Despite my colleagues mocking me for having my Christmas tree up already, it seems plenty of other people are already in a festive mood. There are a bunch of Christmas-themed covers from artists including Sam Fender, Phoebe Bridgers and Andrea Corr, plus a new Liam Gallagher single, “All You’re Dreaming Of”, the proceeds of which are going to the Action for Children charity.
“It had a bit of a Christmassy vibe to it,” Gallagher told the Radio 2 Breakfast Show today (Friday 27 November). “It’s not a cheesy vibe, I thought it sounded [like] Bing Crosby.”
Speaking of rock stars, Miley Cyrus has finally dropped her long-awaited album Plastic Hearts, which our chief albums critic Helen Brown calls “a truckload of fun” full of Cyrus’s “reckless soul-baring charisma”. I agree that it’s a great record (even if she overdoes it a tad on the covers). I reviewed two albums this week: The Smashing Pumpkins’ CYR, and Steps’ What the Future Holds. Very different, obviously – read what I had to say about each of them here.
There’s a really great new single from Mobo Award nominees Young T & Bugsey, “New Shape”, and Arlo Parks released “Caroline”, the latest track from her forthcoming debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams (out in January). Phoebe Bridgers did a gorgeous cover of “If We Make it Through December” by Merle Haggard; the soft piano and whispering backing vocals remind me a lot of Agnes Obel. London-based singer-songwriter Marie Naffah, meanwhile, sounds heavily influenced by Mazzy Star’s “Fade into You” on the wonderful “Gabriel”. I love Eyelar’s heartbroken “Doin’ It Again”, and also AJ Tracey’s surprise EP, Secure the Bag 2. Another EP out this week is Garden by Exit Kid (ft Years & Years’ Emre Türkmen with Dylan Bell on drums) – tune in for scuzzy post-punk bangers galore.
Keep an eye on Tia Carys in 2021. Each track she releases is better the next – “Trouble Train” is the latest example. Art-pop four-piece The Lottery Winners have released “Open Letter to Creatives: Remain, Don’t Retrain”, a moving tribute for struggling artists affected by the pandemic. Ane Brun, meanwhile, has shared her new album How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow, a breathtaking collection of tender songs performed in her crystalline vocals. If you’re looking for some reading material, try the Secret DJ sequel out via Velocity Press. Written by an anonymous DJ who spent four decades entrenched in dance and club culture, it promises to lift the lid on backstage antics, power struggles, and “how capitalism bought and sold the utopian dreams of the Acid House generation”.
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My spotlight artist this week is Marie Bashiru, an artist and writer based in south-east London, who released her stunning track “Joyride” earlier this month. She describes her music as a “melting pot” of folk, soul and indie rock, paired with biographical writing and her jubilant vocals. Read my Q&A with Marie below, and check out the full Now Hear This playlist on Spotify.
– Hi Marie, tell me about yourself
I’m a singer/songwriter from south-east London, also currently a researcher for the English Folk and Dance Song Society on the other neck of the woods in North London, and I make music that’s crosses the lines between indie folk, pop rock, jazz and a tinge of soul.
– What are the driving themes and influences for this new music?
The influences have been a blend really, led by the West African music of my childhood, along with folk song and flipping the oft cautionary tale within it, on its head a little. My mum also, after seeing me play live, told me I should try and sing happier songs, so this song is me taking her advice.
I actually wrote “Joyride” at the very end of 2019 before the pandemic hit, when I felt I was about to embark on this new journey and was trying to prepare myself for it without my usual melancholy. The themes are what it feels like to navigate new and uncharted territory, the uncertainty of it, and the belief that something beautiful will come out of the seeming chaos of it all. So basically, 2020 wrapped up in a non-proverbial nutshell.
– What's one thing you've learnt during this very weird and tumultuous year?
One thing I’ve learnt is in life, there’s a Plan A, a Plan B, and then a Plan C. The Plan C is kind of like the plot twist we never saw coming...but it can pan out better than both the Plan A and Plan B we had in mind. In my case, crossing paths with producer Steph Marziano and Damien Yare of the Common Language label and being their first signing with the release “Joyride”.
– How do you plan on starting 2021?
In complete and utter gratitude that I made it! And also, in celebration, I’ll be releasing a live EP album that I recorded earlier this year just weeks before lockdown, in a barn, in Epping Forest. Hopefully, I’ll have the privilege of playing some live shows to support the EP release too and release the new songs I’ve written all this year.