Monday, 10 October 2016

Music Monday

This week's single, 10/10/16:

Peace of Mind - The Killers

This week has been a busy one for new releases. Kings of Leon have brought us the fourth single from their forthcoming album WALLS, which is shaping up to be quite the corker. You Me At Six have also released a new single from their album Night People, due for release in January. Both tracks are seriously worth a listen, but this week I'd like to draw your attention to something particularly noteworthy.

On Friday, a long-awaited demo release by The Killers landed: an unheard track from the era of a record that's very special to me. Everyone knows 2006's classic indie rock album Sam's Town, the successor to The Killer's extremely popular debut, Hot Fuss. Multi-platinum Sam's Town is celebrated for its grandeur, its pace, its impressively over the top intros and outros, and its propensity for being adored while never being taken too seriously. Sam's Town is one of my favourite albums of all time, and although I was only ten years old upon its release, I'm not sure that I've ever truly been as passionate about another record since. 

Peace of Mind therefore made me rather excitable upon my first listen, and I can't pretend that my opinion isn't a little biased regarding this one. As soon as it begins it's likely to hit old fans of the band with a happy nostalgia, Brandon Flowers crooning over a slow-building start just like he did in My List and Why Do I Keep Counting? The demo is particularly reminiscent of My List, as when it hits the 3:05 mark, you can hear the exact same riff that opens and closes Sam's Town's ninth track. There's a doting, understanding feeling that you get in these moments as a fan; being able to hear exactly how early demos have progressed into your favourite releases is a kind of strangely emotional experience, and it really makes you re-appreciate the final product all over again.

Perhaps Peace of Mind was rightfully discarded in order for Sam's Town to become the extraordinary collection that it did, but even in its demo form it's a lovely little track that carries a whole load of emotion. It's a great piece of Sam's Town history and its release, along with the reissuing of the whole record, has been a great, fun way to celebrate the tenth anniversary of an album that remains a favourite for so many.

Here's to Sam's Town, here's to 2006, and here's to the poster of The Killers that I proudly stuck on my wall when I was ten years old.

You can listen to the track here or in the Spotify player below.


Monday, 3 October 2016

Music Monday

This week's single, 03/10/16:

Kitchen - The Courteeners

I'm so happy to be able to talk about a Courteeners single this week. They're one of my favourite bands, they're bringing out some great new music and quite frankly, they're bloody fabulous so you should absolutely make an effort to listen to this one.

Kitchen is the third single from upcoming album Mapping the Rendezvous, the band's fifth studio album due for release on 28th October. All that we've heard from the previous singles has been pretty promising so far, The 17th in particular with its addictive kind of bassy, synthy romanticism. Kitchen differs in sound quite dramatically: the tempo has sped up for this one and it's much more guitar-driven, which is perhaps more along the lines of what fans would expect from their favourite four-piece.

What's fresh is this single's funkiness. The opening percussion is catchy as hell and its party tempo doesn't let up throughout. Upon first listen I was kind of baffled: were these riffs verging on country? It wasn't a sound I'd have expected from The Courteeners, but somehow it just works, and it works well. Lead vocalist and guitarist Liam Fray claimed that Mapping the Rendezvous will be the band's sexiest (and best!) set of songs to date, and Kitchen is the single that makes you believe it. It's swift, it's snappy, it's seductive. Listen to it on Spotify and keep an ear out for Mapping the Rendezvous if you want to hear more from The Courteeners.


Monday, 26 September 2016

Music Monday

This week's single, 26/09/16:

Stunt Queen - Bloc Party

This is the first single we've heard from Bloc Party since the February release of their fifth studio album Hymns, which is often labelled as their 'reinvention' album following the band's change of lineup and consequential softening of sound. In 2013 and 2015 respectively, founding members Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes left the band, leaving Bloc Party's famously tight rhythm section in the hands of Louise Bartle and Justin Harris. Hymns was dark and spiritual, its sombre tones worlds apart from the high-tempo, guitar driven band we knew and loved back in their Silent Alarm and A Weekend in the City era.

It's been eleven years since Bloc Party released their debut album and a progression in sound is of course to be expected. Stunt Queen however rather surprisingly takes its listener back to the band's roots, its quick pace and intensity reminiscent of their good old days. It lacks much of their once-celebrated experimentalism and is perhaps much 'poppier' than fans would expect, but this is a track that's catchy, heavy on the hooks and is all-round pretty decent. Its definitely worth a listen!

Stunt Queen was released on September 20 to mark Bloc Party's huge performance at The Hollywood Bowl on Friday 23rd. It is the first single to have been recorded by all four current band members, providing a taste of what is to come from Bloc Party Mk II. If you want to see them live in action, they've just announced an intimate show at the 1,700 capacity Roundhouse in London on February 10. Tickets are on sale now.

Listen to the new single here or use the Spotify player below. Subscribe to the whole Music Mondays playlist on Spotify here to listen to all of my suggested tracks in one place. 


Monday, 29 February 2016

Music Monday

This week's *album*, 29/02/16:

Hill's End - DMA's

Happy Leap Day! I'm doing something a bit unusual for an unusual day this Music Monday: I'm reviewing a whole album instead of just a single. After I chose DMA's single 'Delete' as my track of the week a while back, I was so excited for the album that I decided I'd just have to mention it all over again. Enjoy!

Australian trio DMA’s have finally followed up a series of singles and their self-titled EP with full length album, Hills End. A home recorded effort which has become highly anticipated in the months leading up to its release, their debut showcases all that has been making this band increasingly popular.

Beautifully simplistic guitar riffs, raw vocals and melodic peaks are recurrent features on the album, nostalgic characteristics indicative of DMA’s Britpop influences and their role in its spirited revival. The album kicks off with the abrupt ‘Timeless’, Tommy O’Dell’s frustration an onslaught through aggressive vocals and an equally dynamic opening riff. ‘Lay Down’ takes a jangly shoegaze turn, its tone more yearning as Tommy sings ‘Shiver in the morning rain / my eyes they drift away with you’.
‘Delete’ is a heart-on-your-sleeve acoustic gem that takes the tempo down a notch: intimately crooned vocals atop a simple instrumental that builds for much of the track before its melodic last minute, the repeated 'Let it all out' an eruption of passion bringing it to a close. ‘In the Moment’ is the band’s most recently released single, a wistful contribution which explodes into an anthemic chorus reminiscent of the sunburst choruses of Oasis. This is the song on Hills End most alive with Britpop’s euphoria and though DMA’s hail from Sydney, they certainly wouldn’t appear out of place in 1990s Manchester.

‘So We Know’, ‘Straight Dimensions’ and ‘Blown Away’ are quite low key offerings. Tommy’s raw voice resounds as seductively throughout all but they fall a bit flat on the harmonic front, the latter half of the album becoming a little tedious. ‘Step up the Morphine’ and ‘Melbourne’ are stand out tracks with gorgeous melancholy vocals and a spacy sound.
Hill’s End is a strong debut from a relatively new band. Invoking in its listener a sense of nostalgia for the exhilaration of guitar pop music past, this album proves that DMA’s are ones to watch.


Listen to the album using the Spotify player below. 


Monday, 22 February 2016

Music Monday

This week's single, 22/02/16:

Death Dream - Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit have been one of my favourite bands for a number of years, so when they announced the release of new single Death Dream, I was really excited. It's been three years since the release of their last album Pedestrian Verse and in that time the band have lost Gordon Skene as a member. Frontman Scott Hutchison took a break for his own solo endeavours and released an album under the name of Owl John. Now though, Frightened Rabbit are back and ready to show us what they've got, and I for one can't wait to hear fifth studio album Painting of a Panic Attack. To tide us over until its 8th April release date we have Death Dream, the first track on the forthcoming LP and the song from which it takes its name.

Death Dream is nothing you wouldn't expect from Frightened Rabbit. This is a band known for their depressive Scottish anthems, their sombreness and self-deprecating humour celebrated by their fans as it shines through in heart-rending vocals exquisitely written. The new single is no different, a track as beautifully melancholy as one should by now have come to expect from the Glasgow indie rockers. It maintains a funeral procession like hum that has been present in other tracks of theirs ('Head Rolls Off', 'Keep Yourself Warm' and 'Nitrous Gas' come to mind). Opening with the rising drone of a piano, Scott Hutchison's distinctive voice then chimes in, brimming with emotion as always. The lyrics are beautifully poignant, the second verse in particular a stand out vocal moment when Hutchison sings:

'Butterflied arms tell me that this one has flown/
Blood seems black against the skin of your porcelain back/
A still life is the last I will see of you/
A painting of a panic attack'.

It's after this verse that the echoing refrain kicks in, a repetition of 'You died in your sleep last night'. The darkness of the vocals are echoed in the track's instrumental sparsity. The single piano melody in the back is what drives Death Dream, more so than the guitar riffs. This is perhaps the most noticeable change in direction on the new single, but whether this lack of guitar fronting will be a feature throughout the whole album remains unclear. After listening to Death Dream, I'm more excited than ever to find out what Frightened Rabbit will bring us next on the new album.

Listen to the new single here, or in the Spotify player below.


Monday, 15 February 2016

Music Monday

This week's single, 15/02/16:

Learn to Kiss - Dancing Years

This week's single comes from Leeds' five piece Dancing Years. Learn to Kiss is a mellow folk-pop track that pulls at the heartstrings: David Henshaw's vocals are yearning, blistering with emotion. It's a single that builds, multiple instrumental layers being introduced as the vocals rise to a symphonic climax. The band have been praised for the instrumental experimentation that creates their distinct orchestral sound, the likes of string harmonies and synthesisers a consistency in their music. Learn to Kiss is the title track of Dancing Year's newly released EP, featuring three more great songs entitled Valentine, Neon Lights and April.

Dancing Years have compiled quite an impressive catalogue of support tours and the acts which they've played under are incredibly telling of their own sound: Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Dry the River, Jamie N Commons, James Vincent McMorrow, Stornoway and Wolf Alice have all recognised the band's talent and they're beginning to generate a lot of excitement. With support from Huw Stephens and Jen Long (Radio 1) as well as Steve Lamacq (Radio 6 Music), Dancing Years continue to make a name for themselves and Learn to Kiss only marks them further as ones to watch.

Listen to Learn to Kiss on Soundcloud here or in the Spotify player below.


Sunday, 14 February 2016

Recipe: Valentine's Brownies

Valentine's Day doesn't have to be about expensive gifts and the fanciest chocolate or champagne you can get your hands on. Showing someone you care can be just as effective through a sweet and simple gesture, even more so if you go the extra mile and create something home-made. A gift you've made yourself gives it originality and a personal touch and the lucky recipient will undoubtedly appreciate the effort that you've gone to.

This year I decided to make my boyfriend some Valentine's brownies, for three reasons:

  • He totally loves my brownies and keeps asking me to make them
  • He's horribly hard to buy for
  • I'm on a student budget, and what could I buy that's better than brownies, anyway?

The idea came to me when I was in Tiger a few weeks ago and came across a heart shaped cake tin. Not only could I make brownies for Valentine's Day, I could make a giant heart shaped one! I felt so on the ball. I got all my ingredients together in advance and bought some extra bits to decorate the brownies so that they'd be extra Valentine's-y, then I was ready to go. If you fancy baking some yourself, these brownies are incredibly easy to make. This is what I used to just make enough for the one tin:

130g unsalted butter/margarine
100g plain flour
245g caster sugar
150g plain chocolate
2 large eggs
Decorations (I used mini marshmallows, marbled hearts, grated aero chocolate and a little Nutella for sticking.)

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F and line your tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Break the chocolate into pieces and put it in a heatproof bowl with the butter. Now, you need to melt the two together until smooth. The best way to do this is to put your heatproof bowl over a saucepan with a few inches of simmering water in it and let it melt gently, but if you don't have a suitable bowl you can melt the two together in the microwave. (If you're doing this, just be careful if you're using a low quality chocolate as there's a chance that it may seize when melting via this method.)

3. Add your flour, sugar and eggs and stir well until you have a smooth, thick mixture. I used an electric whisk to quickly run through the mixture but a wooden spoon works just as well for the less lazy.

Steps 2 and 3 

4. Spoon the mixture into your lined tin and place in the oven for around 30-40 minutes. You want them to be flaky on top but quite gooey in the centre - test the consistency with a fork to determine whether they're done.

Before and after cooking

5. Leave them to cool. Be patient! If you're anything like me you'll be keen to get onto decorating but if you leave them for a few hours they won't crumble as you remove them from the tin. This was especially important for the Valentine's brownies because they had to stay in their heart shape!

6. Decorate as preferred, or enjoy them as they are!


I don't usually add anything to my brownies but wanted them to look special for the occasion. First I spread a very thin layer of Nutella over the surface of the brownie (not all over, just enough for the toppings to stay in place). Then I grated some aero milk chocolate and sprinkled it all over, before positioning the marshmallows in a heart shape using a little more Nutella. Lastly I added the marbled hearts in the centre as a finishing touch. I think the end result looks pretty good, and I'm sure they're going to taste amazing too!

Of course, brownies are suitable for any occasion so this recipe isn't just for Valentine's. Let me know if you make them yourself, and happy Valentine's Day!


Monday, 8 February 2016

Music Monday

This week's single, 08/02/16:

Is the Is Are - DIIV

This week's single is one that was released a few weeks ago and I've chosen it in celebration of the release of DIIV's new album of the same title. Cast your mind back to 2012 and the release of DIIV's debut Oshin, an album of summery, washed out dream-pop layered atop the soft murmurs of Zachary Cole Smith. Oshin was a light, easygoing affair, the kind of album that lets you float away from reality for a while into a dazed kind of dreamscape. Cole Smith's latest venture, which he recorded and produced himself, doesn't have the same feel to it. Whereas Oshin was all about escapism and summer months that go on 'forever and ever and ever and ever', Is the Is Are focuses on immediacy. They've upped the tempo and the sound is sharper, though vocals largely remain almost intelligible beneath some of the harsher guitar hooks. The most noticeable difference is the heaviness attached to the new album, and Is the Is Are as a single shows off this intensity.

'I feel like I'm fighting for my life' is one of the repeated lines in the track, just a small taste of the poignancy packed into the new double-LP. One doesn't have to wonder about the origins of such feeling as the band's tumultuous past few years have been under extensive public scrutiny. Guitarist Andrew Bailey's 2013 stint in rehab was only the beginning of the troubles, with Smith's arrest for heroin and ecstasy possession alongside his girlfriend Sky Ferreira making matters worse later in the year. In early 2014 Smith checked into rehab. Further issues arose when bassist Devin Ruben's sexist and racist 4chan comments were discovered, and in 2015 drummer Colby Hewitt left the band, reportedly as a result of his own drug problem. DIIV's second album is an emotional rendering of Cole Smith's harrowing struggle with addiction and the maturity of the sound comes as no surprise given such subject matter.

The title track begins with a looping guitar hook reminiscent of the band's earlier dream-pop but the sound is less woozy, the lyrics more hitting, the message more direct. It's a hard-hitting song, but one with sharp scintillating riffs that engage the listener more fully than most of Oshin did. Is the is Are is a track in which Cole Smith repeats lyrics in a mantra-like manner, and the mantra is a bleak one at that, but the meaning behind this and other tracks on the mammoth album has been a means for DIIV to develop their sound and create something harsher, sharper and more engaging. Is the Is Are is no Oshin: the listener isn't likely to be sent into that familiar dream-pop induced daze to which they've become accustomed. Instead they should expect discovery, revelation: though their dreaminess hasn't disappeared entirely, this is a rockier side of DIIV that wasn't previously apparent.

Listen to the single in the Spotify player below.


Monday, 1 February 2016

Music Monday

This week's single, 01/02/16:

Delete - DMA's

I'm sticking with the Australian trio theme this week, but this time it's in the form of Newtown's Tommy O'Dell, Matt Mason and Johnny Took: otherwise known as DMA's. My first encounter with DMA's was in Brixton, November 2014. Supporting The Courteeners on their UK tour, they were surprising. They were promising. To be completely honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to like them. 

Having not heard them before, I hadn't known what to expect. It was their look that caught me off guard: walking on stage in baggy tracksuits and stupid caps, I wanted to ask who'd dressed them. Where were the slick rock'n'roll jackets and skinny jeans? Despite my reservations about their fashion sense their allegiance to Britpop was admirable, the look only adding to their homage.

The comparisons between DMA's and Oasis have been consistent. Noel Gallagher himself claimed that he'd have to 'Watch them from side of stage and boo them' if they were to share a bill with him, but I suspect his annoyance was only a result of being asked so often about this rising talent (and he admitted to have never listened to them at the time). It's not necessary for me to repeat the ways in which you can hear Oasis shining through in DMA's self-titled EP, take one listen and you'll no doubt hear their indebtedness. That said, this doesn't define the band nor detract from DMA's own sound. It's not hard to imagine Delete's chorus being yelled back at the band in unison by adoring fans across festival fields. Delete is a heart-on-your-sleeve acoustic gem: intimately crooned vocals atop a simple instrumental that builds for much of the track before its melodic last minute, the repeated 'Let it all out' an eruption of passion bringing the track to a close. It's a beautiful little tack and though Delete isn't the band's most recent single, it serves as a perfect introduction to their sound and is extremely gratifying upon first listen.

Don't judge DMA's too fast like I did back in 2014 - perhaps actually listen to some of their music first. A perfect opportunity would be on February 26 when their highly anticipated debut album Hills End will be released, or on their headline UK tour starting shortly afterwards. Before then, give Delete a listen and decide for yourself. Listen on Soundcloud here, or on Spotify in the player below.


Sunday, 31 January 2016

Money management

My university term officially starts up again tomorrow and the foreboding reality of lectures, seminars and essays soon to come has brought me abruptly back down to earth. I want to sort out any non-academic concerns before I get back into the routine of uni so I can make myself focus on all that important literary, writerly stuff. One of these little concerns has been money management.

In the weeks since Christmas I've been a little too frivolous with my spending and haven't really kept track of my outgoings. Since I'm a student and only work during holidays, I have to be careful about how much is going out of my bank account when... well, there' s nothing really going in. This is where my termly budgeting comes in.

Now, there's something you need to realise. I'm not a well organised human being. I find budgeting quite difficult because I'm useless at estimating how much things will cost. I've looked online a few times over the years for a budgeting calculator that might help me, but the problem with these is that they all want exact figures of how much you will spend within each 'category' every week or month. There's a downfall to this method: does anyone, especially a student, actually know exactly how much they'll spend on each and every thing? I'm not one to make all my plans in advance so it'd be impossible for me to determine where every penny is going to go for the whole term. I like life to be a little more impromptu than that - what if I want to go out one night but haven't budgeted for the occasion? It didn't take me long to decide that this kind of exactitude wouldn't work for me as a money management technique.

I realised that I'd have to figure out my own way, to make my own sort of Budgeting for Dummies. I'm usually utterly rubbish with money but I've found that keeping track of my spending in a simple way really helps me to stay on top of it all.

At the start of each term the first thing I do is make a note of my balance. I then minus any absolutely essential outgoings from this. Usually for me that's just monthly rent, and I sort bills and food etc. within my weekly spending. The next thing I do is look at how many weeks there'll be in the term and work out my ideal weekly budget based on my remaining balance (always leaving a bit spare to compensate for the odd over-budget week and emergencies).

After I've sorted that part out, I put my weekly budgets for the whole term into an app called Monefy. This app is a total godsend and if you're an Android user I'd absolutely recommend it. As far as I know, the Spendee app is fairly similar and that's available for iOS, so don't fear if you're an Apple aficionado.

The best thing about Monefy is its simplicity. I've included two screenshots below of the app showing my week's spending from back in December. The first is the main page that you see when you open the app, which gives you a breakdown of your balances for the current week and shows you a handy colour coded chart. This makes it easy to assess within which categories you're spending the most. The plus and minus symbols allow you to quickly add any incoming or outgoing expenses. If you tap the green 'balance' button the app shows you the page on the right, which gives you more precise details of your spending.

The way in which the app breaks down your spending for you by letting you categorise each expense is incredibly useful for learning more about your spending habits, and how to better organise and control them in future. The problem I'd had previously was not knowing how much I'd be spending within each of these categories, but after using this app for a few weeks the emerging spending patterns are easy to observe. The whole interface is clear and makes tracking your expenditures so much less of a chore! Another feature that I love is the widget which you can add to your phone's home screen (screenshot below). I use this to quickly add even the smallest of spends before I forget about them - things like a cup of tea bought during the uni day or one off necessities. If I was trying to track everything myself with pen and paper, there's no way I'd remember all the small things. Seeing the widget there at the bottom of my page whenever I look at my phone reminds me to put everything in.

I used this method for the whole of last term and it worked really well. Being able to see where my weekly balance stands at any time gives me peace of mind and means I can make decisions about purchases in an instant. Best of all, it means I can worry about the more important things and pretty much let my budgeting take care of itself! I hope that all I've learned on my way to better money management is helpful. Let me know if you use any apps to help you budget, whether you're another cash-strapped student or just want to be a more savvy spender in general.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Introducing: Music Mondays

My music taste is pretty eclectic and I pride myself on my readiness to listen to almost anything at least once. I've always made an effort to immerse myself in new music and ensure that I'm in the know regarding what's fresh and exciting, particularly in the realm of alternative rock and its peppy little indie pop brother.

Over the past year or two, however, I've noticed that my efforts have dwindled and increasingly I realise that I'm listening to the same dozen bands over and over again. My days of making new monthly playlists have somehow passed me by without notice, but I'm not ready to settle down with my favourite records just yet. I know there's more out there and it's time to shake things up. 

I'm making Monday into an opportunity. No more will we have our Monday morning ritual of hiding under the duvet to stave off the coming week that little bit longer. No more will we groan in despair when we realise that there are five whole days until the weekend. Mondays are getting a dose of excitement, and I will be administering the injection. Music Mondays are here!

Every Monday I'll be recommending a single here on the blog: a track to brighten up a dreary Monday and make the week that bit newer. Last week is behind you, this week anything could happen. Listen to the track, take a deep breath. Revel in Monday's possibilities. See? It's going to work wonders for both of us.

I'll be making the single a recent one when possible, but if I'm particularly struck by something older that I feel deserves to be shared, I'll chuck that in a post instead. The idea is only that we give something new to us a chance. Let's not become set in our ways just yet!

This week's single, 25/01/16:

Glades - Drive

Tomorrow is National Australia Day and I see no better way to celebrate than by listening to Sydney alt. pop trio Glades. Karina Wykes, Cam Robertson and Joey Wenceslao released new single 'Drive' last week, a follow up to 2015 singles 'Her (Loving You)' and 'Falling Away'. It's early days for Glades but their unique poppy tracks are to be taken seriously: theirs is a sound which could well be bound for the limelight. Karina's voice has a Goulding-esque manipulation to it: its uniqueness the kind that makes the listener briefly wonder whether an effect has been added to the sound. Of course, it hasn't, but electronic instrumentals layered beneath complement it perfectly. 'Drive' makes for a great first listen to Glades and is an appetizing taste of who they are and what they have yet to come. Listen on Spotify here or on the band's Soundcloud here.

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