Tag Archives: Valerie June

Blogathon: Valerie June – “The Hour” (video)

1 Feb

valerie_june

It’s fast approaching hour 19 of our 24 hour charity blogathon and it is time for “The Hour”. Nope, we’re not getting into some kind of convoluted ’Who’s On First?’ routine, we simply mean it’s time for Valerie June’s “The Hour”.

Taken from her wonderful album, Pushin’ Against A Stone (which featured in our albums of the year countdown), the video is a stripped back and intimate performance at Amoeba Music in Hollywood.


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2013 Albums of the Year: The Full List, and a little extra…

21 Dec

2013 Albums of the Year The Full List

Just as we did with our other lists this month, EPs of the Year and Tracks of the Year, we have decided to put all ten of our favourite albums of 2013 into one easy to read list. And, as with our 2014 Preview series, we have also added some honourable mentions of albums that we loved but didn’t quite make it into our final ten.

Every year when we sit down to work out our albums of the year, we always end up surprising ourselves in some way or other. This year was no different and one thing that caught our attention, though probably means very little, was the geographical make up of the list, with seven of the ten albums coming from the USA and only three from the UK, and how many (eight) were debut albums. Evidently we like new things from overseas very much.

Anyway, here you go, all in one place, our favourite albums of the year. Just click on the album title to be taken to the original post and to read more about each one.

Enjoy and see you next week for some regular blog posts and festive fun as well.


#10: Superhumanoids – Exhibitionists

”All throughout Exhibitionists, melodies swoop and swoon, flying to the sun and melting into considered and analytical lyrics. Light and dark meet, mix and leave hand-in-hand, carried off on the marbled tide of heady and vibrant synth-pop and more downtempo and icy soundscapes. The Los Angeles based band has created sounds that dance, sway and float in equal measure and the result is an absolute delight.”

#9: Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone

”Her vocals, so distinctive and unlike almost anything else you’ve ever heard, slip seamlessly from style to style. Warmth and frost, steel like determination and vulnerable insecurity, world weary wisdom and wide-eyed naivety; all feature and all feel entirely natural. She has paid her dues, taken her licks and learnt her lessons. This education, her talent and the fact that she probably bleeds music and Memphis has all come together in a glorious whole and the result is a fantastically varied and captivating album.”

#8: Caveman – Caveman

”Like a sprawling desert, Caveman is broad and spread out as far as the eye can see. Blissfully dreamy guitars wash away the world on lullabies of shimmering heat haze reverb, while the vocals of Matthew Iwanusa float wistfully through your mind and off to the distant horizon.”

#7: Rhye – Woman

”The songs are rich and smooth like a vintage red wine in the company of good friends. Robin Hannibal’s arrangements are deft, delicate and subtle, awash with a languid sophistication, offering glimpses into the intimacy of love, be it full and joyous or pained, private and profound.”

#6: London Grammar – If You Wait

”It is a groundswell of emotion, rising up to the sky and stirring the soul, sending shivers down spines and ripples of Goosebumps across arms. Particularly during moments of quiet, haunting breaths, like those that give way to a compelling, crashing rhythm on “Stay Awake”, or the simple piano intro to “Sights”.”

#5: Day Joy – Go To Sleep, Mess

” Songs trickle gently along, rippling before they unexpectedly swell and rise; lifting you high and carrying you away on a beautiful tide of delicate emotion. Their spectral melodies create a sense of blurriness, like the world seen through rain speckled glasses. Your mind is distorted and made fuzzy by the echoing, swirling sounds and vocals as they shimmer and float on the breeze.”

#4: Young Hunting – Hazel

”There is no urgency to Hazel, it is staid, serene like a lake with not a ripple on its surface but amongst the gorgeous and woozy instrumentals, there is darkness. It is dream-pop but laced with foreboding, a feeling that something is about to upset this idyllic scenario. This sense of unease is perhaps best represented by “Baby’s First Steps”, a track that sounds like a late drive along a 1950’s mountain road, loved one in the passenger seat after a pleasant evening with friends. The night is clear and the road is empty, but the audience knows all is not right.”

#3: Public Service Broadcasting – Inform – Educate – Entertain

”It is far too easy to get lost in the perceived gimmick of Public Service Broadcasting and to our mind that misses the point. The samples are critical of course, but the beauty and enjoyment comes from how they are used and woven into complimentary sounds to convey a narrative, emotion, excitement and energy.”

#2: Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

” Chvrches are exciting. Martin Doherty and Iain Cook wield sonic weapons like a pair of skittish electro-ninjas; flipping, kicking and letting loose shurikens of rapid beats and synth lines with deadly precision while Lauren Mayberry’s sweet emotive vocals rise up above them as if summoned by some mystical enchantress.”

#1: John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

”Here Grant plays with genres more than before as well. Stark electronic melodies and rough synths are juxtaposed with soft, mellifluous harmonies with the guesting (and understated wonderfulness of) Sinead O’Connor and his floating, winsome vocals. But this variety of styles embraced within the album could be seen as representation of the tumultuous variety of emotions and mood swings one undergoes when experiencing and coming to terms with heartbreak. For this is undeniably a break-up album. An album of a man who has been knifed in the heart by a shattered relationship and is coming to terms with the anger, depression, desire and love that remains in his soul.”


Honourable Mentions…

Vuvuvultures – Push / Pull

VVV-Strikethrough

There is a sense of foreboding, of death and of something much bigger than us, of something beyond our comprehension that is prevalent throughout. Be it the portentous, doom laden drum beats and bass sounds that awake “The Professional” or the foot-stomping bluesy sleaze of “Your Thoughts Are A Plague”, cataclysmic events are only moments away. Vuvuvultures have brought the end of this world with them and its noise is addictive.

Guitars shudder and grind, basslines throb and groove, drumbeats pound and scatter and above it all, vocals soar and caress. And within, sometimes buried, sometimes bursting forth beyond these instruments are the electronics, the ghosts in the machine that are desperate to break out. Little glitchy moments here, synthy wails there, digital flourishes that embellish and enhance. On “Tell No One” especially, the machines are coming and the electronics give it an extra feeling of danger, of despair and of impending menace.

Peppered within the album too are fleeting moments where they have taken over entirely, the A.I finding a way to circumvent its masters and the machines talk to one another. They appear at the end of the “Whatever You Will” and the slower undulations of the snake like “Empurrar/Puxar” (Push/Pull in Portuguese) which close the album give way to a minute or so of digital whirring and twitching, calling out to its brothers and signalling perhaps the next stage of Vuvuvultures evolution.

“Push/Pull” is on Energy Snake Records / Cadiz and can be ordered here.



Ms Mr – Secondhand Rapture

MS MR Secondhand Rapture

MS MR resides in a world of the macabre, a world of glitchy electronics, incessant rhythms, swirling strings and deliciously gloomy vocal harmonies. ”We really get off and thrive on a certain level of uneasiness and suspense” Lizzy told us, and that is apparent throughout Secondhand Rapture. Be it the upbeat, clap-happy fun of “Salty Sweet” or the slower melancholy of “Twenty Seven” and “This Isn’t Control”, there is always a sense of disquiet and drama within. It’s just how pop should be, full of big, majestic melodies and hooks big enough to catch a whale. The brilliantly brooding “BTSK” even contains a synth line that is oddly reminiscent of some unnecessarily successful 90s euro-dance, it sounds amazing.

There are so many highlights within; it is almost like a greatest hit compilation. Picking the next single is more taxing than trying a Rubik’s cube while drunk but our money would be on “No Trace”. It’s a beautiful and brutally theatrical piece of noir-pop, full of attitude and sass as well as trademark MS MR rhythms and striking film score-esque strings that urgently harry and batter the listener into sublime submission.

MS MR have been hitting home runs since they came out swinging last year and after the success and acclaim of their previous singles, videos and EP, with Secondhand Rapture they may well have just hit a grand slam.

Secondhand Rapture is available digitally from iTunes.



Little Tybee – For Distant Viewing

Little Tybee

After opening with some delightful, occasional tropical sounding, jazzy folk sounds, we are treated to four minutes of swooshing instrumentalism, laced with gentle prog-rock sensibilities on “Fantastic Planet”. “Herman” drips with aquatic, almost sonar style elements that complement the rich string orchestration before, seemingly out of no-where, dropping in a surprising moment of grinding reverb. It is as unexpected as it is perfect, but it remains the only fleeting moment of rough with the otherwise very smooth.

For Distant Viewing inculcates a care free attitude in its listener. Soothing, heavenly strings entwine with Brock Scott’s rich and slightly sweet vocals as they lick flame like around the rat-a-tat of percussion and the light twang of guitar. It feels fresh at every listen, as if it has just been conceived, improvised, jammed. It is an album that will make you smile, make you sway and hell, maybe even kick off your shoes and have a little shuffle.

Named after an island off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, the music of Little Tybee has a sun kissed feel, not bleached out and surf swept, but bright and breezy. Part Vampire Weekend, part Simon and Garfunkel, perhaps even part Juan Zelada (for they have his charm in their song writing), it is like a glorious summer’s day, it is to be revelled in.

’For Distant Viewing’ is out on Paper Garden Records and can be ordered here.



Cherokee Red – Cherokee Red

Cheroke Red

When you start swaying softly as soon as you start listening to an album, you know you are in for a treat, and so it is with the eponymous debut album of Pennsylvania’s Cherokee Red. It begins with the mellifluous gorgeousness of “Veya Con Dios” and closes with the so-soft-and-delicate-it-could-actually-be-a-lullaby “Blissful Blows”. In between are 9 more tracks of wistful and swoonsome beauty.

“Veya Con Dios” for example, is so pretty you could stick a crown on it and it would win pageants. It’s so beautiful you could frame it and hang it in the Louvre; it’s so … you get the idea, it’s gorgeous. The guitar strums softly as the melody floats like the proverbial wave lapping against the shore; there’s not a cloud in the sky as the sun glistens above you on this deserted beach. It is pure calm and relaxation, Christiana Bartolini’s vocals, from the opening ‘do do, do-do-do-do-do-do-do’, massages away your cares and worries. It’s dreamy, but not in a dreampop way, more a teenage girl describing the High School hunk kind of way.

Bartolini’s vocals are a spoonful of sugar that could make the worst news in the world seem utterly delightful and the arrangements are elegant and divine. Even “Heavy Soul”, with its momentary seconds of comparative angularity and wobbliness, is a tender piece of melody that culminates in the sounds of crickets chirping, preparing the quiet night time for the aforementioned lullaby of “Blissful Blows” which follows.

It caresses the brain and brings about a state of tranquillity in the listener. So laid back and luxuriantly relaxing is it that you may find yourself drifting off into a blissful slumber as you listen. It is the musical equivalent of The Little Book of Calm, except it actually works.

Cherokee Red is available to buy here.



2013 Albums of the Year #9: Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone

16 Dec

valerie june pushin against a stone

Number Nine in our Albums of the Year countdown comes from a lady with a unique voice, fantastic stories to tell and weave into her music and a special sound, all of her own.

Valerie June’s official debut album, Pushin’ Against A Stone, showcases her mesmerising and enchanting southern-belle voice and a myriad of styles bubbling within her ‘organic moonshine roots music’, though each track retains its own individual identity.

“Tennessee Time” is almost pure country while “Wanna be on your Mind” is a delightfully soft summer jam, blessed with Cults-like plinky plonks and subtle bwacka-wacka guitar licks that nudge the track along gently from within. Valerie’s doleful vocals call out, imploring that special someone to make her the most important thing in their life, “I wanna be on your mind/I wanna stay there all the time”. It is probably the most pop-based track on the album, with its beautifully layered harmonies and is one of those songs you fall for the very first time you hear it.

The title track is something else entirely though and utterly spellbinding. Dark moments and struggles seep out from the incessant step-step-step of the organ sounds as Valerie recounts the battle she has overcome, the drudgery of life she has worked through to reach her goal, all the while backed by some glorious 60’s, Stylistics love song style backing vocals. Meanwhile the guitar grinds and wails like a trapped soul, fighting desperately to break free from the shackles of everyday life, straining its every sinew to destroy its mundane prison and soar out across the world, sharing its gift with us all. It’s an absolutely stunning five minutes of emotional and compelling music.

Elsewhere gospel features prominently, on “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations”, as well as dirty, grinding blues, on “You Can’t Be Told”, and folk, on “Twinned & Twisted”. Co-writing and production credits include Dan Auberach, Booker T Jones and Kevin Augunas but it is on Valerie that the whole album hangs and ultimately succeeds.

She is an extremely confident artist with unflinching belief and faith in her talent and this shows across what is an exceptionally assured debut. Her vocals, so distinctive and unlike almost anything else you’ve ever heard, slip seamlessly from style to style. Warmth and frost, steel like determination and vulnerable insecurity, world weary wisdom and wide-eyed naivety; all feature and all feel entirely natural. She has paid her dues, taken her licks and learnt her lessons. This education, her talent and the fact that she probably bleeds music and Memphis has all come together in a glorious whole and the result is a fantastically varied and captivating album.

’Pushin’ Against A Stone’ is out on Sunday Best Records and available to buy digitally here and on CD/Vinyl here.


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Review: Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone

6 May

valerie june pushin against a stone

An unexpected challenge presents itself when seeking to review Valerie June’s official debut album; actually managing to write anything. So mesmerising and enchanting is her sweet southern-belle voice and so captivating are the 11 tracks that time after time the end of the album was reached and not a word had been written, so lost were we in the mix of Memphis blues, folk, soul, roots, country and pop.

It has taken a while, but the world is finally starting to wake up to and embrace Valerie’s immense talent. After seven years plus of hard graft, three ‘bootleg’ albums, countless menial jobs and a feeling that any success would only ever come in her dotage, Pushin’ Against A Stone marks the beginning of a bright new chapter in her life. As she sings on the album closer, “Lord I’m on my way”.

What is a little surprising is the number of styles that are embraced across the record. Her ‘organic moonshine roots music’ has always had a little bit of everything present but here each track has its own unique identity. “Tennessee Time” is almost pure country while “Wanna be on your Mind” is a delightfully soft summer jam, blessed with Cults-like plinky plonks and subtle bwacka-wacka guitar licks that nudge the track along gently from within. Valerie’s doleful vocals call out, imploring that special someone to make her the most important thing in their life, “I wanna be on your mind/I wanna stay there all the time”. It is probably the most pop-based track on the album, with its beautifully layered harmonies and is one of those songs you fall for the very first time you hear it.

The title track is something else entirely though and utterly spellbinding. Dark moments and struggles seep out from the incessant step-step-step of the organ sounds as Valerie recounts the battle she has overcome, the drudgery of life she has worked through to reach her goal, all the while backed by some glorious 60’s, Stylistics love song style backing vocals. Meanwhile the guitar grinds and wails like a trapped soul, fighting desperately to break free from the shackles of everyday life, straining its every sinew to destroy its mundane prison and soar out across the world, sharing its gift with us all. It’s an absolutely stunning five minutes of emotional and compelling music.

Elsewhere gospel features prominently, on “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations”, as well as dirty, grinding blues, on “You Can’t Be Told”, and folk, on “Twinned & Twisted”. Co-writing and production credits include Dan Auberach, Booker T Jones and Kevin Augunas but it is on Valerie that the whole album hangs and ultimately succeeds.

She is an extremely confident artist with unflinching belief and faith in her talent and this shows across what is an exceptionally assured debut. Her vocals, so distinctive and unlike almost anything else you’ve ever heard, slip seamlessly from style to style. Warmth and frost, steel like determination and vulnerable insecurity, world weary wisdom and wide-eyed naivety; all feature and all feel entirely natural. She has paid her dues, taken her licks and learnt her lessons. This education, her talent and the fact that she probably bleeds music and Memphis has all come together in a glorious whole and the result is a fantastically varied and captivating album.

’Pushin’ Against A Stone’ is out today on Sunday Best Records and available to buy digitally here and on CD/Vinyl here.


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Telling Stories – Valerie June Interview

1 Mar

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It is fair to say that the music we are surrounded by as children, that we are exposed to growing up, will have a profound influence on our tastes in adult life. For artists, it will likely have a significant bearing on the kind of music they want to make or that can be heard within their own sound. Valerie June describes her sound as ‘organic moonshine roots music’, so it should be no surprise to learn that she grew up in Tennessee, just one hour from Memphis and two hours from Nashville. She was surrounded by blues, soul, roots and gospel and as she performs, it is clear that each one is in her soul.

She is currently on tour supporting Jake Bugg (not for the first time, he’s a big fan) and will play a sold out headline show at London’s 100 Club on 5 March. This follows an appearance on Later… with Jools Holland last year and time spent in the studio with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys to work on her album.

Her rise to prominence has been gradual though and the result of some damn hard work on her part. Her soon to be released ‘debut’ album Pushin’ Against The Stone (out in May on Rob da Bank’s Sunday Best label) is preceded by three bootleg recordings she self-released and a number of grinding jobs. Jobs which she has said gave her a real sense of how the old blues artists she loved must have felt, coming home after a long and arduous day’s work, to sit out on the porch and play until bed.

She began performing at age 19 with her now ex-husband as the duo Bella Sun. When the band (and her marriage) ended she was left with an aching to write and sing but she didn’t know how to play an instrument. ”I didn’t ever want to experience not being able to perform cause I didn’t know how to play an instrument” she laughs as we speak in the cold backstage area after her fantastic set at Norwich’s UEA, ”and I didn’t feel like going about finding another band, because that wasn’t going to solve the problem. So I just started to teach myself how to play”.

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She is a captivating character, both to look at and to listen to. Her fabled dreadlocks don’t look as wild as they do on stage as she sits opposite, it’s been a long day (that began in Belgium) but she is still charming, funny and happy to talk. She speaks candidly and thoughtfully and tells tales of her past, present and future that we’d happily listen to for hours on end as they are recounted in that beautiful southern-belle accent. She even manages to make the various intricacies and philosophies of yoga sound like something magical.

She tells us about growing up and that, while she may have started performing at 19, she had been singing ever since she was a little girl. As a regular church-goer with her family, not singing wasn’t really an option. ”Everybody had to sing in church!” She smiles as she remembers, ”It’s like 500 people and you are commanded by the law of God to lift your voice in praise, so everybody had to sing together. It was a lot of fun to go to church just for the songs, you know? There were the messages too, but the songs were the best part, hearing all those voices. Everybody singing”.

That background and sense of fun has served her well so far. Valerie is blessed with a unique voice, she calls it unusual, and with the gospel of her church and the Memphis blues inside her, she soon found people falling in love with it and having a good time as she sang. Out on the road as a solo performer, she was teaching herself how to play as she went and found her audiences to be extremely supportive.

”The Memphis crowd is really nurturing, they are awesome,” she explains. ”So that was a good birthplace, not just for my music, it’s the birthplace of rock and roll and blues, you know? It’s the birthplace of a lot of music that we listen to in this world so I think it’s in the water to be nurturing if you are a Memphis music lover”.

Memphis music seeps from the pores of The Black Keys music so hooking up with Dan Auerbach to work on the album seems like a natural fit, and his (well Memphis) influence can be heard. Especially so in her latest single, “You Can’t Be Told”, which is a fantastic, earthy piece of blues rock.


Surprisingly, this was the first time Valerie had worked with producers and while the experience was fun, she admits it was hard work and was quite a learning curve for her. There was one element mind you that she did particularly enjoy about the experience; her smile grows and her eyes widen as she tells us. ”Dan’s studio is pimped out. It is awesome. He has got like a candy store of instruments, it’s better than a music shop. So it was neat to be around all those instruments, you are like ‘can I play this one? Can I play this one?’”

At the moment she is all about the strings, ukulele, banjo, guitar etc, but there is the faint possibility that her range will be expanded upon. ”My husband bought me a keyboard for when I signed my publishing deal with BMG Because he was like “you’re official now, you been writing songs for ever but now you got this stamp, like the certificate of a songwriter” So he bought me a keyboard, because every songwriter needs a keyboard!” Not that she has touched it yet of course, being out on tour all over Europe to promote her record plays havoc with that sort of thing.

As we compare finger length to see who would make the best piano player should either of us ever take time to learn (it would be Valerie, no question, her fingers are long and elegant, ours, not so much), we talk about how it feels now that, after seven long years and a lot of hard work, she stands on the cusp of her debut release on a label. Does she feel official now?

”I have played music my whole life in one way or the other”, she says. ”It’s something that I have done whilst I was doing other things, now it just so happens to be that this is all I do, but there is a lot to it”. Her strong work ethic is standing her in good stead she explains as it is not as simple as many people presume it to be. ”Everybody thinks that being on stage and being the centre of attention for the night or whatever is like easy or something. [But] you think of it as a job and you’ve got to be on your game and you have got to be like, about your business. I’m just really mindful of what kind of energy I am trying to put out into the world”.

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It’s an energy that she says can be a shock to some. She tells a story about buying a belt in London (and a rather lovely belt it is too) and how the woman selling it was taken aback when Valerie spoke, her southern twang was not the accent she anticipated hearing. It happens with her music as well. Looking the way she does, people expect her to play reggae rather than blues, but they soon come around.

It is also an energy that was present in her previous recordings and while Pushin’ Against The Stone may be billed as her debut, she is not about to forget or dismiss her past. Those bootleg recordings are part of her, they are like her children she explains and they will always be with her and always be something she is proud of.

But what of the future? She has worked so hard to get to this point that surely there must be a part of her that is ready to relax, or is this just the beginning? She has spoken in the past of how she expected to be doing this long into her dotage, noting that is how it is for people who make roots music, nothing happens for them until they get really old. So is that the likely scenario then? An older Valerie out on her porch late at night, mosquitos and fireflies buzzing above while an audience of friends, family and grandkids listen to the songs from her latest album? Her answer is remarkably honest and draws parallels to an unlikely source.

”A person that I recently read about, Beatrix Potter, what she did was when she was a child, she started writing and painting and she carried it over into her adult life and she began to just share it with the world. [She shared] her world with the world and people fell in love with the rabbits. And one day she married her second husband and at that time she stopped writing. Everybody was like ‘what’s going on you’ve stopped writing’. And she was like ‘I had to stop, the stories weren’t coming any more’.

“So I think music will be like that for me. When the songs and the stories stop coming, then I will stop playing music but until then, this is my life. She was, in the meantime, performing with her husband and doing a lot of other things and I kind of see my lifestyle like that. Where I have all of these other interests and I play music. I happen to be very gifted and I want to share that gift with the world, and I invite people to have a little piece of my world. Not too much! So that is kind of how I look at it. All the records are important, all of it matters, it is a journey for me”.

It is a journey that has taken her across the globe and back again; a journey that is about to see her release her highly anticipated debut studio album. It is a journey on which she has taken a bit of her world, a bit of her past, a bit of Memphis and she has shared it all with us. It is a journey that we hope will continue for some time and that the songs keep coming.


“You Can’t Be Told” will be released on 4 March and will be available on download and 7” heavyweight vinyl. Valerie June’s debut album, Pushin’ Against The Stone, is out on 6 May. She is playing the 100 Club on 5 March and has just announced some new UK and European tour dates for May.

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