Artists' Albums of 2016: Norma Jean Martine
After releasing her four year labour of love debut album in 2016 Norma Jean Martine looks set for a big 2017. We spoke to her about songwriting and writing with Burt Bacharach, and living in London. Only In My Mind was one of our albums of 2016 and now she's chosen her favourite five albums from the last twelve months.
I met Oscar two year ago when we played a Sofar Sounds in Hackney Wick. He turned up with a beat up acoustic guitar, and sheepishly downplayed ‘Daffodil Days' and ‘Sometimes' (both tracks on the album) and I immediately fell in love with his hooky, interesting and heartfelt songwriting. He's an indie kid on the outside, but a total secret pop head. I'm a massive fan of dressing up Backstreet Boys-esque lyrics/melodies that could easily be seen as cheesy, in a punk/indie rock outfit so that it totally gets past the cool kids. I think in a world where so many male artists try so hard to prove their manliness, hearing his straight to the heart honesty is really refreshing. This record truly has modern classic moments in it for me and captures a lot of my favourite reference points a la Brit pop and indie/punk rock in a new way.
Imogen Heap was much of the soundtrack of my teen years, so hearing this vocoder heavy Bon Iver record immediately transported me back in time, literally making the title track '22' an instant favourite. A lot of the record gives me the same sort of cozy chilled out living vibe I get when listening to The Year of Hibernation record by Youth Lagoon. (Another fav!)
This record is so dark and beautiful at the same time, like when rain clouds roll over a perfect blue sky and the sun still shines on the world, which for me, is my favourite kind of aesthetic in anything; heavy contrast. This record literally is the last living testament of a legend. It feels sad because it's over, and let's face it, death in all its beauty, is a dark thing, but also joyous, like a celebration of all the amazing things he did in his life. It feels like it's the last thing, but also the most important thing, like he really, really wanted us to listen to it, and discover it's secrets; like he wanted to leave us with something we could listen to for a very, very long time in his absence. 'Lazarus' is a stand out for me.
First of all, record aside, I love the fact that Alicia came out on this record cycle and said, "I'm not wearing makeup." I think as women we are exposed to such a high standard of beauty all the time, and we are often times made to feel ugly if we leave the house without at least a little bit of it on. I think it was really brave, but also really important for women everywhere to see such a high profile female expose herself in such a way. It makes me feel like the non-make up version of myself is somehow represented somewhere, thus in turn, a little bit more socially accepted as well. It literally makes me feel less of a prisoner. In the same way, her new record is super raw and soul baring, and in a lot of ways reminds me of late Nina Simone, when she went down a more blatant activist, rather than pop route. It goes with the times i suppose, especially in America, where race issues have come to such a forefront again so it's natural for it to feel like it's coming straight out of the 60s civil rights movement. (Beyoncé had moments of this in her Lemonade record as well.) I especially love the rough acoustic guitar song 'Kill Your Mama'. All in all, everything about this record and its campaign was brave in my opinion, and I love this new raw direction.
This is an entirely independent record so it's not one that you are likely to have read about, though that being said, you should have. This is the band’s debut album and right from the standout title track get go 'Marcel' it is full of subtle poppy hooks, non-contrived, super angsty, real, gritty, beautiful, introspective lyrics and ranges musically from dirty guitars to dreamy psychedelic soundscapes. It's beautiful, and most importantly, interesting and engaging for the entire 45 minutes. It's full of mystery, and depth; it's definitely one to get on vinyl and play over and over.