Gig Review: Bon Iver @ Eventim Apolo, London

by will sexton (@willshesleeps)

It’s not often you’ll find a gig review that starts off with the writer in question stressing how nervous he is yet here we are: I was nervous about tonight’s gig. Each to their own but I enjoy looking up setlists before I see bands in order to get super hyped, in addition to stopping myself getting disappointed when one of the deeper cuts I adore no doubt gets left out, inadvertently tainting the night.

So seeing Bon Iver was even more of a Russian roulette: the long-awaited first night they played in London this year (their first English gig since 2012) Bon Iver played their whole new album start to finish in one set, had an interval and then some big hits. The second night was their self-titled second album, an interval and, again, a handful of big hits. Yet nothing was the same order or guaranteed to be played, the only pattern was them going through their discography backwards, (hell they didn’t even play Skinny Love on the first night). So my favourite band of all time could actually not play some of my favourite songs and I could go home heartbroken.

Turns out I had no reason to be worried.

Bon Iver’s gig last night was, to put it simply, an utterly perfect piece of live music that I’ve ever seen. Everyone in the band was on point from start to finish but the gorgeous drumming and brass section definitely deserves to be commended for how impressive they were. Opening with Flume from their debut For Emma, Forever Ago, there was a sudden complete silence to let Justin Vernon fully unfold on stage to the sold-out Apollo theatre. The sound mixing was perfect, his voice soaring above and through the rafters, especially the chorus which went completely through me and I stood in awe and tears. 

Yet, somehow, the gig got even better: Bon Iver decided to play tracks from all their albums and, more importantly, Blood Bank EP, further cementing the point about the alt-rock outfit cycling back through their catalogue. The moment Beach Baby started was when I really transcended, ultimately coming down to the importance the song holds for me and has done for years so seeing that performed as beautifully as it was made it all the better. A speech about love followed it up making it all the more hard-hitting.

Unsuspecting gems came in the forms of the songs __45___, with the most gorgeous saxophone solo, Woods where Vernon really showed off his electronic technical ability with his vocoder and looping and Wolves (Act I and II) with the most epic, goosebumps ending of the whole show. Strobe lights, massive drums hits and raw emotion.

After waiting for 7 years to see my favourite band, I can finally say I’ve seen Bon Iver. The best musical experience. As the gig wound to an end, the band played 22 (OVER SOON), and through my last set of tears, I really felt that yes, the gig was over way too soon.

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Top 50 Songs of 2016

 

 

 

 

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

It’s here! Chuck those negative opinions aside as for the next week we’ll be counting down my musical highlights of the year. While 2016 was full of many negative events (US election, multiple celebrity death, suicide squad, damn daniel etc.), on the other side of the coin music was as entertaining and fascinating as ever. Hip-hop continued to demonstrate its creative power while rock and other genres revitalised themselves to provide us with some of the best singles of their respective artist’s careers.

As always we have the staple “this is my opinion” placeholder to insert before we get cracking on so if there are any songs you think are missing or should be placed higher/lower then keep in mind that this is my list. Since there are 50 tracks to go through, I’ll speed through the first 25 or so and go into a bit more detail as we reach the top 20 picks. With that being said, let’s get the ball rolling…

50. Glue 70 – Casin

49. Crywank – Love

48. Vistas – Sign Language

47. Brand New – I Am A Nightmare

46. Boston Manor -Lead Feet

45. Kevin Devine – Instigator

44. SBTRKT – Let Them In

43. Run The Jewels – Talk To Me

42. Fake Boyfriend – Bumtown

41. Parquet Courts – Dust

40. Pale Kids – Not Listening

39. Blink-182 – Cynical

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC97caHUgKk

38. Weezer – Jacked Up

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJOsRoY-na0

37. Frightened Rabbit – Die Like A Rich Boy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es8wQcKrrhA

36. Jamie T- Tescoland

35. Hovvdy – Try Hard

34. Honeyblood – Love Is A Disease

33. Skepta – Man

32. Metallica – Spit Out The Bone

31. Young Thug – RiRi

30. Enter Shikari – Hoodwinker

29. Touche Amore – Displacement

28. Kendrick Lamar – untitled 03

27. Biffy Clyro – In The Name Of The Wee Man

26. Sweet White – Genine

https://soundcloud.com/sweet-white/genine-1

25. Joyce Manor – Eighteen

24. Death Grips – 3 Bedrooms In A Good Neighborhood 

23. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Dark Necessities 

22. Twin Atlantic – Gold Elephant, Cherry Alligator

21. Mean Jeans – Michael Jackson Was Tight

20. The 1975 – Somebody Else

Trust me, I’m just as surprised as you that The 1975 are making an appearance on this list. Whilst their latest album was a double-edged sword, only just managing to provide more killer than filler, when the band delivered something good it was really fucking good. See Somebody Else for example, a song that dabbles into the topic of modern day romance that frontman, with the hand of some vocal manipulation, executes brilliantly.

19. Charli XCX – Trophy

The ultimate pump up song of 2016, Charli XCX continues her reign as one of the most likeable female vocalists in music right now with a fantastic combination of 00’s club music and peculiar beats.

18. Radiohead – Daydreaming

Beautifully minimalistic and driven solely by piano alongside some glitzy chimes with a Jamie XX flare to them, Daydreaming was the standout track on Radiohead’s triumphant return A Moon Shaped Pool: a calm, borderline lullaby that dips its toes in fearsome waters before diving head first into them during the climax.

17. Bon Iver – 33 “GOD”

Showing off the majority of 22, A Million’s religious subtext, 33 “GOD” is a showcase of Bon Iver’s experimental take on their latest record packaged alongside the delicate rock they’ve mastered since their debut For Emma, Forever Ago.

16. Blood Orange – Best To You

Providing some of the best R&B in recent memory, Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound hit its peak four tracks in with Best To You. Featuring a stunning vocal performance from Empress Of, Dev Hynes showed off just how good he is at mixing production and songwriting together.

15. Real Friends – Mess

A pop punk song that has lyrics that manage to be fresh for the act due to being about something other than a break up?! Revolutionary! All jokes aside, the crisp production value along with a catchy as all hell chorus makes the track feel like Real Friends have been working hard on their songwriting capabilities since their debut record and, despite what they’re saying in the public eye, are making efforts to progress as a band.

14. Codist – Puddle

Glasgow band Codist came out with their debut record all the way back in January and continued to be one of my favourites throughout 2016. My personal favourite track off of Nuclear Family had to be Puddle that harks back to Blackened Sky era Biffy with some equally beautiful lyrics about “why you can feel your insides glow”.

13. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things

The shortest track by far on this list, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s titular theme tune to Netflix’s surprise hit series Stranger Things is, much like the show itself, a total love letter to 80’s electronica with ominous synths lulling you into a sense of dread.

12. American Football – My Instincts Are The Enemy

Showing that the band still had what it takes to retain relevance in a genre that has long since evolved since their one and only record, American Football showed they deserve all the praise they get with their second LP. My Instincts Are The Enemy is a testament to the intricacy this band can provide with just three instruments, pulling off smooth and satisfying tempo changes and delivering beautiful lyrics as if they had never been away.

11. Schoolboy Q – Groovy Tony 

Schoolboy Q may have given us a pretty lacklustre LP in 2016 but he made sure we weren’t left empty handed with Groovy Tony, drenched in eerie production and driven by one of the most aggressive sounding flows in hip-hop.

10. Frank Ocean – Nikes

WE IN THE TOP 10 NOW BABY! The musical Where’s Waldo Mr Frank Ocean returned this year with his long awaited Blonde that kicks off with one of the strongest tracks of his career. Nikes modifies Ocean’s vocals into unrecognisable territory, delivering lines about lost ones and consumerism with a minimalistic background which needs to be listened to for it to be fully experienced.

9. Danny Brown – When It Rain

Not only did Detroit’s prodigal son Danny Brown deliver the best record of his career, arguably one of the greatest hip-hop albums in the past decade, but he managed to shake up his tried and tested sound on top of that. Much like Groovy Tony, When It Rain cranks up that ominous notch up to 11 and packs the visceral imagery to back it up.

8. Moose Blood – Knuckles

Arguably the best track Mooseblood have delivered thus far, Knuckles embodies everything the band have been great at since their debut: providing a killer hook with beautiful lyrics and vocals. While the majority of the band’s sophomore effort is far more grounded in pessimism, Knuckles seems to hit a major realist chord and wonderfully so.

7. PUP – DVP

Unlike other acts of the genre who do a lot of rocking but very little growing up, PUP manage to nail the topic of maturity on DVP which flows seamlessly on from the aforementioned If This Tour… into an even more anthemic style on record The Dream Is Over. Addressing how they handle issues, in this case getting “so drunk that I can’t speak”, as well as others telling them to grow up, the track manages to keep a positive vibe going in its instrumentals whilst juggling some of the darker lyrics on here.

6. James Blake ft Bon Iver – I Need A Forest Fire

While James Blake’s latest record was sub par at best, there was a diamond in the rough in the form of I Need A Forest Fire. Combining Bon Iver’s beautiful vocals alongside Blake’s versatile singing is a genius concept and is wonderfully executed, managing to explore the .topic of new beginnings with total ease.

5. Chance The Rapper – Blessings

It’s hard to argue that 2016 belonged to anyone but if I had to place a bet on it, my money would be on Chance The Rapper. Colouring Book was one of the most enjoyable listens of the year with bucketloads of optimism and hope in a year that very much needed it. Blessings pretty much embodies the album’s core message better than any other track does. A gospel influence is felt not only in its sound but its lyrical content: lines about redemption, fatherhood and faith are subtle with the main hook from Jamila Woods being infectiously catchy.

4. Childish Gambino – Redbone

No artist this year transformed quite like Childish Gambino. Swapping out hip-hop for funk/soul/R&B music is an impossible risk but Gambino somehow survived the transition, quality intact. Redbone shows this perfectly, displaying a wonderful use of vocoder and the aforementioned funk element that made Awaken My Love one of the most refreshing listens of 2016.

3. David Bowie – Lazarus

The loss of David Bowie was one of many celebrity deaths to occur in 2016 but was the one that no doubt hit the hardest. Lazarus pretty much acts as a foreshadowing to it all with lyrics such as “look up here, I’m in heaven” managing to evoke a tear or two out of even the most casual Bowie fan. While it may be a difficult listen considering the context, Lazarus stood out well before the passing of Bowie, providing the perfect balance of instrumentals and Bowie’s unique vocals.

2. The Weeknd – Starboy

Before we get into the top pick of this list, we have but one more track to praise, that being The Weeknd’s Starboy which features on the RnB superstar’s eponymously titled record. Featuring a backing beat that sounds like a less feisty but equally enjoyable Yeezus feature, the partnership with Daft Punk means it’s no real surprise that Starboy finds itself so high up on a best tracks of 2016 list.

1. Kanye West – Real Friends

While The Life of Pablo was an enjoyable albeit messy release, it undoubtedly features the best song Kanye West has released since Runaway. Real Friends puts Mr West in his most vulnerable position since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as he voices his guilt regarding friends and family over a beautifully tragic sounding beat. Think Aphex Twin entwined with heartbreak. The song ends with a poignant howl that evokes the same sadness and, in a way, isolation that we have become accustomed to with Kanye’s more personal tracks. Sources say that when the track was first released, the title was missing the word “friends”. In a twisted way, it’s both a relief to hear Kanye sounding the most real he has in years whilst it’s also uncomfortable to witness the inner turmoil he’s experiencing that has only since got worse with his recent inauguration into a psychiatric ward.

 

 

 

 

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Bon Iver – 22, A Million ALBUM REVIEW

An album adorned with cryptic messages both in its songs as well as its artwork, 22, A Million does little to shake off Justin Vernon’s title as being one “of the greatest living artists”. Toning down the acoustic guitar and instrumentals for a greater focus on lo-fi and electro elements leaves us with a career defining record that asks as many questions as its creator is willing to answer.

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

While their hiatus and wait for an upcoming album long surpassed that of many other artists who seemingly disappeared for no reason, Bon Iver’s absence never quite reached the notoriety that someone like Frank Ocean did. Perhaps it’s due to Justin Vernon, frontman of the indie folk outfit and named “one of the baddest white boys on the planet” by Kanye West, seeming to work his way into various projects in the meanwhile, most notably the aforementioned Yeezy as well as fellow sombre songwriter James Blake. Having stepped away from the band back in 2012, “I really feel the need to walk away from it while I still care about it” he stated in an interview with The Local Show, it seemed like Vernon’s hardworking approach was very much juxtaposing his usual work method: after all, the independent debut record For Emma, Forever Ago was very much the by-product of seclusion, isolation and heartbreak.

For 22, A Million however, Bon Iver’s third studio album, Vernon battled similar demons in attempts to create a record that was the victim of a writer’s struggles: “It was a long moment, these last few years, thinking: What am I doing? What do I want to do it for?” he said in an interview with the NY Times. Having battled depression during the production of 22, A Million, Vernon had repeatedly stated in interviews his struggles with new found fame and the anxiety surrounding him, choosing to have his face taken out of all press shots as they left him “very exposed, with scarred skin from the whole experience. Not that it was all bad, but it wore down these outer layers, and everything kind of hurt.”

Image result for bon iver 2016

All of these murmurings do little to shake of Vernon’s image as being a Les Mis tee and Timberwolves wearing seconding coming of Cobain but whilst the Nirvana frontman was never one for subtly, tracks like Rape Me detailing his woes pretty much threw any traces of that out the window, Vernon takes 22, A Million as an opportunity to go down a more cryptic path. The song titles alone all read as part hieroglyphics part riddles that, whilst ungodly to try and mention in a conversation, better yet a review, seem to fit the nature of the album perfectly. Taking this approach could seem harmful as, after all, making your songs untranslatable messes means you threaten to scare off both casual and life long fans of your work. Thankfully, Vernon and his Bon Iver posse do enough to wear some of the more obvious themes on their sleeves while hiding enough to make repeated listens feel just as, if not more enjoyable than the original.

While the aforementioned debut For Emma explored issues that were deeply personal to Vernon, having suffered both the break up of a band as well as his relationship, 22, A Million takes a step in more of an existential direction and as soon as the album opener “22 (OVER S∞∞N)”  it’s made abundantly clear that it’s the case. Sampling the Gospel hymn How I Got Over, Vernon sings “where you gonna look for combination” into an OP-1  synthesiser, sampler and sequencer, touching on questions of soul-searching and insecurity, the former of which Vernon planned on addressing on a trip to Santorini how apt for an album briefly located on a Greek island to touch on tragedy-esque undertonesThe last line “in the rise there lies a schism” seems to tie in well to not only Iver’s own life of struggles but on a more general level as well which may make the sampling of How I Got Over, a track that was performed before MLK Junior’s I Have A Dream speech, seem somewhat ironic for the hopeful nature.

While some lyrics are baptised in religious subtext, some maybe too obvious such as on 33 God’s “I could go forward in the light”, 22, A Million never feels like an album about searching for a higher power but perhaps one that debates the meaningless of it all: on previous track “715 – CRΣΣKS” Vernon asks “Oh then, how we gonna cry? Cause it once might not mean something?”, tying up Bon Iver’s contemplative narrative neatly up. The carefully chosen samples that drive this record seem to touch on this as well, whether it be the sampling of Scottish musician Paolo Nutini’s Iron Sky or Stevie Nick’s Wild Heart which she has professed as being rather abstract.

The focus on electro as opposed to the bread and butter acoustic Bon Iver had mastered on their previous records ties into all this and helps 22, A Million to feel like even more of a burst of fresh air and evolution. “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” is cataclysmic as its very core, constantly erupting with bizarre electronic instrumentals veering into lo-fi waters yet Vernon’s ability to drive the song over this and the audibly loud handclasps is testament to the man’s vocal ability. While it seems to be near enough impossible to avoid the cliche comparison,  this move very much echoes the same shift that constant innovators Radiohead made on Kid A which, to be fair, is an album that shares similar themes of anxiety throughout so maybe it is pretty apt to contrast.

Comparing and contrasting 22, A Million to anything else around at the moment though is a challenge in itself. While spending time around the likes of Kanye can definitely be felt on certain tracks where the heavily auto-tuned vocals feel like they could click right in place with something off Yeezus, Bon Iver do enough to stand out while doing so. If For Emma, Forever Ago was a lone heartbroken man making music in a cabin in his forest then 22, A Million is that same man veering further into the trees and shrubs and seeing where the path takes him. 2016 has brought with it an abundance of amazing records but none of them sound quite as alien or amazing as this.

9/10

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