It’s Mercury Prize week, so we might as well have a Now Hear This double bill, and there’s plenty to talk about. Let’s start with last Friday’s album releases, which included Sam Fender’s brilliant debut Hypersonic Missiles (review here, interview here), new Pixies, Jenny Hval, Metronomy, and rapper Sampa the Great’s The Return.
Charli XCX released her anticipated record Charli, which our critic Helen Brown praised for being sonically adventurous. It’s been fascinating to watch her career over the past few years, which has been loaded with stops and starts, and I’m looking forward to seeing what her live set will look like at Pitchfork Paris festival in November where she’s headlining with Skepta, The 1975 and Chromatics.
There’s a bunch of new music (a whole album, in fact) inspired by the new series of Top Boy, including tracks by Drake, Dave, AJ Tracey, Little Simz and Ghetts that you should definitely check out. You can also read our interview with star Ashley Walters and a review by Ed Cumming. I’m very into the crunchy Big Spring track “Too Late”, continuing their penchant for Queens of the Stone Age-style sleaze, with some big anthemic choruses thrown in for good measure. Angel Olsen has “Lark”, a cathartic song from her recently announced new record All Mirrors, which she describes as “a song that took many years to finish. The disjointed feelings and verses of this song began to make sense as a way for me to exercise a kind of journey through grieving, a kind of personal struggle”. Blanco White’s song “Papillon” made me weep a bit, but then any music by the solo artist born Josh Edwards tends to do that.
I’m so excited about the FKA twigs comeback, even more now she’s released “holy terrain” with Future. She sings in this ASMR kind of whisper on the intro and then a mesmeric lilt on the chorus. My favourite Mongolian metal band, The HU, have released their debut album The Gereg, named after the diplomatic passport carried by Mongolian nobles and officials in the 13th century (yes, really). One of my favourite tracks is “The Legend of Mother Swan”, which is about the power of a mother’s love for her children – The HU say that respect for women is a big part of Mongolian culture and so several tracks follow that theme on the record. There’s a gorgeous single from newcomer Lilla Vargen, a Northern Irish singer from County Antrim (now based in London); “Why Wait” is sung in her sweetly lilting voice, questioning why we stay in relationships with people who don’t value us.
Coventry darlings FEET are here with the penultimate single from their forthcoming debut What’s Inside is More Than Just Ham (yep), which is out on 4 October via Clapped Records. It’s jangly and frenetic and makes me feel fidgety just listening to it. I’m a big fan of “Salt and the Sea” off the new Lumineers album: gorgeous vocals, stark guitars, evocative piano and some eerie background noises. It’s taken them a while but the legends that are country musician Brent Cobb and the UK’s own Jade Bird have teamed up on “Feet Off the Ground”. It’s a highly unusual vocal pairing but I dig it – his gruff twang sits beneath her airy vocals (Brent is nothing if not understated and here they really give one another space to shine).
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There’s plenty of Mercury Prize content to keep an eye out for this week, including fresh chats with a bunch of the shortlisted artists and the Indy’s coverage on the night (I’ll be there tweeting and posting about the winner as soon as they’re announced). For now you could do worse than check out earlier interviews with shortlisted acts including Foals, Little Simz and IDLES. You’ll also be able to watch the ceremony live on BBC Four from 9pm, and tune in on BBC Radio 6 Music from 7pm on 19 September.
My spotlight artist this week is Aaron Smith, a Scottish singer-songwriter whose EP Loveless is out this Friday (20 September). There’s a chance he might draw comparisons to Lewis Capaldi because us critics can be a lazy bunch, but Smith has a very different sound – darker, moodier – and his vocals have a nice gravelly quality. I caught up with him to see how things are going ahead of the EP’s release.
Hey Aaron! How's your 2019 going so far?
It’s gone really great so far, I’m excited to be putting music out now. It felt good to put “Unspoken” out to the world and now we’ve followed up with “Better Than You loved Me”, it's nice to have the ball rolling as an artist and having my music heard. We’re just getting ready to put the EP out now which is exciting, it’ll be good to have a small body of work that people can get stuck in to. I’m also getting back into writing now - I had written loads for the EP and had so much to choose from so I took a bit of a break while we were putting together the releases and working on the launch, so I’m looking forward to getting back in the studio and working on some new stuff.
Tell me a bit about this new music, when did you start writing and was there anything in particular that inspired you?
It’s emotional - it’s pretty heavy stories that I’m telling but I think they are easy for people to interpret in their own way. That’s what I like about music, while the songs I write are about things I might have been through in my own life, it’s easy for people to take their own meaning from the lyrics and think about it in a different light and link it to something they might have been through which could be a whole other story.
I’ve been playing since I was really young but just doing covers and learning how to play the guitar. When I was about 15 I started writing my own stuff. I take inspiration from a lot of things - my musical idols who inspire me to write in a certain way, things that have happened my life that I’m able use music as an outlet to talk about, stories people tell me about things they have gone through.
What do you have lined up for the rest of the year?
I’ve got an EP coming out very soon, also going to be doing some shows later in the year which will be cool. Looking forward to seeing how the rest of the year pans out and getting ready to start touring properly next year.
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