🎸JOHN MAYER🎸 - guitarist, songwriter, all around talented musician - and I’m lucky enough to be seeing him again in concert tonight! 🎸
What do John Mayer and Kanye West have in common? Yes, they both have exceptional style, yes they both have a song together however what they also share is the elite top spot of greatest live acts I’ve ever seen, in 2014 and 2012 respectively. I traveled alone to Sydney when I was 19 to see John, and it was a transformative and amazing experience, with John’s ever evolving setlist at that time containing some of my all time favorite Mayer tunes 🎸
In celebration of what MIGHT 🤞 become one of my favorite live music experiences, I’ve brought together John’s exceptional discography (ranked in order of greatness, top to bottom left to right, 3rd being CONTINUUM 📷➡️) spanning almost 20 years 🎸
Featured is the musicians debut album, ROOM FOR SQUARES, an exceptionally personal and relatable album, it equally balances a blend of radio friendly pop tunes, with more introspective tracks about love, life and growing up in a changing world 🎸
What’s your favorite John Mayer album, song or live performance? 🎸 @johnmayer@columbiarecords#johnmayer#johnmayerlive#roomforsquares#rockmusic#yourbodyisawonderland#discography #
Jenny Lewis is a storyteller, first and foremost. She captures people and places – out of control, out of place and searching for answers and solutions – permanent, temporary, or for one night only. Yet she has always had a remarkable buffering ability with the sweet and the light. In her happiest moments, you search for the storm on the horizon. And in the throes of pity and self-doubt, it is the inflected sadness of her voice clashing against the spirit of her character that provides the will to hurtle on and stand up again. On the Line is another Technicolor collection of tales that straddle the twin facades of Hollywood - the false glamour, the grime and the steps and stages in between. It’s an album filled with lost moments, faded romances and things that could otherwise have been, but the key to it all is that Lewis is in control throughout.
The best moments of On the Line are found within the sweet confessionalism of these tales – cinematic and vivid. "Heads Gonna Roll" is a sweeping and grandiose journey of bitter reflection and hedonistic compensation with memories of a former lover still imprinted into the back of her mind. It’s all gorgeous Lennon-piano draped in strings that swing between dizzy swoops of emotion and pizzicato uncertainty and doubt. "Little White Dove" is a delectably slinky and seductively sparse bass-lead groove and the melodrama of "Red Bull and Hennessey" is intoxicating in deftly portraying its clash between desire, frustration and emotion. In songs such as this that require a delicate balance between seductiveness and vulnerability, there are few better than Jenny Lewis.
The album rarely puts a foot wrong forward, especially in its closing stretch when the sweet West-Coast pop of the title track and the lilting and deftly-executed kiss-off "Rabbit Hole" bring the album home in a swirl of colour and charm. On the Line is all about Jenny Lewis. There are few who can capture your heart – the dark and the light - like she can. On the Line is yet another beautifully-realised and impeccably-delivered effort from a songwriter who revels and beguiles us from floorboards and pavements that few other songwriters would dream to tread.
Whereas last year's MASSEDUCTION was an a Friday night out - all-encompassing, all-consuming, and all-arousing. MassEducation, however, is the complete opposite – despite being constructed of exactly the same songs. Annie Clark. MassEducation is an evening drive, a neon-light in the darkness, a cocktail bar on a Wednesday. It’s the aloof, debonair younger sibling to its bloody-minded, red-blooded sister. MassEducation smokes outside. It prefers white wine to red. It’s an antidote to modernity where the original adhered to all of the rules of ‘now’. There’s no confusion: MassEducation is pure, emphatic. Clark strips all of the excess from MASSEDUCTION and bestows upon the new versions her own, sincere power.
Let’s talk about the new versions. “Los Ageless” is the standout on both records. On this record, it’s a dainty, soulful piano ballad that doesn’t mess with that brain-tickling hook. By resisting the urge to change it completely, Clark shows that her instincts have remained just as sharp despite the fact that she’s spent the last year touring the hell out of these songs.
The “Savior” here is, surprisingly, sexier than the original. It starts slowly, longing and aching, before building to an incredibly intense crescendo. “Pills” takes on a frazzled, deranged angle that makes you think of the earlier St. Vincent material – specifically the drugged-up Disney of Actor.
On the cover of this new version, we see Clark with her back to the camera, seemingly naked: Look a bit deeper and it’s more than that. It’s actually her this time: the legs and ass on the cover of MASSEDUCTION belonged to her friend. This is Annie telling us that this version is closer to the real her, but she’s still keeping something back. She’s nude, but covered. The photo is revealing, but not necessarily erotic. It’s a magnificent cover to a magnificent record.
MassEducation hangs together better than its predecessor. It’s precise where MASSEDUCTION was deliciously sloppy. However, they’re both as near to perfect as a record is going to get these days – incredibly perceptive, personal and inviting with clever lyrics sitting on beautifully inventive melodies.
Listen to Love Is Magic, John Grant’s fourth solo record released exactly three years after the last, and you experience his customary level of brutal honesty, irresistible vulnerability and wit – but with the electronics dialled way up.
The sound is razor sharp: deep, rib-shaking synths and tingling sequencers mix with punchy percussion and feather-like melodies. And, as you’d expect, the words don’t take a back seat in this ‘80s-inspired soundscape; it wouldn’t be a John Grant record without his signature storytelling.
Little can prepare you for the sonic assault of the first minute of opening track “Metamorphosis." Arcade game meets rap meets ring master showmanship, it’s a surreal and disturbing list of phrases and questions – “earthquakes, forest fires, hot Brazilian boys” and “Who created Isis?” – all delivered in various straight and novelty versions of Grant’s speaking voice. Within seconds, this morphs into a sultry, reflective dream ballad about not having properly mourned the death of a loved one – and then back again. You’re disorientated and intrigued. You’ve been warned.
His humour is evident even in the track listings: “Preppy Boy” precedes “Smug Cunt”. The former is a digital disco come-on, complete with seductive funk twang with winks and nudges a-plenty; the chorus begs, "Come on now, pretty boy/ If you’ve got an opening, I am unemployed". The latter is darker – even though it starts off scathingly describing the subject’s obsession with their own chest hair, it turns into a question of control and entitlement: “You don’t want things you cannot own."
Towards the end of the album, slower and softer songs “Is He Strange” and “The Common Snipe” sit still and powerful next to the beats and bleeps of neighbouring songs. If Grant’s talking to his younger self in “Is He Strange”, it’s with palpable warmth, openness, and a degree of comfort with who he is now.
Somehow stories that are deeply personal and unique to Grant become relatable life lessons. The specificity of the lyrics and the boldness of the electronic orchestration should preclude this – but Grant lets the emotions that drive them show through enough that you can’t help but connect.
With Us, Empress Of—née Lorely Rodriguez—maintains her distinctive knack for crisp production, unguarded lyricism, and artful melodies. But where the alt-R&B auteur’s 2015 debut, Me, was mired in tricky and at times blinkered introspection, the aptly titled Us‘s scope is decidedly more universal. Even Rodriguez’s posture—sitting spread-eagled, her arms open—on the album cover suggests a less insular stance, a stark contrast to the black-and-white figure posing with one hand shielding her mouth on the cover of Me.
What’s striking about Us is how blissful the music is. Cuts like Me‘s “How Do You Do It” and “To Get By” featured charging BPMs and house flourishes, but the synths were so blistering, even menacing, that they scanned as post-apocalyptic. By contrast, the tropical “Just the Same” goes down like frothy root beer float. She imbues a similar wonder to the space-age disco stomp “I’ve Got Love.” For Rodriguez, love is a lot like electricity, transmittable and galvanizing: “I’ve got love running through my fingers and my bones.”
Elsewhere, Rodriguez complicates this euphoric depiction of love, turning her attention to more thorny topics. “This love is draining us dry,” she laments on the jittery “All for Nothing,” a chronicle of a relationship in limbo. On the bilingual “Trust Me Baby,” she confronts an insecure lover about his trust issues, recounting a heated fight in a car. Even in the midst of the maelstrom, though, Rodriguez musters up some optimism for love: “We could do each other more love than harm, if you just trust me baby,” she croons earnestly.
Us‘s enduring charm lies in its articulation of the giddy uncertainty that comes from fully trusting someone, of having your world depend precariously on the whims of another person. With Us, Rodriguez candidly approaches the barbs of relationships but still manages to come out with a rose-colored vision of pair-bonding in all its reckless thrills. Considerably brighter, both thematically and tonally, than its predecessor, the album ascertains the guileless exhilaration of love.
Julia Holter isn't prone to small, easy statements. Baroque and oblique in equal measure, her music teases out obscure details and ineffable moods through lush orchestral arrangements and expansive structures. She's a purposeful songwriter whose work demands patience.
That's never been more apparent than on her fifth studio album. Clocking in at a whopping 90 minutes, and offering up relatively few hooks before the halfway mark, Aviary doesn't make concessions to passive listeners. But those who stick with it will be treated to Holter's most touching work yet: a lyrical, meticulously composed album that treasures empathy and togetherness amid turbulence and uncertainty.
Achieving that harmony isn't simple, though. The first-person narratives that Holter used to great effect on tracks like "World" and "How Long?" are largely absent on Aviary. Instead, she leaves listeners to pick through impressionistic fragments and reconstitute them into something meaningful. "Les Jeux to You" sees her joyously tossing out a mishmash of verbs, while "Words I Heard" refutes chaos with a pure declaration of love. It's a potent fulfillment of "I Shall Love 2," a centrepiece that turns a simple declaration into a triumphant refrain.
As exultant as Holter's lyrics can be, the compositions on Aviary lift them even higher. This is her most synthetic album since 2012's Ekstasis, but its electronic flourishes never overwhelm the naturalism of traditional instruments. Synthesizers bob steadily over a bed of strings on "Whether," burble like a creek on "Another Dream," and ring out notes like bells on "Colligere." Everything feels cohesive, even as Holter channels everything from a sombre lament on "In Gardens' Muteness" to a celebratory chant on "I Shall Love 1."
Sweeping and intimate all at once, Aviary never settles for comforting platitudes or dour resignation. It's honest, it's hopeful, and it's surely among Holter's finest achievements.
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MASSEDUCTION's opening track “Hang on Me” presents Annie Clark as the restless consumer on a come down, a prologue to the excesses of thought and sex and substance that populate the record. Her voice is uncharacteristically cracked but still hopeful, begging for someone to cling to while everything crashes around her.
Her fifth record, MASSEDUCTION is maximalist by definition: Lyrically, aesthetically – the all-caps, the clashing red and pink and leopard of its cover art – and musically; with Clark’s virtuosic guitar playing crashing into layer upon layer of synths and programmed beats. Every song contains sounds or ideas for ten others, as though the record might suddenly burst and multiply like spiders running from a nest. There is a complete sense of Clark at the centre: and she knows from experience that loneliness lives at the core of excess.
“Los Ageless” is a near-future fable of eternal youth, its accompanying video a pastel-coloured plastic surgery nightmare. Nestled between the depictions of cage-dancing girls and endless artificial summer is the repeated refrain, “How could anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds too?”, an explanation or an excuse: People don’t just destroy themselves – or let others destroy them – for nothing, you know. As the song fades out, her usually assured voice laments, “I tried to write you a love song,” a kind of epilogue or correction.
Gender and sexuality are presented as experimental, unfixed: On “Sugarboy”, Clark proclaims, “BOYS! I am a lot like you / GIRLS! I am a lot like you,” an update of Prince’s promise that “I’m not a woman / I’m not a man / I am something that you’ll never comprehend.” The title track’s refrain of “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” is Clark embracing the unhinged elements of her sexuality, as one who has shed all the urges of adolescence, and whose control stems from her acting like a man. Instead, Clark prizes adolescent urges as part of her spectrum of sexual experience, wrestling back uninhibited, self-serving female pleasure.
MASSEDUCTION defies explanation and critique, rendering the critic a dead weight in the dust of its ever-accelerating sucker-punch of ideas.
James Blake deduced that "music can't be everything" after the emotional heavy lifting and self-examination of 2016's The Colour In Anything, and the press that followed pointed to an artist more open and in touch with himself. Blake's personal development is the primary driver of fourth LP, Assume Form, a tight 12 tracks that show the artist at his most approachable, romantic and optimistic.
These feelings are apparent from the opening verse of the album's title track. "I hope this is the first day / That I connect motion to feeling," Blake sings, adding, in the chorus: "I will be touchable by her, I will be reachable." Further on, they're undeniable. "You waive my fear of self," he expresses on "Can't Believe the Way We Flow." "I've thrown my hat in the ring, I've got nothing to lose with you," he sings on "I'll Come Too," backed by a lovelorn vocal sample and sweeping strings.
Major keys aren't new to Blake's repertoire, but he has never expressed joy and feeling so plainly. To suggest he has entirely abandoned the dour moods of his earlier work would be wrong; now he's using them as juxtaposition against the album's uplifting moments. It's best captured in "Don't Miss It," which finds Blake recounting anxious, cyclical thoughts in slight vibrato.
Blake's continued openness has also crept further into his creative process, with Assume Form boasting the largest number of credited collaborators to date. On "Mile High," a reserved Travis Scott leaves ASTROWORLD behind for a graceful turn in Blake's world, ceding the rap star power to a wound-up André 3000 on "Where's the Catch?" Moses Sumney pushes his range for a haunting hook on "Tell Them," while Rosalía lends both harmony and Spanish vocals to "Barefoot in the Park."
The cover art finds Blake in repose, hands behind his head, staring into the camera. No longer masked by double exposure, deep blues and greys, Assume Form is Blake coming into focus.
It is radical, in a world of constant sensory overload, to use quietness to make yourself heard: this is something Jessica Pratt uses masterfully on her new album. The plinked keys, strummed strings and warbled words are having none of it – Quiet Signs, as sparse and subtle as its name suggests, shares its secrets only with those willing to give their complete and undivided attention in exchange.
Though there is much common ground with 2015’s gorgeous On Your Own Love Again – prominent and distinctive use of acoustic guitar, at-times unintelligible (yet still beautifully sung) lyrics, a nod to folk music of yore and, of course, that strange, otherworldly voice – Quiet Signs is more finely tuned, sleekened by a studio where previous releases, largely home-recorded, were grainy and warmly primitive. This refinement is immediately clear, as the slinky, cinematic piano of album opener "Opening Night" leads into the silken melody of "As The World Turns."
Pratt is hard to pin to specific genres, eras, realms, shapeshifting through Quiet Signs’ spindly silver branches like Woolf’s Orlando – at one moment a siren accompanied by synth strings (on "This Time Around,") the next a 16th-century courtier (on the Greensleeves-evocative "Crossing"), later a mournful chorister ("Silent Song") and eventually, on "Aeroplane," an ethereal all-seeing deity.
There is no sense here of a ‘difficult third album,’ nor the kind of alarming change of direction that breaks fans’ hearts, but rather a skilful honing of a craft – a less frantically picked guitar here, a more softly spoken word there, a little bit of flute. And what a wondrous thing, for it is, I think, much harder to make what you have subtly better than to try your hand at something completely new.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor takes two decades of tunes for a symphonic spin on The Song Diaries. A superb songwriter with an instantly identifiable vocal approach, Ellis-Bextor’s chameleonic career turns at retro-modernist disco, new wave and adult contemporary balladry.
But, in true Ellis-Bextor fashion, a simple singles collection transformed into something more: enter The Song Diaries. Produced in collaboration with Ed Harcourt, The Feeling bassist Richard Jones and David Arnold, The Song Diaries charts Ellis-Bextor’s journey from frontwoman for theaudience to an engaging solo entity through reimagined tracks.
“Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer),” one of Ellis-Bextor’s stormiest floorfillers from her fourth album Make a Scene (2011). Originally composed as an acidic, electro-pop groove with mock- violin touches, the frenetic programming finds itself swapped out for actual cascading strings. Even with the new organic instrumentation in place, the compositional integrity isn’t lost on “Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)." If anything, the song's intensity is increased.
Throughout The Song Diaries, each song finds its mood heightened by these symphonic alterations. Intricate synth-sections are recast as mighty string beds on “Mixed Up World.” Elsewhere, robust brass pumps in the place of a power pop pulse on “Catch Me.”
Ellis-Bextor delivers two makeovers for “Murder on the Dancefloor” on the LP. In its first version, it is spun into an uptempo ballad, trimmed with castanets and just enough percussion to lend it an airy Latin feel. That aspect is expounded upon with the “orchestral disco version” with a kicking rhythm section that gives it a light, four-on-the-floor boost that teases out its vintage pre-Song Diaries vibes.
The scope of the musicianship on The Song Diaries is impressive. But, ultimately, as it has been with every Sophie Ellis-Bextor effort post-Read My Lips (2001), the record will impact most with those open enough to receive its charms. She needn’t worry though, The Song Diaries will find a home in the hearts of those discerning enough to enjoy having their pop perspectives reoriented by a woman that wields her artistic vision fearlessly.
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