The New Cue #63 September 10: The Vaccines, Low, Art School Girlfriend, Yard Act, Nala Sinephro, Toni Sancho, Radiohead, Low, Amyl & The Sniffers, Matthew E. White
10 September, 2021
Before we begin this Recommender edition of The New Cue, we have some news. From Friday 24 September, our Friday editions will be for paid subscribers of The New Cue only. That means that, for £5 a month, you’ll be receiving two subscriber-only editions of The New Cue a week, on Wednesday and Friday. I mean, come on! Our Monday Start The Week With… editions, which have featured interviews with Noel Gallagher, Little Simz, Brandon Flowers, Manics and more, will remain free for everyone on our mailing list. But the full New Cue experience will only be available for our hardcore paid-up crew. Click Subscribe Now below to get involved. We’ll send a few reminders before then so you’re not using your almond croissant to wipe away the tears on the 24th.
Enjoy today’s edition - Justin Young tells us about the new Vaccines album and we’ve got a host of new music recommendations for you. Here’s a playlist to listen along whilst you read, if you like:
We’ll see you on Monday, when we’ve got superstar rapper Common talking about his new music, what he learned from Kanye West and hanging with Obama.
Enjoy the edition,
Ted, Niall, Chris
Line One: Justin Young
The Vaccines release their sixth album Back In Love City today. It’s a bombastic indie-pop concept record about a place called Love City, which is less fruity than it sounds, as frontman Justin Young explains below. It was recorded before the pandemic, which is probably why it’s a joyful, have-a-good-time romp and not a grim dystopia. Niall spoke to Justin on the phone about the making of the new record and what it’s like being called The Vaccines in the age of the vaccine.
Hello Justin, how are you?
Thanks for doing this.
Not at all.
It's gonna be easy and breezy. Where are you at the moment?
I'm just looking out my bedroom window on to the cemetery.
You wanted easy and breezy!
How do you feel getting ramped up for another Vaccines campaign?
It's obviously quite exciting and nerve wracking in equal measure. But then it's also a little bit bittersweet because I was hoping that it would all be over by now and we'd be able to justify unnecessary press trips to Paris and all that sort of thing. But I'm currently conducting most of it from said bedroom overlooking said cemetery. It's good, but it's not as good as it should be.
Has it been strange having to sit on the record for so long?
Yeah, it has. We finished it in December 2019. And we did add a song, we did a bunch of post-production, and additional production. But it has essentially been sat there waiting to go for a few months. But what I will say is it never felt like the wrong thing to be doing. It always felt like the right thing to be doing just because I think there's some kind of quite inward, insular kind of music that kind of thrived in lockdown, but I think the kind of music Vaccines make it's like to be listened to whilst experiencing life.
It is a very outward-projecting record.
Yeah, it's quite a fun, slightly bombastic record and perhaps a product of a more optimistic, hopeful time. We got to the end of touring Combat Sports, which was really fun and exciting. I think we were all very in love with being in the Vaccines, it was two years of seeing the world and having lots of fun, playing great shows and feeling like we were getting better every night. So we went into it feeling excited to get going and we had a degree of self-confidence as a band and the phrase “Back In Love City” fell out of my mouth while writing the song. I wrote to the band that night and said “I think I've got a great title for record” but wasn't necessarily sure it was anything more than a title. But then we slowly started to develop the idea and the concept and started thinking about where it might be and what it might be and how that might bring some focus to the creative process.
You've gone full conceptual. Full prog.
Yeah, this is our prog opus. To be honest, we never once talked about it as a concept record until one of the first interviews I did for the campaign someone basically strong armed me into accepting it was one. Loosely conceptual at the very least, I guess.
Yeah loosely, you say, as you’re showing off the A-Z map you’ve constructed of Love City.
Yeah, exactly, giving them the login codes to this totally immersive video game.
Once you had that title, obviously it can't be an insular reflective record - how much did the title set up the fact that it is a very bombastic sounding album?
It became this guiding light or guiding principle, a dome to exist under or within. Then other songs came as a result of feeling like they might exist in this world, even going as far as to think like, ‘Oh, I wonder what kind of song the house band would be playing in the main casino or the main Love City hotel’, or whatever it may be.
Usually big conceptual records like this are masking more personal themes, what were you getting out of it?
That emotion is technicolour, really, and that language is quite reductive when trying to describe how a certain emotion feels. I think social media and the way we've been connecting over the last 18 months has made that even more sort of binary and I think music is as close as you can really get to somewhere like Love City is coming from, because you can put on a pair of headphones and feel whatever it is.
You’ve always struck me as a bit of a restless spirit, always living in a different spot. How’s it been being stuck in the one place for an extended stretch?
I found it very difficult. I think that I've been forced to confront my hedonism head on and 18 months into not playing live, not getting on stage at 10pm at night. I'm still restless at that time of night. It's nice that the guy in the coffee shop knows my name now, but it’s quite frustrating.
Have you found anything to fill that void?
I got into cooking, but then I got into Deliveroo.
That's the opposite of cooking.
Yeah, exactly. I gave it a go.
How's it been being in a band called The Vaccines over the past year - good or bad?
Do you know what, not as frustrating as you would fear, or hope maybe. I think a name - forgive the pun - but the name is kind of an empty vessel or an empty vial that a band fills and I think most people aware of The Vaccines existence, I hope by this stage in our career, we're more than just a word or a phrase. And so you get the odd dad joke and I think we're slightly more difficult to Google at the moment. The weirdest thing is for people that have never heard of us. I'll meet people I'll tell them the name of our band and they'll go, “no way, really? That's so clever, well done!” And I’m like, “no, no, we've been called that for 10 years.”
What’s your favourite song on the new record?
That's a very good question. It changes all the time. Do you have a favourite?
I really like that track El Paso, it feels like a more flamboyant version of your song Melody Calling, which I love.
I'm glad you said that, because Melody Calling is a sort of prototype of English Graffiti and in many ways, I think English Graffiti is a prototype Back In Love City. I think the ambition or intent is quite similar but the execution is a little bit better and more refined this time out.
One of my albums of the year was released by Warp last Friday, which I should have probably mentioned then but better late than never. Nala Sinephro is a harpist and composer from London who’s clearly influenced by the cosmic tones of the great Alice Coltrane, yet her debut album Space 1.8 has an elegance and gentle ambience all of its own. Sinephro grew up partly in Martinique and that warm breeze blows throughout Space 1.8’s mood-altering, meditative forty-five minutes. I’m crediting the album for Britain’s overdue burst of late summer heat this week. Every time I play it, London gets warmer.
Toni Sancho is another London-based artist who spent significant chunks of her childhood in the Caribbean. Brought up in North Greenwich, she left for Trinidad in her teens, but is now back living in London and balancing odd-jobs with writing and recording her brilliant songs. The first evidence of this distinctive talent is Survive! which is released by Spanish Prayers, a label started by Cigarettes After Sex. Like all the best pop songs, it’s melancholic, it’s slightly off-kilter, it nags at you and it’s got contemporary swing. An exciting debut.
I think I may have mentioned on here before that I was once thrown out of a Low gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire for ordering drinks too loudly at the bar. Listening to the combustible textures of the duo’s new, 13th album, HEY WHAT, it’s hard to imagine that happening now. How many groups get louder, more abrasive, more experimental as they age? That’s just the direction that Alan Sparhawk and his bandmate wife Mimi Parker are travelling in three decades into their career, dragging the avant-garde digital effects of 2018’s Double Negative even further out to space. Working alongside producer BJ Burton, Low explore tying static and manipulated noise around their heart-bursting harmonies in a way that is entirely unique. Nobody sounds like this. Their vocals anchor the songs but the music spins off into a kind of alternative universe of glitchy noise, as if it’s been produced on some distant Marvel-directed planet. It’s a whole new sound, baby!
The suggestion of a collaborative concept album would normally send me running at speed in the other direction, but the marriage of French garage-rockers The Limiñanas to their compatriot dance DJ and producer Laurent Garnier on De Películahas made me rethink my prejudices. The album imagines the soundtrack to a film about a couple of teenage rascals on a sleazy road-trip to Spain from France, like a spaghetti western if the cowboys were on smack and scoring in brothels. It’s recognisably a guitar album, but with the song structure of a dance record. It’s a magnificent mood, like a mix of Can and Serge Gainsbourg, the sound of heavy psychedelic rock set against wide-eyed techno repetition.
I totally lost my cool at the news Radiohead were reissuing Kid A and Amnesiac alongside a disc of unreleased tracks and outtakes titled Kid A Mnesia. I talked to my wife excitedly about it, she handled the situation well enough, and then I just started randomly texting mates with messages that read things like “Follow Me Around?!?!??!!!”, which to some of them probably came across a little like a sinister instruction rather than a reference to a cult Radiohead track. As a full Radiohead nerd, I can’t believe there’s Radiohead songs in their archive that I’ve never heard of, such as this dreamy, slo-mo cut If You Say The Word. I mean, I don’t expect Thom, Ed, Jonny, Colin and Phil to keep me fully in the loop, but it was a lovely surprise.
The debut album by Art School Girlfriend helped me to regain my composure. Wrexham native Polly Mackey used to be the singer and guitarist in atmospheric rock quintet Deaf Club but Is It Light Where You Are, out now on Wolf Tone, is being beamed in from an entirely different plane, shoegazing synth-pop where the blurry edges are balanced out by great pop hook after great pop hook. I’ve had it on repeat.
The new single from Leeds quartet Yard Act is great fun and I don’t usually go for fun, like I said, I’m a big Radiohead fan. It sounds like early-00s NY dance-punk transported to a 90s indie disco, cheap bottle of cider on the go with a demented bingo caller hollering over the top. It’s called The Overload, which is also the title of their debut album, out in January on Zen F.C.
I have Wolf Alice’s Joel Amey to thank for pointing me in the direction of feisty Glasgow quintet VLURE. Oh I’m sorry, did I just do a namedrop? That’s nothing, have I told you about the time I went for lunch with Sting and Shaggy? I must have done, I’ve told everyone. Anyway, Show Me How To Live is a spiky, thumping industrial anthem that sounds a bit like Nine Inch Nails with added Scottish aggro. Quite a lot of aggro actually.
This time last week, heavy-bearded cosmic soul man Matthew E. White did us a solid and picked an album to blow the mind of The New Cue readers. OK, by selecting There’s Riot Goin’ On by Sly & The Family Stone, an album frequently cited as one of the most important and influential releases of the 1970s, he slightly missed the brief of picking something that people might not have heard, but no matter. As Matthew said, it’s a genuinely mind-blowing listen at every turn, even if you have heard it countless times before.
His own album, K Bay, is out today on Domino. It’s exactly the sort of delight you can imagine future crate-diggers stumbling across and falling in love with. From opener Genuine Hesitation’s propulsive splice of Talking Heads and Low-era Bowie, it bounces through heart-swelling gospel funk, glittering disco bangers and more. My favourite bit comes from the excellently-titled Take Your Time (And Find That Orange To Squeeze), a seductive slow jam that sounds like Outkast hooking up with Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra. Ooooooh baby…
I was trying to free up space on my phone recently and found a short video I’d filmed of Bryce Wilson from Amyl And The Sniffers setting off fireworks in the street after a gig in Toronto. It made me feel a bit sad and wistful for pre-pandemic life. Fortunately, any gloom can be lifted by the knowledge that Melbourne’s most luxuriously mulleted punks have released their second album today via Rough Trade.
Comfort To Me sacrifices none of the beer-hurling energy of their 2016 debut, but they’ve significantly broadened their palette his time around and it makes for a much more satisfying listen. Singer Amy Taylor’s lyrics are excellent too, a winning combo of thoughtful, thoroughly pissed off and frequently very funny.
Slightly off piste, but earlier this week I was reading up on Rage, the late 80s/early 90s club night at London’s Heaven where chief DJs Fabio and Grooverider oversaw the homegrown development of rave, jungle and drum and bass from imported Chicago House and European techno. After a little light Googling, I found this excellent essay on Bandcamp by writer and dance culture boffin Joe Muggs (or “Muggsy” as he was forever known in the Q office).
As someone who was more pre-occupied with Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles at the time, it’s a fascinating read. Moreover, the accompanying playlist by Fabio and Grooverider themselves is killer. The original mix tape has sold out on Bandcamp, but there is a very similar version available on Spotify should you want to dive in…
Kings Of Leon frontman Caleb Followill on being faced with his band’s old music videos…
“I can't listen to myself. The other day I walked in and my wife - I think she's probably just going crazy because she's been cooped up in the house - she was watching Kings Of Leon music videos. I was like, “babe, you gotta turn this off”. I'm blushing so bad I feel like blood is seeping out of my face. My god… those pants, how did we do it?"