Hailing from the cultural zeitgeist that is Hackney in East London and having worked with some of the UK’s major new talent such as Ed Sheeran and Paloma Faith, Mikill Pane has now found time to release his debut album, Blame Miss Barclay, on the Virgin / EMI label. Consisting of 15 tracks and running at just under an hour, the album itself is a well-crafted collection of observational meanderings by one of the country’s hottest emerging talent. To the first time listener it’s a hybrid of the observational style of Lily Allen along with more than a hint of Example with a few surprises along the way and takes the listener on a journey through the modern day trials and tribulations of growing up in Britain today. Mikill himself has described the album as “a story, and I want people to follow it from beginning to end” and it’s easy to see why. Starting off with title track Blame Miss Barclay he takes us through the golden time for many of experiencing a very real taste of personal freedom, be it organizing a party or the horrors of student digs to the underside of modern life with addiction and loss and does so in a style nuanced with clever lyrics and observational comments.
I have to say that I’ve never been a huge fan of the genre with a few early exceptions but this album has caused me to re-evaluate at least this artist. For a start the first track Blame Miss Barclay launches the album in an almost indie vibe, with an 80s rock paean to an English teacher who clearly did a more than substantial job of teaching given the use of the words “rhetoric” and “genuinely intrigued” in the lyrics not to mention name checking Joe Jackson. Second track Roll On is almost a conversation of duality with the more reggae beat verses separated by a poppier chorus. The pop motif continues with Summer In The City and the “cheeky chappie” style of delivery so loved of artists such as Lily Allen; the observational style delivered in a memorable and catchy way. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Change of gear again and it’s a song about bicycles. Well that’s not something you hear every day but this is very cleverly constructed with the actual rhythm of the track akin to the rhythm of a bicycle, the hypnotic cycle beat creating a sense of movement within the track. This has been well thought out. This is contrasted with the next track which starts with a piano and the sound of rain and offers the listener a more reflective pace after the previous track. This is short lived though as the track segues into a rockier style and tells the cautionary tale of a fatal RTA and is a salutary tale of modern urban life.
Next up is Good Feeling with its tale of student life and beer humour referring to “two tenants” covering both the individuals and the beer. This is clever stuff. The linking of all the songs together to form a story is evidence in the next two tracks; No-one Left Behind and Rooftops. The first of the pairing is a love story with a twist; it’s about a suicide pact told from the pact makers’ perspective. The second half covers the singer being invisible and seeing the two people in the earlier song and also his errant girlfriend and best friend. Cautionary tales indeed and no wonder the mood is one of “some things are better not known”. Over halfway through the album and a Soul II Soul vibe creates a backdrop for a tale of generational racial tension – or is it? It transpires that the issue is not racial but football. Well, modern urban life indeed……Moving on through the next tracks you hear a tropical and very catchy pop song that name checks Prince Philip, an almost folky number and a tale of parental loss ushered with a hint of a Wild West film score.
Next up is one of my personal favourites Fade Away with is almost quasi-religious in its backdrop at the start which is appropriate for a plea on addiction with an incredibly mellow chorus. A small diversion for a track which can only be described as an “Ode to the Bottom” and we’re onto the final track of the album. Wow this is a strong track with acoustic piano and guitar and showcases a very strong voice. Not only does The End refer no doubt to the end of the album but also the subject matter of the end of a relationship. This is a very simple and very striking end to the album and is a stand out track for me.
Earlier on I said I wasn’t too keen on hip hop but this album is a revelation. Witty and clever with strong nods to a number of genres, this album defies labelling as hip hop and can only be described as a stunning debut album from a highly gifted artist with an acute sense of observation and the ability to translate the observation of the mundane into quirky, catchy and above all accomplished tracks.