Growing up, I used to get really excited about a few certain annual occurrences. Naturally, my birthday was the one thing I enjoyed and anticipated more than anything but because that falls in February I would be left with a void and excruciating wait to Christmas. However, once I had blown out my candles the countdown for my ultimate indulgence was only a mere six months away. That was (and to this day, remains as) The Rose of Tralee. It seems like a shameful thing to enjoy, but I can’t seem to shake my enthusiasm for the antiquated competition in which the girls have to be unmarried, under the age of twenty-seven, reveal a talent and their plans for world peace and, of course, delve into their ancestors and mispronounce the more challenging county and regional names, Laois and Youghal. The concept is as old as the Ring of Kerry, but it is the unpredictable nature of the contest that consumes viewers. If you think about it music is no different. There is an overwhelming level of expectation placed upon the contenders (think of Frank Ocean in the run up to Blond) and they are subjected to criticisms, social media commentary (this applies to all musicians, but especially Kanye West and Taylor Swift) and they may also have to deal with unforeseeable stage intrusions (again, think Kanye West and Taylor Swift).
I missed three or more years of watching The Rose of Tralee, so this year was like returning to a familiar memory from childhood that was assured to bring me joy. In truth, it has always been a little dream of mine to enter for the craic, obviously. That is always in my mind when I watch each Rose being interviewed, blossoming with their life affirming aspirations and hideously embellished goodwill towards others only to wilt once the have to show another dimension to their personality, a talent. This year, my highlight was the German Rose, aka ‘Rapping Rose’, going rogue by pacing her way through a Lil’ Wayne song. She, along with the Sydney Rose who advocated for Repealing the Eight refreshed the formula of the competition by being socially active and relevant and just a bit unpredictable. They altered some people’s preconceptions of the contestants much like how I was also veered by the music videos and singles to be released this week by The Avalanches and DJ Shadow.
The Avalanches – ‘Subways’ (XL Recordings)
Remember before Wildflower was released and the reintroduction to The Avalanches after a sixteen year absence was the mildly horrendous, ‘Frankie Sinatra’? Hopes were momentarily extinguished until the embers rekindled once the full album was unveiled, phew! However, it did feel a little questionable to find yourself enjoying the album because that lead single had been such a poor indication of how the album was going to sound. Where ‘Frankie Sinatra’ veered toward a clumsy and almost dated arrangement, ‘Subways’ is modern and makes an effort to involve the listener by offering rhythms that entice you to bop along to. The video for ‘Subways’ is the perfect embodiment of both the single and Wildflower as a whole. It is fair to characterise The Avalanches’ sound as bright, colourful, a little bit bawdy and uplifting. French illustrators Mrzyk & Morcieau, known for a much more subdued and monochrome style of illustration are responsible for this kaleidoscopic jaunt on a New York subway frequented by a frolicking banana meeting an untimely split, a carriage of cats, and many other ample assets that make ‘Subways’ a fun video to watch.
DJ Shadow Feat. Run the Jewels – ‘Nobody Speak’ (Mass Appeal Records)
What happens when you put two sparring men of power, one in a red tie and the other in blue, in a boardroom decorated with flags of the world, mahogany tables purposefully built to rest the issues of the world upon and more official looking people in suits? For the year that’s in it the only plausible outcome is one that culminates in a bout of fisticuffs, a Trump reference and the utilisation of a massive flagpole (the American one, for full dramatic effect) as an oversized baton of pain, oh and sure include a pig and birds just for an added layer of social commentary. This is a very brief overview of DJ Shadow’s collaboration with Run the Jewels, from the producer’s fifth studio album The Mountain Will Fall. I was pleasantly surprised by ‘Nobody Speak’. I’ve always had unresolved reservations towards DJ Shadow but this catchy track has made me realise that I was slightly misguided in my disdain. Eagle-eared fans of Run the Jewels will know that this single was part of their Record Store day special releases, and it is just as enjoyable after a few months worth of enjoyment as the first listen.
Angel Olsen – ‘Sister’ (Jagjaguwar)
I read an interview with Angel Olsen recently and she talked about how she got into writing music and performing because she was looking for an outlet to become more extroverted and explore different personas. In the same article, Olsen talks briefly about being adopted and being the youngest member of the family, one which her siblings were significantly older and she states that her position encouraged her to invent characters and to find the humanity in everyone. These reflections and motivations are more apparent now with her forthcoming third studio album, My Woman, in the ways in which she is developing different images in her music videos and with the narratives in her songs. ‘Sister’ is the third single released from Olsen’s highly anticipated follow up from Burn Your Fire For No Witness. The near nine minute long video follows the singer ambling around Los Angeles in all its palm tree, farmers market greenery. The use of colour is fascinating; equally so in what it is subtly trying to convey in film and music. You may have noticed that green is a prominent feature in the video, directed by Angel Olsen and Conor Hagan, which represents life, renewal, growth, harmony and safety.
Ablebody – ‘Gaucho’ (Lolipop Records)
Another sibling related inclusion in this week’s selection comes from Ablebody, a duo comprised of identical twin brothers, Christoph and Anton Hochheim, also members of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Listening to their latest single, ‘Gaucho’ will bring you on a time travelling expedition which will cut through 2009 until it reaches its destination of 1980s inspired cheesy, but toe-tapping dreamlike guitar and echoey sound effects. The Hochheims have embraced their nostalgic sound and translated it to their aesthetic with the styling of the video, which will make you reconsider your feelings for the loose, t-shirt quality polo-neck. They do make up for the literal beigeness of their wardrobes with this high energy song as well as the marvellous living room in which they watch footage of themselves on a vintage television set and then let loose with a guitar solo. If you like the sound of ‘Gaucho’, you’ll have a little wait on your hands before Ablebody put out their debut album, Adult Contemporaries (adorned with a pretty fantastic photo of the band for the artwork) through Lolipop Records in October.
Notable Mention…. Animate your selfie.
Doomsday Student – ‘Angry Christmas’
It’s almost impossible to be in someone’s company without feeling like a third wheel to them and their beloved and precious phone. Doomsday Student are probably not on the tip of most people’s tongues, possibly because their sound has been described as “yucky music”, and while it is trashy and you can visualise that there are more prop instruments than conventional ones in their recording sessions, you have to respect that they are doing something different.