TrustHyperbole surrounding the importance of 18+’s identity, ironically a key selling point for this celebrity-averse duo’s brand, has run its course. In some ways it was only a matter time. Interviews are given, live performances attended and there, smack bang in the centre of “Trust”’s cover art, the couple finally appear, photographed together, in brutal and beautiful profile. If American musicians Samia Mirza and Justin Swinburne (previously referred to as just Boy and Sis) had wanted to remain anonymous for longer, then they could have done but the decision to be unmasked appears to be of their own making. After months of slightly sinister CGI videos, which could have gone much further than they did, we now can reimagine these songs with portraits of the actual performers themselves and not the carefully stage-managed visuals as dictated by the duo. Whether or not this has been a mistake and somehow weakened the appeal of 18+ isn’t important. What we have been ultimately left with is the music unaccompanied by any surplus hype. “Trust” is not a multi-media release and thankfully there is just enough sonic expertise and craft to allow it to stand unassisted.

‘Lap, fuck, hair, fingers, taste, down, spit, clit, dry’; words that you’ll hear more than once over “Trust”’s playing time confirming a persistent, glitchy nihilistic tone throughout. 18+ really enjoy singing about sex but whether they actually enjoy it is unclear. All of the tracks on “Trust” have been selected from their previous three mixtapes and 18+ have been making music together for several years now, so unless you’re completely unfamiliar with their material there are no surprises here. “Crow”, one of the duo’s biggest songs to date, still stands out as the most accessible and immediate track due to repetitive tropes including finger- clicks, booming bass and, appropriately enough, a crow’s caw. It is also one of the album’s most melodic moments, something that 18+ need to focus on, and features a typically slippery but assertive vocal from Mirza who welcomingly refuses the victim role throughout.

Forgiven” owes a debt to Kelis’ Milkshake with its skeletal nursery rhyme feel and highly sexualised motifs and “Almost Leaving” is essentially indie shoe-gaze and is quietly lovely. “OIXU”, another highlight, sounds like The xx and Sugababes (first generation) trading verses and chorus respectively. It’s not important that 18+ don’t offer anything original here, it’s the quality that counts after all, but aside from a dominant trap influence it is again nineties trip-hop which most comes to mind. Listen for example to Tricky and Martina Topley- Bird’s “Makes me Wanna Die” and compare its ambitions musically to at least half the tracks here and on many levels it’s difficult to feel that almost twenty years has passed since the former’s release. Of course a lot of trip-hop was interested in exploring emotional connections as well as sexual, much like FKA Twigs today, and this is where the likes of 18+ differ. The faceless and tireless disconnect and reinvention options that the internet offers informs everything about Mirza and Swinburne’s approach including the finished work itself.

18+ had the opportunity on “Trust” to expand and refine their ideas based on what’s come before and maybe that’s the biggest disappointment, their failure to develop or to fill in some of the missing details. Songs where Swinburne dominates, “Club God” for example, don’t work as well, as he just doesn’t have either the presence and authenticity of his partner in crime. Self-contained, claustrophobic and still somewhat shallow, the pair has really worked hard in creating an enveloping, somewhat sleazy mood but occasionally this is at the cost of the required depth or imagination to prevent it becoming, over the course of an entire album, dull and repetitive. There are some sparkling ideas here though and it can be only hoped, following the ultimate reveal of Samia Mirza and Justin Swinburne as 18+, that they can further craft their vision and soundscapes into something even more compelling and consistently captivating.

Two of Allan’s High Five albums this year were released on Drumfire Records so it was a ridiculously obvious choice to ask the owner of the label (and live music promoter) Phil Penman to contribute to this feature. Once again, we got some really interesting choices.

When Allan ask me to contribute to High Fives, I thought that it would be easy – just pick five albums, I thought. But I wracked my brains and (not including Drumfire Records releases) I could not come up with a single 2014 album I thought was truly ‘great’.  A dozen or so ‘good’ albums but nothing to change my life. Maybe I just haven’t found them yet. So what did excite me in 2014?

The SoundI Love My Job Sometimes.

The Sound – “Box Set #1” (“Jeopardy”, “From the Lion’s Mouth” and “All Fall Down”). Privileged to work on this and truly delighted with the results, and even happier to be working on a second box set for Feb 2015 release. Adrian Borland is sadly missed. The music from this great band has really stood the test of time. Consistently high standard.

 

 

John GrantOne that nearly got away.

Not from 2014, but new to me. John Grant – 2 albums of enormous beauty that I’ve listened to more than any others: “The Queen of Denmark” and “Pale Green Ghosts”. It was hearing these that made me realise how much I crave music that is new to my ears and not just the latest in a succession from artists I already know and love.

 

 

The CarnabysBright Young Things.

Great to see local boys The Carnabys release their debut album “No Money on The Moon”. Great hard working lads, winners of Hard Rock Rising and an album that really exudes the energy and honesty they deliver live. These boys perform with smiles on their faces, which is so refreshing – not po-faced, earnest trying-too-hard-to-be-trendy. Not ground-breaking perhaps, but if you get a chance, see them live. With the right breaks they could be huge. Accessible rock.

 

Urge for OffalReturn To Form (Again).

Proving that quality can go on and on, the only time this year when one song had me running to the shop to buy the album. Half Man Half Biscuit’sWestward Ho! –Massive Letdown” was that song. “Urge for Offal” is a good album, which also contains my lyric of the year: ‘‘Cresta! What the fuck were we drinking?!’

 

 

DrumfireI Love My Label.

Ok, so I couldn’t not mention it. Drumfire released two albums in 2014 and both made Allan McKay’s High Five. We made our first ever piece of vinyl – Ags Connolly’sHow About Now’, we hosted great shows with Dean Owens, Martin Stephenson, and Clive Gregson…. but my favourite thing?  Phil Burdett’s launch show in Westcliff. I’d only ever seen Phil perform solo. The launch show with full band made me fall in love with his music all over again. World, you don’t know what you are missing.

In parting, I’ll add that I’ve really tried to find new music, and the following half a dozen albums definitely deserve honourable mention (and barely a country album in sight): FKA Twigs, Future Islands, Sturgill Simpson, Royksopp, Strands Of Oak, Honeyblood.

LP1In many ways Tahliah Barnett still sounds like many thought the future would in 1995. More sinuous and fragile maybe, but twenty-six year old FKA Twigs is much indebted to the Bristol’s trip-hop takeover in the mid-nineties and in particular Adrian Thaws, AKA Tricky. Along with Massive Attack and Portishead, Tricky defined the period with his doomy and sensual debut album “Maxinquaye” which featured soulfully threatening vocals from his favourite muse Martina Topley-Bird, and it’s this artist who springs to mind more than any other whilst listening Barnett’s vocal abilities. Against the skipping, tapping and whirring percussion noises, sporadic booming bass and hip hop and trap time-signatures, Barnett delivers two variations -- a barely-there, traditional r’n’b fluttering falsetto and a surprisingly clear contralto; a marvellous, devastating contrast frequently exchanged during the same song.

t may not be 1995 anymore and explicit and unimaginative sexuality has replaced mystery and ambiguity and this is what has partly driven what seems an uncommonly insatiable appetite for this young singer who almost constantly remains somewhat hidden in all respects. “LP1” was preceded by two 4-track EPs which have served as an introduction to the singer (none of those tracks are included here) and accompanying each of these songs was a highly stylised video; no-one could tell who this person was though, so obscured by the surreal and vivid images -- a slippery and repeatedly oral Chris Cunningham cum Grace Jones “Corporate Cannibal” body-morphing aesthetic. These portraits proved irresistible and have made FKA Twigs the absolute doyenne of tumblr cool; the hype starts here indeed. Stripped then of these visuals as one is when listening to the 10 tracks here (at the time of writing only one song has visual accompaniment), the overall impact is not always as strong when relying entirely on melodic and sonic ability but a lot of the time it exceeds what has been heard to date such is the strength of the song writing.

Two Weeks” is a massive and masterful song, the highlight of “LP1”, and its straight-out-of-the-box perfection would be an achievement for any artist, new or established. Staccato delivery and clipped annunciation surround the only explicit references to sex, and sexual competitiveness, on the album. ‘I can fuck you better than her…..my thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in’ is an example of this but it’s the reference to ‘pull out that incisor’ and ‘flying like a screaming falcon’ that add another altogether otherworldly layer that so befits what we know of Barnett, a darker and by far more disturbing extreme to go to. “Video Girl”, like “Two Weeks”, is another of the more typically structured and sturdier songs which will have people reeling off names like Brandy, Aaliyah and Tweet -- sweet-voiced r’n’b artists who actively encouraged producer involvement to create music that was bleaker and more experimental than the norm expected at the time within the genre. But “Video Girl” is autobiographical; it references her time as a dancer in music videos by the likes of Jessie J and Kylie Minogue immediately before this album’s release and the subsequent change of hierarchy. ‘Is she the girl that’s from the video?’ leering demand is met with Barnett’s subsequent denial ‘I can’t recognise me’. The second chorus slows down just enough for the listener to think there may be a fault with their copy of the track, as though it’s malfunctioning; it’s a disquieting and magical little trick.

Hours” creaks up slowly like a sticky corrugated shutter, produced by indie female favourite Dev Hynes, and has the best example of this soft / hard vocal dynamic where the later verses become strident demands as opposed to the earlier girly infatuations. “Closer” is sublime Gregorian chamber pop ending with the devastating (I think) ‘all these years in isolation, isolation, isolation’ and “Give Up” sees the singer take the role of forceful encourager and rock.  Pendulum” starts with the clack of a stick being rattled around a cotton wool lined barrel with Barnett sounding as though she may dissolve into the background due to emotional upheaval. It’s one of the songs here, and odd therefore that it’s the sole production by pop god Paul Epworth, that feels pleasant enough but inadequate -- the most surprising thing you could say about Barnett, certainly. But it’s misleading as eventually it becomes somewhat of a centrally-placed heart to the album and its warmth burns through you. “Lights On” and album closer “Kicks” are at the weaker end of “LP1”, both tracks promise something that never fully develops or is reached and it’s here that Barnett is reminiscent of Kelela’s “Cut 4 Me” and the slow jams that appear on her album. Production levels are startlingly high and the vocals are pure r’n’b sweetness but there is a little either in the way or melody or mood here.

“LP1” is a record that at first seems to be somewhat slight considering the heft of everything that surrounds it. I was lucky enough to have this album a good two weeks before it was released and can say that after initially forming an opinion that wasn’t as favourable as this one, it kept drawing me back. It was as though I hadn’t heard all of the tracks yet but had retained enough of a clatter or a buzz or a divine falsetto being slowed down to a stuttering machine that I needed to go back and finish them properly, to give the record a fair chance. It’s only through these repeated listens that some of the tracks here really show themselves; it isn’t a slight record at all, far from it in fact. FKA Twigs debut is wholly impressive and bewitching and stands up as a cohesive and single-minded debut; let it also be known that she also wrote every track here. A brilliant and wholly exciting new talent on the British black music scene, whatever that music may be.