John Grant debuts “Billy”

With his new album Boy From Michigan due for release 25th June via Bella Union,and having previously shared the tracks ‘The Only Baby’‘Boy From Michigan’ and ‘Rhetorical Figure’, John Grant today shares a video for “Billy”, the closing track on the LP. On the song, Grant decries the all too prevalent culture of hyper-machismo, one which fashions us all for failure. He explains: “Billy is a song about how many men destroy themselves trying to live up to stereotypes of masculinity and how this manifests in countless ways.” The part-animated video, directed by regular collaborators Casey and Ewan, features the eponymous Billy of the title and was shot in both Reykjavik (John) and Denver (Billy). 

Somewhere in the last decade, John Grant established himself as one of the great musical chroniclers of the American Dream, angled mostly from its flipside. What if everything you were promised, if you worked hard, loved hard, played and prayed hard, it all turned to ash? Grant lays it all out for careful cross-examination in his most autobiographical work to date. In a decade of making records by himself, he has playfully experimented with mood, texture and sound. At one end of his musical rainbow, he is the battle-scarred piano-man, at the other, a robust electronic auteur. Boy from Michigan seamlessly marries both.

Boy from Michigan sets out its stall early in order to fan his lyrical deck wider. Grant knows America well enough to document it in microscopic, painterly detail. The brittle intensity of the early life experiences of a middle-aged man twist stealthily into a broad metaphor for the state of the nation. “I guess I’m just thinking about where I came from,” he notes, “and what I went into.”

With longtime friend Cate Le Bon in the production chair, Grant has maximized the emotional impact of the melodies, stripping the noise of vaudeville and mood-enhancing a fruitful, spare, strangely orchestrated new world for him to live in. A clarinet forms the bedrock of a song. There is a saxophone solo. The record swings between ambient and progressive, calm and livid.

“Cate and I are both very strong-willed people”, says Grant.  “Making a record is hard on a good day. The mounting stress of the US election and the pandemic really started to get to us by late July and August last year. It was at times a very stressful process under the circumstances, but one which was also full of many incredible and joyful moments.” 

With the frenetic backdrop to its incubation playing out in the distance, the narrative journey of Boy from Michigan opens with Grant returning to his artistic prettiest. It begins with three songs drawn from his pre-Denver life: the title song, The Rusty Bull and County Fair. “It’s my Michigan Trilogy,” he says. Each draws the listener in to a specific sense of place, before untangling its significance with a rich cast-list of local characters, often symbolizing the uncultivated faith of childhood. 

Tracks four and five, Mike and Julie and The Cruise Room, are perhaps the most affecting of the record, plunging deep into Grant’s late teenage years in Denver. In the former, Grant is confronted by a friend who wants to be with him, a man he brick-walls by purposefully positioning a mutual female friend in between as he cannot yet face his own sexuality. In the latter, he revisits the untouched, faded grandeur of the Art Deco bar at Denver’s Oxford Hotel for one last night as a young man before trying his luck in Germany, to see if Europe is a better fit.

Cementing the mid-point of the record are a pair of skittish, scholarly dance tunes, Best in Me and Rhetorical Figure. The latter is built in the lineage of his nascent electropop darlings, Devo, suggesting a formative world in which brains are regarded as horny as bodies. Dropping the pace, Just So You Know is the most familiar, John Grant-ian of his songs on the record. It is meant as a song to comfort his nearest and dearest after he’s gone. 

Childhood as a horror narrative returns on Dandy Star, observing the tiny Grant watching the Mia Farrow horror movie See No Evil on the old family TV set in which a blind girl arrives back at her Aunt and Uncle’s home after a date and, after sleeping through the night, awakens in the morning only to discover gradually that everyone has been murdered. 

These nine songs are the tumescent prologue to his grand climax. The pure smut of Your Portfolio imagines the US economy rewritten as a throbbing libidinous cock. “It’s where we are now in The States,” he says. “We worship money and any pretence that there’s any worship of anything else going on – like a loving God, for example – is just pathetic. Character doesn’t matter. Intimacy doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. Wealth is sexualised. It’s a poem in honor of money. The song sounds funny, but I think it’s probably one of the darkest and most serious on the record.” 

In The Only Baby he finally removes his razor blade from a pocket to cleanly slit the throat of Trump’s America, authoring a scathing epitaph to an era of acute national exposition. He positions the former president as the bastard child of the nation’s virgin mother: “Don’t look so glum/There’s no reason to be sad/Because that’s the only baby that bitch could ever have.” As a final coda, on Billy, he gets to the causation of all this, a prevalent culture of hyper-machismo, one which fashioned us all for failure.

In his own accidental, skewed manner, John Grant may just have nailed, if not the, then at least an American Dream. Bruised and scarred he may be, but the boy from Michigan is no weak-hearted fool.

The Flaming Lips announce rescheduled UK live dates for Summer 2022

Following the overwhelming success of their recent Space Bubble concerts, The Flaming Lips have announced their return to the road for a huge worldwide tour schedule to begin in the US this summer with dates extending well into next year. The band’s rescheduled UK dates come right at the end of the tour in May and June 2022.

For those that missed The Flaming Lips’ incredible segment on CBS Sunday last weekend, click here to view and share. The Lips also recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Watch their performance of “Will You Return/When You Come Down” from last year’s hugely acclaimed album, American Head.

The Flaming Lips UK live dates 2022:

Wednesday 25th May 2022 – Leeds – Stylus

Thursday 26th May 2022 – Liverpool – Invisible Wind Factory

Monday 30th May 2022 – Aylesbury – Waterside Theatre

Wednesday 1st June 2022 – Bexhill – De La Carr Pavilion

Thursday 2nd June 2022 – London – Kentish Town Forum

Introducing… C Duncan

Bella Union are thrilled to announce the signing of Scottish composer C Duncan and announce his guest appearance at Lost Horizons’ one-off London Scala show on 19th October. To mark the announcement Lost Horizons have shared a video for “Circle”, the track from their acclaimed In Quiet Moments album on which C Duncan guests. 

Commenting on the track C Duncan says:  “Circle explores themes of repetition and tiny changes. Going round and round in circles for days and days whilst the world very gradually changes around you, finding comfort in not remaining static and yet not going too fast. This is reflected in the video, which is built up of videos I had taken on my phone, traveling through countryside. Nothing moves too fast or changes too quickly, yet by the end of the video you have moved through the landscape of the west coast of America to the west coast of Scotland, nothing seemingly too contrasting or out of place, yet totally different.”

Born and raised in Glasgow by two classical musicians, C Duncan studied piano and viola before taking up guitar, bass, and drums in his teens, eventually studying music composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. His Mercury-nominated debut ‘Architect’ was released in 2015 and after a spell of touring the UK and Europe he returned to his home studio and began work on his Twilight Zone inspired second album ‘The Midnight Sun’ which was released in 2016 and shortlisted for Scottish Album of the Year. He supported Elbow on their UK and North American tour which led him to record his third album ‘Health’ at their studio in Salford with Craig Potter, which was released in 2019 and also shortlisted for Scottish Album of the Year. Now back in his “new and improved” home studio, Chris has worked on new songs and soundtracks, as well as classical compositions. He is also a keen artist, and paints all his own album artwork.

Commenting on signing C Duncan Bella Union boss Simon Raymonde says: “Since hearing Chris’s debut album Architect in 2015 I have been dying to work with him. We had exchanged quite a few messages over the last few years, and after getting the train up to Glasgow to meet him over a year ago now, I knew it could become a reality. He’s unbelievably talented that’s obvious from his previous work but being involved with him initially via working on this song “Circle” for Lost Horizons and more recently as he works away on his first album for Bella Union, I have been almost speechless at what he’s capable of. Proud that we created this song together and SO thrilled he’s going to come down from Scotland to sing it with us at the Scala this October.”

Tuesday 19th October 2021 – London – Scala

Lanterns On The Lake announce “Gracious Tide, Take Me Home” anniversary edition

Lanterns On The Lake have announced news of a deluxe 10th Anniversary vinyl reissue of their acclaimed debut album, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home, out 11th June via Bella Union and available to preorder here. The band’s much-loved debut has been meticulously remastered at Abbey Road studios and will be released on double vinyl in a gatefold sleeve with gold foil print. Additionally, the album comes with five previously unreleased tracks recorded during the original sessions.

Fusing the most fragile and graceful end of the folk music spectrum to the most luminous properties of cinemascope rock, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home used a smorgasbord of instruments to paint a variety of beautiful vistas, from the ambient ‘Ships In The Rain’ to the galloping ‘A Kingdom’, from the six-minute layers of ‘The Places We Call Home’ to the skeletal 73-second finale ‘Not Going Back To The Harbour’. There’s always been a compelling drama to Lanterns On The Lake; the way the opening track ‘Lungs Quicken’ shifts from dreamy restraint to a full-blown crescendo indicated the true power at their fingertips.

Lanterns On The Lake formed in 2008 combining a group of friends who had all played in various bands on the local music scene. Hazel Wilde (vocals, guitar), Paul Gregory (guitars, backing vocals, electronics) and Ol Ketteringham (drums, piano) still comprise the core of the band whilst previous members Adam Sykes (vocals, guitar), Brendan Sykes (bass) and Sarah Kemp (violin) departed prior to the second album.

Hazel commented at the time that: “A lot of lyrics were inspired by my moving back to the coast (North Shields), where I grew up, after I’d been living near the city centre. They’re also memories of growing up here, the feeling of homesickness, and stories of people around us and of the sea. The title Gracious Tide, Take Me Home seemed to sum up all the themes.”

There might be a vein of sadness through this music – ‘Ships In The Rain’ was inspired by a local fisherman who went missing at sea, and ‘A Kingdom’ was inspired by the book letters sent home by WW2 soldiers – but there is just as much hope in ‘Keep on Trying’  and ‘You’re Almost There’, where fear and insecurities are banished by self-belief; “the feeling that you’re going places,” as Hazel says. Mirroring the sentiment of the album title, ‘I Love You, Sleepyhead’ and ‘Places We Call Home’ draw on the comfort and security of home, friendship and memory.

Having been forced to postpone their touring plans for last year’s Mercury nominated Spook The Herd album, Lanterns On The Lake should finally have the chance to perform the songs live for their fans this Autumn when they take to the road for the below UK live dates…

Mr Ben & The Bens announce “Melody Shed”

Following last year’s “Life Drawing” album, cult British DIY outfit Mr Ben & The Bens today announce news of Melody Shed, a 6-track EP released 21st May via Bella Union and available to preorder here. The EP is a set of songs written shortly after the album release as the world entered lockdown. Speaking of the record band leader Ben Hall says: “This group of songs is definitely the little brother to the larger set of songs on the album, with an emphasis on stripped back lyrical folk writing, and acoustic instruments.” Thematically the songs range from introspective musings on the start of a day of work (Ben makes pottery full time as day job) to mushroom picking, even a lament to the stripping of local bus services. “I went into the studio intending to record the songs with just my voice and guitar so they have been tracked live in single takes,” adds Hall. This approach has given the EP a charming, affable quality, with slip-ups and slight time shifts adding to the character of the recordings. The EP precedes a set of socially distanced acoustic gigs alongside a full UK headline tour in August/September, the dates of which can be found below.

The band have a shared a first track titled “How Do I Get To You?”. Speaking about the track Hall says: “This is the song that completely changed the course of the entire EP. The songs were originally written to be played totally acoustic, and when I got to the studio I laid all the songs down live with just a nylon guitar and a couple of mics. Listening back they were just begging for more melodies so bit by bit more instruments were added until this song became this kind of warped folk power-pop stomper. Lyrically it is written from the perspective of someone on a bad trip trying to find their way home. The Crux of the narrative is that point that occurs when you are tripping sometimes that your brain just snaps back to engaging with reality and you solve those non-existent problems that were troubling you the whole time.”

Lost Horizons & Penelope Isles share “Halcyon” visuals

Lost Horizons today share a video for their track “Halcyon”, taken from their recently released album In Quiet Moments, which features frequent collaborators and close pals Penelope Isles. Speaking of the track, Simon Raymonde states…

“Loved Penelope Isles from the first time I heard them and loved them even more from the first time I saw them! I released their debut album on Bella Union and my wife Abbey and I also manage them. Jack and Lily  were the first people I asked to be on the album. Penelope Isles supported Lost Horizons on our first UK headline tour and set the bar incredibly high every night. 

The music for Halcyon started with Richie and I improvising in our studio in Brighton but when I brought that track back home, I ditched the music and just started again from scratch. I had just bought an old Tokai guitar in a local guitar shop that reminded me of the guitar Alan Curtis had used in Richie’s old band DIF JUZ and the second I plugged it in for the first time, and played along with Richie’s lonely drum track, the notes just fell out of me. Within an hour or two the track was done and I sent it over to Jack. I adore what he’s done and love that Lily also sings on the song in that glorious section at the end. It was always going to start the album and now I am thrilled it is being released as a single.”

Jack Wolter of Penelope Isles, who also made the dreamy visuals that accompany the track had the below to say…

“The video for Halcyon is made up of footage I collected during my early twenties, whilst studying and living in Cornwall. I felt the need to film a lot in this period of my life. When I started writing the lyrics and getting into what this song was going to be about, I found myself reflecting back to the importance of this time, the people I shared it with and the days we lived. Beautiful relationships providing unworn conversations although all tangled up in warped spaces and darker moments. The song and video are a reflection into the past and how certain times stay with you forever.”

In other exciting news, Lost Horizons will perform a live show, with special guests, at the Scala in the Autumn of 2021. Tickets for the show, which will feature an array of the album’s collaborators, are on sale now. See HERE for more details.