Sunday, 2 October 2016

Blisss - Porcelain/Chalk Air

You've got to love it when an artist picks a name for himself that encapsulates the sound of their music so perfectly. So when it comes to the music produced by London based Tom Greenwood, the moniker he chose for the project, Blisss, couldn't be a better fit (the additional "s" in the name presumably there for improved Google-ability).

Blisss have released two singles to date. The first, "Chalk Air", was released at the end up August and has picked up quite a bit of love from the blogosphere for its psych-pop sound. It's the follow-up single however, "Porcelain", which has really impressed us. The song is a powerful, enrapturing song that reminds us strongly of Primal Scream at their most blissed out (for lack of a better term), or more contemporaneous influences like Jagwar Ma, plus you really can't say no to a towering guitar coda that would make "The Four Horsemen" proud.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Northern Ireland Music Prize 2016 - Who's The Most Popular?

As we mentioned last week, the nominees for the 2016 Northern Ireland Music Prize have been announced. To recap, here are the twelve albums to make the cut for this year's prize -

The Bonnevilles – Arrow Pierce My Heart
Ciaran Lavery – Let Bad In
David C Clements – The Longest Day In History
Documenta – Drone Pop #1
exmagician – Scan The Blue
Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
Girls Names – Arms Around A Vision
Jealous of the Birds – Parma Violets
Michael Mormecha – LOFi LiFE
Ports – The Devil Is A Songbird
Ryan Vail – For Every Silence
Sea Pinks – Soft Days

As has been the case for the NI Music Prize the past few years, I decided to do a bit of number crunching using data gleamed from available resources to see which artists and albums nominated are the most popular. Due to its near ubiquity in the streaming world, as well as the fact that it makes its data about listening readily available for anyone to read, I will be relying solely on information taken from the world's most popular music streaming service, Spotify.

First, I wanted to find out which individual track taken from the 12 nominated albums is the most popular. Below you can find the most popular song from each of the nominated artists, as well as a ranking from most to least popular -

 Most popular individual track from each nominated album on Spotify (streams):
(Snapshot from 21/09/16): 

Foy Vance 
She Burns
Ciaran Lavery 
Okkervil River
Jealous of the Birds 
Miss Misanthrope
Kiss That Wealth Goodbye
Girls Names 
Sea Pinks 
Depth of Field
Love As a Ghost
Ryan Vail 
David C Clements 
My Dear Mother
The Bonnevilles 
No Law In Lurgan
Michael Mormecha 
Less than 1,000

(For comparison's sake, one of the most popular songs of 2016, "One Dance" by Drake, has been streamed over 807 million times) 

As I'd somewhat expected, the artist whose most streamed song tops the rankings is former NI Music Prize winner Foy Vance with the lead single from his album, "She Burns", which has amassed over 3 million plays for the track taken from his Ed Sheeran-signed album. It's also unsurprising to see Ciaran Lavery ranking #2 with "Okkervil River", the only other artist nominated to have a song collected over 1 million streams to date. Lavery's recent success has been largely as a result of his music becoming incredibly and unexpectedly popular on the platform over the past few years, to the extent that he even recorded a live album for them. What's more surprising is to see Jealous of The Birds at #3 on the list - having only started recording music barely a year ago and being quite an unknown quantity even when the album was released this year, it is still surprising to see her song "Miss Misanthrope" outstream the top songs from more established names like Girls Names, Sea Pinks & exmagician (albeit under a different name for the latter). 

To show just how ubiquitous Spotify has become for artists, this year the top 7 artists all have at least one track which broke through the 100k stream barrier, compared to just one from the list in 2015. The others have at least 1 song with a five-figure stream count, with the exception of Michael Mormecha's "Lofi Life", which fails to get a single song even to the four-figure amount on Spotify. 

Of course, as I mentioned last year, there are a few disclaimers to go with this data - this is just a snapshot from a certain point in time before the contest - for all I know, Michael Mormecha could get a song featured on a popular Spotify playlist tomorrow, gain 30,000 streams overnight and parachute into the top 10, so this shouldn't be treated as scientifically rigorous. Also, I have only included versions of songs taken from the parent album on Spotify, so I haven't taken into account other versions of any of the songs (There is a single version of Ports' "Ancient Wave" which has been streamed over 130k times, but as it seems to be slightly different from the album version I have excluded it from the above table. If included, Ports would have moved from 6th to 4th).

After looking at individual tracks, I decided to see how popular each of the albums are as a whole on Spotify. As each of the albums have different track numbers, I thought that the fairest methodology to decide which album is the most popular as a whole is to take the same amount of tracks streamed from each album, then divide it by itself to get an average amount of streams overall.

Therefore, I picked the six most popular songs from each album (6 were chosen, given that the album with the least amount of songs, "Drone Pop #1", contain 8), added up the totals, then divided by six to give an average amount of album points for each. The results of my findings were as follows -

 Most popular nominated album on Spotify (stream average):
(Snapshot from 21/09/16):   

Foy Vance 
 The Wild Swan
Ciaran Lavery 
 Let Bad In
Jealous of the Birds 
 Parma Violets
 Scan The Blue
Girls Names 
 Arms Around A Vision
Sea Pinks 
 Soft Days
 The Devil Is A Songbird
David C Clements 
 The Longest Day In History
 Drone Pop #1
Ryan Vail 
 For Every Silence
The Bonnevilles 
 Arrow Pierce My Heart
Michael Mormecha 

*All songs on this album have been played less than 1000 times on Spotify, so for the purposes of working out an average, I assigned all tracks a play amount of 500. 
(For comparison's sake, one of the most popular albums so far in the same period, "25" by Adele, has an average of nearly 163 million based on this methodology). 

So once again, Foy Vance & Ciaran Lavery find themselves well ahead of the rest of the pack, with album stream averages of well over over half a million for each of them. The top five remain identical to the highest track table, and there's a couple of shifts around the mid-table positions (David C Clements is #8 in this table compared to #10 in the single track rankings, which would seem to imply that more people are likely to listen to his album in full compared to his peers), whilst Michael Mormecha remains firmly anchored to the bottom position.

What is notable about this year's averages is that last year's average appear to be lower than those of this year, even though last year's list had more higher profile names. I'm guessing that the fact that most of the names on the list have managed to find themselves on some popular Spotify playlists has really helped (particularly Jealous of The Birds, which explains the explosion in popularity in such a short space of time). It seems even getting onto a playlist for an upcoming festival can be quite beneficial (quite a few of these artists have managed to amass pretty hefty streams from these self-made playlists), so one can never underestimate the power of the playlist, regardless of its size.

Once again, I should stress that due to the nature of the working, this is not entirely scientific, given that it only takes into account the top 6 streamed songs on Spotify. It also doesn't take into account when the album was released - a few of these albums were released near the beginning of the cut-off period for the prize, whilst others were released much more recently. 

Still, I hope that this gives an interesting overview as to which album nominated for the prize has the largest number of fans, and therefore might give some indication as to who we might see take home the prize come November 11th. To give you a flavour of the nominees, here's a Spotify playlist of the most popular song (as of today) from each of the twelve nominated albums - 

The Northern Ireland Music Prize will be awarded in the Mandela Hall on November 11th. Ports, Jealous of The Birds & Girls Names will perform at the ceremony, as will Ash, who will receive the Oh Yeah Legend Award & perform their album "1977" in full. 

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Wood Burning Savages - Been Anywhere Lately?

Northern Ireland's most visceral* rock band, Derry four-piece The Wood Burning Savages are back with an incendiary new single. The follow-up to "We Love You" back in March, "Been Anywhere Lately?" offers commentary on, in the band's own words, "a time where everyone is a celebrity or wants to be treated like one", and just like some of TWBS' best songs do date, couples this with an onslaught of sound that would rather befit Manic Street Preachers at their more confrontational.

"Been Anywhere Lately?" is out now, and is available on many fine playlists.

*Well, they are when they're not covering Cher songs whilst straddling a bloody giant cannon.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Northern Ireland Music Prize 2016 - The Nominations

On Thursday 15th September, the twelve albums nominated for the 4th annual Northern Ireland Music Prize, In association with Blue Moon, (Yay! the award's got a sponsor now! Groovy biscuits! Aww, it's a beer company) were announced. After tallying nominations from over 70 people within the Northern Irish music industry (full disclosure - The Metaphorical Boat was one of the outlets to submit a nomination, and has been every year since the prize's inception), this is the shortlist that was arrived at -

The Bonnevilles – Arrow Pierce My Heart
Ciaran Lavery – Let Bad In
David C Clements – The Longest Day In History
Documenta – Drone Pop #1
exmagician – Scan The Blue
Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
Girls Names – Arms Around A Vision
Jealous of the Birds – Parma Violets
Michael Mormecha – LOFi LiFE
Ports – The Devil Is A Songbird
Ryan Vail – For Every Silence
Sea Pinks – Soft Days

So those are the nominations, what are our thoughts? Now that the prize has been going for four years, as one might expect we have quite a few artists this year who are enjoying their second nomination for the NI Music Prize. The Bonnevilles & Girls Names were both nominated for the first NI Music Prize back in 2013, As was Foy Vance, who was the inaugural winner that year, and could potentially be the first nominated artist to do the double. Both Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail are enjoying their first solo nominations, after being nominated for their collaborative effort last year. Michael Mormecha is also nominated for the first time under his own name, after being first nominated in 2014 as a member of Mojo Fury

Secondly, compared to last year's list, which featured quite a few well-known names, this year's list is a little lacking in terms of artists that could be called 'household names'. The biggest name on the list, and the only artist on it who achieved a top 40 album last year, is Foy Vance, whose album "The Wild Swan" peaked at #28 when it was released. He also the only artist on the list whose ever had a hit single too, having breached the top 40 last year in collaboration with Rudimental, plus Ed Sheeran took a cover of his song "Make It Rain" into the charts in 2014. 

Apart from him, there's a few artist who'd be well respected on a wider scale within their respective genres, with Girls Names' album receiving rave reviews among fans of post-punk & Ryan Vail gaining plaudits among fans of electronica. Then of course there's Ciaran Lavery, who continues to collect Spotify streams and playlistings like they're conkers.

Although it's good to see less well known artists make the list, the inclusion of bigger names mean that it's more likely that people from outside of Northern Ireland will learn about the NI Music Prize, increasing its reputation on a par with the SAY Award in Scotland and the Welsh Music Prize. As I said before, the prize should act as a loudspeaker, not an echo chamber, although admittedly this year, it is more a case of better known names not releasing albums during this period. The only other artist from Northern Ireland that we thought had a top 40 album during this period was Rend Collective, whose album "As Family We Go" charted at #19 in the final half of 2015, but having looked into it the album was released one week too early to be included in the 2016 NI Music Prize. Not that that album would have made the shortlist even if it was eligible, mind you.

Genre wise, it seems that 2016 is definitely the year of the singer-songwriter among this year's nominations, with Ciaran Lavery, David C Clements, Foy Vance, Jealous of The Birds & Michael Mormecha all flying the flag for solo musings. That's not to say there's not much variety this year. We've also got electronica, blues-rock, shoegaze, psychedelia, post-punk & electronica artists among the 12 albums nominated. Given that to date all three winners of the prize have been singer-songwriters (Soak, Robyn G Shiels & Foy Vance), it would follow the pattern if one of those five ended up for the prize, although perhaps 2016 could be the year that a band finally takes home the top prize.

As for albums that didn't make the list but should have been included, there were two fantastic albums that I would have loved to see make the list but unfortunately didn't make the cut. The first was the self-titled debut album from Best Boy Grip. It made our top 10 albums of 2015, and is an exquisite set of piano-pop songs written by one of the finest, most prolific and most affecting songwriters we have to offer. Perhaps a few of my fellow judges overlooked it given that it was released in September last year, which would have been a real shame. 

The other album that we'd hope would make the list is "The Ebony Trail" by Ciara O'Neill. The album is a beautiful and haunting dark-folk album, and Ciara has one of the most gorgeous voices on these islands, although I feel that if the prize continues, she'll definitely receive a nomination within the next few years, as the quality of the songs she plays live are even stronger than the ones on this album (and as she joked during her album launch, much happier, due to the influence of writing in Nashville). One song of hers in particular, "Dreamer" has the hallmarks of a future classic about it.

This blog will be revisiting the Northern Ireland Music Prize before it is awarded at a ceremony in the Mandela Hall on November 11th, to do a bit of number crunching on the albums and artists nominated for the prize. As for who we would like to win the prize, we'll keep that information to ourselves for now. In the meantime, here's a few songs from some of the nominees -

Monday, 5 September 2016

Ten Fé - Turn

The Metaphorical Boat has been extolling the virtues on London duo Ten Fé for over a year now, with the psychedelic "Make Me Better" being named as our #1 single of 2015, and also being big fans of the driving rock sounds of "In The Air" & "Elodie". We've had the pleasure of seeing them live twice, once in London and once in Brighton (but zero times in Belfast yet, but hopefully that's something that will be remedied once they finally play here). Needless to say, their upcoming debut album, which is now scheduled to be released in 2017, is going to be a firm favourite with ourselves once it comes out.

Following the release of "Elodie", we said that as much as we loved the rockier side to the band, we were looking forward to hearing some of the more psychedelic sounding tunes they've played live being given a push. Well, it's almost as if someone's been listening to us, as Ten Fé have just released "Turn", which sees Leo Duncan take on lead vocals on a single for the first time since "Make Me Better" (we'd observed at their Great Escape gig that Leo tends to take on lead vocals on the weirder sounding tunes, with Ben Moorehouse taking the lead on the rockier songs).

The song takes its title and theme from the idea of "turning the other cheek". As everyone knows, this phrase originates from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says to His followers that if anyone hits them on one side of the face, to turn around and let them hit them on the other cheek. It's a great sentiment, but one that can't always be applied universally. It would make boxing matches tediously one-sided, for example. The song itself is a woozy sounding slice of psychedelic sounding pop, one which isn't a million miles away from the sound of Jagwar Ma (interestingly, the bands share a producer, Ewan Pearson), and is another great piece of music from Ten Fé, one that hints at a wonderfully diverse album once we receive it.

"Turn" will be released as a 7" single on 21st October.