Formerly NME reviews editor, now freelance writer/subeditor/editor. I wrote a book in the 33/3 series on Björk's Homogenic, and have edited festival guides for the Guardian.
6 extraordinary facts about music in North Korea
One of the great things about the Olympics is the way it brings people of different nations together, channelling political tensions into the glory of competition.
Nonetheless, it was a global surprise when Kim Jong-un, leader of the secretive, tightly controlled communist state of North Korea, offered to take part in the Winter Olympics being hosted by its neighbour, South Korea, in February. As part of this token of cooperation - accompanied by the first talks between the countries in two y...
FKA twigs: Magdalene review – inner battles that will stay with you
If FKA twigs’s four-year absence has been cruel for fans of her idiosyncratic, multimedia talent, it’s been even worse for her. In 2017, her uncomfortably public relationship with Robert Pattinson ended, and she underwent surgery to remove painful fibroid growths from her uterus. Already struggling with the direction of her second album, she was left creatively sucker-punched. The opener, Thousand Eyes, throws you right into her breaking and remaking, the fragility of love conjured with the s...
33 1/3: The B-sides
About The 33 1/3 B-sides
If given another chance to write for the series, which albums would 33 1/3 authors focus on the second time around? This anthology features compact essays from past 33 1/3 authors on albums that consume them, but about which they did not write. My essay was on a formative album for me and an overlooked gem, Kenickie's 1997 record At the Club.
How Björk and collaborator James Merry brought Vulnicura VR to life
Words by: Emily Mackay
“Healing from heartbreak or from [losing] a loved one, you literally feel like somebody tore your arm off, and the bone is sticking out – you have that amount of pain,” Björk says. “Then when you show it to your friends, nobody can see anything. So I was trying to use the VR to program what you can’t see, but it actually is physical reality for the person who goes through it.”
Vulnicura VR, released last week, makes the pain of Björk’s 2015 heartbreak album powerfully i...
The Center Won't Hold
Roll up, roll up, ladies and germs, and see, before your disbelieving eyes: the album that broke Sleater-Kinney! Produced by their very own Yoko, Annie Clark of St Vincent, this is – come closer and witness – the record so radical, it forced beloved and redoubtable drummer Janet Weiss to jump ship just to escape its weirdness.
Well, that’s the narrative inevitably set up by events, anyway. Almost immediately after Weiss announced her departure last month, vengeful eyes turned to Carrie Browns...
Holly Herndon – who needs the bespoke AI when the humans make a show this good?
Barbican Centre, London, October 16, 2019
Seven moving bodies onstage is a lot more than you get at your usual arty electronic music show – no single figure nodding behind a laptop here – but there’s still one notable absence at the debut London gig for Holly Herndon’s third album, ‘Proto’.
“Spawn couldn’t make it,” Herndon apologises. It turns out her “AI baby”, the neural network she created to collaborate with on ‘Proto’, isn’t quite well enough potty trained to play live yet.
In the meant...
Why My Way is the most popular funeral song
Have you ever thought, when you finally face your final curtain, what song you’d like to soundtrack its closing swish? Many people have, but unsurprisingly, many more haven’t. But if you don’t think about it, you may be leaving others with the burden of decision. Even worse than that, they might choose the wrong song.
That’s why, over in the UK, Cooperative Funeralcare compiles a regular survey of music requested at its 30,000 funeral homes: to get people talking about funeral plans. And year...
Fever Ray’s surprise album Plunge is like being thrown into cold water and coming up gasping
Eight years after a self-titled debut as Fever Ray, The Knife’s Karin Dreijer has returned with a new surprise album. Does this latest lucid exploration of sex and separation live up to her previous glories? Emily Mackay takes the Plunge and finds out
12 secret love messages hidden in pop songs
Songwriting is usually a secretive art, a thing you work on in private. If you're a writer of the confessional kind, you can vent your innermost thoughts and pent-up feelings in song. But if you're a songwriter of the successful kind, that also means that your private thoughts will soon become very public.
That's why pop has so many secret dedications - love songs that, with names taken out or changed, could be universal, but are actually about one special person in particular. Most of those ...
Bruce Springsteens of the world unite
With his new album, Western Stars, Bruce Springsteen once again taps the motherlode of mythical America: “highways and desert spaces… isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope" as he put it. He himself has long since become Americana, a figure so central to US pop culture that if there wasn’t a Boss, someone would have had to build one from rusty steel and dusty dreams.
It’s an adaptable form: in almost every country across the globe, it seems, there is a rock singer who is ...
12 weird and wonderful stories behind Britain’s best museums
We have around 2,500 museums in the UK, from huge institutions to tiny private spaces, and it's estimated that they receive 100 million visits annually. Every year, the Art Fund chooses a museum with “exceptional imagination, innovation and achievement” to be Museum of the Year and receive a £100,000 prize. 2017's shortlist can be found here and we'll be announcing the winner on Radio 2 on Wednesday 6th July. Ahead of the winner being announced, discover some of Britain’s best-loved and most ...
Acoustic Spice? Geri goes folk and 10 other dramatic changes in musical direction
The hayseed was flying recently, as tabloids gleefully reported that a country album recorded by former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, due for release later this year, had leaked. Exciting as the thought of Ginger mixed with bourbon was, it seems that album, which Geri has reportedly been working on for six years, will have a "folk feel", but is far from full-on country.
We look forward to hearing the work of Acoustic Spice, and Geri isn't the only pop star who will be switching up her musical di...
Björk found a spiritual home for her ‘Utopia’ among the domes of The Eden Project
The Eden Project, Saturday 7 July
If ever a venue was made for Björk, it’s the Eden Project, Cornwall’s eco-hippy, geodesic-dome horticultural haven, which could have been custom-built for the Utopia Tour. “Let’s imagine a world where nature and technology collaborate,” an onstage message urges, only slightly undermined by the technological glitches making the screen go black. The big screen is flanked by two big golden seed pods, banks of bird-of-paradise flowers and a grassy thicket in the ...
Holly Herndon: Making music with her AI child Spawn
Holly Herndon’s third album, Proto, sees her collaborating with an ensemble of talented vocal performers… and the digital voice of an AI program called Spawn.
Spawn was developed by Herndon, and her collaborator and partner Mat Dryhurst. Most AI music projects focus on creating automated forms of songs. But Spawn is different. Rather than trying to replace a human, Spawn works through a voice-modelling approach, observing and augmenting human-voice inputs to change the possibilities of the wa...
Lorde: The Chosen One Returns – Read The Full Cover Interview
Lorde talks fame and the party at the end of the world on the release of her second album Melodrama