Georgia and Amy TitleIt’s been a couple of years since we last visited Birthdays in Dalston, so it was good to get an invite for the monthly Amazing Radio/Robomagic F.T.F.H. (Finding the Female Headliners) night. It’s a simple concept; all of the bands playing are either female-fronted or completely female, and if this is a typical line-up, then it’s worth making the effort to get the Overground out to Dalston Kingsland once a month. If you don’t live in London, don’t worry; I suspect this particular franchise might be making its way around the country soon. This month’s bill featured bands from Leeds, Stockholm and London, so it’s not just a parochial London thing.

Opening the bill, Actor (from Leeds) featured the stunning voice of Louisa Osborn against a backdrop of shimmering guitars and big drums. The songs are strong and the smallish audience warmed immediately to Louisa’s warm stage presence, but her incredibly powerful voice is the focal point of the set. A great start to the night and the bar was already pretty high for the remaining bands.

Dolores Haze (from Stockholm) brought along their own very vocal and very lively fans (probably not from Stockholm) and added another dimension to the evening with a slightly shambolic, spiky set of songs that alternated between thrash, angular and atonal guitar parts and faux-naif B52s style pop. If you threw The Cardigans, Television and Fuzzbox into a blender, then it might sound something like Dolores Haze. Music or performance art; you decide. Their fans certainly loved it and you definitely couldn’t ignore it.

So, on to the headliners, Nova Twins. Amy Love (guitar/vocal) and Georgia South (bass/backing vocals) have just released their first single, “Bassline Bitch” on Rob Hallett’s Robomagic label (reviewed by MusicRiot a couple of weeks ago) and we couldn’t wait for the chance to see them live; it’s fair to say they didn’t disappoint.

In a live setting, Amy and Georgia are the real deal. This isn’t some manufactured image backed up by session musicians; they can both play live and with the addition of drums, they have a huge sound. Georgia’s raw, visceral and melodic basslines are a thumping backdrop for Amy’s guitar, vocals and raps. It’s a fusion of metal, hip-hop and melody that’s almost impossible to resist and it’s delivered with style and assurance. They’ve got the material as well; the set included “Dirty Stop Out”, “Kiss”, Play Fair” and “Hit List” as well as the obligatory “Bassline Bitch” and they all sounded the business. Even the inevitable technical difficulties didn’t faze them; a failed bass lead was just a chance to have a bit of chat with the audience before blasting back into the set again. I think we might be hearing a lot more of Nova Twins.

So it’s a big thumbs up to Amazing Radio and Robomagic for the concept and an even bigger thumbs up to the bands for three great sets.

 

 

 

 

Broke with Expensive TasteAt the very least, the dramatic and unexpected release of Azealia Banks’ debut album is a relief. Her one bona fide hit, the filthy and fantastic “212”, was released in 2011 and talk of her first album, mainly by Banks herself, has been on, off and on again pretty much consistently since then. Some three years later and Beyonced onto iTunes at 7.00pm on a cold Thursday in early November “Broke with Expensive Taste” finally saw the light of day. We can all now move on; Banks, the naysayers, the many she has horrified with brattish abuse via her volatile twitter account -- let’s go and fix our glare on the new kid. Maybe the surprise then is that there is a lot more to Azealia Banks than being a big dirty mouthed one- hit wonder. The breadth and rush of the consistently surprising, eccentric but accessible tracks here is absolute proof that she knew what she was doing all along. One of the most interesting and revealing aspects of Azealia Banks first full length release proper is all of the things that it is not. There is no EDM, and although this is most definitely a dance record, no dubstep, no grand-standing features and no sign of the kind of producers that eclipse the artist themselves and are usually called in for last minute emergencies. In fact the one track that was produced by and featured the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams (the lacklustre and generic “ATM Jam”) has wisely been left off. The Williams collaboration was forced upon Banks by her then record company (she has since left Interscope, to call it a rocky relationship would appear an understatement) to bag an easy hit, as is often the case, and by all accounts represents the reasons why “Broke with Expensive Taste” has suffered such a long and bumpy ride to release. Banks is not an artist who is willing to compromise or curtail her artistic impulses and this is made abundantly clear here. Album opener “Idle Delilah” has clattering pots and pans percussion, a fuzz-box island guitar riff and a chorus, if it can indeed be called that, that consists only of  a chopped- to- utter -smithereens Brandy sample from her hit  “I Wanna Be Down” which is rendered utterly unrecognisable here.  This is to support Banks warbling but radiant rap and vocal lines laid out over a building house beat. “Desperado” and “Gimme a Chance” go down different roads entirely; the former has Banks speeding sulkily over an old and moody MJ Cole 2-step track, “Bandelero Desperado”, with muted trumpet and an unmistakeable British identity whilst “Gimme A Chance” references early hip-hop scratching and a Ze Records “Off the Coast of Me” dead – eyed sung chorus. This all comes before the second half of the track which explodes into Latin American horns with Banks both singing and rapping in Spanish. “JFK” is a snooker balls-cracking house track with vocal inflections mimicking an almost operatic narrative of the vogue balls and creative rivalry and “Wallace” has dark cavernous drums, a blink and you’ll miss it Missy Elliott reference, and might be about a dog. At this point it is hard to accept that the album has not even reached its half-way point, such is the diversity and ambition that is alluded to. The album’s middle section is its most conventional and traditionally urban, all of the tracks are rapped. “Ice Princess” in particular, which is a variation on Morgan Page’s “In The Air” hit, proves that Banks can more than hold her own in commercial rap; her rhymes are effortless and engaging, often surreal,  with a flow that is sharp but soothing. “Soda” is a popping, taut house track that sounds like little else coming out of the urban genre or any other stable at the moment  and is completely sung in Banks highly distinctive swooping, and occasionally flat, contralto. It introduces the last act of the album and at this point some of the admittedly unexpected flow of the first half does suffer, due mainly to “Nude Beach a Go-Go”. Produced by Ariel Pink with an intense love or loathe quality, it sounds like a Beach Boys carol about the joys of nude beaches (‘Do you jingle when you dingle-dangle? Everybody does the bingle-bangle’) as imagined by the B 52s who already have a song called ‘Theme for A Nude Beach’. It is quite a lot to take in and is probably brilliant but is jarringly sandwiched between the album’s deepest house tracks, the alluring triptych of “Luxury”, “Miss Camaraderie” and “Miss Amor”. The decision to include older tracks here, including ones already featured in Banks 2012 “Fantasia” mixtape (and yes, “212” is also here), is the only misstep that hinders the irresistible freshness “Broke With Expensive Taste”. Not only are they the weaker tracks in the majority but they overload the track listing to sixteen and subsequently dilute the potential power of the lesser-heard and superior material. The real surprise here though is that Azealia Banks could not get this album released in the first place; this is the stuff that classic debut albums are made and is massive indictment of the state of the music industry in 2014. An unreserved success still, with “Broke with Expensive Taste”, Azealia Banks has ably demonstrated that the fight was most definitely worth it and has emerged from the other side as an important, original and necessary artist.

NYPCLondon based indie electro brats New Young Pony Club are now just NYPC. The abbreviated name also reflects their reduction from a five-piece band to a duo; original members lead singer Tahita Bulmer and producer Andy Spence remain. They still sound like New Young Pony Club but this, their third album, is by some distance their most accomplished, musical and exciting to date. It seems that the trimming away of excess views and voices has bought about a new-found sonic richness and clarity with a welcomed ability to craft the kind of songs that you always hoped they would make but never quite managed to deliver.

The tough and tantalising opener, “Hard Knocks“, with its wonderfully disorganised lyrics (‘waiting for, hard knocks, the school of, I think you are) is instantly recognisable as the group due to its monotone, perpetually pissed off vocal, heard first in 2009’s omnipresent “Ice Cream”. On NYPC’s first single “You Used to Be a Man” which is a lesson in building, electro minimalism there are multiple harmonies throughout, a middle eight and a melody that will not want to leave your head willingly. ‘Do you understand how hard it is to stand and watch you fall hard?’ goes the cheeky, smartarse hook and although somewhat economic in structure it bears testament to how far their song writing skills have developed over five years.

Sure As The Sun” has humour (‘last night we went to a model home, we thought it was love, it was just a mirage’) funky bass and sheets of electro parps, defining the point where Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club merge. “I Came Through For You” has muted “Planet Rock” style drum machine booms and “Things Like You” relies on the staple Bulmer delivery before it shifts key and, along with Spence, a romantic and wistful, pure pop chorus unexpectedly emerges. Stand-out track “Now I’m Your Gun” with its seductive and assertive plucked synth chords and accordion appearance is sleek and precise. The beautiful and modern electronics, albeit inspired mainly by three decades worth of genre twisting artists and music, are expertly played and gleam throughout the album.

Play Hard” with its hard-nosed, new wave guitar and vocals can be traced back to the B52’s first two completely essential and ground-breaking albums when Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson sang about fish as gifts, dirty back roads and not dancing like cheese; weird and wilfully sexy. The final two minutes of “Everything Is” are pure snapping beats and steel drums which will undoubtedly bring to mind The Knife but NYPC have made something life-affirming and relatable as opposed to the overwhelming impenetrable coolness of the Stockholm duo’s “Shaking the Habitual” album from earlier this year. It’s sad that Bulmer and Spence won’t garner the same amount of media coverage and adulation.  Only on the final track, “L.O.V.E.”, does the steam begin to run out and things start to plod but by this point it is easily overlooked.

At times it felt like New Young Pony Club were more part of an East London ‘fashion slash’ mob rather than a standalone, individual musical entity. Their debut was gimmicky and sounded only half-finished and the (surely) ironically titled “The Optimist” was heavy with something other than tunes and in retrospect the disharmony within the group at that time could have been responsible. NYPC, though, are the sound of artists finally snapping together the crucial matching and previously lost parts forming a new, perfect whole. Streamlined, efficient and pleasure-seeking, it’s a beautiful and intelligent thing.