The BBC thought Marina and the Diamond‘s Froot should have landed a nomination for the Mercury Prize which was awarded last week to Benjamin Clementine (for At Least for Now). Over the course of 2015, I have found Marina’s album to be an extremely engaging pop record, enough so that it stands in the genre as a favorite (alongside Say Lou Lou) of the year. So I had to see her once more—with the bonus of having Christine and the Queens as openers.
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BOOTS, the musician Jordan Asher, isn’t a household name. He isn’t even the easiest internet search. But he has made his name producing tracks for Beyoncé, FKA twigs, Run the Jewels and more. With the release of his debut album AQUARIA this month, BOOTS decided to forgo any of the celebrity connections and do a record that lets his skills as a singer/rapper/producer/guitarist shine—he’s got almost as many slashes as Grimes does. The New York Times describes the album as, “a post-apocalyptic soundscape that’s simultaneously desolate and pressured.”
French singer Héloïse Letissier isn’t a known name in the United States. Neither is her group, Christine and the Queens, at least not yet. Christine performed in New York City for four nights in November, two opening for Marina and the Diamonds, one headlining Webster Hall and a final late night spot on The Daily Show. Her personality and presence could be described as a mix of Florence and the Machine and Stromae—a combination of ferocity, dance moves and Frenchness (Stromae is Belgian but does sing in French). Her song “Tilted” is perhaps the standout of her debut album Christine and the Queens (Neon Gold / Because Records) and it was one of a couple of songs she played in front of a live studio audience.
Anderson East has had a very successful 2015. He began the year on a stretch of dates opening up for Sturgill Simpson, released a new album Delilah and took it on tour, opened for Brandi Carlile in the summer and then took the road with the Lone Bellow in the fall. The Nashville based singer has been lumped into the “country” music genre but he’s more than that. East possess a fiery, soulful Americana sound that really packs a wallop when he pushes his vocal chords to their limits.
At Webster Hall, the last stop with the Lone Bellow, East and his comrades were in fine form even as the crowd seemed more sparse than it should at a sold out show. This was the evening of the attacks in Paris after all and people may have felt more conscious about going out to a show. But hardcore fans made their pilgrimage—from the photo pit, I could see at least one person submit to their fervor for East, throwing her head back and dancing wildly. She will probably be leading a batch of new converts to one of the headlining shows on East’s winter tour.
There is no shortage of singer-songwriters out there today and it can be hard to pin down a new one to listen to. But I’ve got a tip if you’re looking for one. Check out John Mark Nelson. The young Minnesotan has released his third album I’m Not Afraid on the new GNDWIRE label (started by Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles). This was his first proper show in New York City (and the Mercury Lounge crowd was thin) one night after his first show in Philadelphia for World Cafe Live (a video from that show is below). I listened to I’m Not Afraid and found myself repeating a few of the tracks, particularly “A Hundred Orchards”. Nelson possesses a wispy voice reminiscent of Stuart Murdoch’s (of Belle and Sebastian) which is lent additional heft from several of his band mates members, including Steven Bosmans and Kara Laudon. Nelson had spoken to PopMatters a few months back about his track “Dream Last Night”, describing the song as “a driving anthem in response to the realization that nothing is ever as simple as it appears”, and this is a particularly good example of the vocal similarities.
At the Mercury Lounge show, Nelson introduced his expensive florescent lights (“I’m Not Afraid”) indicating he hopes to make back his outlay for them eventually. The show itself went pretty much like how any show would go. Nelson’s dove headlong into mostly new material (including “Orchards” and “Dream”) setting aside some time for friendly banter of course. Nelson tried to give his drummer the nickname “New York” Nate but it didn’t stick despite repeated attempts. At the end of their hour long-ish set, Nelson and his band concluded with a great cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” before he took off from the stage to sign albums at the merch booth. I heard rumors Nelson will have a proper tour in the early Spring, so stayed tuned to his page. In the meantime, stream I’m Not Afraid below.