Sunday 27 September 2015

Northern Ireland Music Prize 2015 - Who's The Most Popular?

As we mentioned last week, the nominees for the 2015 Northern Ireland Music Prize have been announced. To recap, here are the twelve albums to make the cut for this year's prize -

A Plastic Rose – Flickering Light of an Inner War
And So I Watch You From Afar – Heirs
Axis Of – The Mid Brae Inn
BeeMickSee – Belfast Yank
Ciaran Lavery and Ryan Vail – Sea Legs
Duke Special – Look Out Machines
The Lost Brothers – New Songs Of Dawn And Dust
Malojian – Southlands
Not Squares – Bolts
SOAK – Before We Forgot How To Dream
Therapy? – Disquiet
Tim Wheeler – Lost Domain

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. For the past 2 years, I have used in order to give an idea of how popular each of the artists nominated have been around the time that the album has been nominated. However, given that the data I gleamed from the website in 2013 and 2014 is not as easily usable as it was last year, I will be relying solely on information taken from the 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:
(Snapshot from 26/09/15): 

  1. SOAK - B a nobody -  7,883,384
  2. A Plastic Rose - Somebody's Daughter - 86,884
  3. And So I Watch You From Afar - Run Home - 68,524
  4. Therapy? - Still Hurts - 54,983
  5. Duke Special - Nail on The Head - 39,650
  6. Tim Wheeler - Snow in Nara - 22,896
  7. Ciaran Lavery and Ryan Vail - The Colour Blue - 20,651
  8. The Lost Brothers - Days Ahead - 17,950
  9. Axis Of  - Wetsuit - 4,058
  10. Malojian - Communion Girls - 1,324
  11. Not Squares - Oops Said Hi - 1,267
  12. BeeMickSee - Belfast Slang – Less than 1000
(For comparison's sake, one of the most popular songs of 2015, "Cheerleader" by OMI, has been streamed over 424 million times) 

 So as expected, the most popular song from a nominated album belongs to BBC Sound of 2015 nominee SOAK, with her song "B a nobody" being streamed nearly 8 million times. A very distant, yet credible 2nd place comes from A Plastic Rose with "Somebody's Daughter", which has proven to be much more popular with the Spotify crowd than the most popular songs by well known acts like Therapy?, Duke Special & Tim Wheeler. In the bottom half of the table, it's surprising to see Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail's most streamed track on just over 20,000, especially given that the former's most streamed track on his own has already amassed more than 10 million streams, whilst spare a thought for BeeMickSee, whose most popular track is almost 8000 times less popular than the #1.

Of course, there's 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, BMS' could get 10,000 streams tomorrow 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 "single" versions of any of the songs (the single version of "Somebody's Daughter" has been streamed an additional 85k times).

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, "Sea Legs", contain 7), 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 album from each nominated album on Spotify:
(Snapshot from 26/09/15): 
  1. SOAK - Before We Forgot How To Dream - 2,373,045
  2. And So I Watch You From Afar - Heirs - 57,169
  3. Therapy? - Disquiet - 36,320
  4. A Plastic Rose - Flickering Light of an Inner War - 31,187
  5. Tim Wheeler - Lost Domain - 17,545
  6. Duke Special - Look Out Machines - 13,819
  7. The Lost Brothers - New Songs Of Dawn And Dust - 10,728
  8. Ciaran Lavery and Ryan Vail - Sea Legs - 9,678
  9. Axis Of - The Mid Brae Inn - 2,339
  10. Malojian – Southlands - 734*
  11. Not Squares – Bolts – 628*
  12. BeeMickSee - Belfast Yank – 500*
*These three albums had songs within their six most streamed which were listed as < 1000 plays. For the purposes of working out an overage, these songs were assigned a play count of 500.
(For comparison's sake, one of the most popular albums released in 2015, "The Chaos & The Calm" by James Bay, has an average of nearly 45 million based on this methodology). 

So once again, SOAK finds herself as the queen on the nominees, with an average album stream total of over 2 million, whilst A Plastic Rose drop back to fourth, which suggests that "Somebody's Daughter" is much more popular than the album as a whole. It still ends up more popular than the established Duke Special & Tim Wheeler, which is possibly a result of the album being available on Spotify 3 months before it was available to buy. ASIWYFA are a strong yet distant 2nd place, whilst BeeMickSee once again brings up the rear.

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 would be interesting to see how well each of the albums has sold overall, rather than just streaming, as it would give a better idea of how popular each artist is. Unfortunately, that data is not freely available, although I do know that three of the albums did make the UK Albums Chart - SOAK (#37), Therapy? (#79) & Duke Special (#92)

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 14th.

The NI Music Prize ceremony will take place in the Mandela Hall. There will be performances from nominees The Lost Brothers, Malojian & Ciaran Lavery and Ryan Vail, as well as from The Divine Comedy, who will receive the Oh Yeah Legend Award.

Saturday 26 September 2015

New Portals - Groove Boy

Whilst it's a shame that Mike & Ruth Aicken have now officially put their wonderful folk group The Jepettos on hiatus, it's fair to say that their new music project, New Portals, has been going down a storm. Their songs have got airplay on both Radio 1 and Radio Ulster, been picked up for a popular playlist on Spotify, and their live show got a positive, yet under-researched review in The Huffington Post (brother & sister? The Japettos?).

So what better time to drop a new single on us than now. "Groove Boy" takes its inspiration from acts like Oh Wonder & Broods, and is a heavenly slice of electro-pop,  with its dreamy xylophone lines, sleek synthetic production, and of course, the luscious harmony vocals that this husband and wife duo have become known for under their various different guises.

New Portals have hit upon a sound that is very much in vogue at the moment, yet the imbue it with just enough originality and personality to set it apart from its peers. It's their most mainstream sounding single to date, and alongside other local acts like Loris, could see them at the forefront of the Northern Ireland's burgeoning electro-pop movement.

"Groove Boy" will be released on October 12th.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Ivy Nations - The Mile Road

Some fine indie-rock appears to be the order of the day from Dublin 4-piece Ivy Nations. There's very little information about the band available on the internet outside of those minor tidbits - it appears the band seem to prefer to let the music do the talking at the moment. But if their debut single "The Mile Road" is anything to go by, then there's going to be lots of people who are happy enough to listen. It's a danceable rock tunes very much in the mold of Two Door Cinema Club or a little less jittery Everything Everything. It's a fine debut single, and a welcome introduction to a band who may be worth keeping your eyes on.

"The Mile Road" will be released on September 21st.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Northern Ireland Music Prize 2015 - The Nominations

On Monday 14th September, the twelve albums nominated for the 3rd annual Northern Ireland Music Prize 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), this is the shortlist that was arrived at -

A Plastic Rose – Flickering Light of an Inner War
And So I Watch You From Afar – Heirs
Axis Of – The Mid Brae Inn
BeeMickSee – Belfast Yank
Ciaran Lavery and Ryan Vail – Sea Legs
Duke Special – Look Out Machines
The Lost Brothers – New Songs Of Dawn And Dust
Malojian – Southlands
Not Squares – Bolts
SOAK – Before We Forgot How To Dream
Therapy? – Disquiet
Tim Wheeler – Lost Domain

 So looking at the nominations, there are a few points of interest worth discussing. Firstly, for the first time we have several artists who are receiving their 2nd nomination for the NI Music Prize. A Plastic Rose, ASIWYFA and Axis Of were all nominated for the inaugural prize back in 2013, so this year could be second time lucky for any of those three artists.

Secondly, in comparison to last year's list, which didn't contain many artists with a reputation outside of Northern Ireland, 2015's shortlist contains a fair few artists who would be quite well known on a national or international scale. There's Therapy?, who were the winner of last year's Oh Yeah Centre Legend Award), who've picked up a nod for their highest-charting album since 1999. There's Duke Special, whose album "Look Out Machines" became the highest charting UK album of his career. And So I Watch You From Afar continue to be one of the biggest and most respected proponents of post-rock in the world, and of course there's SOAK, who has enjoyed being playlisted on Radio 1, as well as reaching the Top 40 with her album "Before We Forgot How To Dream".

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.

It's good to see a bit of variety this year genre wise. We've got rock from A Plastic Rose, Axis Of & Therapy?, singer-songwriters (Malojian, SOAK, Tim Wheeler), dance (Not Squares), electronica (Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail), and even some rap courtesy of BeeMickSee, so there's bound to be something for everyone.

As to the albums that didn't make the cut, perhaps the biggest surprise is that the most recent album by Ash didn't make the shortlist, especially given that frontman Tim Wheeler made the list with his solo album. The other big omission is The Answer, whose album "Raise a Little Hell" despite being one of the highest charting albums from a Northern Irish artist in the last 12 months. Of the less major artists, it was surprising that Sea Pinks didn't get a nod for "Dreaming Tracks", although given that was released in September last year, it might have gone unnoticed by many of the panelists. It's also disappointing that there's only one female artist on the shortlist this year in the form of SOAK, although we have a feeling that she's going to be the favourite to win the overall prize this year.

What is an album?

There's one last thing we'd like to discuss about the nominees, and it's to do with the eligibility criteria. There's one album which made the list that we weren't sure should have made the list, and that's "Sea Legs" by Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail. Although they have described it as an album, it has been described as an E.P elsewhere, and with an overall length of 18 minutes and just 7 tracks, we were initially inclined to agree with the latter.

To check if we were correct, we decided to check with one official arbiter of these such things, the Official Charts Company, to see what they consider an album to be, and see whether it meets their criteria. According to their rules, an album must be -
Over 25 minutes OR more than four songs where the format does not qualify as a “Maxi” single or remix single as defined by singles eligibility.
As the album is less than 25 minutes, it would appear it falls down on this criteria. However, as it has seven songs and isn't a single, it would appear to pass the album test on this criteria, even if three of those songs are less than 2 minutes long. (There's also stuff in the rules about having a specific dealer price to qualify as an album, but as "Sea Legs" was self-released, we're willing to overlook the financial aspects).

So it goes against our initial judgement, it does seem that "Sea Legs" can qualify as an album, thus its inclusion in the NI Music Prize seems reasonable. I do feel that in the future, it would be helpful if the NI Music Prize were to define what they understand an album to be, rather than assuming that everyone knows what exactly an album is. It might seem silly and unnecessary, but it would be rather helpful when it comes to grey areas such as this.

This blog will be revisiting the Northern Ireland Music Prize before it is awarded at a ceremony in the Mandela Hall on November 14th, 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 -

Sunday 13 September 2015

PORTS - Gameplay

Help! I'm trapped in the alt-text! Please send help to The Bar With No Name, Belfast

First, a point of order - the last time we talked about the Derry based quartet formerly known as Little Bear, we referred to them as P├śRTS. However, recently it has come to our attention that this is incorrect.

The diacritic overlay through the "O" wasn't an official part of the band's name - it was more a stylistic decision to go alongside the release of their first single under their new name. As such, their name is, and always has been, PORTS. I would question why they would go for a name that is much more hard to Google, especially given the fact that having a familiar name was the reason why they changed it in the first place, although we imagine it's much easier to type on a regular QWERTY keyboard.

But let's leave the semantics to one side for a moment, for the band have just announced the release of the first single which will appear on their long awaited debut album. "Gameplay" sees the band continue their long track record of producing emotional yet effective folk-haunted indie-rock, albeit in a much more polished form than we've heard from them before.

"Gameplay" will be released on October 12th.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Hentai Babies - Stay Kawaii

It's been a wee while since we last checked in on our favourite Isle of Wight based alt-rockers, Hentai Babies. It's fair to say though that in the year or so since we last spilled our virtual ink over them, they've been keeping themselves quite busy indeed. First of all, they have now expanded into a three piece again with the addition of Jack on the drums.

Secondly, having steadily built up a small cache of tunes over the last few years, the band finally compiled the best of them into their debut album, "YO!", which was released in April. We didn't review it when it came out as we would have liked to have done, but we'd like to say that although it doesn't vary its formula that often over its 12-tracks, it still remains a highly enjoyable album of straight to the point, lo-fi pop-rock numbers, and one we very much expect to be in our top albums come year end. Our picks from the album would be "One Potato Two" (which is one of the songs we use when we're trying out new headphones, fact fans) and "Bubblegum". At the moment, "YO!" only seems to be available to buy from their Bandcamp page on a pay-what-you-like basis, but we're hoping that it gets a physical release at some point in the future.

But perhaps the most interesting piece of news to come from the band is that they are going to be touring Japan in November. They've picked up a bit of radio play over there, and as a result they're going to be playing three dates in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Given that their band name is Japanese, and given that their Facebook feed seems to be filled with anime pictures (and their profile artwork is similarly inspired), it's fair to say that they're going to have an absolute ball there.

Ahead of those dates, the band are released a new E.P of songs which we recorded over the summer. They have released the title track from the release, and fittingly enough, it takes its title from the Japanese word for 'cute'. "Stay Kawaii" sees the band continue its Weezer-esque mix of pop melodies and heavy guitars in a delicious fashion. It's fair to say that Japan's going to love it.

Hentai Babies' new E.P will be released at the end of the month.

Monday 7 September 2015

Echo Raptors - Believe In Love

For nearly four years now, Belfast 4-piece Echo Raptors have been Northern Ireland's leading purveyors of Britpop inflected rock tunes. And in that time, it's fair to say that some of its luminaries have set up and take notice. The band supported The Charlatans a few years back, and are going to be supporting the fabulous Cast when they play Belfast in October. We're still a bit peeved that Suede didn't get them as support when they played Belsonic in 2013, but hey, you can't have it all.

They've been rather quiet of late in terms of recording new music, which is why it's great to have a new song from them. "Believe In Love" is a more laid back effort from them, with acoustic guitars playing a more prominant part than in previous singles, calling to mind some of Oasis' more stripped back songs, and rather aptly, a little bit of Cast as well.

"Believe In Love" is out now. The band play Limelight in Belfast on October 9th in support of Cast.

Friday 4 September 2015

Juice - Acid Kids


We last wrote about Birmingham based trio Juice a year and a half ago when we featured their debut single "Sugar". Having heard very little from them since, we were worried that they might have fizzled out in spite of the largely warm reception that song received from the blogosphere. 

Thankfully those fears were unfounded, as 18 months and a line-up change later, the band have released their long-awaited follow-up single, "Acid Kids". Whilst the single is less indebted to the sound of pre-Britpop indie-rock than "Sugar", it will still tickle the fancy of those who like their Rides and their Mock Turtleses, with its catchy riffs and fuzzy guitars.
It's great to hear that Juice are still a going concern, but please, don't leave it another 18 months to your next single, okay?

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Gavin Chappell-Bates - 95

You know that you've started to make that first formative climb onto the 'you're getting old' train when new artists get nostalgic about a decade that we lived through. Whilst admittedly your humble captain was still in single figures when the 90s Juggernaut came to a grinding halt, we still get a little bit misty-eyed whenever we hear songs that talk about the era.

Which brings us to the latest song from Cambridgeshire native Gavin Chappell-Bates, with an ode to the era which is appropriately titled "95". The song very much wears its influences on its sleeves, with the Britpop-inspired song containing lyrical references to songs by Ash, Oasis and Radiohead. Although melodically, it does seem to takes its cues from two songs from American bands - the melody in the verses reminds us a little bit of "Every Morning" by Sugar Ray, whilst the chorus call to mind "Stacey's Mom" by Fountains of Wayne.

Obvious comparisons aside, this is an enjoyable little nostalgic trip from Mr Chappell-Bates. One minor point of order though - "A Design For Life" is name-checked in the lyrics, despite the fact that this song didn't come out until 1996. Still, given how much we enjoyed "95", we're happy to let it slide.

"95" is out now.