Category Archives: 2015

Esther Joy Lane – Esther Joy Lane EP

October 2015

It’s easy to be cynical about new musical acts. Some artists precede the genre they’d most comfortably slot into and don’t get the attention they deserve; some merrily ride on the coattails of others, benefitting from the happenstance of all their musical stars aligning; some abandon their soul and change their sound in order to gain traction; and some would really benefit from their audiences not overthinking whether they’re going to be commercial and successful or not and just concentrating on how good the music is. Slotting neatly into this final category is twenty-three-year-old Leeds-born and Edinburgh-raised Esther Joy Lane, whose timely nascence is largely a product of her youth coinciding with the advent of Garageband, and whose sound can – incidentally and not detrimentally – be herded into the “chilled but edgy” paddock of The XX and London Grammar.

This, Esther’s debut EP, is so confident and accomplished that it’s astounding that it isn’t yet major label, TV sync stuff; someone needs to send stand-out track You Know to Grey’s Anatomy immediately. The acoustic-inspired sparse electro soul of the synths and gentle beats perfectly frames Esther’s low, velvety voice, giving it space without overcrowding it; emotion is conveyed how little she gives away – the more she controls, the more she implies.

The songs do admittedly lie somewhere on a continuum that has Jessie Ware at one end and Grimes, Banks and FKA Twigs at the other, but they’re all favourable comparisons; Esther shares with them a certain hypnotic and beguiling quality, with each play of this EP more rewarding. It has a sort of late night inner-city shimmering-streetlights-reflected-a-river vibe; sultry, personal and highly polished, yet claustrophobic, detached and aloof: in short, captivating.

 

From Nightshift, November 2015

Charli XCX

O2 Academy, Oxford
30th March 2015

Charlotte Aitchison started work on her (unreleased) first album at 14, was signed in 2010, delayed her second album (True Romance) until 2013 to work on it with the now ubiquitous Ariel Rechtshaid, and is accompanying the UK release of her third (Sucker) with this, her first full tour. However, despite four top ten hits to date, collaborations with Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora, and songs on YA film adaptation soundtracks, she says she didn’t know how many people would turn up tonight as she doesn’t usually play outside of London and Manchester – and indeed, the O2 Academy isn’t full.

Sucker is apparently an attempt to give girls a sense of empowerment by the way of a punkier pop sound, and those who had this sort of thing thrown at them twenty years ago will find the Shampoo vs Republica vibe of the title track familiar. Breaking Up and Body of My Own have a Bow Wow Wow influence too.

Charli doesn’t care what she looks like on stage. Her dancing is energetic and even aggressive, but she always looks like she’s having fun; there’s no Lady Gaga-style disingenuity. It feels like the newer stuff is deliberately anthemic, which makes an interesting contrast with some of the odder offerings from True Romance (Nuclear Seasons and You (Ha Ha Ha)), and I don’t suppose anyone here tonight cares that Hanging Around is the stroppy teenage offspring of NKOTB’s Hanging Tough and Five’s Everybody Get Up, or that So Over You sounds a Let Loose cover.

I can see why so many young kids like Charli – something she cheekily acknowledges when she tries to get everyone clapping with “Come on you parents!” in Break the Rules – and she’ll develop and reinvent her image and sound as they grow up. But she’s quite inspiring for the older audience too, and if she keeps churning out bangers like SuperLove and Boom Clap, I’ll still be on board.

 

From Nightshift, May 2015

Rae Morris

O2 Academy 2, Oxford
8th February 2015

Blackpool native Rae Morris has a beautiful voice; reminiscent of Emiliana Torrini, Ellie Goulding and sometimes even Björk (especially on Skin) in tone, its apparent ethereal vulnerability and emotion belies its strength and confidence. Now 22, she signed to Atlantic at 18, and she’s been crafting her life experiences into her debut album, Unguarded, since then.

She has been widely compared to Kate Bush, given her effortlessly versatile voice and piano playing and the Running Up That Hill-like heartbeat throughout Under the Shadows, though I get more of a Fleetwood Mac vibe from it. In general, she’s more soulful; Do You Even Know? reminds me bit of Lena Fiagbe, and there are shades of Sade in Closer.

Rae recorded most of her album with the American producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who has recently worked with HAIM, Charli XCX, Vampire Weekend and Madonna. Even just on the basis of tonight, it sounds like he’s taken Rae’s voice–piano formula and invigorated it into something a lot more poppy, while retaining the smoothness and glassiness of her style – even when, in songs like Don’t Go, the instrumentation is sparse. Rae does however apparently credit Fryars – her support act tonight, and with whom she co-wrote and duets on the oddly autotuney Cold – for guiding her from being an acoustic piano singer-songwriter to her current, more electronic incarnation. She’s even written and recorded with Clean Bandit, though the unexpected dubsteppy drumming in her rendition of their collaboration, Up Again, jars a bit.

It’s a shame that the apparent concentration on instrumentation and production has taken the focus away from the interaction between Rae’s voice and her piano; she has enough songcrafting talent and imagination to be more like Tori Amos in this respect. However, her strongest songs are the faster, more anthemic ones like Love Again and Under the Shadows, and I end up wishing for more of these.

 

From Nightshift, March 2015

Hozier

O2 Academy, Oxford
21st January 2015

Irishman Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s career so far has been characterised by slow burn. A former member of the Irish choral group Anúna, he dropped out of a music degree at Trinity College Dublin to sign a development deal with Universal Ireland, sang with the Trinity Orchestra (big on the festival circuit apparently) and was also involved with an avant-garde bossa nova group and a soul-funk-rap group (haven’t we all).

His ultimate aim, however, was to be a singer-songwriter, and he retreated home to County Wicklow to write what became his eponymous album, with Rob Kirwan picking up his demos and co-producing. The title track of his debut EP, Take Me To Church, was released in September 2013; nominated for the Song of the Year Grammy, it’s still in the UK top ten tonight – the first night of his extensive 2015 tour.

Hozier’s musical bases have been a slow burn too – hundreds of years in the making. The faith-based background of both gospel and the Anúna congregational choral vocal sensibility underpins the night; blues is the other main reference point, most overtly in To Be Alone and Work Song, with soul, folk and jazz interacting variously. The sexual and religious themes of his biggest hit so far pervade other songs, like Foreigner’s God and the lulling 5/4-time From Eden, sung from the devil’s point of view.

Hozier and his band – including a cello – use dynamics and contrast beautifully; delicate vocals float over a menacing rumble in tonight’s opener, Like Real People Do, and the anguished tone of Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene works masterfully with its simple backing.

He does admittedly veer towards tired Commitments-esque arrangements at times, but Hozier’s strength lies in his contemporary interpretation of – and obvious love of and respect for – blues, soul, folk and jazz formats.

 

From Nightshift, March 2015

Reviews

 

Nathassia – The Bullingdon, Oxford – 14th July 2017

Soulwax – Electric Brixton, London – 8th April 2017

Goldfrapp – O2 Academy, Oxford – 20th March 2017

Sal Para – Her single – February 2017

Vienna Ditto – Ticks EP – May 2016

Wild Swim – Untitled EP – January 2016

Esther Joy Lane – Esther Joy Lane – October 2015

Charli XCX – O2 Academy, Oxford – 30th March 2015

Rae Morris – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 8th February 2015

Hozier – O2 Academy, Oxford – 21st January 2015

La Roux – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th November 2014

Tiger Mendoza and David Griffiths – Along Dangerous Roads EP – November 2014

Amy Simpson – Fairy Tales, Stories & Myths EP – July 2014

Banks – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th March 2014

Katy B – O2 Academy, Oxford – 27th March 2014

Foxes – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th February 2014

Vienna Ditto – Ugly EP – November 2013

Blue – O2 Academy, Oxford – 25th October 2013

Major Lazer – O2 Academy, Oxford – 2nd May 2013

Secret Rivals – Just Fall album – May 2013

Jessie Ware – O2 Academy, Oxford – 11th March 2013

Space – O2 Academy, Oxford – 9th March 2013

Kodaline – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 13th February 2013

Bright Light Bright Light – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 27th October 2012

Marina and the Diamonds – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th October 2012

Errors – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 8th May 2012

Lianne La Havas – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 9th March 2012

Rizzle Kicks – O2 Academy, Oxford – 8th March 2012

Babybird – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 29th January 2012

Professor Green – O2 Academy, Oxford – 1st November 2011

East 17 – O2 Academy, Oxford – 2nd September 2011

N-Dubz – O2 Academy, Oxford – 20th July 2011

Sparkadia, A.Human and La Shark – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 24th February 2011

Emiliana Torrini – O2 Academy, Oxford – 9th September 2009

2manydjs – O2 Academy, Oxford – 5th June 2009

Rosalita and Off The Radar – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 4th March 2009

The Subways – Carling Academy, Oxford – 2nd October 2008

Wakestock – Blenheim Palace – 29th June 2008

Alphabeat and Palladium – Carling Academy, Oxford – 28th January 2008

Erasure – New Theatre, Oxford – 3rd September 2007

The Sounds – The Zodiac, Oxford – 24th March 2007

The Noisettes and The Victorian English Gentlemens Club – The Zodiac, Oxford – 22nd January 2007

White Rose Movement – The Zodiac, Oxford – 27th November 2006

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – The Zodiac, Oxford – 15th October 2006

Nizlopi – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th September 2006

The Lightning Seeds – The Zodiac, Oxford – 5th June 2006

Kula Shaker – The Zodiac, Oxford – 18th May 2006

The Go! Team and Smoosh – Oxford Brookes University – 5th March 2006

Idiot Pilot and The Seal Cub Clubbing Club – The Zodiac, Oxford – 6th February 2006

Eskimo Disco, Trademark and Script – The Exeter Hall, Oxford – 2nd December 2005

Knifehandchop, Nervous Testpilot and The Nailbomb Cults – The Wheatsheaf, Oxford – 13th November 2005

King Biscuit Time – The Zodiac, Oxford – 25th September 2005

The Mission – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th September 2005

Josh Rouse – The Zodiac, Oxford – 17th July 2005

Big Speakers, Flooded Hallways and Capsky – The Cellar, Oxford – 3rd June 2005

Melanie C – The Zodiac, Oxford – 2nd May 2005

I Am Kloot – The Zodiac, Oxford – 16th April 2005

Thirteen Senses – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th March 2005

The Others – The Zodiac, Oxford – 25th October 2004

The Ordinary Boys and Dive Dive – The Zodiac – 15th October 2004

Polysics – The Zodiac, Oxford – 16th September 2004

The Last Trailerpark – The September Gurls, The Schla La Las, Goldrush and The Black Madonnas – The Cellar, Oxford – 20th July 2004

The (International) Noise Conspiracy – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th June 2004

Simple Kid – The Zodiac, Oxford – 18th April 2004

Ulrich Schnauss – The Bullingdon Arms, Oxford – 28th February 2004

Dogs Die In Hot Cars – The Zodiac, Oxford – 11th February 2004

Cayto – The Cellar, Oxford – 16th December 2003

The Futureheads – The Zodiac, Oxford – 13th October 2003

Longview – The Zodiac, Oxford – 2nd July 2003

Fiel Garvie, Roquphane and The Epstein-Barr Virus Band – The Cellar, Oxford – 17th June 2003

Panel Of Judges, Byrne, The Broken Family Band, The Maplettes and Spartacus – The Cellar, Oxford – 27th February 2003

Scratch Perverts – Po Na Na, Oxford – 6th February 2003

Zoe Bicat, Spygirl and Joe Hughes – The Cellar, Oxford – 4th November 2002

British Sea Power – The Zodiac, Oxford – 15th October 2002

Trademark – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 29th August 2002

Cumulonimbus, Nervous Testpilot and Blunt Instruments – The Cellar, Oxford – 12th August 2002

a-ha – Royal Albert Hall, London – 25th June 2002

Fischerspooner – The Bridge, London – 30th May 2002

Mansun – The Zodiac, Oxford – 19th May 2002

The Soundtrack of our Lives and Sahara Hotnights – The Zodiac, Oxford – 11th May 2002

AM60 – The Cellar, Oxford – 31st January 2002