Product DetailsIf you had given me this album, Delilah’s debut, and told me it had been in a time capsule since 1995 then I would probably believe you. I haven’t heard anything this influenced by that period’s prominent trip hop sound for a very long time but then everything comes back around again eventually I suppose.

The surprise is that Delilah didn’t go to one of those British stage/ talent schools that Adele (there’s actually a song on here called “21” on here, it’s rubbish), Jessie J and Leona Lewis (to name just 3) went to, because Delilah sounds a little bit like all of these artists and the songs here sound as though they could be interchangeable between any these singers (and this does give a small clue that this album could only have been recorded in the last 4 years or so). The supposedly inspirational but horribly gloopy “Shades Of Grey” for example could feature as one of the many power ballads on any of those artists’ albums and in particular brings to mind Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” and Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” but is not as good as either. And “Only You” sounds like a pale, completely soulless imitation of Regina Spektor’s exhilarating “Us” and would be great as an advert for a diet hot chocolate drink. Delilah can sing but then so can lots of people, it’s what you do with your voice and surround it with that matters.

Trip hop was a mix of genres – hip hop, pop, dub, drum and bass, r ‘n’ b – that, more than anything else, was about creating a mood.  It was ‘trippy’ and melancholic, dark and melodic and personally, I liked it a lot. Its Bristol-based pioneers (Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky) ensured that the effect was narcotic, thick and uneasy but as time went by it became watered down beyond recognition and the choice of the post yuppie supper party and style magazine crowd (hello Morcheeba, not the worst offenders to be fair though) and this unfortunately is the sound that Delilah’s borrows from. I found it hard to actually find anything in the first 7 tracks to interest me, it was all so polite, tasteful and moody but in a very self conscious way  it became the worst thing that I can say about music; part of the background.

There are small glimpses of inventiveness here particularly, ironically, on the Rufus and Chaka Khan-sampling, claustrophobic and bipolar “Go”’ but not so much on the Minnie Ripperton-sampling “Inside My Love” where it sounds as if they’ve said ‘let’s have another go at doing something like that Chaka Khan one we did’. “Love You So” is a good song and makes its point with strings and stomping and great verve.  I could imagine Shara Nelson post-Massive Attack owning this, and “Tabitha, Mummy and Me” is a nice, simple and melodic piano lead ballad which certainly has something about it which makes me hope that Delilah can maybe become something more authentic and diverting. On the whole though, this is a dull but highly-polished, mediocre ode to the worst of the mid to late nineties.

It’s hard to believe that this is the debut Lilygun album because it’s so self-assured. It stands up to repeated listening, and even rewards it.  The band has released 2 singles so far this year and both feature on this first album, but more about both of those later.  This is a set of songs written by the band’s dynamic and charismatic singer, Anna-Christina,  demonstrating  such variety that it’s difficult to pin the sound down to 1 genre; there are elements of punk, metal, riot grrrl, Goth and even hints of early English folk.  We’ve had it on constant repeat here at Riot Towers for a couple of weeks now and it still sounds great.

I love it when an album blows you away from the first notes of the first song and the Lilygun debut does exactly that.  “Sunlight Dream” (an “Inception” reference, perhaps) blasts in with drums, big grungy guitar chords and howling lead guitar slipping into nice clean, strummed chords underpinned by drums and a rhythmic bass figure before a multi-tracked vocal refrain leads up to the first verse; and that’s just the intro.

This is an album that rewards you for listening to the tracks in the right order.  The songs are all strong enough to stand alone, but hearing them in sequence creates a clear narrative flow.  The first pair of songs introduces us to the powerless outsider with “Peace of Mind” building from a tribal drum pattern through a couple of verses to a blazing chorus and a typically blistering guitar solo.

“My Ways” moves the narrative on to insight into the loner’s situation before “Moonlight” starts to reveal a glimmer of a positive outcome.  “Excuses” is the first sign of a reaction to the loner’s situation and a clear message about taking responsibility for our actions.  “Conversations” takes a step backwards into negative emotions before the 2 songs which bring the album and the narrative to a positive conclusion.

Scum” was the first song from the album to be released this year and it’s a huge anthem, playing to the group’s strengths with quiet verses interspersed with a huge chorus which is built around a massive descending guitar run and the song’s big message :”There’s no need to be a victim of negativity”.  The final song “Diamonds” brings the journey to its end with the beginning of a relationship and another very clear lyrical message:  “Don’t let your past decide who you are”.

It’s all very well telling a good story but the music has to enhance the story as well and this is where Lilygun have absolutely aced it.  You won’t find a one-dimensional or one-idea song here; they all fizz with musical ideas and great playing.  The arrangements squeeze every last drop out of a fairly traditional line-up of 2 guitars, bass and drums (with the odd touch of strings and multi-tracked vocals) and create a huge dynamic range across the album.  I know it’s unfair to single out any particular contribution but James Ford’s guitar work is really powerful and took me back to the early days of Skunk Anansie and the brilliant Ace.

This is a great first album from an original and inventive band and I haven’t heard anything else this year to surpass this in terms of raw power and dynamic range; they’ve been on the horizon for a while now and this should be the breakthrough.  This is a great album. Buy the CD and listen to all the tracks in the right order; I can’t wait to see them live.

Release date 10/09/12 on A Line Records/Cargo.


Product DetailsThis is Jesca Hoop’s third album and continues much in the same vein as the first two. If you’re not familiar with her, Hoop is an eccentric American living in Manchester (odd switch some might say) and sings folk pop of the kind that was popular in the late nineties and now isn’t so much. She has a helluva voice, a big powerful and dark instrument and sometimes, less so on this collection, sings with an Irish accent. She also incorporates hip hop, trip hop, blues, electronics and jazz, but essentially, specifically, it’s folk pop. It’s also what you might call densely textured sonically.

When I listen to records like this sometimes all I can hear is the production. Her previous album ‘Hunting My Dress’ contained some very strong tracks but the loud and very clean production, even when  trying to sound grubby, was off-putting and it lacked any real authenticity or identity and  betrayed  Hoop’s talents. I could imagine some of the songs being sung by artists like Imogen Heap or Nerina Pallot, other female artists who fall into the category of eccentric singer songwriter but who can veer off into slightly whacky/whimsical territory. The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ production remains but Hoop has used to her advantage here, she’s learned how to shade and to create a level of intimacy not as apparent in her earlier work. This album however successfully combines real depth and great swathes of musical warmth and eccentricity with enormously impressive, hooky pop writing. And this is also an album that deals with Hoop’s father’s death helping give the album more form and consistency, and there really isn’t a weak track here.

Peacemaker’ is incredible; Indian musical influences and intensively erotic lyrically (‘milk in your  baby, swords enraged, fuck me babe’) and also in structure; the way the melody slips and slides in and out of corners and crevices is astonishing. ‘Hospital (Win Your Love)‘ is a perfectly structured pop song and at this point I’m in awe of these women’s writing abilities. Infuriatingly catchy ‘Ode to Banksy’ (yes, the artist) is like taking a musical jaunt down the Kings Road circa 1968 with Jesca maybe taking the piss out of the artist’s reclusive and cool (still?) image; ‘You’re so provocative, so underground’. 60’s themes and lingo continues with the stroppy ‘Dig This Record’ and Hoop excels in the multi part song; first verse, second verse, pre chorus, chorus, second verse, second chorus, middle eight, second middle eight and repeat.

The standout song for many, however, will be the title track ‘The House That Jack Built’, explicitly about the death of Hoop’s dad. Musically bare but still a full sound with Hoop recounting her father’s possessions many of which she has no previous knowledge of, a bit like aspects of her father. It’s very beautiful and very sad. My preferred track that directly references her dad though is the darker ‘D.N.R’ and folk aspects take over the last quarter of the album with a female choir demanding ‘Go Back To Sleep!’ on the assertive closer ‘When I’m Asleep‘.

Jesca Hoop has made a very tight, moving and surprisingly instant record here, her song writing alone is exceptional and this is an album I think I’ll be returning to a lot. Seek it out; I don’t think you’ll be either bored or disappointed. Dig this record indeed.