The Runout Grooves with John Earls: Arlo Parks interview, plus previewing Foo Fighters and Slowthai
Each fortnight, leading music journalist John Earls goes deep on new releases, examines the latest vinyl issues and talks to a rising new star.
Release The Tracks - the pick of the next fortnight's new albums
While January had excellent albums from Arlo Parks, Shame and Bicep, it's taken until February for 2021's first huge name to release an album.
After first working with big-hitting pop producer Greg Kurstin on Concrete And Gold, Foo Fighters have gone even poppier on Medicine At Midnight. It's their most upbeat album in years, living up to Dave Grohl's promise that he wanted to make an upbeat record despite reaching his fifties. Bonus points if you can spot the musical influence of Level 42, which Grohl and Taylor Hawkins have also been citing. Pre-order Medicine At Midnight here.
In the six years since The Staves' previous album, the Staveley-Taylor sisters have endured enough relationship heartbreak and family loss to fill a triple album. You'd wish for calmer times to inspire their next record, but gorgeous atmospherics make Good Woman their richest, most haunting album yet. Pre-order Good Woman here.
Loosely part of the South London scene that spawned Shame, Fat White Family and Goat Girl, it seems to have taken an age since their initial EP for Black Country New Road to release debut album For The First Time.
More concise and less sprawling than their wonderfully unpredictable live shows, there's still a dizzying range of styles here. An album bearing repeated listening, you'll have a blast detecting Tindersticks, Bill Callahan, The Fall, Belle And Sebastian and even They Might Be Giants, making an intense album that's worth the wait. Pre-order For The First Time here.
Ten albums in, Sunn O))) are still discovering new territories. Vocals! Drum machines! A Metallica cover! It's still doomy and hypnotic, of course, but Flight Of The Behemoth is relatively playful and as good a place as any for newcomers to start. Pre-order Flight Of The Behemoth here.
February 12 is led by Slowthai's return. After the spot-on depiction of modern Britain on his Mercury-nominated debut Nothing Great About Britain, second album Tyron sees Slowthai look inside himself.
After his stupid behaviour towards host Katherine Ryan at NME Awards, Slowthai doesn't flinch from his failings - but he appears to deserve a second chance and is as compelling and complex about himself as he was about working class life. Pre-order Tyron here.
Longtime friends and Manchester contemporaries of The 1975, the association helped Pale Waves into the Top 10 with their 2018 debut My Mind Makes Noises. Three years on, second album Who Am I is a more distinctive, confident album with stronger vocals from Heather Baron-Gracie and a tauter sound honed on tour. Pre-order Who Am I here.
There's a reason Django Django haven't become huge yet, but it escapes us here at The Vinyl Whistle. Fourth album Glowing In The Dark continues their maverick determination to do whatever the hell they please, while keeping the beats bouncy and Dave Maclean's vocals as hypnotic as Derren Brown. If you can't find something to fall in love with here, you should have your ears confiscated. Pre-order Glowing In The Dark here.
MAKING THEIR DEBUT: Introducing your new favourite artist
This week: Arlo Parks
One of the most eclectic talents to emerge in ages, Arlo Parks grew up in West London and is only 20, yet her sumptuous debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams is full of tunes that seem to have been lost classics from decades ago.
It lives up to the promise of Arlo's early singles and, in the week she's set to burst into the Top Three, she spoke to The Vinyl Whistle about her plans for a varied life of collaborations.
How hard was it to make an album during lockdown?
It’s definitely been strange. 2020 had very much been planned to be a live year. When that all dissolved, there was definitely a fear about stagnation and things dying down, but I’m proud of how my team have handled it.
I don’t think I’ve written any songs about lockdown. I got a lot of inspirations from my old journals, as I wanted my first album to be a capsule of my teenage years, the things that shaped me. But of course, your environment plays into what you’re writing about, so I think the record is naturally more introspective than it would have been.
Being in lockdown at your parents’ house must have been strange, reading your journals again where you wrote them…
Definitely, it was strange. But it put me back in mind of being 17, in this exact room and wanting people to listen to my music. It got me into creating music for the sake of it, not focusing on shareability.
Do you need to be in a certain mood to write?
I try to do it every day, no matter what mood I’m in, but there’s definitely a lightning bolt that strikes and I need to be completely focused for that. It can come out of the blue and it can happen at the worst times.
I’m observant too. Even when I was at parties when I was younger, a little shyer, I’d watch things unfold. I’m really inspired by overhearing conversations. Even when I’m walking through the park, I’ll follow people and wonder what their life story is. That inspires a lot of lyrics.
How does it make you feel when fans interpret your songs to their own lives? Are you aware of having that responsibility?
I’m definitely aware of it. I’m also aware there’s a danger of writing for an audience, of wondering how it’s going to be received. It’s new to me, as I’ve spent more time toiling with my own ideas than having a platform. I’m getting used to it, how when I write about my specific story someone in maybe Thailand could relate to it in a completely different way.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
I’d love to do something with Billie Eilish, Frank Ocean or Thom Yorke. Thom would be incredible. We'd do something like Nude or House Of Cards, something really big and emotional. Arctic Monkeys would be an interesting one, we’d maybe come up with something like Mardy Bum. I love that tune and how Alex Turner’s storytelling is so vivid. That’d be an interesting combo, and I love it when people from different genres collide.
Let The Records Show: Going behind the myths about vinyl
This week: Is heavy healthier?
Anyone with even a passing interest in vinyl knows that heavyweight vinyl is better. But why?Why do albums pressed on 180gm vinyl have a cache that regular vinyl doesn't?
The most obvious point to make is that 180gm vinyl simply feels nicer. There's a comforting heft to holding a 180gm record you don't get with the second-hand albums (usually 120-130gm) pressed in bulk in the 1970s and '80s.
(A word here for XTC, whose reissue campaign of the past year was pressed on 200g vinyl.)
But it's not actually true that 180gm vinyl automatically sounds better. If it does, it's basically because a record pressed on the 180gm "audiophile" quality has had more care taken to sound right than a non-audiophile album. It's also likely to be pressed on newer vinyl.
Quite simply, the advantages of 180gm vinyl are that - as that lovely heavy feel implies - they're less likely to break and are less likely to warp over time. Audiophile vinyl also enables your stylus and turntable to be in sync better, so is slightly less likely to skip.
But that doesn't always mean 180gm is better: some labels and pressing plants issue "audiophile" releases that are anything but, pressed on old, recycled vinyl. Be careful out there.
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: Unearthing hidden treasures on the shelves This week: The Heavy - The House That Dirt Built (Counter) Buy The House That Dirt Built here.
You know more songs by The Heavy than you think. Their walloping funk has featured in films such as Dallas Buyers Club, The Hateful Eight and The Big Short.
David Letterman named the quartet's rendition of How You Like Me Now among his all-time Top 10 performances on Late Night With Letterman when the chatshow king retired.
Despite that pedigree, the transatlantic band have never broken through. That should be rectified, as their five albums capture their delirious mood and feels as close as it gets to a sweaty dancefloor right now.
Second album The House That Built is currently in on offer, it features How You Like Me Now and you'll recognise a few other tunes from ads and TV spots once you've finished your undignified moves at home.